Disgaea is one of those series that has constantly been improving from a gameplay perspective, but has had a tough time coming up with a cast of characters as memorable as those in the first game in the series. A sardine loving vampire and a demon school valedictorian were fun characters but they didn't really have the staying power that Laharl and his band of vassals have had.
This is evidenced by that cast's inclusion in every cross over game NIS made when they had their streak of developing those types of games. Flonne, Etna, or Laharl have gotten cameos in every Disgaea game since the start but Disgaea D2 is the first direct sequel to the game that introduced NIS's brand of strategic comedy to the world. Does it live up to these characters that fans of the series have grown to love?
It's time to visit Laharl again. After supposedly proving himself as a worthy overlord to the Netherworld in the first game Laharl waits to bask in the adoration of his subjects only to find that very few people know he exists let alone recognize him as their overlord. Time for the runt ruler and his loyal vassals Flonne and Etna to do some campaigning, and what starts as a trek to protect statues of himself takes some twists and turns and ultimately leads to some Netherworld saving and requisite character development. I loved seeing Flonne and Etna come back for a full game but for whatever reason I didn't find the story as endearing as the first. Flonne's descent into fallen angel status all the while remaining almost sickeningly sweet is still one of the funniest things I've ever seen but revisiting these characters just didn't have the same effect. There were some hilarious moments, and even one or two somewhat touching ones, but it wasn't as consistently funny as past Disgaea games.
On the other parts of the presentation, voice acting was plentiful and enjoyable as usual for this NISA flagship. The only real issue I found was that I didn't actually remember how annoying Laharl's voice is. About halfway through the game there's a drastic change which alters his voice significantly and I found myself wishing he'd stay that way forever. Prinnies also still say “dood” more than necessary, but that's probably something I'll be harping on NISA for until the day one of us dies, so what can you do? The music was fun and catchy in the short term but not truly memorable.
Disgaea 4 made a huge overhaul in the graphics department and Disgaea D2 remains at that level but doesn't seem designed to surpass it at all. Character sprites are much improved from those used in the first through third games in the series but environments and backgrounds have remained largely the same. I loved the jump in graphical quality from Disgaea 3 to Disgaea 4, but what I'd really like is some similar love being shown to the locales and not just the characters themselves.
While graphical improvements are few and far between in the Disgaea series the gameplay is always getting little tweaks and changes and this one is no different. Probably the largest change I noticed is the simplification of things outside of the battlefield. Where before you could increase the level of your enemies using whatever demon voting system appeared in that particular title, now a cheat store allows instant adjustment of this, among other parameters. It's a wonderful change since dealing with the demon senators can be quite a hassle sometimes.
The other large change for simplifying things is the addition of promoting to the reincarnation system. Now, if your warrior gets a new subclass with increased base stats and equipment multipliers you can simply promote up to that new subclass without losing all of the mana he has accumulated or starting back at level 1. He won't be as powerful as he would have been if you did it the old fashioned way, but it's a huge time saver. I only found one suitable grinding map in my playthrough so I'm glad I didn't have to reincarnate all of my characters more than once. You will need to reincarnate your mages a few times if you want them to have all the different elements of magic, but that's about it. It'd be nice if some form of promotion system was added for the story characters so that reincarnating wasn't necessary for beefing them up either, but perhaps that's too much to hope for.
Battle gameplay remains largely the same, with monster mounting taking the place of monster weapons, which is a nice way to carry your weaker characters around with faster, more defense-heavy monster vehicles, but doesn't have the same charm as turning your prinny into a pistol. My main complaint from a gameplay standpoint is I think it takes a bit too long for the maps to get interesting. Disgaea battles are at their best when geo effects force you to really think about your tactics, but it seemed like the first half of the game has maps with negligible geo effects that you can ignore easily.
Disgaea has always been the pillar of value for me when it comes to strategy RPGs, but sadly Disgaea D2 takes a slight step back in that regard. The last title introduced an online system that, while not the most compelling thing ever, was a fun distraction. That system seems to have been totally abandoned for this title. I actually enjoyed turning on Disgaea 4 and seeing what awards my pirates had gotten me so I'm probably more disappointed by its absence than the average fan will be.
My playthrough clocked in at around 30 hours with an extra two hours tacked on to get the better ending. There are a few more endings, many side stories after the credits roll, and a plethora of levels and skills to get, so the value is still quite fantastic. It's just that the bang for your buck isn't the gold standard for the genre that its predecessors were.
Revisiting these characters was great, but in the end it just left me wanting Disgaea 5 that much more. New characters in wacky new scenarios is when this series is at its best, and a new numbered sequel will hopefully come with further improvements in the graphics department and a rethinking of online functionality over abandoning it outright. It's still a good game that any fan of the genre should pick up, it just isn't as great as its predecessors.
This review is based on a retail copy of Disgaea D2 for the PS3, provided by the publisher.