I've loved the entire Disgaea series, having purchased and played every entry, including the re-releases on PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita. I'm a big fan of Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, and the Disgaea franchise is one of the few that keeps that style of gameplay alive today. The series is funny, over-the-top, and amazingly complex if you delve deep into all the various systems.
But I think with Disgaea D2, my fervor is beginning to slow down.
After three Disgaea sequels, Nippon Ichi Software has decided to return to the cast that put it on the map. Though Laharl, Etna, and Flonne have had cameos or guest-starred in the other games, Disgaea D2 marks the first time they're back front-and-center. Laharl has succeeded this father as the Overlord of the Netherworld, but new angel Sicily and a contingent of demons loyal to Laharl's father are seeking to make his reign a short one. The story isn't one of the series' best, but the trademark humor and heartfelt moments are still present.
It may be the fact that we're returning to the originals that lessens my interest a bit because the game is as technically excellent as it's been in the past. Reincarnation, Promotion, Apprenticeship, the Item World, the Dark Assembly, the insane Combos; a lot of the good stuff makes a return from previous games. Disgaea D2 also takes team customization to the next level. You can change your team around completely; names, voices, colors, and Evilities are all on the editing table. Few games allow you to build your team exactly the way you want it, but Disgaea has always excelled in this respect and D2 improves upon the classic formula.
Two new features join the fray in Disgaea D2, the Demon Dojo and the Mounting system, but they're really just refinements or new versions of older systems. The Demon Dojo lets players sign up specific units for training, which gives them specific stat boosts as they participate in combat. Want to raise your Fighter's speed even faster while leveling? Just assign them to the Super Treadmill. Every stat has a corresponding bit of equipment in the Demon Dojo. Knowledgeable Disgaea fans will note that this sounds a lot like Disgaea 4's Minister system; that's because it's the same thing with a new coat of paint.
The Mounting system pairs up monsters and humanoid units in a new way. The humanoid unit rides the monster, which takes all the damage, while the humanoid unit can still attack, cast magic, and use other special skills. Mounting fixes two problems the Disgaea series has had: 1) monsters are usually not as good and versatile as humanoid units and 2) leveling weak humanoid units while preventing them from dying horribly can be hard at times. With the Mounting system, you just put that weak caster or thief on a strong monster and leveling becomes much easier. Both units gain XP and monsters get some special skills while mounted. Mounting stands as a superior version of Disgaea 3 and 4's Magichange systems, which also allowed humanoids and monsters to fuse to fix some of the deficiencies in monsters.
Those two systems point to my general issue with Disgaea D2. It feels very safe and familiar if you've been a frequent visitor to the Netherworld. Disgaea D2 has become those old, worn-out shoes in the closet that fit perfectly. It's the comfort food of my gaming habit. I can return at anytime, safe in the knowledge that not much has changed, but at the same time, the game isn't wow-ing me like it used to. Laharl and company's full return just amplifies that feeling. It feels like Nippon Ichi is just returning to and refining what works instead of breaking new ground, like it did in Disgaea 4's interesting online mode. Things have been simplified and pared down - the aforementioned online mode is gone - to find the core of Disgaea, making D2 feel less like a full Disgaea game and more like a stepping stone towards the next title.
With sequels, there's a fine line between providing a familiar experience and adding something new. Stick too closely to the formula and you can end up boring your fanbase; tread to far away from the core and you can end up alienating your faithful fans completely. Previous Disgaea titles, between their new casts and systems, straddled both sides perfectly, while Disgaea D2 errs on the 'familiar experience' side. I prefer the wildly creative Nippon Ichi that created Soul Nomad, Prinny, Zettai Hero Project, The Witch and The Hundred Knight, and the upcoming Guided Fate Paradox. Disgaea has become the company's safe haven, its biggest franchise trudging along and evolving ever so slightly. Disgaea makes the money that allows NIS to experiment with those other titles.
So, is it good? Yes, it's a great Disgaea game, and I'll probably keep playing it until they release the next one. But I love Nippon Ichi Software and the Disgaea series, so I'd like to see them stretch their muscles a bit more. Let's break the mold a bit more for Disgaea 5, NIS! Surprise me!
- Visuals: Disgaea D2 looks just as good as its HD predecessor, Disgaea 4, and I'm glad Nippon Ichi has stuck to the 2D sprites that are the series' mainstay.
- Audio: Like most of the game, the soundtrack will sound familiar to Disgaea fans.
- Interface: Nippon Ichi's interface is still great and the developer does its best to teach you about all of the different, complex systems within the game itself.
- Lasting Appeal: It's Disgaea, dood. The campaign may take you around 40 hours, but you can drop 200+ into a Disgaea game easily if its your jam.