Review: Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days

Disgaea2PSP.jpg Hey dood… we’re back!

I remember the heady days of 2007, back when the PSP had pulled out of what seemed a terminal death spiral and started spewing a stream of high-quality games. Such was the quality of releases that year that hardcore fans could chuckle and say “Final Fantasy Tactics is good, but it is not up to the level of Jeanne D’Arc or Disgaea.” That’s right – three top-quality strategy-RPGs in a short time span. And while the PSP releases have slowed to the point that any solid game feels like a gift from the heavens, the arrival of Disgaea 2 would be a blessing regardless of what else was released.

OK, so perhaps that is a bit heavy handed and overly dramatic. Let me put it simply: Disgaea 2 is a very good game. Dood!

Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness was an enhanced port of the original Disgaea PS2 game, and not surprisingly Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days is a port of Disgaea 2, also for the PS2. The basis of the story is that everyone in the world except for you has been transformed by the curse of an overlord years ago, and it is determined that by defeating the overlord you can save everyone and turn them back into humans. As the main character Adell’s mother tries to summon the overlord Zenon, something goes wrong and his daughter Rozalin shows up instead.

From there Rozalin and Adell travel together in search of Zenon, and the game does a nice job of building a solid relationship between the two. Everyone else seems to think it is more than a bit friendly, but the pair maintain a strict platonic stance (will it last? You’ll have to play to see). As was true with the original, Disgaea 2 does a great job of establishing and building characters. That is what makes it a strategy-RPG rather than just a simple strategy game: you are dealing with characters you don’t want to lose rather than just a bunch of nameless ‘units’ you typically get in a strategy game.

There are actually TWO stories in Disgaea: Dark Hero Days – the story from the original Disgaea 2, which has been tweaked and updated and flows very nicely, and also a new story focused on Axel and his family that takes over just after the end of the initial story. That is just a ton of gaming – the original game was already quite huge, so getting more is just a great addition. In general the add-on story isn’t up to the same high level as the original, but it is solid and fun and definitely worth playing.

The gameplay consists of turn-based strategy battles that play out on a relatively small grid. You can take up to 10 characters with you onto the battlefield where you’ll face a wide variety of threats from enemies, but also have to deal with terrain issues. In battle you choose from a set of menu options – each turn you get a move and action, and possibly more options by combining characters. The game uses ‘Geo Stones’ as a way of granting specific bonuses (or causing negative effects) to whomever is on the squares of the same color. This can make a huge difference in a tight battle, so you need to either dominate or destroy the Geo Stones. It is impossible to overstate the importance of mastering the concept of Geo Stones.

There are plenty of tactical options available: flanking an enemy with more than one character gives massive attack bonuses – of course, the same happens when enemies flank you! Also, if you have monsters on your side you can transform them into weapons using the Magichange action for a couple of turns, after which the monster disappears. So it is useful when you are in a pinch, but can cause longer term issues by depleting your ranks. You can also use an action called ‘toss’ to throw characters a few squares on the grid, and if you toss them to a monster ally you can then toss them even further without using an additional action. This is a great way to make a big tactical change with a single action.

Between battles you get to visit the town to buy supplies, heal or resurrect comrades, and so on. One change from the original that is very much appreciated is the ability to sort your inventory based on item type, which makes it much easier to find what you need for your characters. I also liked the personalities of everyone in town you interact with – another small touch that makes the game world feel more alive.

Character progression is also very deep. You can gain levels all the way up to 9999, and can even choose to ‘reincarnate’ a character – which will start them back at level 1, but with all skills intact, making it possible to shape a dangerous multi-classed character! You can replay every battle as many times as you like to help gain experience and character levels, and can also take items through a series of random battles in order to level the item up as well!

In terms of graphics and sound, Disgaea 2 seems to use more or less the same engine as the original Disgaea PSP game, which isn’t a bad thing. Everything is represented as 2D sprites on a 3D map with a rotating camera. The camera can be a pain at times, as the elevation can auto-adjust and make it hard to see what you need to make the right choice. One great visual option is the ability to turn off battle animations, because in a game that is this huge it is sometimes nice to plow through fights more quickly. The music and sound effects are very well done too, and just about every line in the entire game is voice acted in high quality.

To an extent ‘finishing’ a game like Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days is a relative thing: with so many options, so much to do and 9999 levels per character you can just keep playing and playing without end. But you can finish the story mode in many hours, and it is a very rewarding experience in several ways: you get the nice stories, the fun characters, and the excellent combat. Because in a strategy game, combat is king, and Disgaea 2 is a great tactical combat game, with loads of other great features on top. This is definitely one of the better PSP releases this year!

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Pros:
+ Huge game also includes a new story
+ With 9999 levels, there is no rush to finish!
+ Nice tweaks to improve original game
+ Tons of tactical battle options

Cons:
– Camera can get annoying
– Second story doesn’t live up to first

Game Info:
Platform: PSP
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: NIS
Release Date: 9/8/09
Genre: Strategy-RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!