Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is a direct sequel to Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, the original game in the series that really established Nippon Ichi as a leading developer of Strategy RPGs in North America. Their previously developed title, La Pucelle: Tactics, was actually released almost a year later in America, and although it featured some similar mechanics, Disgaea refined them into what I consider to be a better game. Here we are, 10 years later, and it’s hard to believe that Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is actually the 5th game in the series. While Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice and Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten each starred brand new casts of characters, Disgaea D2 revisits the setting and characters of the original game. Although it does not achieve the same emotional heights as its predecessor in terms of storytelling, I enjoyed it more than any of the other sequels for its refined gameplay and new mechanics. But before we look forward, let’s look back.
The original Disgaea did a lot to make the Strategy RPG genre more fun. First of all, the entire tone of the game was a comedy. Games like Portal and Portal 2 are few and far between; we rarely see comedy work well in video games, but Disgaea managed to pull it off. From the very beginning when we found out Prince Laharl’s father, the overlord, died choking on a pretzel, the tone was set. Instead of a mature storyline about nations and politics, it was a light hearted tale about how an angel and would be assassin ended up allied with the Overlord she was sent to assassinate.
The gameplay followed suit, with many over-the-top features that abandoned realism for the sake of fun. Characters picked each other up and threw them across the battlefield, they grew to level 9,999 and did millions of points of damage, items and gear could be leveled up and a Senate filled with demons could be bribed or threatened to affect all kinds of other aspects of gameplay. As much as I enjoyed games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness quickly became my favorite strategy RPG of the generation.
Angels and demons
Part of what made Disgaea: Hour of Darkness so great was the storyline and characters. Specifically, it was the three main characters and the synergy and relationships between them that I enjoyed so much. Laharl, Etna and Flonne make their triumphant return in Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness. The main story this time around involves the mysterious appearance of celestial flowers all over the Netherworld. The demons suspect that the angels are invading, and the peaceful relationship between Celestia and the Netherworld could be threatened. It’s up to Laharl, Etna and Flonne to investigate whether this is really an invasion or if there is some other reason for the unusual blossoms.
As always, Laharl, self-proclaimed overlord of the Netherworld and heir of the previous overlord, King Krichevskoy, is an obnoxious spoiled brat who is constantly barking orders at the top of his high-pitched raspy voice, laughing maniacally and saying, “Don’t make me laugh!” every time anyone says something he disagrees with. Normally this type of character annoys me to no end, and I can imagine a lot of players won’t particularly like Laharl, especially those that have not played Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. But it is because of his unpleasant nature that the moments in the storyline that reveal his kindness are so emotionally rewarding. In the original game, this paid off in spades regardless of which ending you might have seen. And although Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness doesn’t quite reach the same emotional level as the original storyline, the depth of Laharl’s character remains a strong point.
Then there’s Etna, Laharl’s most loyal vassal and right-hand. Sassy, mischievous and conniving, Etna loosely obeys Laharl’s orders, assuming those orders align perfectly with her own ambitions. She makes no secret of the fact that she’ll be happy to kill and replace Laharl if he ever fails to meet her expectations as an overlord, but it seems to be more of a method of encouragement than actual malice. Of course, with Etna, you never can tell, and it is in the nature of demons to want to become overlord. Disgaea D2 provides an opportunity to learn more about Etna’s past, though to avoid spoilers, I won’t say anymore on the subject here. Suffice it to say that we get to see an emotional side of Etna that should satisfy her biggest fans.
Completing the trio is Flonne, the recently fallen angel of Celestia, whose new status has done absolutely nothing to change her personality. Naïve, innocent and absolutely obsessed with kindness and love, Flonne is the catalyst of the majority of awkward and entertaining moments throughout Disgaea D2. She is always attempting to inspire Laharl to be more honest and sincere about his feelings of love and kindness, though such things are a mystery to demons like him and Etna. Though her lovey-dovey ramblings and adorable voice might be a bit too much for some players to handle, I’ve always found Flonne to be cute and more importantly, hilarious. I did enjoy her character a bit more in Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, but it’s great to spend more time with her, Etna and Laharl in Disgaea D2.
