With one simple game release in 2003, Nippon Ichi succeeded in garnering astounding recognition for itself as a masterful development house, a truly exceptional feat for one that operates within the often overlooked genre of strategy RPGs. A niche title or not, though, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness attracted players the world over with its outrageous sense of humor, profound character creation system, engaging battle scheme, and overabundance of anime-esque charm. Of course, Nippon Ichi has also released a number of other titles, which though quality works in and of themselves, were never quite as lauded as Hour of Darkness. Fans have been clamoring for a sequel since, oh, pretty much the original's release, and now they can finally get their second taste of that demonic goodness with Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories.
|"Nippon Ichi has made a marked point of ensuring that Cursed Memories changes little from the foundation its predecessor established ."
Interestingly, the story behind this second Disgaea installment has little to do with the first; instead of meeting up with Laharl and company for a second go-round, players are presented with an entirely new set of locations, protagonists, and events. Set in the world of Valdime, Cursed Memories tells of a once peaceful land that has fallen under an insidious curse cast by the demon Overlord Zenon. This particular curse affected the populace quite drastically, as it transformed everyone into monsters, with one exception -- the lad Adell. Now, years later, Adell weilds an incredible power, a power he aims to use in toppling Overlord Zenon. He has an ally in this endeavor as well: Rozaline. Ironically, this young woman is the daughter of Zenon. Her link with Adell is the result of an accidental summoning performed by Adell's mother during a ritual. She intended to summon in Zenon so that Adell might defeat him and restore the world's inhabitants to their formers selves, but obviously something went awry. Now magically bound to Adell, Rozaline makes a deal with him: if she leads him to her father, she will be freed from his companionship. Although this is all quite new, old fans need not fear, as almost all the Hour of Darkness characters will rear their heads throughout the game, including the wonderfully wicked Etna and her exploding penguin cronies, the prinnies.
Although the plotline may be quite different, Nippon Ichi has made a marked point of ensuring that Cursed Memories changes little from the foundation its predecessor established -- instead, the title will mostly concentrate on enhancing systems already in place, as well as providing a few new features to keep things interesting. Obviously, battles will remain as turn-based affairs, with players moving individual units across the battlefield in order to attack the enemy. Returning conventions include the ability to toss enemies and allies over the map into the base panel, the insane combination attacks triggered by clustering a number of characters in adjacent spaces, and the Geo Panels. The first ability allows players to hurl an on-screen enemy into the base panel -- the area from when units are drawn -- so that they might do battle with the allies that have yet to emerge. The second ability, the combination attacks, are triggered by placing a number of characters in a cluster of adjacent spaces. Finally, the Geo Panels are colored squares that occasionally cover areas of the battlefield. When the corresponding Geo Symbol (they basically resemble pyramids) is destroyed, an attack is catalyzed and an explosive chain reaction both neutralizes the panels and deals damage to anyone standing upon the panels, be they friend or foe. While this is obviously nice for amassing insanely large combos, there are times when intact Geo Panels are useful as well, since the different panels provide different bonuses -- some double experience, some augment attack or defense, and some even make the character invincible. Conversely, there are a number of panels that induce negative effects, so be sure to watch out for those bad boys.
New battle concepts include stack attacks, Geo Monsters, and the Dark Sun. Stack attacks have characters jumping on top of one another to form a tower, then knocking an enemy into the air; each character in the stack will attack the enemy as they fall back toward the earth. The Geo Monsters are nasty little creatures that can be formed depending on the placement of the Geo Panels and Symbols; they will attack the player on sight, but can later be tamed and brought into the party. The Dark Sun is a sinister event that will inflict one of five random changes on the battlefield whenever it decides to show up -- it can kill the player's entire party, kill the enemy party, power the player up or down, or turn the party into prinnies. If the player finds himself in too great of a pickle, though, he can always use a cell phone to call the prison ward for help, whereafter a new party will come and fight in the beaten one's place.
The character creation system, a massive feature of the original Disgaea, will also play a large role in the sequel. As players progress throughout their quest they will aquire mana points, which are used to create new, custom characters, which come in about 200 nifty and powerful classes, some of which have to be unlocked. Once a new ally has been formed, they must be assigned to a "master," that is, a pre-existing character under whom they will act as "student." As a student ranks up his master will aquire bonus points, and if both master and student perform a combination attack they will also earn a bonus. None of this is possible, though, without the approval of the Dark Assembly.
Think of the Dark Assembly as a demon senate, a governmental body that deals in all matters of otherworldy importance. Players will have to visit, and gain the approval of, the Dark Assembly in order to create new characters, stock stores with better items, face easier foes in battle, as well as perform many other related tasks. Similar to actual life, though, the senators are not always keen on helping players out. This is why Nippon Ichi has included a number of methods of "persuasion," all of which are morally questionable. In the first title the only options were to either threaten the senators or bribe them with gold, but this time around one can also booze them into a drunken stupor of acquiescence, chloroform them so that they won't be able to vote at all, or just bomb the heck out of people. Also targetable are the patriots, highly influential demons with the power and charisma to shape voting as they please.
Of course, aside from creating and augmenting characters, players will also want to refine their weaponry. This task is first accomplished simply by visiting shops. The more one visits a shop to either purchase or trade, the higher the shopkeep's level grows, thereby enabling the player to acquire stronger items. Secondly, players can level up their items within the unusual "Item World." This dimension exists within the items carried by the party; to enter, one need only to speak to the guide at their base. Once inside, players are faced with a number of battlefields that progress through "floors." The more floors one completes, the stronger the item becomes, but enemies will also become progressively stronger as the player trudges through the dimension. While these tests of endurance truly became brutal in the original, Cursed Memories has included several mechanics to help players out. Not only are there hospitals this time around, but players can visit cell phone stores so that they might order in some items or party members. Things won't be too much easier, though, for players will also have to contend with the new Item Pirates, who are extremely powerful and will kill the player on sight.
Of course, even in the demon world, a place seemingly devoid of morality, there are crimes. Cursed Memories recognizes these crimes by introducing the Dark Court, which will issue a summons for the player if they ever commit an illegal act throughout the course of the game, which could range from leveling too quickly to throwing too many prinnies. This court can be difficult to deal with, firstly because players must visit a specified floor of the Item World in order to report, and secondly because crimes are oftentimes rewarded. While this is a nice way to snag some sweet items, overdoing it can indeed result in punishment. In order to clean the slate, the player must reincarnate themselves as a prinny. This transformation lasts for only a certain amount of time, after which the character will revert back to his normal form and their criminal record will be completely erased.
A major aspect of the original title was it's charm and anime-inspired sprite design, and Cursed Memories certainly continues this trend, with slapstick humor accompanying serious situations, uniformly upbeat music, and (at least for the Japanese versions) masterful voice talent. All the multiple endings and hidden bosses are back as well, and in greater number, along with the game+ option. RPGamers should look for all this and more -- almost 200 hours more -- when the title ships on August 29, with a suggested retail price of $49.99 USD and an ESRB rating of Teen.