The Disgaea franchise has been going strong since 2003 over here in the US, and frankly, there might be people still playing Disgaea: Hour of Darkness today. The series known for absurdly-high level caps, punishing difficulty, and over-the-top anime style dropped its latest iteration on the PS3 as Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness. A direct sequel to the events in the first Disgaea title, this game both welcomes series veterans and newcomers. If you’re looking for A) a game that fuses anime absurdity with a fleshed-out tactics title, B) a game that gives you almost unlimited customization of your units, their abilities, and the battles you take on, or C) a game that almost literally has unlimited replayability, then Disgaea D2 may be well worth your time.
Those who played either Hour of Darkness or its re-release, Afternoon of Darkness, will be familiar with Laharl, the new Overlord of the Netherworld…or at least, he thinks he is. Nobody in the Netherworld, including his vassal, Etna, and his fallen Angel friend, Flonne, seems to take him seriously, so he ventures around the realm to display his power and state his dominance. If this sounds like a campy, light-hearted anime, that’s because it really is: each of the game’s stages are bundled into chapters which are presented like episodes of a TV show. The story develops with plot twists and humor that are entertaining, but really don’t end up feeling critical to playing the game. There’s also plenty of voice-acting, but most of the voices are high-pitched and can grind on the ears, so if you’re getting into this game it’s likely because of the hardcore gameplay. Frankly, that’d be a great reason to get into it; there’s plenty of hardcore tactics to go around.
D2 starts off from the onset giving you an almost unparalleled amount of control over your party and tactical approach. Each character comes with a range of equippable weapons and skills, and characters develop based on how you use them in battle. Using more magic attacks raises intelligence while physical attacks raise strength, and characters can mentor each other to pass along skills the pupil would have never learned. And that’s before you add in special unit combo attacks, a demon Senate where you can bribe politicians for money, items, and bonus experience, and items which you can level up by venturing inside them and defeated the randomized dungeons each one contains…and let’s not forget about the “cheats” built into the game where you can tweak experience gained, gold found, and enemy difficulty for the maps…does this game sound crazy? It should, and it should probably make you pretty excited. It’s really unlike most of the tactics titles out there (other than the other Disgaea games), and it’s a blast…so long as you’re ready for some potential pain.
This game is not for the faint of heart. Fail a mission and you’re kicked back out to the title screen, which means that if you forgot to save for the past two hours then your progress is TOAST. Also, expect to replay old missions and venture into item worlds pretty frequently; you’ll need to do an almost unhealthy level of grinding to take care of some of these bosses. But D2 also sports an enemy which even an extreme level of grinding can’t beat: a game-freezing glitch that triggers randomly with explosion graphics. According to forums around the internet the freezing happens far more often in digital copies of the game than physical ones, but you may be able to avoid the issue by loading your saved game, then loading the save file again from within the game. After freezing up multiple times I found that using the double-load trick got me through hours of gameplay without another freeze. I won’t guarantee that it’s a permanent fix, and it’s a shame that a glitch this heavy could make its way into a shipped product, but doing this might address the issue. At the time of this review, there’s still no patch to address the freezing. In the meantime, enable autosaving (it’s disabled by default) and use multiple save files just in case.
If you can put up with the screechy voice-acting, you’re ready for some hardcore difficulty and grinding, and you remember to double-load your saves, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is a fantastic tactics title that can certainly last you far beyond the release of the next Disgaea game (the level cap is 9999). Even if you put the game on mute and skip the cutscenes, the gameplay makes D2 one of the tightest, deepest strategy titles you’ll find on a console. Strap in for a wild, funny, insane ride and pick up Disgaea D2 on PS3 either on physical disc or on PSN.
Final Score: 4.3 out of 5