Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories ReviewJoe Shaffer
It's easy to feel disappointed when playing Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, mainly because the narrative isn't up to par with the previous game. It's not unreasonable to expect Disgaea 2 to ape its predecessor by delivering unique takes on various RPG tropes, though such anticipation will eventually lead to heartache. You won't feel that ache at first, but you may notice it after you've experienced your third or fourth "undoctored" RPG cliche, and that's when the waterworks start. You might even shed a tear knowing that your favorite antihero protagonist has been replaced by a goodie-goodie who fights fair, keeps his promises, and does anything for his family because "that's just his style." I suppose you'll also mourn the passing of the clever humor, where jokes written naturally into the dialog are few and far between, replaced instead by snarky afterthoughts and obnoxious "I LIKE BOOBIES!" comedy. Not that there's anything wrong inherently with lowbrow humor, but it comes off as mindless and ill planned most of the time.
Once you've tossed your wet Kleenexes and said your goodbyes to the prospect of Disgaea 2 possessing a more than passable plot, you can move on to what's important in the franchise: freedom.
Disgaea 2's best and most memorable moments aren't spent delving into its plain story or engaging in a particular canon battle. Rather, the meatiest bits come when the game leaves you to your devices, allowing you to carve your own path, assemble your own contingent of warriors and freaks, and customize your virtual action figures to your heart's content. If you so desire, you can spend dozens of hours guiding your custom army through the Item World, where you could easily experience the bulk of your playthrough's highlights. This is where I spent a good portion of my time, usually descending far enough to encounter jaw-breaking battles and barely escaping with my life... and an armful of loot!
On paper, Item World might sound like your average randomized dungeon. After all, it's pretty much a gauntlet of battles that feature arbitrary terrain designs, foes, and traps. However, there are so many variables involved in generating a floor that each visit to the Item World is assured to be unique and offer plenty of surprises, hairy challenges, and worthwhile rewards. Sometimes you'll be tossed into a room where Geo Symbols--items that bestow various character-modifying attributes to certain colored floor tiles--are plentiful, each one packed with a damning effect. For instance, you might pop into a room and find yourself surrounded by dragons enhanced with an "Enemy Boost X 3" Geo Symbol combined with a bothersome "Invincibility" modification. During occasions like this, tight strategy can be your best friend. Of course, so can making a beeline for the entrance to the next floor or spending a Mr. Gency's Exit to egress the dungeon all together.
Other visits might thrust you into room after room of weaklings, which can be great for stroking your ego, but piss poor in terms of measurable rewards. You might still lose yourself in a battle-born reverie at some point, slaughtering lesser goons only to find that the game possesses a horrible means of reprisal in the form of ridiculously powerful pirates. Then, you might find yourself the victim of merciless bloodshed, or charging quickly to the exit.
Competing in the Item World isn't only about securing booty and experience, though. Each world is actually generated from a particular item that grows in effectiveness as you complete floors. Seriously, nothing caps off a hard fought and fruitful visit to the Item World like watching the new weapon you purchased thirty minutes ago mature into a menacing armament that warriors will sing about for ages in mead halls across the Netherworld.
Of course, much of what I've described above can be attributed to the previous outing in this franchise. NIS likely knew that and decided that the same old story wasn't enough, and that fresh features were needed to further what was then a blossoming brand. For instance, several new classes have been added to the roster, including firearm-toting gunners, meatshield heavy knights, swift-killing samurai, and shady sinners. These new additions are not only icing on the cake, but they add an extra level of depth to the game's customization factor by providing units that specialize in specific combat roles.
An even better addition, though, is the felony system, in which your characters will receive subpoenas for committing felonies (read: being "too" powerful). You can then enter the Item World within these subpoenas and battle your way to a Dark Courtroom where you'll receive a certain number of criminal charges that increase the amount of experience a character gains and a prize. It's a small touch, but a generous one that adds hours of gameplay.
Despite spinning a rather dull yarn, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories is still an excellent S-RPG, mostly thanks to its depth of customization and habit of leaving you alone so you can do whatever the hell you want. If you want to blaze through the plot and take on the final boss so you can unlock New Game+, you're more than welcome to. But if you want to witness as little of the tired narrative as possible, and would rather explore the ever-changing Item World for one hundred hours, there's nothing stopping you. Disgaea 2, like its predecessor, is every bit your game. It's just a shame it didn't maintain the same level of quality for storytelling that the original had established.
Miss the physical release of this game? Don't want to shell out $40+ for a used copy? Then hit up PSN, where it's only $9.99. Believe me, it's a steal!
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.