Nippon Ichi had thrown the kitchen sink at the original Disgaea game and when it came time to produce a sequel it was going to be hard to find ways in which to further innovate the game. Instead a new-found focus on storytelling and a few lighter modifications to an already great system make Disgaea 2 something of a love or hate it sequel.
This falls largely on the fact that instead of directly following on from the story and characters the first title in the series did such a good job of presenting, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories presents a new cast, protagonist and netherworld to conquer. Unlike other games at the time it also didn’t feature any backward-compatibility with the original, making players who had sunken years into levelling those characters all the way to 9999 feel like their hard work hadn’t been rewarded.
Visually, Disgaea 2 is almost identical to the original game. Sprites for some of the games classes are re-used and although the locations themselves are new the game is obviously running on the same engine, tweaked for slightly higher screen resolution. The new characters added to the mix are given their own unique sprites and minor tweaks are made to re-appearing characters from the original game but largely this is a case of re-using as many assets as possible in order to speed production on a sequel. The game opens with an excellent animation featuring many of the games characters from the same studio who produced the anime spin-off series based on ‘Hour of Darkness’ and sets a quality presentation for the game in general. Character art remains beautifully rendered in unanimated 2D illustrations for conversations with variations to reflect different emotional states for the main cast.
Music for the sequel was handled by Nippon Ichi regular composer Tenpei Sato who produces a similar sounding arrangement to the first games but one that is slightly less memorable overall. Some tracks make a welcome return, as do the selection of sound effects that have been copy/pasted into this game from the original wholesale. Voice acting is the definite highlight here, with outstanding vocal performances throughout the game, and although the actress voicing Etna has changed between games (she would remain with this voice for the rest of the series to date) it’s a change for the better, bringing her innate untrustworthiness to the fore.
The story has seen some genuine improvements, rising above a fairly generic ‘take over the netherworld’ scenario that the original employed and building on the concept of hundreds of parallel nether realms, each ruled by a different demonic entity that we saw introduced in ‘Makai Kingdom’. The biggest change is that instead of being cast in the role of a lovable villain this time you take on the part of Adell, the only member of his human community not being turned into a demon by a curse inflicted by a mad overlord. Training to defeat this monster and free his family, Adell’s mother attempts to summon him to their presence but instead snags his daughter, Rozalin and her frog butler. Suffering from some issues with her memory and fighting a mutual attraction, the pair set out together to lift the curse. Along the way Etna makes a glorious cameo appearance, invading a parallel netherworld in the hope of finally becoming top-dog in her master’s absence, bringing with her an army of Prinnies. It’s well scripted stuff, largely enjoyable and always entertaining. A particular highlight is the evolving relationship between Adell and Rozalin, though Etna tries her best to outshine everyone in terms of pure character.
Gameplay has seen few changes to the formula laid down in the original ‘Disgaea: Hour of Darkness’, with the narrative split across 13 chapters. Some additions have been made to build on the existing systems however, with stacking heroes now triggering special ‘tower commands’ in the field and Geo Panels able to get up and move on their own in some cases, forcing players to adapt to shifting special rules mid-battle. Enemy AI has been significantly upgraded, making for some more thrilling and tactical battles, though they can still be goaded into traps relatively easily. You can appoint yourself to the council in the Dark Assembly to help swing the vote in addition to slipping characters there booze and other less savoury items to knock them out of the running, and the Item World sees significant expansion. A large focus of the game is the Item World in fact, with most of the more obvious editions seen here. Pirates now invade mid-level, adding new elements to matches and a secret Prinny Court can be discovered which will judge you and effect bonus items and stat boosts. Healers now receive experience for casting spells too, which means that they’ll level up as quickly as fighter or mage characters who usually reap the glut of the experience from kills, keeping a more balanced party overall. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with any of these inclusions, it feels like a only a small series of improvements for a sequel 4 years in the making between the release of the first game in 2002 and this one in 2006.
Overall the game is a great deal of fun to spend time with, with the PSP portable edition ‘Dark Hero Days’ being its best form, mixing DLC characters and mobile play into an already excellent and addictive game. It fails to break the mould so brilliantly lain down by its predecessor however, making less of an innovation because of this. I’d strongly recommend that people track down a copy, with it easily available on PlayStation Network for PSP and Vita or still as-new through some online stores.