An enhanced re-release of 2006ís Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories for the PlayStation 2, Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days adds new content to the strategy role-playing base for the seriesí second outing on the handheld. In addition to new spells, playable characters, and the inclusion of magichange from Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, the most significant addition is the new chapter for the has-been rocker villain turned television personality, Dark Hero Axel. While the additions arenít likely to hook those who have already sunk hundreds of hours into the original release, they do make this the definitive edition and a treat for those who are new to Adellís adventures.
Dark Hero Days might initially seem to be like any other Disgaea title, but it is actually the most unique of the series: for once, you are the hero. Prinnies are still smacked around (dood) and the villains still have their time in the spotlight, but this story is all about Adell, a young would-be hero who is the only resident of Veldime still human after the town was cursed by Overlord Zenon. Zenon must be defeated if the curse is to be lifted, but an attempt to summon him results in Adellís mother summoning Rozalin, the Overlordís daughter. Granted, the story sounds pretty clichť right about now, but itís the dialogue that matters, because its frequent jabs at the traditional hero-villain structure in role-playing games is often very funny.
Adellís unflinching stance on what is right and wrong and his hatred of lying (thatís just his style) are often at odds with his quest to kill Zenon while also safely returning Rozalin to him. The conflict between his goals is regularly brought to his attention, and at which point he flexes his muscles and screams something suitably rousing. Bit characters, including his demon family members and Rozalinís tongue-in-cheek French frog-servant Tink, also have some great lines. The snappy delivery is aided by some top-notch voice acting, but the purest can also switch to the original Japanese dub Ė a nice option. About the only thing that stood out was the rare typo, not because I didnít expect any in such a text-heavy title, but because the majority of the text is going on three years old now; the oversight struck me more than the typos themselves. In an accommodating move, story segments can not only be skipped while in process but also after each battle. You could save yourself some time and go straight into combat, but then you would miss out on seeing a decayed shark news reporter update the demon denizens on the latest happenings in Netherworld Ė something I donít recommend.
Despite the numerous characters and plotlines, the meat of Dark Hero Days remains the combat. The majority of your time will be spent on a 3D, grid-based battlefield. An entry point allows you to pull your party into the fight where each side takes turns in jockeying for a superior position. Attacks, both melee and long-range, have specific grid patterns to them, so you might not be able to hit an enemy even though are right next to them. Attackers can receive assistance by nearby teammates, and depending on how many are in on the attack, you can get quite a show. Aside from the usage of items, skills, and magic, two other key components of combat are throwing and geo symbols. Throwing allows players to incapacitate a foe while they hold them aloft, and in the case of Prinnies, a toss brings about an explosive result. The geo symbols are one of the toughest aspects for newcomers to get a handle on, but understanding them is a necessity because the game makes regular use of them. Some battlefields have grids of certain colors pertaining to a nearby triangle, and the colored grid often imparts some sort of enhancement to whoever is on it: invincibility, silence (no magic), no long-range attacks, no movement, etc. By destroying the triangle symbol associated with that color, you also destroy the power of the symbol on the affected grids. This system is often used to make combat more challenging, starting enemies on advantageous grids, but it also allows for some sweet comeuppance as the destroying of a symbolís influence on a grid also damages the character that is on it. Chaining combos and the destruction of geo symbols leads to some pretty spectacular displays. As engaging and enjoyable as combat is, I'm not fond of how the game allows you to move your cursor far off the battlefield; despite a rotating isometric view being conducive to angles that take depth into account, having your cursor suddenly go from a level plane to five levels down, or even off the side of the map, is disorienting. Bonuses accrue during combat, and in addition to the experience already gained you will also receive stackable items and experience that reflect your performance after a victory Ė a great way to get extra cash and equipment.
There are so many facets to Dark Hero Days that it is difficult to tackle them all. For instance, you might receive a bonus item that you already have in multiples or be of inferior stock. The item is still useful because of your ability to upgrade items, through a series of randomized dungeons in the Item World, and to assign them to new characters. Creating a new character requires having the mana to present a petition for a vote before the Dark Assembly. Senators within the Dark Assembly are a strange lot that might be asleep, drunk, or just downright hostile to your petition. Their disposition towards your proposal is roughly gauged, but those redundant items that were useless can come in quite handy as bribes to make a 'Yay' vote seem more inviting. While no vote is ever completely secure, which can be a harsh blow and a waste of items, greasing enough palms Ė or tentacles or flippers Ė does sway the odds in your favor. Proposals range from being able to purchase cheaper or more expensive items to the ability to wear certain equipment. You can even attempt to force a proposal through by defeating the Senators in combat. Accrued mana can also be spent in creating advanced characters; monsters you run across, or a more traditional humanoid character (fighter, mage, eastern swordsman, etc.), can be created, named, and beefed up with additional mana to spawn a higher level unit with assignable bonus points. A great deal of the gameís enjoyment isnít just in progressing the story, but also going back through older areas and leveling up new troops. Hundreds of hours can be sunk into creating a vast army filled with strange characters capable of devastating attacks and spells.
If there is a problem with Dark Hero Days, itís that material was added without any refinements to the base game. Aside from the spelling errors mentioned, there are a number of issues with the controls and menu system that could have been streamlined. The game is intimidating enough to newcomers, or those who have been away from the series for a few years, and a few less screens to wade through would definitely help to keep the pace and appear less visually intimidating. Despite its appearance, the game isnít overly complex, and I would say itís easier to get into than the rest of the series due to having you take on a more traditional hero role, but it definitely looks it. Axelís mode also presents a bit of a conundrum: you can play the game in order, story first and then the new content, but then you will miss out on the new characters and spells that the Axel portions introduce. (A cheat can be entered on the main menu to unlock the new chapter first.) The entire approach seems like a haphazard way to introduce new content, with some available only after you've put in the hours for the main story, and I wish there had been a proper explanation as to why you would or wouldnít want to play through the new chapter first. Not that these problems are major, but an enhanced edition is the opportune time to add that extra layer of polish.
Having never played the original PlayStation 2 release of Disgaea 2, I found myself hopelessly addicted to Dark Hero Days. If youíve played through the original release, then the additions arenít going to hook you again, but newcomers will find plenty to like. A few lingering issues from the original should have been addressed, though, and Axelís additional chapter better implemented, but those do little to diminish the raucously good time. Fans of strategy role-playing games might not have many choices on the PlayStation Portable, so itís doubly grand that Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days happens to be an exceptional title to boot.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)