Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories

Fifteen years ago, an Overlord named Zenon appeared in the world of Veldime and transformed its inhabitants into demons, although a young man named Adell escaped this curse, and wishes to defeat Zenon. Adell’s mother, a summoner, attempts to summon Zenon, but instead summons his daughter Rozalin, whom Adell wishes then to return to her father, still intending to defeat him and lift the curse on his family. Nippon Ichi’s Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories is the first sequel to the company’s popular Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, and generally builds upon its predecessor’s deep tactical gameplay, which is mostly enjoyable in spite of a few flaws.

As in the first game, the sequel features a hub town where the player can conduct various character management tasks like shopping, outfitting characters, and so forth. Other features returning from the first game include the Dark Assembly, where the player can create new characters with Mana each existing character gains from killing enemies and submit bills for Senators to pass or reject; the Item World, where the player can dive into each item to fight enemies and level it up; and a Hospital, where the player can heal characters after battle, and occasionally acquire a gift depending upon how often characters are healed.

The general structure of battle is mostly the same as it was in the first installment, with the player having a base panel from which they can bring out at most ten characters to dish it out with the enemy in grid-based, elevation-based tactical combat. As with before, the player and the enemy have separate turn sessions, with enemies fortunately executing their actions fairly quickly in their round. During the player’s session, he/she can move around units, set them up to attack normally or use SP-consuming skills, and even lift and throw around allies and enemies.

Colored Geo Symbols and Panels also return, with Symbols having various effects on the color of Panel upon which they rest such as increased experience for monsters defeated upon the Panels, increased attack or defense, invincibility, and so forth. Characters can destroy Symbols, which, if of a different color than the Panels they sit on, will change all those Panels to its color, damaging allies and enemies standing upon them during color change. Chain reactions of Geo Panel color changes can occur, which can drastically increase the bonus gauge of rewards gained upon completing that battle, such as new weapons, armor, consumable items, and supplemental experience for all characters on the map after the battle is over.

There are some new features in battle, such as the occasional presence of treasure chests that the player’s characters can “kill” to obtain an item, experience, or Mana, although enemies can “kill” them as well to prevent the player from obtaining its contents. Certain Geo Symbols, moreover, might be animate, and thus be able to walk around the battlefield to a colorless area or different color of Geo Panel to alter field effects. In addition to team attacks where four characters can participate (with said attacks having a percent chance of executing), with all splitting obtained experience and Mana if said team attack kills a foe, furthermore, characters stacked as a result of lifting can attack an enemy, with all, again, splitting experience if the attacked enemy dies.

Each character class, moreover, has a certain affinity with the game’s various types of weapons (although monster classes can only use claw-type weapons) from grades F to S, the former being the worst and the latter being the best, with weapon mastery gradually increasing as a character attacks with that weapon, ultimately netting them special SP-consuming skills to use, which themselves have levels the player can increase with repeated use. To unlock more powerful classes, the player must have mastered particular weapon types by a few levels, in addition to passing a bill at the Dark Assembly that consequentially appears.

During battle, naturally, characters gain experience, the bulk coming from killing enemies (which also nets the killing characters Mana), although casting support or healing spells can also net the caster some experience. At the Dark Assembly, characters can use their Mana to create new characters, with the new character and his/her creator having an apprentice/master relationship, with the master gaining bonus points as his/her apprentice levels, and the master also being able to learn special skills the apprentice gains if next to him/her on the battlefield, with said skills becoming a permanent part of the master’s skill set once they reach level one.

At the Dark Assembly, creating characters with high “potential” (dictating the number of bonus points players can assign to each of their stats during creation), alongside submitting bills with various effects such as making new classes available and making bonus areas available, requires its Senators’ approval, with the player able to bribe them with items from their inventory. New to the sequel are political parties, where bribing a Senator of a certain party will increase the briber’s influence with a bribed Senator’s party and reduce the opposing party’s influence. After bribery, the player allows the Senators to vote, with a bill able to pass or fail; in the latter instance, the player can either return to the hub town, with Mana used lost, or try and fight the Senators to force the proposal through, which is difficult at low levels.

Reincarnation, where characters can transmigrate to different classes and have increased base stats while inheriting skills from their previous class, returns from the first installment. A new feature somewhat related to this is the ability of characters to accept subpoenas for a certain “crime” such as having a high level or high HP, and going into that item via the Item World to the Dark Court, where a character gets a felony. Having a criminal record actually isn’t a bad thing, as it can have effects like cheaper items and better luck in getting proposals through the Dark Assembly, although characters can “atone” while reincarnating, in which case their felony count resets but they still keep the benefits.

