When Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness hit consoles in North America in 2003, Nippon Ichi Software’ (NIS) quirky, anime-inspired title quickly became the game of choice for hardcore strategy RPG followers. Not only was its story charming and interesting, rife with bizarre characters and humorous writing, but it also delivered an in-depth role-playing experience that could take hundreds of hours to complete.
Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days, the PSP port of PlayStation 2’s Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, makes no effort to change the winning formula that made its predecessor a huge hit. However, as other Disgaea spinoffs like Makai Kingdom and Phantom Brave have proven, more of NIS’ unique brand of gaming goodness is never a bad thing.
The story in Dark Hero Days revolves around Adell, a young man who is the only remaining human after the evil Overlord Zenon transforms everyone into demons. Accompanied by Zenon’s daughter, the pampered but malicious Rozalin, Adell goes on a quest to defeat Zenon and restore his world back to normal.
Solid narratives are the heart of every game developed by NIS, and Dark Hero Days is no exception. The characters are weird but endearing, and the plot is engaging enough to keep gamers playing. However, oddly enough, the writing in Dark Hero Days isn’t half as sharp as previous games developed by NIS. There’s a fair amount of NIS’ trademark eccentric humor, but the dialogue isn’t witty or hilarious enough to impress.
Fortunately, the game play in Dark Hero Days is almost exactly the same as it’s always been. Like Laharl, Prier, and Ash before him, Adell’s job is to build an army to take on a plethora of challenges before fighting Zenon. Monsters and soldiers of various classes can be recruited and equipped, and periodically, story characters also join. Running and maintaining an army isn’t easy, though, and petitioning (or killing) senators is often necessary to unlock more powerful weapons or raise military funds.
The combat in Dark Hero Days is reminiscent of classic tactical RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics or Vandal Hearts. The efficiency of Adell’s forces is based on individual unit stats. Some characters are more proficient at ranged combat, while others can move more spaces or learn a wider array of abilities. Adjacent units can team up to create ridiculously long, powerful combos, and experience points to level characters are earned upon defeating monsters. Additionally, units can be picked up and thrown to quickly gain control over strategic spots on the map.
There are a number of factors to be aware of on the battlefield, though. Many levels have colored grids called “Geo Panels” scattered about. When a unit stands on any of these panels, they gain an attribute modifier. Some of them are minor like a slight bonus to strength or minus 10% defense, but others can drastically change a battle. For instance, one Geo Panel grants invulnerability while another prevents units from crossing over them. Of course, Geo Panels can be destroyed or turned off by finding their corresponding Geo Symbol on the level and either moving or killing it. Though they may seem like more of a nuisance than anything at first, Geo Panels not only give fights variety, but also force gamers to plan carefully before entering the fray.
There are also a number of features in Dark Hero Days that only the most hardcore RPG fan will dare to explore. Fortunately, Dark Hero Days can be beaten without having to master either. In Item World, gamers can enter in any item in their inventory and fight enemies within to power them up. This sounds simple, but sometimes there are loads of levels contained within a single item. Completing them all just to earn a small stat boost takes an enormous amount of time.
Transmigration (or reincarnation) also returns from Disgaea. With transmigration, once enough points are earned, characters can revert back to level 1 with additional bonus stats to invest. This allows dedicated gamers to level a unit to the level cap of 9999, reincarnate them, and start over to create an even more powerful character. Learning when transmigrating characters will yield the best results is complicated, and only the most avid Disgaea fans will experiment with it.
Dark Hero Days comes with bonus missions to distinguish itself from its PlayStation 2 counterpart. Axel Mode allows gamers to play as Axel, a washed up celebrity who is striving to recapture his fame. These extra few missions are fun and surprisingly difficult. Overall, Axel Mode is a sizable amount of quality content that Disgaea fans will enjoy.
Multiplayer is noticeably absent in Dark Hero Days. The PSP port of Afternoon of Darkness had a multiplayer component that allowed two armies to clash, though it wasn’t balanced well. Engagements between squads of powerful characters ended with a one-sided slaughter within minutes. NIS’ decision to exclude multiplayer is disappointing, but as it wasn’t great to begin with, it’s not missed either.
Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days is a must-buy for RPG-loving PSP owners for the same reasons as the previous Disgaea port. It has a great narrative that retains most of NIS’ storytelling prowess and charm, and its tactical role-playing game play is some of the best in the industry. Some of its features and nuisances will overwhelm beginners and casual gamers, but any Disgaea fan will embrace Dark Hero Days as a worthy addition to the NIS family.