Second curse, same as the first.
With the inexhaustible hubbub over Blu-Ray, Wi-fi, high-def and other fancy hyphenations dominating headlines, it’s reassuring to know that game quality isn’t actually determined by technical prowess. From Tetris to Advance Wars, great games have thrived despite being a good hundred yards away from the cutting edge.
That was pretty much the case with Disgaea
, 2003’s PS2 RPG sleeper. With a dated but cute look complementing an addictive RPG/strategy blend, it was a runaway hit with critics. Three years later we finally get the sequel, and are pleased that NIS stuck with the unique sense of humor that fueled the success of the first Disgaea
while expanding its scope to enormous proportions.
[image1]This time around, you’ll wear the ridiculously large necktie of Adell, the lone human left on the unfortunately cursed world of Veldime. Uber-demon Overlord Zenon decided that the silly humans would be better off as demons, so the entire populace was transformed into ghosts, mothmen, penguins, zombies, and worse. Cool! However, being turned into demons has erased everyone’s memories and flipped the cosmic morality switch to “evil.” While it makes for good conversation, a world overrun with demons kind of sucks when you’re Adell. Not cool! So naturally, you need to vanquish Zenon and set the world back in order.
That’s easier said than done. Right off the bat, your mom (complete with third eye) attempts to summon Zenon into your front lawn for a tussle. Due to a slight miscalculation, Zenon’s daughter is summoned instead and is magically bound to Adell with little enthusiasm. Adell’s a nice guy and agrees to take the demon princess back to her father, then bust his evil chops. Hilarity ensues as the pair stumbles across washed-up celebrities, bi-polar flying frogs, exploding penguins and Demon Lords. For those who played the first Disgaea, expect some familiar faces, but newcomers shouldn’t worry about being in the dark – it’s just a weird, quirky game.
Veterans should also expect familiar mechanics. All your adventures start from Adell’s village, which works as an all inclusive game hub. Over the course of the game, you hop back and forth between dungeons and the town, mostly fighting through some of the slickest, deepest grid-based battles around. The formula has changed very little: your troop of 10 characters maneuvers around the battlefield smashing, casting, and generally melting demon ass.
[image2]All the elements of the first title make a comeback: combo attacks, throwing characters around, stat-altering geo panels, as well as the addition of stacking your characters on a single space to land vertical combos. The battles are fast-paced and straightforward, but the depth and number of possibilities is staggering.
Staggering, but not overwhelming. Over the first few hours, you’re gradually introduced to the game’s various side-activities, all of which provide some real benefits and should dissuade players from barging straight through the story. There’s also a very nice tutorial if you’re new to Disgaea or strategy RPGs in general. This is welcome, as Disgaea 2 can get pretty challenging at times. Thankfully, there are more ways to level up here than the last three RPGs I played put together.
The Item World returns, allowing you to jump into a randomly generated dungeon, now as large as 100 floors, hidden away inside every item in the game. You power up the item with every floor you clear as well as gaining levels and finding new items along the way. Completed story levels can also be replayed for more loot, experience, or bonuses.
Since Veldime is a demon world, you can appeal to the Dark Assembly from the first title for various bonuses like better items in shops, creating a seriously kickass character, or extorting money. New to the mix is the Dark Court, where you’ll periodically be summoned to stand trial for your actions. In this crazy, mixed-up world, though, bad is the new good. The more of a jerk you are, the more convictions and subsequent bonuses you can rack up, not to mention laugh at. For instance, I was once put on trial for “my existence.” Take that, Sarte! It gets even better if you’re found innocent of your crime and forced to serve your sentence as a penguin. Take that, Morgan Freeman!
Such interesting asides, however, don’t do much to alter the game's hardcore focus on combat. There’s very little exploration here (there’s really only one town, after all), so don’t expect much high adventure or diplomacy. It’s tactical strategy the whole way through, and though they do it really well, a little more variety would have been nice.
[image3]And unfortunately, only marginal improvements were made to some of the annoying graphical issues in the first title. The isometric perspective can make units hard to spot or direct, and although a third, nearly top-down view was added, it still doesn’t fix it completely. The overall visual quality of Cursed Memories is akin to Hour of Darkness, which is to say they both look like PSOne games. Textures and sprites are fine and sport a nice variety, from castles to jungle to the technicolor blender of Item World, but it’s decidedly old school. What’s deliciously old school is the lightning quick load times.
Equally similar to the first title is the quality of the voice-acting, which strikes a great balance between campy and endearing using liberal amounts of humor. The music is forgettable and the sound effects standard, but the game oozes personality, mostly because it never takes itself too seriously.
But you should. Though it’s not a technical giant, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories is a skillful improvement upon the original and deserves a last minute spot in your current-gen collection.