New to the cast this time around is Sicily, an angel trainee from Celestia who is convinced that she deserves to be the overlord of the Netherworld. Obviously this creates a bit of a conflict between her and Laharl, but like most things in the Disgaea universe, this issue is fairly quickly resolved through a bit of conflict, and she ends up joining the team. Sicily appears to be the youngest member of the cast, though at 937 years old, who’s to say what young really is. Naturally, Flonne is inclined to protect and encourage Sicily in any way she can. It’s interesting to see how Sicily follows in Flonne’s footsteps, and Veteran players will certainly get a sense of déjà vu during the episode in which she is introduced. Although I enjoyed the overall storyline surrounding Sicily, which is again something I won’t spoil, I found that Sicily’s character was completely overshadowed by the rest of the cast. Laharl, Flonne and Etna are just great characters, and Sicily doesn’t quite match up.
Other new characters fill up antagonistic roles throughout the game, and there are plenty of recurring characters from Disgaea: Hour of Darkness that make their reappearance, such as Seraph Lamington and Hoggmeiser. And as usual, the post-game includes quite a few post-game challenges that can be completed to unlock guest characters from other games from the series, with more on the way via downloadable content. The only thing that is missing is the human characters from Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. There is no sign of Gordon, Jennifer or Thursday, or even any dealings with the humans or Earth at all. It seems like an odd oversight in a game that otherwise shows so much respect to its predecessor. In any case, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness still has an impressive large cast and a decent overall storyline. It’s not quite as emotionally impactful as the original, but I still enjoyed playing through the main campaign very much.
As is traditional for this series, the campaign unfolds through a series of episodes, each containing around 6 stages. Each episode has its own self-contained story arc. Some episodes introduce new characters, others teach us more about the returning cast. Then there are a couple of episodes that are completely out of left field such as one that has the cast plagued by palette swaps, uncharacteristic bad habits and even a spontaneous sex change. This sort of wackiness defines the Disgaea series, and I had a lot of fun with every episode in the game.
The first episode manages to reintroduce the old characters (including the lovable and volatile prinnies) while setting up the new storyline and providing a tutorial all at once. To anyone that has played the previous games in the series, the tutorial will feel very familiar. It’s basically the exact same thing it’s always been, complete with the obligatory gag where Laharl blindly follows instructions only to get beat up by a bunch of enemies.
While each subsequent episode covers its own individual story arc, they each also add a bit more to the overall storyline until the final episode that wraps things up quite nicely. It’s structured a lot like an anime, actually, complete with intermissions between episodes that may or may not have anything to do with what’s coming up next. These are usually quite entertaining, and I found them to be even more enjoyable using the included Japanese audio track.
Both the English and Japanese audio tracks are a lot of fun. I’ve played through the main campaign using both of them, and I honestly can’t decide which one to recommend. Considering the game has multiple endings, there’s no reason not to listen to both, but I was happy enough listening to the English the first time through, despite my normal stubbornness about choosing the developers native audio language when such options are available. There is one significant different between the two audio performances though: Flonne is a LOT goofier in English than she is in Japanese when she shouts about love at the top of her voice. In Japanese, her voice is softer and more nurturing.
Visually Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is the best looking game in the series yet, though that isn’t really saying much considering the series is notorious for its retro looking sprites. Still, the game has plenty of attractive background artwork throughout the campaign, and the combat skill animation is very entertaining, even if it’s likely to be turned off for the sake of speeding up the battles.
The gameplay has not changed much either, though there are a few great new features to make things interesting for veteran Disgaea players. On the surface, Disgaea D2 appears to be a typical strategy RPG with a turn-based battle engine. The player moves his or her army—made up of a maximum of ten units—around the battlefield and into position in order to attack the enemy units. The map is divided up into square tiles of varying height, and combat advantages are given to units placed on higher terrain and for flanking or attacking units from behind.
What makes things different in the Disgaea series are all of the unusual strategic options that are available. If a character attacks an enemy, and another friendly character is positioned adjacent to the attacking character, there is a chance a Team-Up Attack will occur, where the main attacker and up to three allies attack the enemy simultaneously. Team-Up Attacks can be abused fairly easily because the game allows you to move characters into fighting position, activate the main attacker’s assault that results in a Team-Up Attack, and then cancel the movement of all of the other characters involved, essentially giving them the opportunity to do something entirely different. There are a plethora of similar tactics that involve canceling a character’s movements after taking advantage of temporary positioning, and learning all of these tricks is quite rewarding as a player.
