After ten years the three main protagonists of the Disgaea franchise are finally reunited in Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness, a completely over-the-top and top-notch strategy role-playing experience.
The story takes place directly after the events of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and follows Laharl after he has become the full fledged Overlord. Unfortunately, he isn’t receiving the respect he claims he deserves and must adventure through the Netherworld and convince, or beat up, anyone who opposes him. The biggest fault of the storyline is that it’s just too slow and drags in the beginning. Most of the initial cut-scenes are just banter between the main characters and a majority of the interesting events don’t take place until the last few episodes.
Not only is the story a little slow, but it’s also repetitive and features some very weird episodes. Grotto and the Krichevskoy Group have to be dealt with through multiple episodes, Barbara, the knight who only follows direct orders, makes multiple appearances and eventually joins Laharl’s group, and there is even an American Idol themed episode where Laharl becomes a woman. It’s not that these side-tracked plots aren’t entertaining, but they leave the real story feeling a bit watered down.
This slow plot advancement also leaves little room for any real character development, which isn’t seen until the last two or three chapters. While Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness isn’t the most serious game, this lack of character development was a bit of a letdown. Playing as a self-righteous, self-proclaimed Overlord of the Netherworld who doesn’t possess regard for anything but himself can be a bit exhausting after ten chapters. Combine that with an overly loving fallen angel with a terribly high-pitched voice in Flonne, and a whiny angel who is constantly doubting everything in Sicily, and the only refreshing main character comes in the form of the sarcastic demon girl, Etna.
The real selling point for Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is its amazing combat mechanics and the depth that it goes into to truly be one of the most comprehensive SRPGs ever. There’s honestly so much going on that newcomers to this genre could be potentially overwhelmed, but the game does do a nice job of easing players in with a lot of tutorials and explanations. Aside from the standards, like move, attack, special attack, defend, or use item, there is a very nice combo system, the option to throw party members, and monsters that can even be mounted.
The latter is probably the most interesting mechanic, because in most SRPGs the monster characters are generally weaker or possess the least useful skills. By mounting these monsters, human characters gain access to new skills that increase in power as their bond grows, and are granted protection by said monster. This is also a great way to level up weaker characters as both the monster and the human character gain experience when performing actions.
In order to increase the chance for team attacks it’s necessary to grow characters’ bonds by healing and using items on allies. These team attacks add to the game’s depth by allowing multiple adjacent characters to attack with a single action. Also, stronger characters can shield weaker characters and successive execution of attacks will add a combo that increases damage based on the number of consecutive attacks.
Furthermore, when they say “special skills” in Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness, what they really mean is extravagant, larger-than-life attacks. These attacks aren’t simply a shinier version of a sword thrust or arrow volley, but instead planets are hurled at enemies and board games come to life. Pretty much all of these skills are visually pleasing with some having an insane “cool factor” and others being downright hilarious.
Progressing through the main story takes players through an array of settings and features missions that range from painfully easy and straight forward to some of the most frustrating battles ever created; this is actually a nice balance, though, as too much of either would become monotonous. The geo panels/symbols also add a very interesting aspect to the gameplay, as they provide bonuses or effects to all units standing on the corresponding color. Destroying these symbols removes the effect and can set off an explosive chain reaction.
As if the main story didn’t contain enough strategic grinding action, there’s also the Item World where players can visit the world of an item in their inventory. These worlds are completely random, are based off of the item’s stats, get progressively harder, have tons of geo panels and mini-bosses, and essentially lead to an unlimited amount of grinding. The deeper you go into Item World the better the rewards and the stronger that specific item gets. Additionally, in order to increase how far down into Item World you can go, pirate ships can be commandeered from randomly appearing pirate invaders.
Even with all of its clever character interaction, bright visuals, unique combat animations, brilliant game mechanics, and tons of content, there is one major flaw that really drags Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness down. That is, the fact that it still contains game breaking bugs. There’s really no excuse for releasing a broken game these days, especially when it’s only for one system, but the game tends to irreversibly freeze during intense battle segments. There’s nothing more dissatisfying than pulling off an amazing combo, or beating a level you’ve been stuck on forever, only to have the game break itself and force you to start over again. Hopefully this issue will be fixed shortly after launch.
That being said, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is still one of the better games in the franchise and stands out among the top SRPGs currently on the market.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, which we were provided with.
With its unique visuals, thousands of hours of gameplay, complex combat system, and entertaining story line, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness would be a near perfect SRPG if it wasn't plagued by performance issues.