Overlord! More people here think you're unworthy! Time to dig some graves!
Laharl's still hard-headed. Flonne is still sweet and angelic. Etna still looks more prepubescent than she'd prefer. With everything else (mostly) the same, welcome back to the underworld and welcome back to the world of Disgaea D2!
If you've never played a Disgaea title before, the barrier to entry is firm. Not only is there a lot of information to take in during the first five hours or so, but it's a direct sequel, which is unlike any other title in the series. Granted, it's essentially a retelling of the previous story at its core—Laharl is the son of the former king of the underworld and strives to beat the snot out of anyone who doesn't want him in charge—but the character introduction is at a bare minimum to pick up where the previous game left off. And the big guns of Laharl, Vassal (and aspiring Overlord herself) Etna, and the Fallen Angel Flonne reprise their parts in the story, so for newcomers interested in the story, exploring the original before diving in here is highly recommended.
Thankfully (or disappointingly, depending on your mileage) for returning players, the fighting system is, essentially, the same it's been for years. Sure, you can ride a monster character like a mount, and there is a new system focusing on character relationships and counter/protective responses to enemy attacks, but otherwise it's the same "choose your units, attack/defend/magic, repeat" as before. It's just as addicting and engaging, designed to suck up hours like a vacuum sucks dust bunnies, but not much has changed.
The only truly noteworthy thing here is the visual overhaul, which looks pretty damn sweet. New sprites are detailed and clean while maintaining the original animé-inspired presentation NIS has become known for. I used to think it was super pretty with a hint of pixelation around the edges, and now there's no pixelation… and it's just straight-up sexy-lookin'. It's easy on the eyes while you're diving into the legendary Item World for the upteenth time.
Ah yes, the Item World: legendary unlimited depth to dive into, slaying randomly generated baddies to raise not only your own levels, but also the power of whatever item you've chosen to embolden. There's something innately satisfying about taking one of the weaker weapons and making it stronger than anything else in the shop. There are also adjustments here, like expanding on the previous game's pirate ship concept (more powerful characters flying in from off-screen for added challenge) and adjusting the depth of each item's power potential, which makes the game even longer when looking for that ultimate death-bringer.
Combine this with the unlimited potential of character creation and the Dark Assembly—the reason NIS tossed in opponents with levels in the thousands to tempt players like me—and you have yet another experience that will keep you from enjoying time with loved ones and eating healthy foods.
All of that said, and as much as I've enjoyed these games in the past (and will continue to plug away at this one), I just can't bring it to that fifth star. There's a lot in here to appreciate, from the updated look and story expansion to the adjustments in the Item World, but it doesn't really bring it to any new level. It takes what's been done and worked, it expands a little here and there, and while it's a direct sequel with new story elements and characters to compliment, it's just not that far ahead of its predecessor. Still, fans of the series will buy it (as well they should, it's still pretty friggin' awesome), and it's worth the cash to plunk down… unless you're still playing an earlier version, then consider borrowing it from a friend. Or continue playing your current copies.
And if you've never played Disgaea before, consider the purchase, but I'd recommend going back to an earlier version. It might help you appreciate the new story and flesh out the characters, dood.