The Disgaea series, much like Final Fantasy, has never really one for direct sequels, opting instead for new stories and new takes on its setting of the Netherworld and generally I’d say the series has been all the better for it. But fans will be fans and apparently outcry was strong enough for the series to make a return to the original Disgaea so now we have Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness, a full on sequel to the first Disgaea game. But put away your hate sticks and mocking jokes of dress-spheres and pop singing priestesses because in standard Disgaea fashion this game is still quirkily good albeit in the exact same way that all the other Disgaea games are quirkily good.
Seeing as the story is the big hook here let’s lead off with that and talk about what’s new with Laharl, Etna, and Flonne since the original Disgaea. Well for those who don’t remember Laharl, son of the recently deceased Overlord Krichkevskoy, had at the end of Disgaea retaken the throne of Overlord for himself by beating up everyone along the way. Well it seems Laharl needs to hire a better PR agent because despite the fact he’s living in the Overlord’s castle and sitting on the throne, most demons won’t acknowledge him as Overlord and some have never even heard of him. So with the help of Etna (now his vassal but still lord of the prinnies) and Flonne (demoted to fallen angel for helping a demon become Overlord) he sets out on a quest to beat his title into the faces of his constituency. While there are also some sub-plots that form regarding more open discussion between Celestia and the Netherworld as well as rumblings from a militant terrorist organization, politics through violence is the main thrust of the game’s story; subtlety has never exactly been one of Disgaea’s strengths after all. It doesn’t need to be subtle though and the overtly cruel yet goofy characters are as fun as they ever were and evoke an air of joviality and personality a lot of strategy games don’t have. That said you will want to make sure you’ve played the original Disgaea before jumping into this one; there isn’t a ton of set-up and lots of series lore is referenced that you’re kind of just expected to know.
What can I say about Disgaea’s gameplay that I haven’t already said in prior reviews for the series? Not much really as the mechanics remain pretty much unchanged. The only major new twist is the mechanic of human characters getting to mount and ride monster characters, gaining a movement boost and a special attack; it’s a fun but minor addition and functions pretty much the same as the monster weapon system from Disgaea 3. That said though for as much as the gameplay is the same as past entries it doesn’t feel as though it’s stagnating, they just seem to have found their groove and are sticking with it. Fact of the matter is, Disgaea’s strategic combat is insanely smooth and malleable, rarely locking you into decisions and instead letting you reorganize the battlefield to your heart’s content. Basically until you choose to lock something in and execute it, you can move and re-move as much as you want; more importantly executing is on a character-to-character basis meaning you could move the same guy seven times to set up seven different team attacks and then finally move them into position for their own attack. Add in things like picking up and throwing characters for even more maneuverability and you get a system that is almost overwhelming accommodating of any strategy you can think up.
Presentation-wise this is pretty much just another Disgaea game but at the very least they’re continuing with the improvements that came about in Disgaea 4. By that I mean the sprites are crisp and sharp and they’ve clearly gone to the trouble of redrawing all the character sprites from the original Disgaea. They’ve also put in a bunch of new attack animations and as always they are the highlight of the game, there’s a great focus on just making these look as fun and cool as possible and they succeed. They even use them to throw in a few extra video game references such as the Prinny’s mounted special attack “Bomber-Dood”. The music is also quite good but the majority of it is recycled from past games in the series as you’d kind of expect; it’s still as charming as ever mind you but you’ve most likely heard this soundtrack before.
When all is said and done, this is another DIsgaea game and you probably already know if it’s up your alley or not. It’s got the same great gameplay, fun and colourful sprite based visuals, and wacky ass plot full of nonsensical characters that we’ve come to expect from the series and if you’ve enjoyed one of the past entries then you’ll enjoy this one. Really the only stipulation here is having at least a base familiarity with the story of the first game but the original Disgaea has been ported more than a couple times and is even available on PSN. That said though if you don’t care about the plot, the gameplay of D2 is good enough to enjoy regardless of your personal experience level with the series. I’m giving Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness a 4 out of 5 stars, the formula still works and the story is a lot of fun especially if you’re a big fan of the series though it would be nice to see Disgaea take a more dramatic stab at innovating itself.