- Amusing plot;
- Great combat system;
- Crazy gameplay ideas that somehow work very well;
- Equally crazy soundtrack.
- It’s only a port; not a full-fledged remake;
- Clumsy mouse controls.
When the first Disgaea was released on PC, I did everything I possibly could to somehow convince people to notice this title. Disgaea is simply a fantastic series of tactical RPGs that’s known for its humor and absurd gameplay mechanics – it’s like Final Fantasy Tactics suddenly went off its rocker. Why wouldn’t people enjoy this gem of an RPG?
The Japanese studio is keeping up the momentum and has just released a port of the second installment in the series, which originally debuted on PlayStation 2 back in 2006 to a positive reception. The question is: is there a point to playing a 10-year-old game? And should those unfamiliar with the franchise skip the first part and go straight to Disgaea 2? There’s a simple answer to both these questions: definitely yes. Disgaea 2 is witty and offers a ton of possibilities; it can even change your life. I’m convinced that every personal development coach would recommend this game to their clients, if only personal development coaches deemed video games worth their attention…
Disgaea 2 is set in a twisted version of the afterworld, where the eternal conflict between heaven and hell is in full swing. While the first game’s plot and humor were rooted in the clash between characters from the opposing factions (asking whether an angel can fall in love with a demon), in the second game things are quite different.
The protagonist is Adell – a boy determined to lift a curse that burdens his kind: people were turned into demons by a lord of darkness going by the name of Zenon. The mother of the boy attempts to challenge the powerful lord to a duel, but she makes a mistake; instead of the lord, his daughter, Rozalin is conjured. Bound by the force of the spell, she leads the young warrior to her father.
This unusual and internally contradictive team is soon reinforced by other, equally absurd figures, such as a “bipolar” frog named Tink, who’s either amiable or mean – you can switch between these personalities with the Draak-Tink-Mahalaak spell. Humorous, even satirical characters are without a doubt the game’s main asset.
The story of Adell and Rozalin is full of absurd turns of events and it constantly subverts our fixed notions of what hell is as well as real and contemporary matters – let’s just say that one of the first antagonists of the game is a former TV celebrity, who is followed everywhere by a television crew that is fruitlessly fishing for news. It’s the features like this one that give the game its distinct flavor – Disgaea 2 is a silly game about things that tend to be serious at times.
Going through these weird adventures, which often are jovial and sometimes cheesy, the characters undergo a transition – they discover they were wrong thinking that the world was black-and-white; the reality is more complex, and people, or demons, are driven by contradictory emotions. You may have a laugh at one of the surprisingly accurate jokes; you may be touched by the dramatic experiences of some characters; you may be embarrassed by some of the silly gags; and most of all, you can develop relationships with them, and see what makes them tick.
In fact, after spending some time in Disgaea I had a hard time sinking my teeth into the latest installment of Fire Emblem, where everything is so damn serious and the fate of an entire kingdom depends on the player. The demons from Disgaea display a much more reasonable attitude towards life: if the kingdom burns, we shall loot our neighbors.
This thing never ends
The plots in every game in the series are invariably adorable and I’m always eager to see them unfold, but the thing that is the most magnetizing in Disgaea are the fantastic ideas for different mechanics. As in the previous game, the subsequent missions are launched from our “base of operations” – this time, it’s the home village of Adell. You can do some shopping here, talk with NPCs or assemble a party. It’s also where the portals are located that take the party into battles.
Character progression realized by incessant fighting is the essence of the game; that’s why grinding is also an integral part of Disgaea’s identity. Although both the first and the second installment can be finished in under 30 hours, a typical playthrough will usually take more, even as much as over a hundred hours. The reason for this is twofold: first, Disgaea offers virtually limitless variants of challenges, and second, it’s simply riveting. Developing the characters can take A LOT of time, and there’s definitely no shortage of arenas.
What’s so unique about Disgaea’s mechanics? I honestly don’t know where to begin – the second game introduced a couple of new solutions into this insane blend. The combat generally resembles that from Final Fantasy Tactics, however it adds a few different – and seemingly bizarre – ideas, such as the ability to toss team members, or even opponents, and the so-called geopanels. These special artifacts, by modifying certain tiles on the arena, can provide invincibility or reinforce enemy units. This adds an element of logic puzzles to some fights: before you make a move, you have to consider the best way of weakening the opponent.
What’s more, the panels can move, which in practice means that each round brings about a complete reshuffle of the battlefield. However, Disgaea 2 also has some scenarios that are just a regular scuffle – during these, you need to get down to some reasonable management of both offensive and defensive units, which wield different weapons and cast different spells. For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend this game to people who are totally new to tactical games – the rules are rather simple, but you have to be get to the thick of it pretty quickly.
Politology for demonologists
The creativity, characteristic of the combat system, is also present in the other elements of the game. In the town, you can summon a Dark Assembly, i.e. a demonic parliament, during which you can pass different laws, which will for example add more goods to stores. The demons from the opposition can be bribed with interesting items or intimidated – just like in real politics!
Before venturing forth, take a look at your party, because choosing the right people and gear is a vital part of Disgaea. You have full control here – any combination of classes, stats and skills is possible, and the characters can be rearmed later. Your team can even be joined by some of the monsters you encounter along the way. My advice is to invest in mages – if their spells are well-developed, they will be able to kill groups of enemies with a single attack. Items can be upgraded in the so-called Item World, where you need to win a series of fights, thus determining how much an item will be upgraded. Here, you can also be ambushed by pirates, drifting beyond dimensions…
There’s a ton of funny ideas in Disgaea, but the best part is that after wrapping your head around all this silliness, the game is actually pretty coherent; it’a title that you can spend many hours with. Disgaea 2 provides a plethora of different configurations of the party, and it’s hella fun to play. The learning curve of combat is quite steep, so it’s hard to be bored – that is, if a certain amount of grinding doesn’t bother you. But even if it does, there’s some interesting solutions here to shake things up – you can train e.g. by fighting your own characters. In the world populated by demons the only thing that counts is strength, no matter how you obtain it. Looking at the sequel in the context of the whole series, it’s safe to say that it does a good job of expanding the mechanics known from the previous iterations by adding small, but well-tailored chunks. However, a real revolution is yet to come.
PCs – new demon habitat?
We could complain that NIS released a mere port instead of a proper remaster, but then we have to remember that Disgaea hasn’t changed that much throughout the years – the newer installments only offer prettier characters and animations. Besides, the older games have a certain charm about them. I’ve seen some people claiming that the PC conversion of the first game was unstable, but I honestly haven’t run into any trouble of that sort during the many hours I packed into both these titles, maybe apart from occasional framerate drops during some special actions, which probably stems from the original game’s code itself.
I strongly suggest that anyone willing to play should use only keyboard or gamepad, despite the fact that it may initially feel unintuitive. The devs have implemented mouse support, but it doesn’t work too well – following the cursor is rather troublesome; the game is just not made for this type of “seamless” input. It’s easier to just jump across the tiles using the keyboard – you need to learn the keys first, but when you do, you can actually do things faster than on a console.
I’m really happy to see NIS sharing the Disgaea series with owners of PCs, because both the first and the second installment are extraordinary games. Disgaea 2 is for people who like tactical games and aren’t afraid of a certain Japanese flavor. The adventure of Adell and Rozalin is really cute, very funny and full of self-conscious embarrassment. If you’re not interested in these, you can always focus on the expansive and well-designed character development system and satisfying combat. An additional advantage are the low system requirements and ability to store game saves in the cloud – I was playing on a laptop and on PC. Disgaea 2 PC is a solid title – in my opinion one that hasn’t got old and can still surprise us with the level of liberty it offers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I guess I can call myself a fan of the Disgaea series. I’ve obviously been familiar with the sequel since it was released on consoles – I can’t actually tell how much time I spent in this game, but I assume the whole series has thus far devoured a couple hundred hours of my life. That’s why I didn’t finish the PC version of the game before the review; I was more interested with the technical aspect of this port. I play tactical RPGs often, albeit I have some catching up to do. Currently, I am trying Fire Emblem: Awakening, which is pretty cool, however stilted when compared to Disgaea.
We’ve received a copy of Disgaea 2 PC free of charge from the game’s publisher – NIS America.