It has been over a decade since we last saw Laharl, Etna, and Flonne as the main stars of the show, but now they have reunited and are back with another insanely compulsive strategy RPG in the fifth console entry into the series with Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness. While the game loses key pieces of content from Disgaea 3, the game provides plenty of fresh and superior game mechanics to keep fans coming back while also making the experience perhaps the most accessible it has ever been.
I have to say, I really enjoyed the voice acting in this game. All of the characters performed their roles very well and I had a difficult time skipping through dialogue when I couldn't wait to hear the dynamic between not only the three main characters, but the new cast as well.
The writing was clearly off-the-wall at some parts, but that's what made it so interesting, and I guess one of the main reasons I keep coming back to this series. I also liked how during the course of battle, if two important characters line up next to each other, it may trigger a conversation between them, helping to bridge the gap that the battle creates.
The theme of Family plays a big part in the plot of the game, and while there some touching moments to be experienced, I had this nagging feeling during the course of the narrative that it was all fairly underwhelming at times. Towards the end of the game, I ultimately did feel emotionally invested to what was going on. I just wasn't completely convinced that I should be in many of the moments leading up to it.
The newly-introduced cast serve their roles well, but some of them especially the members of Celestia barely affected me as opposed to those in Disgaea 3 or 4. Don't get me wrong; I am not saying that the story is bad in any real meaningful way. It was still as fun and as wacky as it always has been. I just think the first game was better in this regard.
The most fascinating addition to the game is the "Cheat Shop", taking what was previously a slightly tedious grind into what quickly becomes an intentional game-breaker. By talking to an NPC right outside of the castle, players can modify a different assortment of mechanics in the game. For example, there are a set of sliders that allow you to increase one attribute such as Experience Points in favor of decreasing the amount of HL received in battle. This was a big help when I was trying to grind up levels early on or when I needed a ton of money quickly to upgrade my equipment.
It's there if you want to play around with it and act like a kid given the keys to Disney World, and thankfully doesn't penalize you for having some fun. Of course, one can leave all of this stuff completely alone and forego having to deal with the system's innate complexity.
The combat in Disgaea D2 is mostly unchanged. Players move around a grid-based system that changes in size based on the action and the level of the character. As you would expect, strategy is once again extremely important. Since moves aren't initiated until you hit the trigger, it makes it easy to perform tactics such as moving characters forward into place to heal them and then quickly sending them once again to the back, or allowing other characters to recover another member's skill points before they can dish out their best moves.
Geo Effects also make their return, inflicting buffs and debuffs that can affect either the panels that people stand on or the entire map itself. There's also once more a solid amount of new, over-the-top special attacks that keep battles positively ridiculous and engaging.
Presentation-wise, I felt that the game was actually somewhat of a step down from Disgaea 4, both visually and mechanically. While Disgaea 4 had a rather slick look and feel to it with an overwhelming abundance of content to jump into, Disgaea D2 goes back to what is relatively barebones in comparison. You can't create your own maps, build your own ships, and online multiplayer is out. Plus, I miss out on being educated about sardines.
Thankfully, the game makes up for it by strengthening its core features. Character customization is deeper than ever, allowing players for the first time have the ability to actually assign an Evility (or special talent) to their created person. One particular Evility I fell in love with was the Heavy Knight's ability to protect any members of the party even if that person happened to be clear on the other side of the map.
This serves in both opening up new lines of dialog when you speak to them at the base, while also making moves become more effective. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t serve anything much broader than that, but it’s a nice addition.
Another new feature is the ability to have Monsters to act as mounts for human characters. They can serve as shields to weaker party members and move around the map while their partners can attack enemies, all while they both earn the same amount of experience. It basically allows every single character you make serve a purpose in battle, and that’s really the most important part of its inclusion.
A "Demon Dojo" has been added, letting players train certain attributes of a party member at a quicker pace than normal. With this gym and all of the other services provided, it's very easy to become caught up with creating an extremely destructive party of characters with all of their stats completely maxed out. The group of item shops in the game collectively known as Rosen Queen has seemingly done away with the random inventories at least inside of the castle
Of course, I'm not saying that Disgaea D2 just acts like some sort of stepping stone to Disgaea 5. This game has a heck of a lot going for it to satisfy both those who have stuck with the series since its inception and those getting into it for the very first time. The characters are still as ridiculously charming as they always were with plenty of off-beat comedy to make sure that the player is entertained. By retaining and enhancing arguably the most appealing features of the series, Disgaea D2 helps keep the series as enjoyable as it always has been.