Sunday, October 08, 2006

Disgaea 2: Sophomore Memories Cursed?

Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories arrives on the PlayStation 2, bringing with it the crazy antics of the original Disgaea, plus a new cast, new story, and new craziness. Now if only the game was so fresh.

How it Looks: Fair
Compared to most games on the PS2, the game falls flat in the visuals, as it sticks true to its roots and continues with the 2D sprites, with 3D modeled maps. The backdrop is usually just some solid colour or blend of colours, sometimes with stars or a sky, or something to that effect. While they are still 2D sprites, they do have very nice, fluent animations, with a lot of subtleties, like flowing hair when they move, or fluttering dresses, etc. There are a lot more animations for each character than in the first game, which was already pretty decent, and with a lot more models, this makes the game feel very fluid visually. However, with the power of the PS2 at their disposal, and with almost every other game using 3D characters, NIS could have improved the graphics to reach the times.

How it Sounds: Good/Annoying
The musical score in Disgaea 2 is rather nice, with a couple of songs returning for a second go, like the intro screen and the hospital menu. The rest are new, and while none of them will stick in your head when the power is turned off, they are at least pleasant enough to listen to while playing. The voice overs are also done very well, keeping the humour in tack with decent pacing (though the main character does sound somewhat flat and emotionless at times). The Prinnies' voices are a bit of a disappointment, since they were perfect in Disgaea, and they went and changed them for this game. They are somewhat high-pitched and a strain to listen to. The sound effects department really suffers, though. Some of the recurring sounds are pretty annoying, especially some of the character's jumping sounds. Every time you pick someone up or jump up to a panel that is higher than the character, there is a grunt or scream or something, and they aren't the most pleasant thing in the world. The Geo Combo (more later) sound effects are equally poor, taking away the more natural explosion sound and replacing it with a sort of "squish" sound.

How it Feels: Comfortable
The controls are unchanged from Disgaea from what I have played with. If you've never played the game before, there is a slight getting used to, but it is easily transformed into a groove when you get going (Naturally, I started playing this game after Xenosaga III, and, well, I had to add a 5 minute learning curve to the controls, even though I've spent over 100 hours on the first game!).

How it Plays: Fun/Boring
Contradictions in the most important part of the review isn't a good sign, is it?
To those who haven't played the game, it has a "cult" following for a reason (reviewers and writers throw that word around a lot. Essentially, a small group of people like the game a lot): It is a strategy RPG, where you take control of a group of people and play it out in turn-based, tile-based, tactical fights. That's all there is to the game: Fight through the story, fight through your items to level them up, or fight through the unlockable optional levels. Needless to say, you do a lot of fighting, and although the battle system is fairly easy to pick up, it is a difficult thing to master. Essentially, it is turn-based, but unlike the famous "Final Fantasy Tactics" style, your team goes first, then the opposing team goes, and so on. That is always the order; not once do your opponents start a fight going first. You can have up to 10 units on the field at a time, and you can move them and act with them in a turn. Once they move and attack, they can't be commanded for the rest of your turn, but if they've only moved, they can still act, and if they've only acted, they can still move. Better yet, if they've only moved, their move can be cancelled and moved again, as long as the spot they started in is empty. The big thing in this game is that you can pick up a unit on the field and throw it. This includes friends and foes. Another returning mechanic are geo panels. They are coloured squares on the grid, that when a geo pyramid is tossed on top of it, every panel of that colour gets the effect of the pyramid. Some are good (ex: increasing Attack by 50%), while some are bad (ex: Destroy the unit if they are attacked)! Also, if the pyramid is a different colour than the panel, attacking the pyramid will change each panel it was affecting to the colour of the pyramid, and if there are more pyramids hit by this wave, it creates a Geo Chain, possibly wiping out your enemies (or allies if you're not careful), and raising the bonus gauge like mad!
A new addition to the pickup mechanic is that you can have a stack of people and have the person at the base attack a unit beside them, and the whole stack will attack that person. It looks cool if anything else. Also new is the dark court, which will send subpoenas to your characters if they've leveled up too fast, or have too many abilities, etc. These can add bonuses to your characters (they are demons after all), or penalties, though I haven't been penalized by the court.
To those who have played through Disgaea at least through the story, it's the same game with a different set of characters, the two new additions, and a lot more Geo Effects (like sudden death, or death if damaged on that panel). If you really like it, you'll love it. But if you're looking for a new experience, you'll be disappointed.

Game Length: 100+ hours
Since there are 30-100 levels inside EACH item you can obtain (legendary and rare items have 100, rest have 30 as far as I know), about 4-5 unlockable areas, and the ability to get to level 9999 with any character, then reset their level to 1 in a new class and keep most of their abilities, the game can seem to go on forever. However, since it's mostly just the fighting, you must really like the game to go that far into the game.

Verdict: Split
People who have never played Disgaea: Buy!
While not the easiest game to master, Disgaea 2 is a very strong Strategy RPG that any RPG fan should have in their collection. Whether it's the unusual battle abilities, the zany characters and storyline, or the fact that being guilty gives bonuses will keep you interested for a while.
People who have played Disgaea: Depends
If you were a person who played Disgaea for as long as I can and still can't keep the controller down, this is the next best thing. It's a must for those fans. However, if you've played your fill of Disgaea, the second one will not provide anything new if you're looking for something. Though it is nice to return to a game and play through some new content.