Then there are Combo Attacks which award damage bonuses for attacking the same enemy with several characters in a row without switching targets. It’s fun to set up a big Combo Attack, especially while simultaneously arranging Team-Up Attacks and seeing everything come together for massive damage. A good thing about Combo Attacks is if you go all in and line up 10 attackers but kill the enemy after only 3 of them take their actions, the other 7 attacks are cancelled so the characters’ turns are not wasted. And of course, you can cancel their movement and reposition them before their next attack on the same turn!
New to Disgaea D2 are Cover Attacks, which are extra attacks that can occur when more than one character is in range of an enemy and one of them attacks it. Ranged characters that use guns and bows are particularly good at Cover Attacks, so I was happy to get a lot more use out of my Archer than I had in previous games.
Also new are the Protect Actions, where a defending character can switch positions with another adjacent character that is getting attacked to take the hit instead. This can lead to some unusual and hilarious situations in cases where you defend with several characters, because sometimes a squishy character like a Cleric will protect an armored character like a Warrior. But used properly, Protect Actions not only improve the viability of using dedicated tank characters, but they also add more depth to an already deep combat system.
Team-Up Attacks, Cover Attacks and Protect Actions are all affected by a new system called Demon Connect. Basically the characters in your army may or may not get along according to how they treat each other and interact. If a character kills an ally, they’re not going to be very friendly now, are they? But if two characters constantly heal each other and battle together, they will be friends in no time. The Demon Connect or likability system keeps track of all of that, and the more two characters like each other, the more likely they are to participate in Team-Up Attacks, Cover Attacks and Protect Actions. Make your demons love each other and not only will you earn Flonne’s approval, but you will improve your army’s effectiveness on the battlefield.
Demon Connect also compliments the Extra Gain system that returns from previous games in the series. In Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness, characters can be assigned apprentices which provides a variety of benefits to both characters called Extra Gain. The apprentices are given the ability to use any of the non-unique skills that the master is capable of, and through repeated use can learn them permanently, even if the master/apprentice relationship is severed. Since masters and apprentices can now be freely changed at any time instead of being permanently tied to the character creation process, it is easier than ever before to share skills throughout your army. You can even reverse the relationship so that the apprentice becomes the master!
The apprentices also get bonuses to how fast they can gain weapon experience from their master for the weapon types that the master is particularly adept at using. The master gets bonuses too in the form of 10% of the apprentice’s stats. If a master has multiple apprentices, it gets 10% of the highest stat values for each stat among all apprentices.
The Extra Gain system is just one small example of the many ways characters can be improved in Disgaea D2. There’s so much more to character development than just beating up monsters and gaining levels, and it makes the process that much more enjoyable and rewarding.
Give me a lift
As I mentioned before, characters can be lifted and thrown across the map, allowing characters to move far beyond their normal move limit in a single turn. Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories made this odd system even stranger by allowing characters to lift up characters that were already lifting other characters, forming a humanoid tower. This process could be repeated for all 10 characters on the battlefield, at which point it looked like some kind of bizarre totem pole, which could then attack an enemy unit! Tower attacks were expanded upon in Disgaea 3: Absense of Justice.
Disgaea 3 also added some utility to monster units, which formerly could be lifted and thrown, but could not lift or throw themselves. In that game, if you throw a unit at a monster, the monster will then immediately propel that unit in the direction it is facing. It’s possible to set up a series of monsters to move a unit across the map very quickly.
The tower attacks and monster propelling features both made it into Disgaea D2, and were expanded upon even further. For starters, you can now throw characters diagonally, which was possible before through a complicated trick with the controller, but is now made easy by simply selecting the target tile that is within range. This makes it a lot easier to move characters and towers around the map. The towers themselves also got a bunch of special attacks, with more powerful attacks only usable by taller towers.
I love building towers in Disgaea D2. The special attacks are not only hilarious (like a massive human hamster wheel, pictured), but they are also incredibly powerful and satisfying to use. The best part is, every character in the tower gains experience for the defeated enemy, so towers provide a great opportunity to help strengthen newly created and low level characters. It’s just too bad that monsters can’t come along for the ride unless they are the unit at the very top of the tower.
