Hour of Darkness proved to be a fantastic game, earning multiple awards and winning the hearts of RPG and strategy fans alike. Three years later NIS would release a sequel which, while a great game on its own, received a lot less buzz than its predecessor. A shame, I say, for Cursed Memories refines the already fantastic gameplay Disgaea is known for and brings a fresh, new story to the front.
I Am Legend
The main star of this adventure is Adell, the last human in the world of Veldime. Years before, the demon overlord Zenon came to this peaceful world and turned all the humans into demons, which led to them gradually losing their morals, empathy, and even some of their memories. Most of the population seems content with this, but Adell has sworn to seek out Zenon and force him to turn everybody back.
The game starts with a summoning ritual performed by Adell’s mother, who wishes to be human again and tries to force Zenon to appear before her. While Adell readies himself for a fight the ritual goes awry and a young maiden appears instead. She introduces herself as Rozalin, Zenon’s beloved daughter. After some bickering, Adell agrees to return her home if she guides him to her father.
Right off the bat, I find this story interesting and Cursed Memories does a great job at introducing mysteries that you want to unravel. It quickly becomes apparent that Rozalin and her father have an odd relationship, as he is a man she deeply admires, but she often questions if that respect is mutual. Seeing Adell interact with his family often turns her melancholic and she reflects on the lack of such a bond between her and Zenon. This also leaves her struggling between her loyalty to her father and her budding friendship with Adell. Of all the different characters in the Disgaea universe, I must say Rozalin is by far my favorite thanks to this.
Adell himself is a fun protagonist, a young adult absolutely determined to be the living embodiment of coolness. He is a powerful fistfighter with a passion for combat and training. He loves to blurt out things that sound heroic and his companions often point out that he is a little too excited to get into all of these fights; accusations he is always quick to deny. Even so, several moments throughout the story highlight how he struggled with watching everybody around him change and lose what made them human.
Over time the story introduces side-characters like Axel, a celebrity who hit on rough times and tries to hit it big again, and Tink, Rozalin’s perverted childhood friend turned frog creature. It has to be said, though, that the pace can be slow, as most chapters conclude without Adell getting even a step closer to Zenon. You usually just end up finding something unrelated, beating it up, and returning to the village HUB for a nap and another try tomorrow. Most of the progress is made by Zenon, who has scenes showing him plotting at the end of some chapters.
Another complaint is that it feels like each and every single level has to first have a long, drawn-out dialogue sequence before it can get started. The dialogue is good and I don’t mind a quick chat before the next fight, but here it takes so long to get started and it’s too much of the same. After a while, I certainly got tired of characters mocking Adell for being a “battle maniac” or Rozalin reminding him of his promise, or indeed his constant urge to renew that promise. It’s like they didn’t have enough dialogue to put something before every fight so they just copy & pasted bits and pieces several times.
Story score: 8.5/10
Geopanels would suck in real life
Disgaea 2 does not really evolve the gameplay introduced in the first game, rather it just polishes it up a bit and cuts some of the sharp bits out. You still create an army of characters and monsters, take them into turn-based battles to train them, and use the cash you pile up to equip them with weapons and armor. Most of the characters are recurring classes and creatures from the first game, with some new faces like the Beastmaster that strengthens monster creatures. Overall there is slightly more to pick from and some roles have been replaced.
The levels themselves have improved, in the sense that not a single one prompted me to sigh deeply. While not all of them are as engaging and tactical as others, there are no longer stupid designs that just take up way too much time. The rest is pretty much the same as before: an over-the-top tactical RPG experience with flashy special moves. I could go in depth, but I’d really just be repeating stuff from my review of the first game.
Customization is still extensive, with each character having his level, weapon mastery, ability mastery, four equipment slots with each item having an item world, unlockable tiers with higher base stats… there is so much to work on in Disgaea. The item world is now also a lot more fun, since all the floors are now generated in ways that always make it possible to finish them. A new feature are the felonies, which are character- or team-specific goals to reach that reward you with a subpoena. These can be taken to an item world where you will find a portal to a courthouse. Once you go in there the character will receive a felony, which permanently increases experience gain by 1%, as well as some other bonuses, and can stack up to 300 times apparently. I didn’t go that far.
Pro tip: find the portal to the court and create a stack of 10 characters with Adell at the bottom, then have him toss the stack of 9 into the portal. All the characters will appear in court and receive the felony, making it much easier to grind these and build up enough of them for the effects to become noteworthy.
The first Disgaea was a fantastic concept marred by some poor design choices, so it’s a relief to see the sequel take what was good and work to perfect it. While it doesn’t offer much new, it’s still a great time and a strategy game you can potentially soak months into.
Gameplay score: 9/10
These look familiar
Just like how the gameplay is recycled and polished to a shine, the fantastic sprite art of Hour of Darkness gets a second round too. While this wouldn’t become a problem until the third installment, people may be disappointed with seeing pretty much the same characters all over again. Of course, there are new sprites for the new characters and the abilities look even cooler (and crazier) than before, but that’s where it ends. Same zombies, same succubi, same everything.
The art for the stages has improved somewhat and the main characters enjoy fantastic animation, both in their special moves as well as the silly ones used for the in-engine cutscenes. Lovely detailed sprite art still accompanies many of the dialogue sequences, making it slightly more bearable to sit through them as they ramble on.
What makes me, really, REALLY, REALLY excited is the voice cast, particularly the appearance of my favorite actress, Yukari Tamura, as Rozalin. Her deep voice perfectly fits the royal character and she nails every line. Her English counterpart, Wendee Lee, certainly carries the character well enough too, but in the English dub many of the voices sound too obnoxious and Adell sounds like he’s about thirteen years old, lacking the heroic tone Hikaru Midorikawa used. If you can bear to listen to Japanese for the duration of a lengthy strategy RPG, then I definitely recommend picking that for your audio.
Presentation score: 8/10
Darkness awaits at the end
With each character having a level cap of 9999 you can go absolutely bonkers with Disgaea 2 for a long time after completing its 13 story chapters. Once again there are several different endings to get, with ally kills and the number of felonies Adell carries being the deciding factor. If you avoid giving him Felonies (he’ll gain plenty of exp anyway) then you should be fine and get the good ending, unlike the first game where a single ally kill would lock you out of the best ending. There are also special endings for doing ridiculous stuff, like somehow winning supposed-to-lose fights or defeating the final boss with a severely over-leveled Tink.
For optional content, there are a series of small battles you can do to unlock special characters for your army, known as summoning experiments, as well as the dark stages. These are extra difficult takes on levels you have already completed and are severely harder for characters with felonies. I haven’t tackled these much, but you can give them a try if you want.
Extras content: 9/10
Disgaea 2 is by far my favorite entry in the series. It took what made the first game great and polished that up while introducing fitting new mechanics of its own. It doesn’t go overboard with its mechanics and manages to tell an endearing story within its zany universe. If you are only going to play one of these games because they are long and have such a huge post-game investment, then this is the one I personally recommend.