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Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories
Graphics: 8.2
Gameplay: 9.1
Sound: 8.1
Control: 8.4
Replay Value: 9.8
Rating: 8.7
Publisher: NIS American
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Number Of Players: 1

When it comes to depth, few games of this last generation could rival the likes of the strategy gem, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. The game featured no level cap (unless you call 9,999 a "cap"), the insanely addictive and seemingly never-ending Item World, the Transmigration system that took a zillion hours but could eventually yield Godlike characters, and literally dozens of characters and enemies in one battle. It was a straight 40 hours if you did nothing extra, and about 845,231 hours if you got thoroughly hooked on that absurd complexity.

And of course, Nippon Ichi canít leave well enough alone when it comes to providing fans with more titles that could feasibly take a lifetime to fully experience, so Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories was a given. Followers of Nipponís cult classics know very well that most of their sequels donít change the foundation forged by the original; they merely feature a few upgrades and tweaks to further enhance that stellar gameplay mechanic. And once you dive into this sequel, youíll soon realize it follows that formula to a "T."

The original Disgaea utilized an old-school anime style for their graphical presentation, and the sequel adopts the same visuals. There are a few small refinements to the presentation and some nicely implemented details, but for the most part, Disgaea 2 looks very similar to the original. Thereís a great deal of color, very sweet environment and character design, and a palpable sense of classic anime in each and every location. There really is some beautiful artistry here and the bottom line is that if you enjoyed the visuals in the first game, youíll certainly enjoy them in the second.

As far as the sound is concerned, there seems to be too much of an overlap between the Disgaea titles. Itís not that the soundtrack is bad, per se, but thereís really nothing different in the sequel; if you closed your eyes and just listened, you probably wouldnít be able to tell the difference. The voice acting, on the other hand, remains stellar (perhaps surprisingly), and youíll actually be missing out if you skip all the dialogue scenes. The sound effects work well in battle, as they present the player with a wide variety of combat effects combined with clear voices. Overall, the sound isnít spectacular, and thereís too much recycling going on, but itís still very solid.

When it comes to gameplay, this strategy/RPG excels in the same ways its predecessor did; namely, the intricacy and complexity of the systems surrounding the combat. The first aspect we should address is the simple description: this is purely turn-based mechanic that takes place on the traditional "battle board" found in games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story. You select a character, place him/her on the field of battle, and then move and select actions. Only when you choose to Execute your chosen command will anything happen, and when youíve exhausted all possibilities, you select "End Turn," which switches the control of the board over to the computer. Therefore, there is no speed attribute dictating which characters go when Ė found in most every turn-based strategy/RPG Ė and this makes Disgaea somewhat unique.

Characters gain experience during battle, thus gaining more levels, per tradition. But this game takes everything a step further, and you will also be able to gain levels for your equipment by entering the alluring Item World. By selecting a sword, for example, you can actually go "inside" the weapon to defeat monsters, thereby increasing the level of that weapon. Of course, there are all sorts of perils and rewards within the Item World, and this sequel does add a few new things: firstly, you will encounter shops in neutral areas, which is a much-appreciated addition, considering how long you can be in the Item World.

The other addition isnít quite as appreciated. Ninja Pirates (yes, thatís right) can pop up at any time and attack your party, hoping to relieve you of any spoils you may have accumulated. The problem is theyíre essentially unbeatable and can effectively destroy any character in a single blow, so your only resort is to make a beeline for the exit, praying youíll make it before your entire party is decimated. It seems like a good idea in theory, but in reality, it only serves as a colossal annoyance and almost makes you want to bypass the Item World completely...even though thatíd be a bad idea, strategically speaking.

The Dark Assembly has made its return as well, but at least you donít have to worry about your Rank this time around. All your proposals presented to the Senate rely on acquired Mana, but Nippon Ichi has almost completely revamped the rest of the process. Now, characters can be subpoenaed to arrive in court (for example, if that character has been killing too quickly or is too high a level), but for whatever reason, if you donít want to go, you donít have to. Itís a definite loophole that almost makes the entire addition of the subpoena humorous. But as for the Senate themselves, you can still bribe them with items and equipment, and you must be wary of sleeping or drunk members. Theyíve added new proposals for you, too; some of which even allow you to access new battles and unlock the gameís "true" ending.

The Geo Symbols are back; those little pyramids that alter certain parts of the board. In other words, if thereís a blue pyramid that gives the enemy 50% more attack power, all blue tiles on the board will offer the enemy 50% more power. You can either destroy these pyramids or throw them to another area, whichever way best benefits your party. But thereís another little addition here as well: the inclusion of Geo Monsters. These silly things that somehow live beneath the pyramid can royally mess up your plans by moving the pyramids wherever they want. Theyíre entirely neutral, though, so every action they make is random. And that, of course, can be good or bad.

And believe it or not, these are just the basics of what you really need to know. There is a lot more, especially in terms of the multi-character combo attacks that will become mainstays of your battle plan later on in the game, and the inherent skills available on each piece of equipment. We could go on for quite some time, but letís just say thereís a lot to do and even more to think about. Basically, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories is an enhanced version of the original in more ways than one, and thereís absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But at the same time, there are a few issues. The AI is still much too predictable, as the enemy will invariably gang up on one of the weaker members of your party, and usually target characters with lower HP. This makes planning that much easier, and if you spend some time in the Item World and making worthwhile propositions to the Senate, youíll find yourself easily outmatching your opponents in the plot-based battles. The story itself is okay, and full of comic relief and even a dose of friendship and romance. But due to the depth of the gameplay and the amount of time youíll spend with alternate endeavors, you may easily lose track of the story as you go along...and thus, lose interest.

They still didnít fix the camera (which can be frustrating), the lack of explanation regarding many of the deeper aspects of the game is a minor downfall, and unless youíre a huge fan of this style of play, things like the Item World and tough boss fights can soon feel quite repetitive. But for those who are fans, itís just another dream come true. Youíll have everything you loved in the original plus a few upgrades and enhancements; hundreds of characters, the new Shadow World, 8 different endings, and literally hundreds of hours of micromanagement fun.

Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories can be summed up in this way- if the strategy/RPG genre is a favorite of yours, this game is designed specifically for you. If you are not interested in the genre, this game wonít appeal to you in the least. So take that into account when looking at the posted scores. Itís a fantastic game, to be sure, but itís catering to a very specific set of gamers.

11/1/2006   Ben Dutka