That’s okay though, because monsters received a huge upgrade in Disgaea D2. They can now be used as mounts for humanoid characters, and each monster has a special mounted attack. The way it works is that when attacked, the monsters stats will determine the defense, and when attacking, the humanoid character’s weapon, abilities and stats are used (with the exception of the mounted ability, which utilizes both characters). Strategically, this allows a lot of options. The most obvious is putting a weak humanoid character on a strong monster so that the human can survive long enough to gain a few levels. Both characters get full experience points for defeating an enemy while mounted. You can also use a monster that can move quickly across the map to transport a slower humanoid character. If the monster dies, the human is left—unharmed—on the same tile. Ultimately this makes monster units a lot more viable than in previous games. The only downside is that if you mount up five monsters, you will only have five units on the map, and you may find yourself outnumbered. Of course, if the opposing army is using a lot of area-of-effect attacks, this could work to your advantage. I used more monsters in Disgaea D2 than in any previous game in the series, and I consider this one of the game’s greatest gameplay improvements over its predecessors.
Aside from all of this lifting, throwing, mounting and towering, there is still more depth to the Disgaea D2 battle engine. Geo panels are back, and like in previous games, they are tiles that glow one of several colors and which can change the rules of the game for units standing on them according to what geo symbols are positioned on other tiles of the same color. Geo symbols generate a wide range of effects such as buffing, debuffing, damaging or healing. They can also increase the experience and currency awards, disable certain attack types, and even warp characters randomly around the map. If the player wants to remove such effects, all they need to do is destroy the geo symbol that is generating it. When a geo symbol is destroyed, not only is the effect removed, but the tiles of the color the geo symbol was resting on can change color or be removed entirely. With careful planning, every single geo panel and symbol on a particular stage can be removed, and all of the enemies are damaged when the player manages to do this.
This particularly system is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand geo panels add a lot of fun and variety to otherwise ordinary levels, and certain effects like Invincibility can be exceptionally useful for power leveling purposes. On the other hand, if there was ever a feature that could turn away new players, this would be it. The geo panel tutorial makes this obvious by basically saying, “If you don’t get it, don’t worry, you’ll figure it out later.” I’ve tried introducing the Disgaea franchise to several friends, and it’s usually around the geo panel tutorial when their eyes start to glaze over. All I can say is stick with it, and as promised, you will eventually figure it out and enjoy the depth it adds to the game.
A matter of character
The plethora of strategic options present in each map are varied and interesting, but that’s only half the battle. The other half is creating and developing characters (including their equipment) and organizing an effective army.
Before we get into the new features, let’s go over the basics. Just like in Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and its sequels, new characters can be created by spending Mana, a currency earned by defeating enemies. Characters can be either humanoid or monsters, with more classes unlocking either through storyline progression, specific unlock conditions or by defeating monsters. As these characters gain levels, more powerful versions of each class or monster type unlock, and there are 6 ranks for each class and monster type.
There is a large variety of humanoid characters, including magic users like Clerics and Magicians, weapon specialists like Warriors and Valkyries, and special classes like Thieves and Beast Masters. Most of the old favorites are back, though some are a bit different than you might remember, like the Armor Knight, who is now female.
The monster types are mostly familiar as well. Spirits, Golems, Prinnies, Zombies and Gargoyles are all back, along with pretty much all of the other favorites. Poor Laharl, who is allergic to sexy bodies, still has to deal with Nekomatas and Succubi. The only new monster I noticed was called a Sea Angel, a caster type that is particularly good at ice magic. Sea Angels are a useful addition to any army, because they can increase the experience earned by allied units on the map by 10% with their Evility (passive ability) called Happy Song.
Beyond the unique characters of the campaign there are over 40 types of monsters and humanoid classes in Disgaea D2, each with 6 ranks. I really enjoyed creating lots of characters and exploring the strengths and weaknesses of each class, and eventually settling on a few favorites. I also appreciated being free to choose between various color palettes as I unlocked the advanced ranks of each class, and the option to choose from one of three voice packs and personalities for each character. My favorite created character is my Armor Knight who is constantly insisting that she is not afraid, while actually sounding quite afraid of everything.
