Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is a strategy role-playing game for the PlayStation 3. Nippon Ichi Software developed the game, while NIS America localized and published the title in the US. This is the 5th main game in the Disgaea series and a direct sequel to Disgaea: Hour of Darkness seeing the return of the original cast. It has been 10 years since Hour of Darkness released in Japan and the US, where the game made a hit among strategy RPG fans prompting several sequels set in the same world with similar gameplay, but different characters. Does the return of Laharl, Etna and Flonne mean that the series may have re-discovered what made the series interesting originally? Or it is simply nostalgia without any significant improvements to the basic Disgaea formula?
After taking control of the Netherworld as the new Overlord, Laharl faces the natural reconstruction blues that resulted from the power vacuum created from many powerful demons vying for the coveted role. When the previous Overlord, King Krichevskoy, died, Laharl defeated many powerful demons to show his power and take his rightful inheritance as the son of Krichevskoy. With the help of Etna, his father’s ward and reluctant vaasal and Flonne, an angel trainee sent to monitor the demon world, he took the title by force. Despite showing the force necessary to win the Overlord title, most demons in the Netherworld do not know who he is or that he is the new Overlord, much to his dismay and anger. Worse than that, the demons who advised his father are actively trying to overthrow him and take the role away from him as they find him unfit to take his father’s place. Complicating matters of the continued fight for legitimacy and recognition, Laharl encounters an angel named Sicily claiming to be his sister (and more sibling claims), a rush of Yuie flowers (flowers that only grow in heaven) and a possible invasion by heaven and angels. Laharl, Etna and Flonne (and various prinnies) have their work cut out for them if they want to get the Netherworld under Laharl’s control.
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness featured a distinct sense of humor and charm that made it a huge hit among strategy RPG fans. Since then the series has seen several spiritual sequels that never quite matched that same story quality despite similar settings and humor. The problem lied in the characters never quite matching the compelling nature of Laharl, Etna and Flonne. A Brighter Darkness brings those characters back and something clicks again with the series. Despite having a bit of a retread feel to some of the problems and jokes at times, the game’s story is engrossing and the sense of humor works with those characters anchoring the game. The familiar nature of the characters allow the newer characters introduced to stand out and help add a needed layer to the character dynamic. This added layer allows NIS to bring in new jokes and create a story that makes another grueling SRPG grind worth plugging away at.
Gameplay has changed in Disgaea D2, but not in the basic formula. Characters still start in the base then move to various chapters where events play out at the beginning of chapter episodes followed by a battle and another story event with a cut scene wrapping up the chapter. This rinses and repeats throughout, but it is a style that works preventing things from ever getting too story heavy. Characters once again move on a grid where they can perform actions and position characters in adjacent tiles to perform combo attacks. The combo attacks are given an overhaul with the new affinity system, so characters have higher chances to perform combos if their affinities are higher. Affinities can be improved by moving characters near each other to perform battlefield dialogue or by healing or performing combo attack repeatedly. It adds another layer of strategy and control to the combo attacks.
Height can change the flow of combat for advantages or weaknesses depending on its use. Throwing characters past obstacles or to specific areas is still key in certain maps. Geopanels return adding extra challenges to maps and requiring players to know how to exploit them or destroy them to change the colors and up the bonus rank. Bonus ranks yield better rewards at the end of the level and now their are specific bonus tips that players can check during battles to up the ranking. One of the major ones is changing geopanel colors. Again, the Item World and Dark Assembly make returns that give players a chance to improve gear and pass beneficial legislation.
What makes Disgaea D2 stand out from the other recent PS3 Disgaeas is that it adds a good amount of new features to refine the systems in the game. Character creation has gotten deeper where players can change color schemes of characters and choose personality traits to affect base stats giving more control to player over what types of classes they want to make. Helping this new creation system is the master/pupil system, which allows characters to share skills, so pupils under Laharl can learn whatever skills he knows easier than leveling up that weapon on their own and the master gets boosted stats from pupils. The coolest thing is that now humanoid characters can ride monsters by mounting them allowing access to powerful mount skills. Laharl can ride a prinny, dood or a dragon, which is cooler. NIS has added some very smart improvements to the systems in Disgaea D2 that make the familiar experience fresher and feel almost new. It still has that great SRPG gameplay that it set in Hour of Darkness, but it actually sees significant improvement this time out.
The visuals are solid, the Netherworld looks great with good animated backgrounds. The new hi-res sprites look better, but have issues of pop ins at times when certain sprites are too close to each other. The animations for special moves are as ridiculous and delightful as ever. The hand drawn portraits for the cut scenes are great with excellent expressions that help convey the tone the game aims for. Once again, the Etna interstitials are the best thing visually using the old sprite style to create elaborately inane scenes. The voice acting is solid even if the English voice actors seem a bit off. That may deliberate to show the flow of time or because it has been a decade since the last game. They still have a spark that creates such compelling characters.
Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is certainly another Disgaea game, but it is a very good Disgaea game. Bringing back the original cast that made Hour of Darkness so compelling was a great choice. It allowed NIS to tell a funny story that introduces several wonderful new characters. Where the previous sequels approximated the initial Disgaea gameplay experience a bit too on the nose, A Brighter Darkness actually improves upon it. Adding in plenty of cool new systems that add additional layers of strategy and depth to an already deep SRPG experience. A Brighter Darkness should be welcomed with open arms by fans of the series and NIS’ games, but those who have lapsed in their Disgaea love should check it out too because it offers an experience that might be as good as Hour of Darkness.