Few people wake up on a Saturday morning and exclaim, “I need ANOTHER strategy JRPG in my life.” I’m one of those people. I grew up on Final Fantasy Tactics, and between 1998 and 2003 I scoured local videogame stores and brick-and-mortar Blockbuster stores for the next great strategy JRPG, or SJRPG (if you’re into acronyms of that magnitude). Although many SJRPGs entered the PS1 and early PS2 libraries, it wasn’t until 2003 where I was first able to sink my teeth into a new type of strategy.
That game was Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. It’s unique anime-style humor and art direction were an instant hit with a dorky kid from Long Island. I grinded away hours of my teenage life to dig deeper into Disgaea. A few short years later, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories found its way onto the PS2 — I never got to play it during its original release window. 2006 was a busy year for video games and Disgaea 2 was lost in a sea of new systems, Elder Scrolls, and sadly, Star Fox Assault. I put so much time into the original, I didn’t see picking up the sequel as essential.
Disgaea 2 – re-released on the PS3 as part of the PS2 classics campaign – is every bit as charming as its predecessor. I was instantly hooked when I heard the poorly voiced anime characters and watched the first few cut scenes. Disgaea 2 brought me back to a time where I was very happy with video gaming. More modern games, even JRPGS, have become all too serious. Disgaea 2 has a certain innocence and delightful immaturity that games have lost grip of in more recent years. The bright colors of the PS2 and the lost art of the JRPG are incredibly nostalgic and exhume a generation of games that were both proud and willing to be unique. While Disgaea 2 is a sequel, in a series that spawned four main titles and four handheld remakes, it was released before the annualization and sequelization of the medium.
Disgaea 2, like Disgaea, is a cute SJRPG that will please any fan of the genre. The game plays almost exactly like the original Disgaea. You play as Adell, whose village, Holt, is taken over by evil Overlord Zenon who turns the entire populace into demons. Adell has not been cursed into a demon, so attempts to slay Zenon with help of his family and Rozalin, Zenon’s gun-slinging daughter.
Holt is a hub world from where Adell and Rozalin can venture outward and complete the main story’ 13 chapters, embark in sidequests, buy items, and chat it up with locals. Many of the options are fairly straight forward; story quests are completed to progress the story so that Adell can make the sky fall onto Zenon. Sidequests are side missions in which Adell and his party can improve their stats through battle and gain access to different items. Thirdly, and most interestingly, is the Dark Council — a collection of senators who vote upon resolutions which each character proposes to the council.
The Dark Concil provides Adell and his party with the ability to “win their favor” and presents them with more maps to train on, better weapons and items in shoppes, and the ability to recruit new party members. The Dark Concil votes on each request you make, and if they do not want you to have what you desire, you can bribe them into assent. You can see which senators support your cause, indicated by a percentage to pass. Disgaea 2′s greatest feature, however, is combat.
You control a small battalion of soldiers who use their magic and weapons to defeat every enemy on a grid-style map. Your characters can move and interact with this map as you see fit. What I’ve always enjoyed most about Disgaea games is the ability to activate and destroy “gems” so that it changes the field to a certain degree. Some field effects decrease your attack power by x% while others increase your EXP gained by y%. It adds some extra flair to a genre and system that can find themselves monotonous and repetitive after a long time invested. Characters can combine attacks and have combo moves that greatly improve your odds against your enemies. Disgaea 2 feels tight, fun, and refreshing.
What sets the Disgaea series apart from other games in this genre is its sense of humor. Disgaea has its own lingo and slang, not to mention some excellent and fun anime-character design. Disgaea 2 does not take itself seriously, and has a wonderful sense of self awareness not always found in JRPGS. The game, for example, breaks the fourth wall a little bit: Adell knows that he’s the main character of the story, so when he comes face to face with Laharl (the hero of Disgea: Hour of Darkness) the ex-hero becomes quite disdained that he is no longer the main character. While other JRPGS get bogged down with questions of existence and quests of “saving the world” Disgaea is generally a smaller story; something strange and fun, while keeping the traditional SJRPG formula.
If you’re looking for an RPG with some length, you’ll be happy to know that Disgaea 2 boasts over 100+ hours of gameplay. The main story’s 13 chapters may not seem like a long quest, but the seemingly endless side-quests offer more bang for its buck than other RPGs. My favorite side-quest is the Item World. There Adell can literally venture into his items and fight battles against powerful monsters. To progress to the next stage of any item you must defeat all the monsters in a stage or find its secret exit. When you reach stage 100 of an item, you fight its Item God. When the Item God is destroyed you increase the item’s bonuses significantly (attack power, magic power, etc.) and get a specialist slot which improves the stats of the item even further. Typically these bonuses are obvious like maximum HP increase or a power jump; sometimes specialists increase a weapon’s ability to get a critical hit or the amount of experience gained from felling enemies in combat.
As you traverse through Item World, you will meet and fight pirates. Upon fighting and defeating them, they give you pirate maps. When you find all sixteen maps, you gain access to the Land of Carnage — a second home world. This second world allows you to play all of your completed missions at a higher difficulty. Enemies’ levels are mulitplied twenty-fold and increased by an additional two-hundred. That level 10 you fought earlier on is now a level 400 monster, making combat incredibly challenging. In the Land of Carnage missions and monsters are very tough, so this side quest should only be attempted by the strongest Disgaea players.
If you have strategic leanings, but have never played a SRPG, Disgaea 2 is a great jumping off point. Disgaea 2 is an incredibly fun SJRPG. It’s charming and cute, humorous without being hokey, and rewards the player who wishes to invest a great deal of time in it. While you’ll still get a kick out of Disgaea 2 without the side quests, this game is built for the grinder. Priced at $9.99, Disgaea is worth every penny.