At one time, Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs) were one of the most popular video game genres in the industry. This was during the past two generations of gaming consoles, which led to Sony’s PlayStation and PlayStation 2 consoles having some pretty awesome titles, one of which was Disgaea 2.
Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories stands as one of the defining titles of the PlayStation 2 and remains one of the greatest titles in the JRPG genre. Developed by Nippon Ichi Software, Disgaea 2 was originally released in 2006 for PlayStation 2 and later in 2009 as a port to PlayStation Portable (PSP). The version we’ll be reviewing is the newest release of the game, which comes as the original PS2 rerelease on PlayStation 3’s PlayStation Network (PSN).
Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories is a tactical turn-based RPG. Battles consist of a board game-style setup, similar to a combination of Final Fantasy and Fire Emblem, where players must take turns moving around the board and performing various actions to defeat all enemies on the board. These actions are broken up into regular attacks, special moves, movement and item use. There’s also the ability to pick up and throw allies, which grants them access to otherwise unreachable areas. Having allies close by allows for the possibility of combo moves upon attacking a character, which can add up to some very impressive damage numbers that make most 9999 damage capped RPGs look like children’s games. Another important aspect to the game’s combat is the inclusion of Geo Panels. These pyramid-shaped items come in various forms and either grant special bonuses or weaknesses to whoever is standing on a square that matches the color of the panel itself. Players with the right strategic mind can use these to both damage multiple enemies at once and build up their bonus gauge, which grants various bonuses at the end of each battle.
The other side of Disgaea 2’s gameplay is free roaming through the town of Holt. This town acts as a portal to various levels throughout the game and remains one of the only places where players can wander around as they wish, visiting various shops as well as the Dark Assembly. The Dark Assembly allows players to create new characters for their party and Bill Proposals. Character creation allows players to add more fighters to their team, ranging from swordsmen and mages to various forms of demon creatures. Their base stats are dependent upon the creating character’s mana. Bill Proposals allow players to add many new elements to the game including new character classes, shop inventory and changing stats of enemies in battle to name a few. While the Bill Proposal section is a secondary element of the Dark Assembly, it’s pretty complex and can either greatly hinder or aid you in your journey.
Heavily influenced by anime art, Disgaea 2 features cut scenes in the form of cartoon stills that really help to distance the title from RPGs of a similar nature. The in-game graphics are simplistic while still maintaining a clear image that allows players to easily differentiate similar characters and environmental objects from one another. Keep in mind, this was originally released on a last generation console so not everything is as perfectly clear as it is nowadays.
In-game dialogue consists of a still of the speaking character with their dialogue below. Set against a background of whatever area they’re in, it strongly resembles that of the cut scenes from the Fire Emblem series.
Sound is the only aspect that I’ve had issues with throughout my playthrough of Disgaea 2. While the battle tunes are catchy and take you back to a much more carefree time, they don’t change nearly as often as they should and long battles can become very repetitive for not only the player but anyone else who happens to be in the room.
That being said, it was relieving to have the character dialogue completely voiced over, especially considering it’s a Japanese game and therefore had to be translated. Having to pay voice actors to read all the dialogue in an RPG of all things can become very costly and it’s nice to know that it wasn’t an area that Nippon Ichi Software decided to skimp on. Sound effects in combat are also very satisfying, with melee hits and magical spells giving you that punch that serves to satisfy combat enthusiasts.
As far as RPG stories go, Disgaea 2 doesn’t disappoint; the evil Lord Zenon has put a curse on the town of Holt, turning its citizens into demons. A ritual to summon the dark lord in hopes of defeating him goes awry and his daughter is summoned in his place. Some elements of the story do feel rushed and a lot of characters are obviously only there to stand in as units without any sort of personality or lines of dialogue. It’s not a horrible element to the game but one of the greatest aspects of RPGs is the ability to dive into each character’s personal story and see it relate to the larger story at hand. There’s still a small cast of real characters that do have a story worth telling but a lot of characters do nothing for the overall progress of the story and are easily forgotten later in the game.
Between free roaming the town of Holt, battling various enemies through strategic turn-based combat, creating new characters for your team, proposing new bills in the Dark Assembly, levelling your characters, buying, selling and managing various weapons and armor and entering item worlds in hopes of increasing a given item’s level, there’s quite a bit to do in Disgaea 2. It would be easy to play through the game without touching some of these elements and could therefore seem less hefty to more casual gamers but RPG fans will appreciate the sheer amount of extra content within the game. Divided up into 13 chapters, Disgaea 2 proves to provide dozens of hours of entertainment without straying too far from the main story.
Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories serves as one of the greatest installments in the long series of JRPGs. It takes a very unique approach to the popular genre with a surprisingly dark humor that does a solid job at appealing to gamers young and old. While some elements of its sound could use an overhaul, especially for a genre known for its incredible soundtracks, it doesn’t distract from the overall quality of the game as a whole.