Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days
Iíve played a lot of NIS America games over the past few months, and Iím pleased that each one turned out better than the last. From the mediocre Cross Edge, I moved on to the excellent Mana Khemia 2: Alchemists of Al Revis (Steven also praised Phantom Brave), and now my heart has been with Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days for the PSP. Iím happy to say that itís the best of the bunch to date.
Dark Hero Days is a remake of the 2006 PS2 classic, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories. Is this iteration three years too late? Not at all. In fact, itís a perfect addition to the Playstation Portable library. If you own the original, youíre better off sticking with it unless you have money to spareÖbut if youíre a PSP owner looking for a fun, great value game, look no further.
Dark Hero Daysí story is hysterical. Iím amazed that other developers havenít copycatted the Disgaea style of storytelling since the franchise debuted, because itís excellent. The game throws you into a narrative about a group of sarcastic heroes and anti-heroes on a quest to satisfy their selfless or selfish intentions (depending on the character and his/her feelings at a particular moment in time).
Youíll find the same main PS2 story here. Overlord Zenon has turned the entire world into demons, barring a lone human named Adell. At the beginning, Adell is trying to summon Overload Zenon at the humorous expense of his friends, as they are the sacrificial tributes, but when the attempt goes awry, they meet his daughter Rozalin instead. Rozalin happens to be rather whiny and self-absorbed, and complements the sarcastic, hard-headed Adell well. Bound by the rites of summoning, the two set out together on a quest to locate Zenon with conflicting objectives and a bitter outlook on their forced partnership. A crazy plot unfolds as they encounter all sorts of demon friends and foes, all of whom are eccentric to the point of downright bizarre. The true pleasure is in the witty, edgy brand of humour that permeates the dialogue. Itís pure gold, and though your mum may not consider some of the more mature content Ďfunnyí, I enjoyed every line.
Iím not a veteran turn-based strategy gamer, but on occasion I indulge and usually become dangerously hooked. Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem are among the games that have kept me up late at night and prevented the finishing of my work in a timely manner over the years, and Dark Hero Days has the honour of joining that brief, but infamous list. If youíre familiar with the grid-based, turn-driven RPGs but havenít played a Disgaea title yet, youíre in for something wholly unique.
Disgaea takes the general complexity of its genre and ramps it up the wall. In addition to the staggering equipment variety, weaknesses and strengths of each class and attack type, importance of positioning your characters on the map, and other typical SRPG factors, a multitude of further nuances are introduced. For instance, your tactics can involve throwing both teammates and enemies during a match, so perhaps youíd toss an enemy in front of a friend to take advantage of his/her stronger attacks if their allotted move isnít taken with the turn. Maybe you exploit the ďGeo PanelsĒ (coloured areas of the map that affect character status) in order to mount a high-powered assault, or maybe try to lure the enemy out of their strong spots to increase your odds. Hell, consider destroying a certain ďGeo SymbolĒ (physical artifacts that power the Geo Panels) to damage anyone standing on its respective Geo Panel, completely changing the playing field in the process. Instead of rambling, Iíll wrap up the entire battle system in three words: complicated, but rewarding.
The game is fairly straightforward outside of battle. From an overarching world hub, you go about different missions in typical SRPG form. However, the world is governed by the ďDark AssemblyĒ, which has a profound impact on gameplay. Theyíre essentially a legislative body that can be influenced by the player. Youíre able to propose self-aiding bills to them, which help your party should they be approved. The more beneficial a bill, the more difficult it is to acquire that precious stamp of approval. Of course, you can always bribe Assembly members if you hold the proper leverage.
Dark Hero Days truly isnít intended for casual gamers. In fact, itís tailored specifically for the hardcore, which is even lauded in the gameís marketing efforts. The level of strategy required to emerge victorious in battle significantly increases as the campaign progresses and, regardless of your skill level, a ton of grinding becomes mandatory routine as soon as you conquer the opening tutorials and first handful of missions. This is undoubtedly a love letter to the dedicated strategy RPG fans of the world. That said, Iíve come to favour shorter, easier games throughout the past few years (partly due to time), yet I was still eager to sink my teeth into Dark Hero Days. As long as youíre ready for a challenge and time sink, I think anyone could enjoy this game.
Should you choose to enlist in the Disgaea universe, the control interface is user-friendly. At face-level, that is. The depthÖis not. Endless menus and number crunching await those who wish to enjoy the game and excel. Itís not a design flaw, but merely how itís meant to be played. The gameplay necessitates complex options. My main complaint about controls is partially a graphical concern, and it lies with the camera. Fixed viewpoints without environmental transparency donít help anybody. Yes, you can rotate the camera to view the environment from four different directions, but over areas populated by many buildings or trees, this can still be problematic. A free-roaming camera, an interchangeable overhead perspective, or better use of transparency are all viable options for the team if they wish to improve the franchise in the future.
Disgaea 3 received a lot of flack when it hit the PS3 because the visuals were a generation behind in the eyes of critics. I wonít say the same about this port of Disgaea 2 because, visually, itís perfect for the PSP. Apart from the camera issue I just mentioned, everything is rendered well and the glitches are few and far between. The game has a quasi-3D look, wherein two-dimensional sprites are laid overtop 3D environments. If youíve played any NIS title in the past decade, chances are it looks a lot like this. Itís merely time for some artistic reinvention, but the style holds up nicely on Sonyís portable. You have to love the colourful, manga-style sprites and character profiles. Same goes for the sound design. Itís cheery and upbeat, but also commands a level of depth that reflects the dialogue. As is customary for NIS America-localized games, the Japanese voice work is included as an option for your listening pleasure.
If you own the console Disgaea 2, youíre probably wondering what makes purchasing this remake worthwhile. The truth is, I wouldnít recommend it unless youíre seriously hardcore. Then again, if youíre still reading, that likely rings true. In addition to portability, Dark Hero Daysí main addition is a story extension featuring Axel. If you know him and are intrigued by the idea of brand-new plot segments, the need for you to experience this game is higher. Also, Disgaea 3ís Magichange ability has been retrofitted for Dark Hero Days so that monster allies can be transformed into weapons. Itís a nice touch, and quite satisfying. There are a few other minor inclusions (such as new playable characters), but those are the most significant two.
The ultimate question: do a few add-ons make Disgaea 2 worth purchasing again? Itís your call, but if you havenít experienced it before, then this is a must-purchase. Multiple endings, hidden secrets, and endless ďitem worldsĒ (there are entire worlds within each item!) flesh out the campaign well beyond other games in the genre. Donít forget the unparalleled hours of gameplay for a comparably modest asking price. Due to the complexity of Dark Hero Days, Iím forced to have you settle for a fairly general overview, but if any questions come to mind, please ask so I can provide an answer. But most importantly, come to a decision about this gameís fit for your needs.