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Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Genre: Strategy RPG
Format: UMD
Released: US 09/08/09
Japan 03/26/09
Official Site: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 86%
Sound: 90%
Gameplay: 92%
Control: 90%
Story: 88%
Overall: 90%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Some of the spell effects are really flashy.
 
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Magichange lets you turn allies into weapons.
 
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It may not be much, but it's Axel's home.
 
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Mystery rooms like this make a nice break while fighting through the Item World.
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John Tucker
Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days
09/17/09
John Tucker

For years, I've been hearing people complain about sequels, remakes, and ports. They say, "Why can't anyone make any new games?" Now, despite the fact that new content has been added for the PSP version, Disgaea 2 is technically a port of an existing game, but I was happy to see it anyway. As gamers, I think we've probably all faced a time when there was just too much good stuff available for the time and money we had at our disposal for gaming. Disgaea 1 and 2 hit me at times like that, so I never got the chance to play them on the PS2, but when Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness (a port of the original Disgaea) was released on the PSP, I became a big fan. I even played it a second time on the DS, so I'm sure you can guess that I jumped on the chance to play Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days now that it's available on the PSP, port or not.

In case you're unfamiliar with the Disgaea series, most of the characters in the series are demons who seem to live on different planets or in different dimensions, but that doesn't necessarily keep them separate. In Disgaea 2, your character's world is populated by ex-humans who were transformed by a demon overlord's curse somewhere around 15 years ago. The main character, Adell, is on a quest to undo the curse, which he assumes means destroying the overlord responsible. Unfortunately, when Adell's mother tries to summon Overlord Zenon, the surprising result is a girl named Rozalin who tells Adell that she is Overlord Zenon's daughter.

Over the rest of the game, Adell and Rozalin work to track down Overlord Zenon, in an increasingly friendly relationship. Interestingly (to me), they pretty convincingly deny that there's any romance between them, despite accusations from the other members of their ever-growing party. The plot is clearly centered on the concept of family, but it's not as heavy-handed as some stories on that subject get. Overall, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and was even surprised by some of the plot twists (yes, even the big one near the end, and yes, I felt silly for not seeing it coming).

Once you've finished that story, there's a second story that's exclusive to the PSP. That story focuses on one of the NPCs from the original story, "the Dark Hero" Axel. It's not as well-written as the original story, but it's still entertaining. I particularly liked Axel's sidekick Pink, but that might be a result of my soft spot for cats. The second story takes place shortly after the first one, and brings in Axel's family. It seems he hasn't been too straightforward with them about his celebrity status, and they're living in a run-down shack waiting for the money to come in. Axel's interactions with them make him feel like a deeper character, and it's easy to identify with his dilemma of having to live up to his family's high expectations and put a good face on even though things aren't really going well.

Moving on from the story to the actual gameplay, I have a hard time knowing where to start. My review of Disgaea on the PSP has almost four pages describing everything there is to do, and there's even more available to you in the sequel, but I'll keep things as short and sweet as I can. The core of the game lies in turn-based tactical battles, where you take up to ten characters out to face anyone who gets in your way. Between battles, you can take care of standard RPG town activities like buying supplies, healing, etc. As I mentioned, there are certain characters who will naturally join your party throughout the story mode, but you can also create your own soldiers from a very large set of human (or at least demons who look human) and monster classes, many of which must be unlocked before they can be used. Characters can level up all the way to 9999, and as if that's not enough, you can choose to "reincarnate" them. Doing so moves them back to level 1, but you can switch their class and retain the skills they've already picked up, giving you possibilities like creating a healer tank or an ice mage who really likes punching things.

Within the battles, you'll face all kinds of enemies, but the one that will frequently concern you the most will be the ground below your feet. Set squares on nearly every map glow in different colors, and when objects called Geo Stones are placed on one of those glowing squares, and they affect anyone standing on a square of the same color. The effects of Geo Stones can be good or bad, and they range from nice things like granting you an extra attack every turn to very nasty things like creating evil clones.

