Revisiting the Classics – Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories
When you think of games that are synonymous with the strategy RPG, there are a few titles that might come to mind depending on when you got into the genre. Shining Force is often credited with bringing the genre to North America, with interest that surged with the release of Final Fantasy Tactics. But it wasn’t until the original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness before the floodgates truly opened and it was no longer unusual to see things like Fire Emblem or Phantom Brave on store shelves.
And it’s little wonder that’s the case. While the original Disgaea and its sequels generally have a bit of a learning curve, the tutorials are more than adequate, and they offer an insane level of replay value. They also introduced the Prinny which has since served as something of a mascot for both the franchise and Nippon Ichi Software as a whole. It doesn’t hurt that the games are incredibly well written and humorous.
Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories builds upon the gameplay established in the original, while introducing a new cast of characters, a new story, and some added conveniences in the gameplay. If you’ve never played a title in the series before, they are easy to get into, since each one is only loosely connecting (save for the upcoming Dimension 2), though they do have references and recurring characters from earlier games to appease those that had played them.
While the ending you got at the end of the original Disgaea may have varied, it’s generally accepted that Laharl had accomplished his goal in becoming the Overlord of the Netherworld. As such, the opening of Disgaea 2 informs us that there are multiple Netherworlds and each one has its own Overlord in which to govern over it. We are then introduced to the game’s main protagonist, Adell, in his quest to defeat Overlord Zenon. He is the only human in the Netherworld, and defeating Zenon would mean returning his family back to normal from their current monster state. His mother performs a ritual using the life energy of her husband and kids in order to summon Zenon, but instead ends up with his only daughter Rozalin. Bound by the terms of the summoning, she is forced to aid Adell in his quest to find her father, though it doesn’t stop her from trying to get him killed in the process.
It’s not as well written as its predecessor, though Disgaea 2 does manage to work both humorous and touching moments into its narrative. Adell isn’t as arrogant as Laharl was, and his insistence on sticking to his principals is more in line with Disgaea 4‘s Valvatorez, though Adell is not nearly as interesting a character as either. Still, the bond he builds with Rozalin during his adventure will keep you invested, as her naïve antics more than compensate for Adell’s more down-to-business attitude. The supporting cast are equally as interesting, including returning characters like Etna, and Axel who pops up again in following games.
The presentation is half of the charm here, especially the talented voice cast. Disgaea 2 has one of the better English dubs out there, and hearing the Prinnies exclaim “Dood!” both in battle or during regular dialogue sequences is worth it alone. The graphics both in and out of cutscenes are the same, with 2D sprites overlayed on isometric 3D backgrounds. It certainly doesn’t push the hardware to its limits, though each character has a wide range of expressions and animations. You’ll also spend a lot of time having the story read to you by still portraits of the characters, which is nothing new for fans of the genre. Some of the special attacks are quite explosive though, and the ones involving Prinnies in particular are quite humorous.
Much of the appeal of the gameplay comes from the vast number of options at your disposal when choosing how to tackle any given stage. You don’t have to choose what characters to use before battle, you can spawn any of the ones on your roster from your home base. You are limited on how many can participate in battle at one time though, and any units of yours defeated in battle will deduct from this. Units only gain levels by landing the killing blow on enemies, save for healers, which can gain experience from simply doing what they do best. Your characters can also throw each other or monsters, perform team attacks by standing next to each other, and more. There are so many ways to approach a map, though it never seems overwhelming on the account of how serviceable the tutorial is.
And speaking of levels, you can gain levels in the thousands, which is where all the replay value comes in. Each item that you equip in turn has its own level, which can be raised by visiting Item World, a randomly generated dungeon where each level traversed improves the power of the weapon who dive into. If you keep at it, you can craft characters that deal damage containing so many numbers, you won’t even know what to do with them all. There’s content that supports building yourself that high too.
Each stage contains geo panels of varying colors that might have a block on it that provides some sort of effect, be it added experience or invincibility. Do you destroy the block, damaging anyone who might be standing on the same colored panels? Do you throw the block away, to spare your own team some potential damage? Or do you throw more blocks on it, boosting your characters and/or potential experience gain instead? Most stages will confront you with thinking about these questions on top of any strategy you may have had to come with anyway in regards to dealing with your assailants. Some stages rely entirely on managing geo panels simply because there’s no way to get to your enemies otherwise.
Outside of the battles themselves, much of your time is spent in town, which acts as a hub of sorts for all of your activities. You can purchase equipment and items from any of the shops, replay any previous completed maps, and call the Dark Assembly. Using mana gained, your characters can create other characters based on unlocked classes or monsters, or you can reincarnate your existing characters into ones that may be more powerful with higher base stats. Using the Dark Assembly is also the only way to improve items that can be purchased from shops or employ bonuses. The assembly has to vote on whatever it is you propose, though you can bribe any of its members with items from your inventory. If that fails, you can also brute force your vote via battle, though this is suicide at lower levels.
If you somehow missed out on its original release, there’s a few other ways you can obtain it. If you own a PSP, Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days is an enhanced port containing additional content, including some characters and features borrowed from Disgaea 3 as well as DLC characters from other NIS games. There’s even additional story content involving the character, Axel. If you’re more of a home console type, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories was recently released as a PS2 Classic on PlayStation Network for $9.99, which is a steal considering not only how good the game is, but how much content is at your disposal at that price.
It may not be my favorite Disgaea game, but don’t misunderstand. They’re all excellent and are all a great place to start if you’ve never played them before. Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories in particular is a fantastic follow-up to the original and can stand on its own as a must play whether you’ve conquered its predecessor or not. Go play it, dood!