Whether it’s a unique character or player created monster or humanoid, every character’s potential is determined by its base stats—that is, the stats a character has at level 1. Every time a character gains a level, its stats increase according to the base stats. Extra Mana can be used during character creation if the player wants extra points to distribute among the base stats, but this is only the tip of the character development iceberg.
Just like in every other Disgaea game, characters can be reincarnated, which basically kills them and brings them back to life as level 1 characters. They keep their abilities, though they lose some of their skill experience and weapon skill (more on that later). The game keeps track of how many levels the character has earned in its previous lives and awards more extra points for base stats according to the number of previously gained levels at the time of reincarnation. Thus by reincarnating repeatedly, characters can become more and more powerful. So if a character reaches level 100, reincarnates and then reaches level 100 again, it will be much more powerful than it was the first time it reached level 100.
This is probably the single feature that the Disgaea series is most known for. Most games limit a character’s level to 99 or less. While the level cap for a single lifetime in Disgaea D2 is 9,999, a character reaching that level for the first time has yet to experience a fraction of their true potential. The game allows characters to continue to gain in strength through reincarnation until they have 180,000 combined levels in their previous lives. If leveling up a character 180,000 times sounds tedious to you, then you might not be the right kind of player to fully explore the post-game content of the Disgaea series. But don’t give up before you even try, because the Netherworld is populated by demons who don’t play by the rules, so there are methods of leveling up incredibly quickly. I have to admit that I’ve never defeated the final post-game boss in a Disgaea game because the grind always wore me down, but there are so many ways to speed up the process in Disgaea D2 (more on those methods later) that I might actually stick with it until the end.
Reincarnating also allows the player created characters to switch classes, or to upgrade their existing class to a higher tier. But what if you don’t want your character to fall to level 1? Disgaea D2 has a new option called Promotion, which allows characters to change from one class to the next tier for only a little bit of Mana and without any consequences. In previous games it was not unusual to stick to the base class until the post-game and then reincarnate to the higher tiers later, but with Promotion, I was able to make use of several tiers of classes before I completed the main storyline. It’s a subtle change, but an important one that I am glad was implemented.
Sword of 1000 truths
Advanced class tiers are important in Disgaea D2 because they not only increase base stats, they also increase stat aptitudes. This may be a bit confusing, but when a character equips a weapon with 1000 ATK (attack power) on it, they may or may not gain 1000 ATK. It depends on their aptitude for the ATK attribute. If their aptitude is 110%, they’ll get 1100 ATK from the sword, if it’s 90% they’ll get 900, and if it’s 100%, they’ll get exactly 1000. The difference in aptitudes between a 1st tier class and a 6th tier class is significant, and it’s even more important because weapons and gear can provide greater statistical gains than maxing out a character’s level, even after reincarnating numerous times. It took me a while to wrap my head around all this, but when I think about it, it makes sense that an Armor Knight will make better use out of heavy armor than a Cleric due to it’s greater aptitude for DEF (defense).
Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness includes 10 types of weapons. There are 2 types for monsters and 8 types for humanoids, including swords, spears, axes, fists, bows, guns and staves from previous titles, and the newest weapon type, books. Every weapon provides bonuses to specific attributes, and humanoid characters can learn weapon specific skills by utilizing the weapons and earning weapon experience. While each weapon type has a default range—1 for swords, axes, fists, and books, 2 for spears and staves, 4 for bows (diagonals allowed) and 5 for guns (only in a straight line)—the weapon skills have specific attack ranges of their own, and many of them can target a larger area of effect.
In addition to gaining weapon experience, characters can also gain skill experience for each weapon skill. Gaining weapon levels improves damage across the board, and leveling up a skill further improves that specific ability. For spell casters, leveling up spells allows the target range to be increased and also adds to the damage dealt. Equipping and gaining weapon experience with a staff can further extend spell range and damage. The disadvantage to staves is that they do not have any weapon skills. Books are a bit different though. They provide more significant stat benefits than staves, but do not increase spell range, and are better for spell casting characters that have enough defensive ability to move closer to the front lines. They also have a variety of weapon skills to make up for their other disadvantages.
I created two Magicians around the same time, and I gave one of them a staff and the other a book. I ended up favoring the Magician with the staff because the extra range decreased the likelihood that it would be attacked and I was able to keep that character alive longer. But later on, when I added an Armor Knight to the army, I was able to use Protect Actions to keep the Magician with the book alive, and I was then able to enjoy the extra spell power the book provided. One of the best parts about Disgaea is discovering synergy between character classes, gear sets and skills. Every player is likely to find different workable strategies, and that’s part of what makes the game great.
Characters can also equip several types of armor, including traditional helmets and breastplates for DEF, and not so traditional shoes, glasses, orbs and belts. The shoes can increase a character’s movement range, jump power and SPD (dodge and attack power for fists and guns) while the glasses increase INT (spell power) and HIT (ranged attack power and accuracy). RES (healing power and spell resistance) and SP (magic points) can be increased with Orbs, and ATK can be increased by belts. You can even equip extra muscles if you want your character to have more HP. It’s essential to match the right gear to the right characters, and paying attention to the characters’ aptitudes is a great way to figure out which stats are most important to the characters and ultimately creating a more effective army.
Sword of 1000 levels
Equipping all of this gear on your characters is really just the beginning in Disgaea games. The gear itself also needs to be leveled up if you’re planning on tackling the most difficult challenges in the game. In order to do that, the player must enter the Item World of the item they want to improve.
The Item World is a randomly generated dungeon made up of lots of small maps, and each time a floor is cleared of enemies or if a character is moved to the exit, the item gains a level and its stats are improved significantly. Depending on the quality of the item, the Item World will have 30, 60 or 100 floors. This distinction is less significant in Disgaea D2, because reaching the last floor of an item will improve its quality, either from common to rare or from rare to legendary, so all items will eventually have 100 floors and thus be able to be improved by 100 levels.
There are other methods of gaining bonus levels for the items as well while exploring the Item World, so it’s quite possible that by the end of 100 floors of exploration you will end up with an item that is well over level 100. In fact, the maximum level for an item throughout most of the game is 300, and there’s even a way in the absolute latest stages of the game to get items up to level 999.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Item World is like a self-contained game that is included with Disgaea D2. It’s quite easy to spend countless hours leveling up items and playing through the randomly generated floors filled with every monster and enemy type in the game (except prinnies) and more geo panels and geo symbols than you’ll know what to do with. And leveling up gear is certainly not the only reason to go delving.
Beyond gaining experience and finding hoards of treasure, the Item World is also home to the Innocents. These neutral demons will appear on a random floor of the Item World and provide some kind of bonus to the item. The bonus can be anything from stat improvements to elemental resistance. They can even boost experience and currency gains or make weapons capable of inflicting ailments like poison.
Before an Innocent is encountered, it is stuck in the item it was originally attached to. But if the player finds and defeats the Innocent in the Item World before the enemy units do, the Innocent will be subdued and can be subsequently moved out of its original item and into the Innocent Warehouse, and later moved into another item as desired. The Innocents too have levels, and their level is doubled when they are subdued. Innocents can also be combined with other Innocents of the same type, so add raising Innocents to the list of things you’ll need to grind through in order to complete every post-game goal in Disgaea D2.
The Item World is actually more of a series of islands than floors, so it’s appropriate that the base tile that units can be summoned from appears on a ship. While exploring the islands, pirates may show up and attack without warning. They are typically stronger than the other enemies on the floor, and if they are defeated, the player gets to keep their ship and use it in future Item Worlds.
There are also a plethora of bonus islands that can contain anything from shops and hospitals to enemy ambushes and spontaneous rock-paper-scissors challenges. These make exploring the Item World less monotonous. There are also bonus stages full of treasure and Innocents. In these stages there is a time limit and the player has to move as much treasure and as many Innocents onto their ship as possible before time runs out.
All of these features come together to make the Item World a dangerously addicting experience. I frequently find myself staying awake hours later than I should without even noticing the time fly. I’ve experienced this with every single Disgaea game, and Disgaea D2 is no exception. If you have an addictive personality, consider this your fair warning.
The Overlord’s Castle
While not exploring the Item World, battling through the main storyline episodes or attempting the challenging post-game maps, the player can explore Laharl’s Castle, which hasn’t really changed much since Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. It still has the hospital, which still gives out bonus legendary quality items as consolation prizes for those that have had to pay for a lot of healing. It also still has the Rosen Queen Trading Company that runs the weapons and armor shop and the item shop, and this time around if you spend a bunch of money to raise your customer rank, you’ll start to earn permanent discounts on future purchases.
But the castle has also been brought up to date with some of the features we expect from modern Nippon Ichi games, like a character who keeps track of all of the records in the game, and another that allows you to play back any of the background music you have heard so far, and set it to play in the castle instead of the default music. Completionists have their work cut out for them, because they will have to find one of every item in the game and see every attack animation to unlock a couple of trophies.
There is also a post-game character called the Time Traveler that allows you to go back to Episode 1 at any time, and is useful for trying to “collect” all of the endings. It’s nice that the time Traveler exists, but it’s frustrating that I can’t just pick a specific episode to travel to. While several alternate endings can be found in the game’s earlier episodes, most of them are actually in the final episode. If you want your records to list off all of the endings, you will need to play through the campaign many times.
Then there is of course the Dark Assembly, a staple of the Disgaea franchise, where any of the player’s characters can spend Mana to request all kinds of odd things from the Netherworld senate. These bills range from permanent character improvements and unlocking dangerous maps to turning all of the enemies on a map into prinnies or allowing the player to double jump around the castle. All the player has to do to get a bill passed is earn 50% yea votes or more. Considering the senators are all demons, bribery works quite well, and if all else fails, force is always a reasonable option. Compared to previous games, there are not as many bills that actually require a senate vote, so this part of the game isn’t as overbearing as it used to be, but it’s still a fun feature.
There are also two big new additions to Laharl’s Castle. The first is the Demon Dojo. This one is actually fairly straightforward. Characters can be assigned to various training types at the dojo and as a result of their training they will gain bonus attributes while leveling up, or bonuses to weapon mastery, experience, Mana, likability, aptitude or skill experience.
At first each training type only has room for one character and the effect is minimal, but if you have the training characters participate in story mode battles, the training types themselves will level up. Eventually a maximum of 4 characters will be allowed to simultaneously take part in a training type and the effects of the training can be quadrupled. This is yet another way to develop characters and is an essential part of the formula that can lead to conquering the post-game. Is this one too many things on top of an already complicated collection of character developing tools? Possibly. But with Disgaea, I know one thing: No number is ever big enough.
Cheaters always prosper
The other big new feature of Laharl’s Castle is the Cheat Shop. I consider this less of an actual cheating system and more of necessary part of the game, or at the very least the post-game. It’s ironic that it is even called a shop considering nothing is ever brought or sold to or from the Cheat Shop, but I digress. The Cheat Shop is actually a series of menu pages that each contain a variety of toggles that adjust the rules of the game.
The first lets you adjust how much experience, Mana, hell (currency), weapon mastery and special skill points are earned while playing the game. They all default to 100% and one will have to be decreased before another can be increased. I like to lower the amount of hell I get and increase the experience I earn, but when it comes time to grind up a few weapon levels, I’ll be sure to change things around. At the beginning of the game these settings can only be adjusted by a small amount, but once in the post-game they can be lowered all the way down to 0% and increased all the way to 200%.
The second page of the Cheat Shop includes a feature that used to require hundreds of trips to the Dark Assembly. Enemy Strength can now be freely adjusted between 20 levels of difficulty. Increasing the difficulty increases the levels of the enemies that appear throughout the game. The Land of Carnage can also be toggled on here in the post-game, multiplying all enemy levels by another 100 times on top of whatever levels have been added from Enemy Strength. There’s yet another more difficult mode beyond the Land of Carnage this time around, so good luck with that all you hardcore types. All of this difficulty boosting is actually quite necessary for the kind of leveling up that is required for the final boss of the post-game. This menu also lets you disable certain features of combat such as Support Attacks and Protect Actions, so if you don’t like those features, just turn them off!
The third page of the Cheat Shop can change how the Item World works by changing the search route to favor strengthening Innocents over strengthening the item itself. You can also disable geo panels or increase the frequency of their appearance, change the average size of the islands you visit and adjust how often pirates will attack. I can’t stress enough how useful these options are. It’s great that the Item World can be molded according to your particular goals during any given trip.
The fourth page is all about prinnies. As you may or may not be aware, when a prinny is lifted and thrown, it explodes upon landing, killing itself, dealing damages to nearby units, and causing other prinnies to explode if they happen to be present. This Cheat Shop page allows you to double the range of the explosions and even change the rules of the game so that ALL characters explode like prinnies. Good times.
Finally, the last page of the Cheat Shop is all about fun, or possibly a lack thereof, since all of the toggles on this page bring progression to a screeching halt. You can disable experience gain, weapon mastery and skill leveling here. You can even change it so that if you move a character or select an action, you cannot cancel it, which renders a lot of valid combat strategies impossible. I doubt the average player will find much use for these options, but players that enjoy self-imposed challenges will surely make use of them.
All and all, the Cheat Shop is a fantastic feature. It fits perfectly into the Netherworld setting of the Disgaea franchise since demons and cheating go hand in hand, and it also makes power leveling and preparing for the post-game challenges easier and arguably more fun than ever before. If the previous Disgaea games had one glaring weakness, it was the inaccessibility of the post-game content. Yes, it was designed for hardcore players, but it’s still unfortunate how completely it alienated more casual players. The Cheat Shop will allow more players than ever before to enjoy seeing their characters become incredibly powerful, and the elite among the community can feel free to limit their use of it.
It’s over 9000… way over 9000.
So what’s the point of all this? To do the most damage, of course! Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness once again provides a means of achieving greater amounts of damage than ever before in a Nippon Ichi title, and that’s no small feat considering the hundreds of millions of damage you could do in previous games. I kid you not when I tell you that in order to defeat the absolute boss of the end-game you will need to be able to do billions of damage with a single swing.
The question is: will you really want to? The main storyline can be completed comfortably in 20-30 hours if you resist the urge to power-level and rush through it. But will you be willing to spend dozens or hundreds of hours grinding to the point that you can actually defeat that one final end-game boss?
It really takes a certain kind of player to go through all of that. There’s just so much to it! Create characters, level characters, reincarnate characters, acquire items, level items and subdue Innocents, level Innocents, train characters, level training facilities, level weapons, level skills, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat… It just goes on and on, and you’ll either love it or hate it.
But as I’ve mentioned before, it’s easier than ever to power level in Disgaea D2. With, Statisticians—the Innocents that provides a bonus to experience gained—being much more common and capable of providing a 300% bonus and the additional bonuses provided by the Cheat Shop, the Sea Angel’s Happy Song Evility, and the Demon Dojo, it’s actually not that time consuming to get a character to level 9999 repeatedly and eventually story up 180,000 levels.
Twisting turning through the nether
But even if all you do is play through the main storyline, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is a lot of fun and is worth the price of admission to any fan of the genre. The game has a ton of alternate endings to discover and plenty of post-game content that doesn’t require the obsessive leveling described above. Seeing the alternate endings does require playing through the game again for each one, but that can be done relatively quickly with beefed up characters. It can also be drawn out by making things difficult using the Cheat Shop. In either case, replaying the game again isn’t as tedious as it sounds, because there are always other objectives you can work on to prepare for the post-game while you are grinding through the levels to see the endings.
It may not reach the emotional peaks achieved by Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and if you didn’t like previous Disgaea titles you probably won’t like this one any better. But for me the new adventures of Laharl, Etna and Flonne have been more enjoyable than those of the previous franchise sequels. Though the main campaign is short, Disgaea D2 still provides countless hours of play time, and it does so with incredible depth of gameplay and with a great sense of humor too. Disgaea is back, and I really hope we see a Disgaea D3 someday. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying the post-game and looking forward to playing through all of the inevitable downloadable content. Have fun in the Netherworld, everyone.
Ari purchased a retail copy of Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness. He completed the campaign with the true ending in 35 hours, though that time played included several trips to the Item World and multiple trips though the first few episodes since he saw two alternate endings. His total play time at the time of this review was 53 hours.
+ Laharl, Etna and Flonne are still great characters
+ Mountable monster units are much for useful than in previous titles
+ Multiple endings
+ Massive end-game
+ Really big numbers
+ Voice acting
+ The Item World is addicting
+ Fun and unique gameplay mechanics
+ The Cheat Shop
-The main campaign feels a bit short for a JRPG
-New characters are not as great as returning cast
-Time Traveler doesn’t allow the player to select an episode
Available on: PlayStation 3
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3