Geo Stones have an enormous impact on your battles, and they seem to be used more extensively in the story mode this time around than they were in Afternoon of Darkness. In fact, near the end of Adell's story, I started to feel like they were getting too much use. Nearly all Geo Stones can be moved or destroyed, so their use in the story often serves as a puzzle that you need to solve in order to make battles survivable. I really enjoy solving those puzzles, but I began to think "Enough already - stop making me solve a puzzle at the start of every fight! This isn't Professor Layton!"

With a level cap of 9999, it's already obvious that Dark Hero Days is a grinder's dream. To make those dreams a reality, you can replay any story battle as many times as you'd like (although some differ from the first time around, like boss fights), and you can also battle to level up your items. The Item World lets you take any item in the game, from the lowliest healing potion to the manliest axe, and level it up through a series of random battles. These battles are fairly similar to the regular story battles, but they do a lot more with Geo Panels than story battles do, in the sense that the colors are really random, and since solving the puzzle they present you with is generally optional, it's more fun when you choose to take on the challenge.

There's actually more to Dark Hero Days than that, but if you enjoy what I've mentioned already, the rest is just gravy. If you don't, then that gravy's not going to make those cold, lumpy mashed potatoes taste any better. That said, if you played the first game and were very close to satisfied, there are a few tweaks to the formula this time around that you might appreciate. First and foremost, casting healing spells now grants experience, which makes a huge difference in leveling up anyone you mainly use as a healer. Secondly, in addition to the ability you've always had to pick up characters and throw them across the map, you can now pick up allies and attack enemies with them. Experience is shared between everyone in the tower, but only the bottom person can be damaged, which makes it a great way to level up weaker characters. In Axel's story, you even get a few features from Disgaea 3: Magichange and monster bouncing. Magichange means that party members who are monsters can be transformed into weapons for a couple of turns, which powers up the human party member who equips them. It's fun initially, but the monster is eliminated from the battle after those turns are over, so I tended to ignore that ability. Monster bouncing (perhaps not the proper term for it) means that when you pick up and toss a character, if you toss them to a monster ally, they'll bounce off of the ally for a double-throw. If you need to move across the map in a hurry, this can be pretty cool, especially because it doesn't count as an "action" for the monster, so its turn doesn't get used up.

Disgaea 3 elements aside, Dark Hero Days appears to use the same game engine that Afternoon of Darkness used. Characters and items like trees are 2D sprites on a 3D map, with an overhead view. The map is shown at a 45 degree angle, and the L and R triggers rotate it 90 degrees. I have the same complaint this time around that I did in Afternoon of Darkness: on certain maps, rotating at 90 degree intervals leaves you unable to see certain spots no matter where how you turn the camera. It's rarely a big problem, but it's very annoying when it comes up. Aside from that, I really can't complain about the graphics - the animations look good, as do the spell effects. Best of all, if you ever get tired of seeing them, or just want to move through a battle more quickly, you can turn off enemy and/or player characters' animations. Every turn-based game I can think of would be better off with that option.

I've mentioned in previous reviews that I tend to play games on mute. I appreciate good sound, but it's not a key element of my enjoyment, especially in a portable game. In this case, I made an exception. I still turned off the sound while I was level-grinding, but whenever I was playing story mode, I kept it on to make sure I didn't miss out on the quality voice acting. Every word of the script is shown on the screen, but I liked the voices enough that I wanted to make sure I heard them. There's nothing wrong with the music or the sound effects - I just love good voice acting.

Of course, no matter how good everything else is, the control scheme can make or break a game. Thankfully, like most turn-based games that I've played, Dark Hero Days' controls are easy to work with. The menus are easy to navigate and they've even added a few things that weren't in the first PSP Disgaea. Specifically, you can now sort your inventory so that weapons, armor, or healing items rise to the top, which really simplifies equipping your characters. Also, you have the ability to sort your characters' special skills, which lets you keep favorites right at the top of the list. Small touches, perhaps, but I always appreciate the little things that make a game just that much better.

To sum it all up, I loved this game. Afternoon of Darkness was great on both the PSP and the DS, and the elements that were added to Dark Hero Days make it even better. Between two stories, leveling up items, and creating and reincarnating characters, this is the kind of game you could take with you to a desert island. Play it as long as you want - there'll always be more to see.



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© 2009 NIS America, All Rights Reserved.


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