Nippon Ichi Software's Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was a lovingly crafted strategy role-playing game that endeared itself to many fans through its quirky humor, its involved character creation system, its challenging combat and deep battle system, and its abundance of charm. While the developers moved through a number of new projects, Disgaea itself has retained a strong following over time, and that following is soon to get its reward. The details behind Disgaea 2 are now being revealed, and it looks like the game will keep its hardcore-strategy spirit, while enhancing many of the original title's most popular features.
The sequel doesn't quite pick up where the first game left off and instead presents you with an original storyline and all-new protagonists. Things are set in the world of Valdime, which was once a peaceful realm occupied by humans until the demon Overlord Zenon cursed the whole place. Getting cursed was a bit hard on the populace, and the human denizens of Valdime transformed into demons and monsters--with a single exception. That was Adell, a young man who has grown over the years since the cursing to possess incredible strength, a strength that he now seeks to wield against Overlord Zenon's posterior to boot the overbearing creature out. His unlikely ally in this endeavor is Rozalin, daughter of Zenon, who was mistakenly summoned by Adell's mother during a ritual. The cast seems predominated by fresh faces, but fear not--some Disgaea personages make their return, such as the delightfully wicked demon girl Etna and her penguin-like stooges, the adorable prinnies.
Gameplay remains a turn-based affair, but, of course, things in the world of Disgaea are never quite that simple. Certainly you can individually move your characters around the battlefield, placing them in the attack range of enemies and plinking away, but many of the original game's unconventional conventions are reprised here. You'll still be able to, for example, pick up and throw enemies and allies both over the map and into your base panel. The base panel is the spot on the map where you'll normally call forth units from, but you can chuck an enemy into it as well, letting the monster do battle with the allies that have yet to emerge. Combination attacks can still be triggered in the sequel by clustering your allies in spaces adjacent to one another, with the power of these attacks increasing as more characters become involved.
Special geo panels sometimes cover certain areas of the battlefield, and as in the original game, you can strategically destroy little pyramids called geo symbols to catalyze an attack. When a geo symbol is destroyed on a geo panel, you'll have the chance to touch off a chain reaction that both neutralizes the panels and does damage to anyone standing on them (friend or foe). This effect can be great for building up crazy combo attack numbers, but there are times you'll want to keep the geo panels intact, since different colored panels will grant you bonuses when you stand on them. Some will double your earned experience points, some will increase your attack power, and some will make you invincible. There are panels with negative effects, as well, so you'll always have to be mindful of where your characters are standing at any given time.
The character creation system wasn't something we were able to play with extensively, but according to Nippon Ichi, creating new character classes and unlocking powerful new fighters is still very much a key portion of the game. As you progress through the game, you'll accumulate mana points during battles, which are the currency you'll use to create new custom characters. When you create a new ally, you'll have to assign an existing party member to make the request; that character will then be assigned as the "master," while the new character becomes the "student." This translates into some real gameplay effects, as students that rank up will confer bonus points to their master, and if the master and student pull off a successful combo attack together, they'll also earn a bonus. Of course, to make powerful new units, you'll have to get the approval of the Dark Assembly first.
The Dark Assembly is a sort of demon senate, a large governing body that holds dominion over matters of infernal importance. You'll have to visit the assembly for approval for things like new characters, better items in your stores, easier foes to face in battle, and a wealth of other necessities. Of course, the senators might not always be amenable to your requests; fortunately, Disgaea 2 offers you a means of "persuasion." As in the original game, you can threaten the demons or bribe them with gold in an attempt to make them see things your way. In Disgaea 2, you'll get some additional options, such as boozing the senators to the point of drunken acquiescence or using chloroform to knock them out so they can't vote at all. If all that fails, a good way to get political attention in the demon world is to bomb the heck out of people. Explosives speak with a poetic voice. You'll also be able to target patriots, which are highly influential and powerful demons in the assembly with the charisma and the knack to make voting go their way.
While you're busy spending time augmenting your forces with powerful new classes, you'll also want to refine your weapons and items, and this is accomplished through the return of the item world. The item world is a special dimension that exists within items that you carry--just speak to the guide at your base, and you can be whisked into any of your items. Once inside, you'll face battlefields that progress through a number of different floors. The more floors you clear, the more powerful your item will become...but the further you move on, the more powerful the enemies you'll have to beat become. In the original Disgaea, these battlefields became a real test of endurance, but in the sequel, there are a couple of new mechanics to help you out. First, you'll be able to access a hospital in the item world to refresh your characters. Second, there are new cell phone shops in the item world (how do they cram all this stuff into a single item?), and you can use these shops to order some items or call some new party members in. This should really help out during those marathon item world sessions.
Another new development in the sequel is the dark court (no relation to Night Court). There are crimes even among demons, and if your party commits them during the course of gameplay, the dark court will issue you a summons. Perhaps you were leveling too quickly--a violation of the law. Perhaps you threw too many prinnies over the course of battle--a heinous crime. The first tricky thing about the dark court is that you'll have to visit a particular floor of the item world to report to. The other tricky thing is that a lot of the time, you'll be rewarded for your crimes. (Well, these are demons, after all.) You'll be able to snag some nice items this way, but there is such a thing as too much crime, even among monsters. If you abuse the legal system too much, there's a way to clear your record. You'll simply have to reincarnate yourself...as a squat, cute prinny. After remaining as a prinny for a time, you'll revert to your normal form, and your criminal record will once more be a clean slate.
Disgaea 2 retains the anime-inspired sprites and character design of the original, with plenty of flamboyant hair and impossibly large eyes going around. That said, there's an undeniable charm to the design of the story and how outright appealing all of these dangerous denizens of the demon world appear to be. The story uses this charm to deal with serious, life-threatening matters by tossing in heavy doses of comedy and slapstick. The music of the game will contain familiar themes and sound effects and manages to be largely upbeat and match the sometimes ludicrous world very well. The version we played was Japanese, and it's worth noting that Nippon Ichi managed to secure some well-known Japanese voice actors for the game (if the name Hikaru Midorikawa means something to you, he's in here), and the eclectic cast already seems to have a lot of personality.
It looks like Nippon Ichi is all set to deliver a nice gift to Disgaea fans that incorporates plenty of the original's mechanics, along with some interesting twists and all-new features. Fans of console strategy games should definitely keep watching Disgaea 2 as news develops--we certainly will be! For the latest happenings that may or may not involve prinnies, keep your eyes glued to this gamespace. In the meantime, be sure to check out some new gameplay movies and a developer interview, along with an absolute boatload of new screenshots.