Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories – Retro Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
Nostalgia can be wonderful thing, turning some of our favourite games from the past into virtual masterpieces in our mind, even if they perhaps don’t quite live up to expectations upon revisiting them in the present day. Thanks to the range of PlayStation 2 Classics that have been released via PSN, modern day gamers that have given up their old consoles are given another chance to experience titles otherwise inaccessible to them, and those of us who missed out on the original run of certain games are allowed the opportunity to play them for the first time. One of the more recent releases on the PlayStation Network is Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, a JRPG that falls firmly within the parameters of the genre. Originally released in 2006, some of you may be wondering whether a seven-year-old game from the last console generation does enough to warrant your attention here in 2013, particularly when many gamers are now looking to the future.
Thankfully, the answer is a large, resounding ‘Yes’. Often, when revisiting a game from a bygone era, visuals that once seemed shiny and state of the art are suddenly seen as muddy, blurry and downright ugly. In the case of Disgaea 2, its fairly simple palette of characters and environments hold up pretty well to the test of time, even if they perhaps don’t have the smooth edges that today’s gamers are used to. Cutscenes, if they can be labelled as such, consist of static manga-inspired character models appearing at the left and right of the screen as they converse, and the game as a whole is viewed from an isometric top-down perspective, with the camera being able to move between the various corners of the world to grant different viewpoints.
The world of Disgaea 2 isn’t quite as seamless as current games (although this is a definite design choice) and the fact that there are breaks between battling and everything else works quite well in terms of how the game is played. Players start in, and often return to, Holt Village, our protagonist’s hometown, which serves as a level hub and a basic character management environment. It is here that players can stock up on weapons, armour and items, talk to various characters, and visit areas such as the Dark Assembly and the Item World (both of which will be explained later). When you want to get into the meat of the game, which is tactical battling, players merely speak to the Dimension Guide, who presents you with a list of the currently available locations, which are broken down into sections depending on which chapters of the game you have beaten. Each particular area has four levels, which are initially played through as part of the story, but then become available to revisit when you want to, either for the purposes of levelling up certain members of your party or collecting extra treasure.
You’ll be visiting the Dimension Guide and each and every one of the levels multiple times as, such is the case in many JRPGs, you’ll need to partake in a fair amount of character grinding if you wish to progress through the game. Although characters don’t join your party through the story directly, the Dark Assembly allows you to create new characters, and depending on how strong your current roster of warriors is, you’re able to create characters with varying levels of potential. All new characters start off fairly weak though, so you’ll need to guide them (often with the support of a couple of stronger characters) through the earlier stages of the game, so that they can gain enough experience to level up to parity with your current characters and become useful to you in your current predicament.
The Dark Assembly, where you create these new characters, serves as a way to change the mechanics of Disgaea 2, although in a legitimate manner. When you first enter the area, you are presented with a list of options, which can range from creating a new character to making enemies stronger or bringing more expensive items into Holt Village’s stores. You can also request new character types, extra experience bonuses or even money, but depending on the type of request you put forward, you may have a more difficult time actually getting it granted. This is because the Dark Assembly as an entity exists as a form of mini-game, which can swing in your favour or against it, depending on how well prepared you are when you enter.
Once you’ve selected an option from the list, your character enters into a room resembling a parliament chamber, with various senators seated on the benches. Some of these senators will be for your proposal, some will be against, and it’s up to you to make sure that you have enough support to push your request through. This can be done by offering certain senators bribes, which come from your items, and can range from anything such as weapons to healing items. Different senators have different tastes as well, meaning that whilst a particular senator may have a liking for Ramen Noodles, another may fancy a Cell Phone, and another may be indifferent to both, but the two together could be enough to convince them. You can also get senators suffering from status ailments, such as being drunk (which makes their vote unpredictable) or falling asleep (which causes them to miss the vote), which further muddies the waters. It’s a complicated system, but one that pays off once you get the hang of it, and it allows players to really make their experience of playing Disgaea 2 unique and tailored to their own tastes.