The Item World returns, too, where the player can dive into an item to fight through several randomly-generated floors, or skip through them by going through portals to the next floor. The sequel puts several twists on the Item World, such as Mystery Rooms with various surprises, and pirates that either come in groups or individually, with the former bearing treasure on their ship and the latter being much higher in level than the map’s normal enemies. Each item also has residents that the player can “subdue” to move them to other items for effects such as increased strength. After ten floors, or if the player uses a Mr. Gency’s Exit for instant departure (with these particular items acquired only by completing the tenth floor of an item), an item’s stats will increased depending upon the number of defeated enemies and completed floors.

All in all, the sheer depth of Disgaea 2’s battle system, much like in its predecessor, can be somewhat off-putting, although its endless variety is definitely an asset, and leveling in the Item World while experimenting with all the different classes can actually be somewhat fun (and though the player can replay completed maps, the ability to leave the Item World with Mr. Gency’s Exits makes it an ideal spot for leveling should it be necessary). Geo Symbols and Panels also add some layer of strategy to many story maps, many of which are certainly beatable even if the party’s levels are below those of the enemy (with victory sometimes depending on things such as equipment and number of reincarnations). Ultimately, since most time in tactical RPGs is spent fighting, it’s fortunate that Disgaea 2 does well in this area.

Interaction, however, doesn’t fare as well. The sequel’s linear structure, superficially-simple menus, and generous inventory space aren’t that bad, although the fact that all characters can equip three different kinds of armor/accessories, in addition to their weapon, easily creates a character management nightmare compounded by the unfortunate lack of an “equip best” option, with players needing to cycle equipment among characters when upgrading gear, alongside the inability to see previous stats when “fitting” prospective equipment during shopping. Overall, tactical RPGs tend to not fare well in this area, and the first Disgaea sequel is no exception.

Disgaea 2 retains enough features from its predecessor to feel like a logical sequel, such as a few characters, the Item World, the Dark Assembly, and the general structure of combat, while introducing some new features and twists such as the Dark Court, Item World pirates, a fairly unique storyline, and so forth, that keep it sufficiently fresh.

As in the first game, the sequel features a humorous, lighthearted plot divided into several Episodes, with “news segments” in between Episodes serving a similar purpose to Etna’s preview fantasies in the original. The plot is a half-decent driving factor, although as seems to be the case with most episodic RPGs, the plot sometimes seems misguided, with occasional fetch quests thrown into the mix. The translation is above average, with some quirks such as Hanako calling her brother Taro “Tardo,” although there are some oddities such as one character ending all her sentences with “zam.” All in all, the story isn’t superb, but is certainly far from terrible.

Disgaea 2 features a style of music by Nippon Ichi’s main composer Tenpei Sato similar to its predecessor, which is mostly hit-or-miss, although there are some decent Japanese vocal tracks. Most cutscenes, moreover, feature voice-acting, which too is mostly hit-or-miss, having a cartoony feel and being something of an acquired taste, although players can choose the Japanese voices instead. Ultimately, neither the music nor the voicework excel, but are by no means bad.

As with most of Nippon Ichi’s other tactical offerings, moreover, the first Disgaea sequel sticks to three-dimensional scenery with two dimensional sprites during battle and hub town navigation, with still character portraits during most cutscenes. The character designs are pretty decent, and the scenery and sprites look somewhat better than in N1’s previous titles, but they still don’t push the Playstation 2 to its limits, with the environments looking somewhat rough and blocky at times, and many palette swaps existing. Still, the graphics aren’t bad, but show that Nippon Ichi is very much behind the times when it comes to game visuals.

Finally, playing time ranges somewhere from twenty to forty hours, depending largely upon how well the player grasps the game’s mechanisms, with extras such as additional maps accessed through Dark Assembly legislation, the Item World, and a replay mode adding to that time.

In conclusion, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories is a worthy sequel that builds upon its predecessor’s deep battle system while featuring plenty of other quirks such as a humorous storyline and decent art. The second installment is certainly not without its flaws such as a high degree of character maintenance, a forgettable soundtrack, and graphics that are very much behind the times, although those who enjoyed the first game and Nippon Ichi’s other titles will likely enjoy the second installment. Conversely, those who aren’t fans of N1’s titles certainly won’t become believers because of the first Disgaea sequel.

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