Review: Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness (PS3)

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Title: Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (2.2 GB)
Release Date: October 8, 2013
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Original MSRP: $49.99
ESRB Rating: T
Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is exclusive to PlayStation 3.
The PlayStation 3 Disc version was used for this review.

Gameplay:
Few games can return to their original storyline after ten years and still feel relevant today. Disgaea D2 did just that. While three other core games in the series have been made since, never has the dialogue and story been as strong as in the 2003 original, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. For series veterans, booting up Disgaea D2 to see Laharl, Etna, and Flonne at it again is like going home after a long vacation. It just feels right.

Like a well-aged wine, Disgaea, has grown in the past decade. The story takes place soon after the original, making Disgaea D2 the first direct sequel in the series. Newcomers need not be concerned about this being a sequel though. While references to the original are made, character development and dynamics are quickly established through the expertly crafted, self-aware dialogue that the series is known for. This makes Disgaea D2’s story enjoyable for new and experienced fans alike.

While the story is important, the main draw for the series has always been its top notch gameplay. Building upon the innovations of the last ten years, D2 is able to marry the successful gameplay concepts established in previous iterations with the quality new additions to make a tactical RPG so wide-open and complex, you might not ever use the same strategy twice. This might seem overwhelming at first. Luckily, Disgaea D2 has excellent tutorials for those who need it and the ability to skip said tutorials for those who don’t.

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Familiar concepts like the Item World (now deemed the Item Sea), the Dark Assembly, Prinny tossing, character stacking, and Geo Panels are still in effect in D2. Another staple of the series is the fantastically animated and varied team attacks, which compounded with the new “likability” feature, helps create even more dynamic gameplay. Likability breaks down like this: the more two characters attack together or heal one another, the higher their likability will become, and in turn, the better they will become at working together to defeat enemies. It’s a concept not too far off from other SRPG’s like Fire Emblem and adds yet another dimension to an already deep battle system.

Another new concept is the Mounting system, replacing the Magichange system from the past. Now, humanoid characters can mount monster characters, opening a variety of new strategy opportunities. This is also good in the regards to leveling new characters. The mounted monster will take care of the movement and damage received, while the humanoid can concentrate on attacking without being in any real danger. The Mounting system opens up new skills and attacks, but best of all, unlike the Magichange system, you can dismount and continue to fight alongside your monster like normal afterwards.

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Other new additions to the gameplay make Disgaea D2 more accessible to a larger audience. Oftentimes, gamers don’t have time for the traditional “grind” of a JRPG. A new feature called the Cheat Shop helps eliminate that grind by allowing players to manipulate the amount of experience, Mana, weapon mastery, etc., they get in battle. Not only does this potentially reduce the amount of time a player could be stuck on a certain stage, but it also aids in leveling new characters, gathering large amounts of HL (currency), and managing post-game content for those who haven’t had enough. Another addition is the Demon Dojo, which helps accelerate the growth of a single stat on each character. The best part about the Demon Dojo is the more you use it, the better the system becomes; practically growing with your characters and allowing for some incredible stat increases.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the infinite amount of replayability that Disgaea D2 carries. Along with the re-playable story missions and the limitless, randomly generated Item Sea levels, D2 packs some of the best post-game content offered in video games. While an initial play-through might clock in at modest 40-50 hours, the 9999 “level-cap”, New Game Plus, and infinite Item Sea levels will keep you away from the outside world for weeks.

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Visuals:
The Disgaea series just recently started with using HD sprites as character models and as such, they look great. Each character is detailed, colorful and distinct. The team attack animations are done very well and are always a joy to watch. The environments, while seemingly less cluttered than past games, fail to bring it to the next level in terms of pure graphics. Don’t buy Disgaea D2 expecting to get Ni No Kuni quality graphics. That being said, Disgaea has never made its name in that department anyway. The focus is entirely on the gameplay, which is not a negative in my book.

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Audio:
One major thing any JRPG fan will say is important in terms of audio is the ability to change to Japanese voice actors. Luckily, Disgaea D2 allows for just that. If you prefer the English set of voice actors, they do a wonderful job in translating the inflections and connotations to the Western audience. The background music is good, but not great. Overall, Disgaea D2 does enough to get by, but does not take it to the next level in terms of audio.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

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Conclusion:
Japanese tactical RPG’s are a niche of a niche, a genre that often gets overlooked in today’s Western market. Despite this fact, the team at Nippon Ichi Software continues to produce outstanding products; continually outperforming their competitors and our expectations. Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness could rest on its laurels, staying safe and re-hashing the same formula over and over again, but instead they expand upon and shape their core principles to near perfection. With every iteration, the Disgaea series has grown and evolved. Not only is Disgaea D2 the best Disgaea yet, it is one of the best RPG’s of 2013. I really could not recommend this game enough.

Score: 
9.0

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