Review: Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories (PS2)
Title: Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories
Format: PlayStation 2 Disc / PlayStation Network Download (1390 MB)
Release Date: August 29, 2006 / January 22, 2013
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
ESRB Rating: T
Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories is also available on PSP.
The PlayStation Network version was used for this review.
NIS America burst on to the scene in the early 2000s with the Disgaea series on the PS2. At a time when Tactical RPGs were not known for their characters and stories, the Disgaea series managed to eschewed genre expectations by providing a humorous and nonsensical approach to the genre. Starring demonic heroes with lots of charm and wit, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness almost single-handedly revived the strategy RPG genre on home consoles. Now, Disgaea 2, released three years after its predecessor manages to improve on nearly every aspect of the original, but it comes across as more difficult and less approachable than other entries in the series.
Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories puts you in the role of Adell, the last human being in existence. In an effort to defeat Overlord Zenon, the demon responsible for converting the world’s human population to demons, his mother accidentally summons Rozalin, the demon’s daughter. Thus, the unconventional couple is created, and of course, hilarity ensues. Rozalin struggles with her desires to help Adell out, while simultaneously wanting to kill him for his ambitions to kill her father. The awkward, hilarious, and sometimes romantic tension provides for some truly laughable moments, and as usual for the series, makes the protagonists deep and likable. The story tries to walk a fine line between hilarious and downright nonsensical plot events, and for the most part, it achieves it. There are moments where the plot seems to devolve into pure confusion and chaos, but the motivation to see the tale to the end keeps the player engaged and interested.
Like the other games in the series, Disgaea 2 is centered around a hub world, which Adell and friends will return to between battles in order to stock up on supplies, weapons, and other items worthy to their cause. After each of the thirteen chapters present in the game, new items, potions, magic, and weapons will be restocked in the town, providing reason and motivation to talk to everyone and equip yourself with the best gear possible for the mission. This hub world is par for the series, and there’s not much that makes this game stand out among its contemporaries.
Battles take place in the usual grid system. There are different phases for each turn that allow for movement, attack, item use, and defense; it’s all standard for the series and the genre. Where Disgaea, and more specifically this title, stand out is the personality brought to every battle. Whether it’s powers that allow you to order pizzas and other items mid battle, to having your party jump on each others shoulders to form a column of death, Disgaea 2 oozes with charm and personality that ensures that no two battles ever play out the same way. The colored grid system returns, providing players with a boost or reduction in ability depending on where they’re standing and what the effect of the square is. There’s nothing revolutionary here in any of the game mechanics, but the humor and charm makes Disgaea 2 into a hilarious experience rather than a tedious grind-fest.
Battles are easy to approach and learn, but the game quickly piles up mechanics and systems that can easily be overwhelming to new players. Within the first few hours, the amount of tutorials may turn some people away, but for those of us who are familiar with other games in the series, you’ll feel right at home when fighting the enemies thrown at you in Disgaea 2. If you’re expecting something other than a straight strategy RPG, you’ll find yourself disappointed. This is a game that picks one thing, and executes it well, even if it can be intimidating.
Overall, familiarity with a twist of quirkiness is what Disgaea 2 is. Nothing about this package is innovative or revolutionary; most, if not all, of the mechanics present in this game are taken from other staples in the genre. It’s in its execution that Disgaea 2 succeeds, providing characters and scenarios that seem to almost satirically mock the genre, and provide some of the better moments in the game.
The hand-drawn characters and animations still hold up well on the PlayStation 3 today. Unlike other PlayStation 2 classics released on the network that have mainly polygonal models, the choice to release a game heavily focused on 2D sprites and animations means that Disgaea 2 feels less dated than it actually is. The lack of upscaling of the menus and text is a fault of Sony’s PS2 emulation, but the aspect ratio and text sharpness show the game’s age.
Characters and enemies are well designed and drawn, giving everyone their own unique personalities and emotions. The levels can seem drab and dull at times, but in a game like this, I’d rather have expressive and emotive characters than memorable environments. The environments are merely vessels to contain the games battles, so it’s really not that detracting. In today’s HD console generation, there are many other 2D animated games that look significantly better, but for 2006, this game isn’t too shabby looking. Many assets look like they have been copied straight out of the first game, so for veterans of the series, this game may come across looking like an expansion pack rather than a full blown sequel.
Like the other early games in the series, the characters are brought to life through the energetic and expressive soundtrack. Strings and horn blasts accentuate feelings of surprise and excitement, in addition to the fairly well-done English localization. For the most part, the character voices failed to annoy me, but for players that don’t enjoy over-the-top voice acting, the game’s audio may get on your nerves. Fortunately for those players, the developers included the original Japanese voices, and for my money, voice acting can seem a lot less annoying when you don’t understand what they’re saying.
Attack sounds and battle noises are basic, but get the job done. The gameplay is the real star here, and the audio during battles are merely there to supplement the experience. Humor and punchlines to jokes have mostly made their way through the translation barrier, showing that a careful translation can make all of the difference when it comes to humor.
This game is single player only.
Disgaea 3 for the PlayStation Vita was the first title I reviewed for PS Nation, so I’m very familiar with the series. Though Disgaea 2 stands up on it’s own, the later entries in the series are far better. That’s not meant to punish this game, but it’s a fact I wanted to state. If you’re looking for a cheap strategy RPG for your PlayStation 3, this is an excellent choice. If you’re looking for the best Disgaea however, the later entries in the series are a better option.
This isn’t a bad game by any means, but there are far better selections that would serve as a better entry point to the series. This is a game made for the existing Disgaea audience, but for those newcomers willing to overcome the learning curve, there is a funny and competent RPG underneath it all that will provide you hours of fun and adventure.