Review by NarikirishiDS
"Nippon Ichi raises its formidable bar yet again"
Strategy RPGs have been around in the gaming world for quite along time, though until 1997's Final Fantasy Tactics, they had little influence or popularity with western gamers. Tactics opened the door for the genre, which even still remained fairly reserved outside of Japan for several years more. In 2003, gamers floored by the meticulous balance, strategic action and all-out fun with character customization ideas presented in this game had their s-RPG love fire rekindled with Nippon Ichi's brilliant Disgaea: Hour of Darkness for the Playstation 2.
Years passed, and though Nippon Ichi Systems continued to produce quality strategy titles and even secured its own name as a license stateside(as opposed to Disgaea's original release, in which it was published under Atlus), many gamers looked past such NIS creations as Makai Kingdom and Phantom Brave and yearned for the authentic Disgaea experience that made them loyal fans of not only the company, but the genre in general. In response, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories was released, and while there are a few shortcomings in comparison with its predecessor, its quality is unsurpassed not only by the original game, but by any strategy RPG to date.
Graphics/Visual Appeal: 9.5
In the world's most thorough and expansive libraries lie great tomes in which are written a series of laws that govern the natural order of the universe and all encompassed by it. Apparently, one of these natural laws was that each and every Japanese strategy RPG, from the dawn of time until its bitter end, shall be in 2D. Of course, this isn't to say this is a bad thing, however, as Disgaea 2's sprite-based presentation still holds a high level of aesthetic appeal. While the special attacks don't quite approach the Phantom Brave level of insanity, they are all still fun to watch and very creative, making me wonder why there's even an option to turn off their animations. Character sprites and images are also a marked improvement over the first title. The static combatants that peppered the war-torn Netherworld before are now vibrantly animated, bouncing to and fro and waving their weapons while awaiting your orders to kill everything in sight. The resolution of these sprites is noticeably better, with some of the sharpest and most detailed 2D characters you'll see in a game of this kind. This won't thrill some as much as it did me, but it's also worth noting that the character designs are also much improved. Ninjas do not wear sweater vests, and Ninjas do not look like Bruce Willis with a white comb-over, though you wouldn't know this by playing the first game. Ninjas look downright deadly in comparison here, and the face lifts given to other character classes are welcome, too. Also, Gunners now look like cowboys. Exciting.
Music and Voice Acting: 8.0
Tenpei Sato's usual assortment of melodic, violin-centric arrangements take a back seat here to a heavily synthesized soundtrack, but the results are no less pleasing. Many of Disgaea 2's best tracks can compete directly with the most memorable character themes or epic battle songs from the first game, and that is an impressive feat indeed, with the original Disgaea having some of the best songs in the history of gaming, period. That said, if I ever hear another remix or arrangement of A Dark Race Becomes Magnificent(the Item World/Promotion Exam song from the first game), it will be far, far too soon. I like that there is a good deal more variation in the soundtrack this time around, as well. As for voice acting, if I only give readers one set of instructions in my entire life that I earnestly think should be followed, those instructions would be to revert to the original Japanese voice settings. Anago, Hiyama, Midorikawa and more form a who's who of voiceover bliss, whereas the English version treats gamers only to a string of awkward inflection, juvenile tone and just overall, a mediocre voice experience. It's passable, but with the rest of the game shining so brightly, it just doesn't seem to make sense to 'settle' for these voices that serve only to put a slight damper on the experience, rather than to bolster it.
Story and Script: 8.5
In an early scene in the game, hero Adell refers to somebody as a 'jerktown', and for the most part, that's probably all you ever really need to know about the script. Aside from this misstep, however, the script is genuinely entertaining, in many cases reaching the same level of humor as the original game. However, where as the original game had many lines or plot elements that seemed serious at first but became hysterical to the player later on, in some respects, the sequel does the opposite. Female protagonist Rozalin refers to the numerical level of many of the enemies you encounter. This is a funny example of breaking the fourth wall early on, but this occurs so frequently that by the fifth occurrence the player begins to wonder if she's being completely serious, perhaps utilizing a power scouter similar to Vegeta's from the Dragon Ball series...but I digress. The story itself is well presented, too. While the first Disgaea took place in the Netherworld, Disgaea 2's Veldime is a world on the verge of BECOMING a Netherworld(if this makes sense). The gradual decay of this world into ruin by Overlord Zenon is sort of off-set by the fertile green plains and often bright, popping colors of Veldime, but a sense of urgency is still present thanks to the speedy clip at which the plot tends to move. While not as original or quite as motley as the first game's, the supporting cast is endearing, as well, with the player spending many moments cheering for the anti-hero. Seriously, who doesn't wish the best for a washed up action hero turned Travelling Channel host/ guitar player?
Control and Game Navigation: 10
Everything works as it should, but it's always nice for isometric s-RPGs to have the 2 cursor options. As for in-game navigation, all shops and areas are nicely labeled by obvious text bubbles(i.e. a sword for a weapon shop, heart symbol for a hospital, etc.) Nothing mind-blowing in this respect, but the fact that the controls work and the world is well-organized is just as important.
Compared to the wonders beheld by Disgaea 2's gameplay, the merit of every other part of the package is negligible. Nearly all play elements of the original Disgaea are back in full swing, but some amazing improvements are very worthy of mention here. First off, the level design is a huge step up, and each battle through the game's campaign mode feels very distinct. There are more Geo Panel effects to take advantage of this time around, and many more of the story maps feel like they were tailored to the Geo-fans of the first game that spent large amounts of time scrutinizing each map to capitalize on neutralizing its Geo Symbols and setting off chain reactions. The Dark Assembly is also much better this time around. There are rivalries between factions of senator monsters, more wrenches in the gears of bureaucracy(and here you thought you'd never have to contemplate the best possible outcome of 4 senators coming to an Assembly completely wasted), and even ways to rig votes before they're cast all come into play and make the voting process almost as exciting as real legislature. Not to let a branch of government go neglected, Nippon Ichi also deigned to feature a Dark Court. A subpoena is issued to a character for violations of Netherworld laws(such as having high ATK, Geo-vandalism, etc.), and from there, they must venture into the Item World of that subpoena and face the trial for said crime. A 'Guilty' verdict is in the players' favor here, helping them gain needed notoriety in the game world. For some reason, there's no penalty for never showing up to court, but it's not really something I'll nitpick about too much. Character classes are a lot more balanced this go-around as well, and each class feels much more distinct than they did in the original Disgaea. Many other tweaks only noticeable to NIS vets abound, but these features help to flesh out and dramatically improve one of the greatest games in the history of the genre.
There are many incredible Strategy RPGs, but Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories stands tall as the current king of the genre. As in every Nippon Ichi Systems s-RPG, players who have beaten the game's story are still dozens of hours away from being finished, with a level cap of 9999 and end-game challenges that facilitate the need for one so high. Until a more replayable and endearing strategy adventure comes along, my heart belongs to Disgaea 2. This is tactical role-playing at its very best, and I can do nothing but fervently recommend it.
Overall: 9.5/10(rounded to 10)
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/30/07
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