Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness just came out, and as a long time Disgaea fan I have come prepared to-

500 Hours Later…

Where am I? Did the PS4 come out yet? Is Obama still president? Why am I not wearing any pants?

Yes, this is the basic experience that any strategy RPG fan will have with the brand new Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness, the latest in Nippon Ichi’s award winning Disgaea series. Unlike previous entries in the Disgaea series which all focus on different characters doing different quirky things in different underworlds, D2 brings us back to our original Disgaea protagonists, the Demon Prince/Overlord Laharl, his morally questionable vassal Etna, and the *spoilers* fallen angel Flonne. Laharl even gets to wear pants this time around!

The game’s story is kind of all over the place, treating itself like an episodic anime rather than an epic struggle to save the world. We pick up shortly after the events of the very first Disgaea game, with Flonne tending the guardian of Laharl’s castle. Laharl has claimed the title of overlord after the events of Disgaea 1, but because he’s still kind of a punk kid, no one takes him seriously. Thus, he has decided to destroy all the stars in the sky so that all the demons in the netherworld know what a badass he is. This plan… doesn’t work all that well, but on the upside, Flonne got some celestial flowers to bloom in the Netherworld!

What starts as an innocent quest to solidify one’s position as the ruler of an evil dimension eventually blows up into a quest to save the universe… again… except this time there are mysterious long lost relatives, otherworldly conspiracies, palette swapping, and gender bending thrown into the mix. In short, the story isn’t spectacular, but this is nothing new for the Disgaea series. It’s a weird and convoluted mess that would serve better as a soap opera or bizarre slice of life anime, but it’s really just window dressing for the game’s mechanics so you probably won’t care much.

As far as mechanics go, Disgaea D2 is less a reinvention of the Disgaea formula and more a refinement of it. All the Disgaea basics are here, from the ludicrously high max level, to the Dark Assembly that forces you to bribe senators in order to get anything done. Randomly generated item worlds, geo block puzzles, and special terrain effects, store levels, hospital prizes, custom character creation, weapon skills, magic transference, lifting and throwing, and more, are all back as well. The game plays nearly identical to every Disgaea game of the past, and with very little instruction you will be swapping item world inhabitants and putting together multi-character combo attacks with ease.

Where D2 really shines is in the improvements it has made to these classic systems. For example, you can now lift and throw at an angle simply by choosing a block in your diamond shaped throw range, something that players have been doing since Disgaea 1 by timing needlessly finicky button presses between the four cardinal directions. Instead of prizes randomly being given out by the hospital, you can now see the health, sp, and revive requirements for claiming each one. You can also bribe Dark Assembly members with money instead of just items, making it far less likely that you have to finagle your inventory before each meeting, or beat the crap out of them if they decide to vote against you. You are now shown a stage preview, allowing you to remember which stage is which when grinding. You even get notes whenever you learn a new skill, which takes a lot of guess work out of raising characters up from level 1.

Of course, there are a few new elements that are worth mentioning. For example, monsters can now be “mounted” by human characters, combining them into one powerful unit. While this gives them access to new skills and higher stats, it blocks the use of their normal skills making it only marginally useful. The Evility system, originally from Disgaea 3, allows you to assign different titles and aspects to your troops. These titles do random things like, increase your power as characters use specific attacks, increase defense when characters die, and generally grant bonuses as different events happen during battle. This opens up a whole new world of synergy to help you build an unstoppable army of choice. There’s also a new likeability system which increases characters’ relationships as they fight together, making them more likely to do combo attacks, counters, and even take hits for each other.

Then, there is the best new addition to the Disgaea universe, the Cheat Shop. This new addition to your castle allows you to do what is says, which is cheat. You can shuffle around the amount of EXP, HL (gold), and Mana you receive during battle. Your options in the cheat menu are limited at first, but soon grow to allow you to customize the whole game to your liking! If you are swimming in cash, then just increase XP to its maximum in order to beef up your troops. If your troops are an unstoppable murdering force, increase your gold or item drop output. You can increase your bonuses as high as 10X their base value in some circumstances. It’s really like a Gameshark built right into the game mechanics. This is so useful, as now you don’t have to go searching for an exploitable stage in order to power level your characters. You simply turn power-leveling on like a switch.

Everything about the game feels streamlined and refined. Even the menu system, while much prettier than the Spartan menus from Disgaeas 1-4, actually offers fewer options that are far more well organized. Cursor movement is tighter and highlighted spaces on the field are crisp, clear, and easy to see. Shop experience builds quicker, as does experience in general, reducing your overall grind time. For the first time ever it feels like you aren’t warring against the game system in order to find exploitable loopholes that will quickly catapult you to level 9999.

D2 is also one of the prettiest Disgaea’s to ever come out. Character sprites are huge and colorful, attacks are flashy and off the wall. Granted, the levels themselves look pretty blocky and dated, something out of a PS2 era game, but this is nothing new for the series. It always felt stuck in the past graphically, just less so this time.

As far as sound goes, the music is better than ever. Aside from a few off point J-Pop themes, the soundtrack perfectly encapsulates Disgaea’s mischievous anime-like feel. It is worth noting, however, that the original Disgaea voice actors are back… and they do a horrendous job just like they did in Disgaea 1. Change the game’s voice acting to the Japanese track and never look back.

While Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is missing a few elements from previous games, such as internet functionality and user generated stages, it’s still a strategy gamer’s dream. It’s easy to lose yourself hour after hour of grinding, trying to maximize your units’ stats. You can play this for weeks at a time and never get anywhere, yet still feel like you have conquered the world. If you are a fan of turn-based strategy games, pick this one up immediately. You don’t even have to be a fan of the original Disgaea to enjoy it. Just sit back, relax, and lose yourself in a world of level grinding.

This review was based on a publisher supplied copy of Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness for the PS3.

9.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating