Can you go home again?
High: The Cheat Shop.
Low: Getting booted into a new playthrough near the end of the game.
WTF: I was more fond of everyone when they were trying to kill each other.
It’s difficult for me to talk about Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness without resorting to descriptions of mechanics because its greatest strength isn't the writing or the characters, but that it streamlines a bunch of things to make becoming the strongest demon less time-consuming and frustrating than it's ever been.
The newest entry in Nippon Ichi’s flagship strategy role-playing game series finds demon Overlord Laharl
wrecking the angel Flonne’s garden still adjusting to being Overlord. No matter how many demons he beats up, there are still some who won’t respect him. Oh, and mysterious flowers are sprouting all over the Netherworld while an even more mysterious angel shows up and keeps calling Laharl “big brother.”
What’s the teenage ruler of the Netherworld to do?
D2 is the first direct sequel the Disgaea series has had, and it follows characters we’ve met in an earlier game—characters that have a special place in my heart. When it comes to the plot, perhaps I expected too much.
The game still explores some of my favorite Disgaea themes: found families and the moral ambiguity of the demons and angels (including doing suspicious or terrible things in pursuit of goodness) but Laharl and company didn’t hook me this time around. On the one hand, I love seeing classic characters Flonne, Etna and Laharl as friends; on the other, now that they’ve all quit trying to assassinate each other, their dynamics have changed… And I liked the old dynamics.
These changes aren't bad. In fact, many of them are natural outgrowths of character development and lessons learned in Hour of Darkness. It’s just that, for me, Laharl and his former would-be assassins aren’t as enjoyable in a less-dysfunctional relationship.
Gameplay-wise, D2 is a lot gentler than earlier installments. Maybe I’ve just finally gotten the hang of manipulating the environment to my advantage, but I solved all the story stages without resorting to an FAQ. Also, D2 tweaks a lot of old series annoyances. Now when one’s party is wiped out, they’re booted back to base with the story stage they died in still unlocked, able to keep any levels they’ve achieved and new skills they’ve learned. It’s much less punitive than having to reload a save upon dying, especially if that save is from three levels ago.
Also gone are the days when players petitioned the Netherworld Senate to strengthen the enemies for easier leveling-up purposes—a process that had to be repeated 20 times in earlier installments. One of Laharl’s first acts as Overlord must’ve been to call BS on this system and replace it with the more demonically-appropriate Cheat Shop. The Cheat Shop lets players manually adjust how much experience or mana or money (et cetera) they get, as well as unlock new modes. More points and percentage caps are earned with progress.
One of my favorite things about the Disgaea series is making my characters as strong as possible by doing the same things over and over again. (No, really.) But even I admit the process is tedious; giving myself an 800% experience gain makes the journey to level 9999 a lot less painful, but this broken ceiling also means it takes more repetition to max things out. It’s not a big deal–and not at all necessary to finish the story–but is a small hazard of the new system.
It’s a shame Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is a direct sequel. Despite niggling issues and a lackluster story compared to the original, it’s the most forgiving Disgaea to date. I woudn’t say it welcomes new players, but it streamlines things that took a long time without good reason and, in general, is the easiest Disgaea to play. Can you go home again? Not quite, but I liked the place enough to spend 200 hours there.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PlayStation 3. Approximately 200 hours were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed (twice). There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: alcohol reference, fantasy violence, language, partial nudity, and suggestive themes. Violence is bloodless; players can bribe demon Senators with alcoholic beverages (and some of the Senators are already drunk); some of the female characters wear skimpy clothing (plus, a character magically changes sex at one point), and the main character is a teenage demon–“Dammit!” and “You bastard!” are his favorite words.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing: As a strategy RPG, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness presents all important mission and story information in text. The only things you’ll miss out on are the musical score and the battle exclamations, which aren’t necessary for gameplay. I played a lot of D2 with the sound off and had no problems.