The Item World, on the other hand, is a more straightforward experience in some respects, as you are required to battle through a sequence of worlds in order to make a particular item more potent. It is here that you can improve the healing power of a particular item, although the costs can be high. The Item World is different each time you enter it, due to the fact that individual levels are randomly generated. Some levels can be full of high-level monsters, whilst others could have a couple of weak enemies and an abundance of treasure. The gamble is intensified this way because you can only leave the Item World at every ten-level mark, unless you use an item known as a Mr. Gency Exit, which can prove quite rare. You are unable to save whilst in the Item World as well, which makes it all too easy to underestimate the strength of your foes and suffer as your party gets wiped out and you return to the title screen. It’s certainly possible for players to spend tens, if not hundreds of hours in the Item World, as it can be a perfect place for levelling up characters and items, so long as you’re careful.
Whilst the crux of the game is battling and levelling up your team, there is a story present, even if it isn’t particularly engrossing, or very crucial to your enjoyment of the game. Holt Village exists within the world of Veldime, a world ruled by Overlord Zenon. At the point that Disgaea 2 starts, Zenon has laid a curse upon Veldime, which turns its populace into demons. The only person unaffected by said curse is Adell, who, along with his family, attempts to summon Zenon in order to defeat him and break the curse. However, instead of summoning Zenon, the family only manages to summon Rozalin, Zenon’s daughter. It is here that the game starts, with Adell attempting to return Rozalin to her father, in order to give him the chance to battle the Overlord. The story doesn’t really tie into the gameplay that much, with conversations between characters (which are fully voiced) only appearing at predefined points, usually before and after battles.
The battles themselves are broken down into different chapters, but these tend to serve more of an indication of the game’s increase in difficulty rather than as a seamless progression from one story beat to the next. The entire experience of Disgaea 2 can be seen as broken up, although this is most certainly by design. This isn’t the type of game that is meant to flow effortlessly from start to finish, with players almost required to revisit early sections to make their party stronger, and plenty of activities to perform away from the main quest.
Battling within Cursed Memories will prove familiar to anyone who has played a Tactical-RPG before. Arenas operate on a grid system, and characters can move a certain number of squares per turn. Similarly, attacks have a range within a certain number of squares, and enemies must be within this range to be attacked. Characters don’t actually attack until you hit the ‘Execute’ button, however, meaning that you have ample opportunity to line up a series of attacks and combine them into a more powerful version. By having two or more of your characters adjacent to each other and ordering them to attack the same enemy, you trigger a combo-attack that causes more damage than a regular attack, and still allows each character to take their turn individually. Once all of your characters have performed their actions for a certain turn, you hit ‘End Turn’ which is when the enemy force takes their moves and then control returns to you; the battle continues until one side is victorious.
Most arenas can be overcome in a matter of minutes, but this varies depending on how strong/weak your forces are. Battles never feel stretched out or like they overstay their welcome, and at times can actually prove quite tense. The brevity of the battles is useful as you’ll be spending a lot of your time within Disgaea 2 fighting, and the quick changes from one arena to another keeps things fresh. The biggest issue that I had with Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories is that for the first couple of hours, I was so overwhelmed by the influx of information regarding game rules and mechanics that I came out of the other side barely remembering what I’d just been told. Although some mechanics, such as the Dark Assembly, are held back until later to ease up on the initial flood of information, for those unfamiliar with this type of game, those first couple of hours may be enough to break your resolve. Once you gradually start to get the hang of the game, though, there’s a great time to be had and countless numbers of hours can be spent within the world of Veldime. There are a couple of instances that I noticed of mistranslations and spelling errors within the text, which can be distracting, but overall the lightheartedness of the game’s tone, the addictiveness of the battling system, and leveling up mechanics won me over.
For those who want a game that they can fall in love with and play almost endlessly, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories comes highly recommended. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, I’d recommend finding an online guide to keep handy for those first couple of hours until you get to grips with what the game has to offer, but once you’re over that initial hump the payoff is worth it. Disgaea 2 is a game so deep it almost seems as if it doesn’t have a bottom, and it proves to be worryingly addictive once it has its claws in you. If you’re looking for an emotionally riveting story and unforgettable characters I’d look elsewhere, but if you want to get lost within a game with no end in sight, I’d wholeheartedly recommend Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories.
Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories scores a 4.5 out of 5
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