Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is still a month away from release, but NIS America was awesome enough to forward us a pre-release version of the game to give a spin. Considering Laharl, Etna and Flonne and the entirety of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness holds a special place in my heart, I could hardly wait to try it out. Imagine that, a true sequel to be released ten years later. Color me surprised to find that virtually nothing had changed -- in a good way.
As the game started up the whole gang was there and exactly as I had remembered them. Then an hour passed and still, I felt unbelievably at home with the experience. Two hours later and finally my party died mid-battle due to carelessness. It was almost as if I was watching a replay of my first time playing the original Disgaea, only ten years later. "Damn, now I have to grind some experience," I'd said to myself. Yet it was from that point on that Disgaea became the outstanding game I remember, and so I hope Disgaea D2 will do as well -- just so long as it discovers its own identity in the process.
Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness will be released on October 8 in North America, localized by those awesome folk over at NIS America. Here are my experiences with the first two hours of the game, with no spoilers beyond the basic story premise of the game, dood. Does dood count as a spoiler? There are prinnies. That was the prinny spoiler.
Who's the Overlord?
My first thought after starting the Disgaea D2 up was a bit of flustered confusion mixed with nostalgia. See, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness had multiple endings and unfortunately my ending, an ending I found extremely poignant and emotional, was not the ending chosen as cannon for D2. My ending would not have led to a sequel ever, so it only makes sense to go with a different ending. Still, there are subtle nods to my ending that I took as a respectful nod from the developers, but that could just be my imagination.
Our game begins with a bit of background that Disgaea fans will be quite familiar with. Laharl is the only son of the Overlord of the Netherworld and battles to assume his father's throne after Dad passes away. Unfortunately, not too many demons either know or accept that Laharl is the new Overlord. Those who do include Etna, a vassal of Laharl's father who stuck around for mysterious reasons, and Flonne, a now fallen angel who spent the first game teaching Laharl about love
Basically, Disgaea D2's story mirrors the first game in every regard. Laharl is out to prove that he is the true Overlord and he'll do it any way he can -- though mostly through violence. Exactly how he'll get there is unclear, but it will certainly involve a ton of absurdity and bountiful humor, much to Flonne's dismay. Expect demons and angels and all manner of beasts along the way.
More than the plot though, it's important that Disgaea D2 recapture the characters. Two hours is, unfortunately, a bit too early to really say whether Nippon Ichi Software has brought back the malicious and misguided Laharl, the double malicious and conniving Etna, or the kind and loving Flonne, but everything seems on-track. Two hours in an I've already read/listened to hundreds of lines of dialogue rich with jokes so lame that they turn hilarious, yet so charming it's impossible not to cheer Laharl and crew on.
As far as gameplay goes, well, two hours is simply not enough time. Like many games with grid-based tactical combat, there are rules aplenty. The Disgaea is probably one of the worst offenders, with a number of complicated combat mechanics and features. What that means is tutorials. Lots and lots of tutorials, all of which are significant. Trust me, players are going to need every bit of help they can manage in Disgaea D2. For preview purposes it's not exactly the most thrilling of content, but that's what it is. Those unwilling to learn the game, those who prefer to dive right into titles, may find Disgaea D2 isn't meant for them.
Half of the tutorials at least play out in combat, narrated as if the player's companions are reacquainting Laharl with how to fight. Here we see that combat is also extremely similar to classic Disgaea and the other games in the franchise. Turn-based tactical grid combat, where a typical turn is made up movement and a combat action. Some of Disgaea D2's more complicated and unique features include attack combinations with teammates standing next to each other, along with innate passive skill for each character and enemy. Even combat requires constant attention and research!
While I completed the initial chapters, I'd yet to finish the chapter before I was absolutely dominated on a level. It wasn't even close, since half my crew died in one hit and the rest struggled to take down foes despite my keep tactical superiority. Haha! So I died. At least it put me back in town with no health as opposed to resetting to my last save! Baby step improvements. There lies another of Disgaea's core design pillars -- difficulty. I'll absolutely have to go back to some previous levels and grind some experience and cash, upgrade my equipment until I can destroy all who stand in the Overlord's way! I'm visualizing 40 hours of my life disappearing -- and that's not even mentioning the returning Item World!
There are several small, but noticeable changes. Disgaea D2 looks astoundingly like the original Disgaea, but obviously the quality of the sprites and animates have been vastly improved -- backgrounds are now animated! Customizing your very own team is more robust than ever, allowing personality and color pattern choices on top of class-type. Oh, and now humanoid units can ride monsters and train them to perform special attacks. All of the game's new features fit perfectly into the well-defined existing structure of Disgaea.
I freely admit I'm a little bit worried about the game, though that's more a symptom of my general mindset than anything I experienced in the game. Like I said, the original Disgaea is a favorite of mine. I'm not saying whether Disgaea D2 should or shouldn't ape the original, but either way it has some big shoes to fill. It's as if I'm excited to be reacquainted with old friends, but at the same time I'm conflicted about meeting them. What if I've grown up? What if they've changed into characters I don't like anymore?
Silly thoughts, really, because this will be the fifth title in the main franchise and no one knows these characters better than Nippon Ichi Software. If they didn't think this trio would get the respect they deserved, if they didn't think they had a story worth their time and attention, they wouldn't have resurrected the 10-year old plot-line in the first place.
It's a good time to be a fan of the original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, the best time in fact. Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is the sequel we've been waiting ten years for and a few tutorials and a plot recap won't change that.