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Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is the fifth instalment of the Disgaea saga, which has been pleasing strategy RPG fans since its inception back in 2003. D2 has the honour of being a direct sequel to the original Disgaea, which is a novelty in the series given how new Disgaea games tend to be set in their own universe complete with a host of new characters. That's fine with me as, in my opinion, the first Disgaea had the best cast. As a fan of the franchise it is great to spend more time with immature overlord Laharl, Flonne the love obsessed fallen angel and Etna the tormentor of Prinnies (exploding penguins who are forced to perform slave labour as punishment for sins committed in a previous life.)
Story wise D2 isn't anywhere near as grand as its predecessor, which revolved around the reawakened Laharl exerting his dominance over the Netherworld whilst at the same time fending off a human invasion. D2 instead prefers to plonk its cast in goofy situations and let them resolve the matter over the course of a strategically violent chapter. Some of the tribulations Laharl will have to contend with include facing off against a diminutive angel who is claiming to be his long lost sister, quelling a rebellion led by his father's former vassals, preventing the Netherworld from being overrun with cute flowers and erm getting transformed into a woman. Those seeking a more serious narrative will have to wait until the finale, which provides some backstory for Etna.
When it comes to gameplay Disgaea's motto is "if it ain't broke don't fix it." All the Disgaea games play pretty much the same, with future iterations merely refining the experience with minor tweaks such as the addition of high res graphics, which give the 2D anime sprites some extra pop. Levels are set on an isometric map were the goal is to eradicate all of the enemy's forces. Combat is a turned based affair were players summon their characters from a base panel and proceed to order them where to move and what actions to perform. Attacks range from a plethora of weapon skills, magical spells and some really over the top special moves (such as Flonne's ability to transform into a Godzilla monster that wrecks everything on screen, including marionette jet fighters.)
As is the case with most role-playing games, difficulty spikes can be overcome by repeating earlier chapters to beef up your characters. The Disgaea games in fact encourage grinding. Characters can attain astronomical levels via the killing of enemies, special attacks grow stronger every time they are used and gear can be upgraded by completing a series of randomly generated levels at the Item World. That's not to say that you can brute force your way past the main campaign just by power levelling. Certain stages contain geo-panels that confer status ailments (life sapping zones, inaccessible magic walls etc) that demand a tactical, almost puzzle solving, approach to complete.
Two new features introduced to D2, which are worth mentioning, include monster riding and the cheat shop. As with past titles killing enemies earns you mana that can be spent on recruiting new underlings. Recruitable characters come in three flavours - monsters, humans and strawberry (okay I made that last one up.) Humanoid characters tend to be superior to their monster counterparts, so to make monsters more relevant it is now possible for humans to mount them (that sounds rather kinky given that the monster classes include Cat Girls and Succubi.) The benefit of this is that the monster mount absorbs damage in place of its human rider. Of the two new features the cheat shop is however my favourite. It allows players to tweak certain settings (for example you can lower the amount of mana you earn in exchange for gaining more experience for killing foes.) This is great as it really speeds up farming for money or levelling up new characters.
My rating for Disgaea D2 has to be a resounding five stars out of five. To be honest I would give full marks to most of the games in the series, as they are the epitome of what a strategy RPG should be. Overall I thought D2 was superior to Disgaea 4 as it is blessed with better-designed levels and far funnier humour (D4's gags were too reliant on repetitive catchphrases for my liking.) The cheat shop proves to be a marvellous idea given how it steam lines the levelling process, making it much less of a chore. If you enjoy tactical games and wacky anime themed comedy I can highly recommend Disgaea D2. Who would have thought that a title featuring a gender bending overlord and a giant lizard morphing angel could be so much fun?