Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories
Reviewed by Tiffany Craig
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-12-18 PS2 RPG T (Teen) Nippon Ichi / Koei

Most current RPGs are set in a mythical Arthurian past with witches, goblins, alchemy and feudal systems of land ownership. They focus on locating the sword of ultimate amazing destiny from a demon ten times stronger than your witless yet noble hero. The magical properties of modern everyday items are left, perhaps unsurprisingly, by the wayside in favor of fairytale fodder. Similarly, most RPGs are just as linear with their mechanics. The more monsters you kill, the more quests you go on, the bigger and badder your hero becomes ad infinitum. Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories' fragrant onion of action and eye for minutiae make it a different and far more interesting type of RPG. The intricacy may not make it the most accessible game, or easy to play, but could make it one of the most gratifying.

You're Adell, the last full human living on Netherworld conquered Veldime. The people of your world are losing their humanity, succumbing to the power of a demonic overlord. In an effort to save your family from a total transformation into minions of evil, you're on a mission to defeat the murderous Overlord of Overlords, Zenon. A botched attempt by your mother at summoning him brings his only daughter Rozalin into the fray as a hostage who becomes your guide. Predictably, she spends much of her time plotting to sabotage you and prevent you killing her daddy. Fortunately - for not all your journey is entirely tainted by the protests and schemes of a deranged Jiminy Cricket - as you adventure, other more tolerable companions come to join your cause.

Your base is the town of Holt and contains the Dark Assembly, hospital, merchants, access to the Item Worlds and exit into the rest of Veldime. It's important to return to this base as much as possible as it is where you'll find most of your resources, including a place to save. From here all new and previously conquered maps are available in a menu after you contact the designated NPC. The travel system, whilst stretching suspension of disbelief slightly, is very practical and easy to use.

Battle is slightly more frustrating. It's turn based and works off a grid map, with a diabolical camera that doesn't allow much for view. Small blocks displayed when moving prescribe how far you can go if you can get the directions correct. To get around this and possibly gain a head start, you throw members of your party closer to targets. It's sadly not possible to create a giant chain of throwing for an easy win. Once someone has given a good chuck, their turn is over. Your allies aren't just for tossing, they can also gang up on enemies with you in chain attacks without losing their individual turns, likewise characters whose turns are spent can still join in someone else's chain. Geo Panels powered by small nodes lend support, or damage to enemies or your party. Destroying the source can damage your opponents and remove its effects from a given area but can also harm you. Be aware that sometimes small monsters move them, frustrating your attempts at blowing them up.

The Dark Assembly is a senate full of demons that grant game bonuses including better equipment from shops and more characters to join the fun. It's worth getting as many possible mercenaries early as leveling them in easy maps can be tedious. The quality and type of character you recruit from the Dark Assembly comes out of your mana pool. All newcomers are level one, with the character giving mana designated as mentor for extra bonuses. In addition to general recruitment, you can also petition the senate to pass laws asking for things such as a better selection of eyewear and better abilities. Old-fashioned cash for peerages, I mean favors, or becoming a notorious felon convinces the sober and alert senators to cast a yay vote.

The only thing you can't do within the Dark Assembly to improve your prowess is add bonuses to your items. Through an NPC in Holt you can enter the Item World of anything from a stick of gum to a handgun. As you defeat each map, your item bonuses increase. Here the difficulty of the various worlds may give you an overwhelming desire to find a +5 sword of smashing controllers. Not only do you have to make it through 10 "floors" of a level before you can save, there are also some rather brutal and powerful enemies. It's also here that you area subpoenaed to Dark Court in front of Pinnys, little evil penguin demons, to answer for your crimes.

Graphics are what you'd expect from a 2D RPG living up to the expectations set by other Nippon Ichi and KOEI titles. Characters are wide eyed, females have a lot of cleavage, everything right down to the nasty little enemies being cute and generally well-adapted to incarnations as plush toys. Some nicely colorful Manga cut scenes break up 2D play festivities. Music is completely unnoticeable, which I think means it mixes well. Unlike other titles, I'm not horribly embarrassed during some levels but I don't get the themes stuck in my head either. Voice acting is Wensleydale in the extreme, but I find a heavy dose of cheerful voice over amusing given the liberal use of 'damn' and 'hell' in the script.

To a newcomer, the depth of a game like Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories can be intimidating. The inclusion of items like cell phones and unique worlds within worlds can boggle someone unfamiliar with the amazing world of J-RPGs. Nevertheless, depth is what makes this series interesting and gives it phenomenal replay value. That said losing several times in a row with no ability to save could do wonders to hinder appreciation of the game's intricacy. Ultimately though, what it overwhelms the player with in complexity, it makes up for in humor, charm, attention to detail and a compulsion to play.

Special thanks to Mikey Foley and Koei for providing a copy of this title.