Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Release Date: August 22, 2006
Are you ready for a time sink? As a Nippon Ichi fan (the bulk of the people who would ever bother to read this preview), I'm sure you are… maybe. Makai Kingdom feels like it stopped dominating my life just a couple of months ago, and here we are readying ourselves for another 100-hour gap in our lives. By now – the fifth game in the loosely connected, ever-improving Nippon Ichi strategy series (La Pucelle: Tactics, fan favorite Disgaea, Phantom Brave, and my personal preference, the aforementioned Makai Kingdom) – these games might be at the risk of growing thin on those of us who have already sunk in the minimal hours to get through each game properly, which probably clocks in at about 450 or so for many hardcore players. This latest entry, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, is a sequel to a specific game in the series, which is a first, and that includes all the expected baggage: new additions from post-Disgaea entries are likely to be deleted or ignored.
The first on the list is the ever-controversial free-roaming battle system introduced in Phantom Brave, and perfected, at least in terms of turn rhythm, in Makai Kingdom. This shift may be the major reason why this Disgaea sequel even exists, as many fans of that title have not followed the series into the innovative free-roaming territory. I, personally, am disappointed by this reversion. The new rules made possible by the free-roaming system were unlike anything in any previous strategy game, and helped separate the per-turn thought process from that used in similar offerings. Disgaea 2 pulls this game closer to influences like Final Fantasy Tactics. As good as that game was, I don't think anybody is looking for another clone of it at this point.
Of course, nobody is looking for a Generation of Chaos clone, either, and Disgaea 2 keeps itself much more focused than Makai Kingdom by adhering to a grid. None of those awkward moments where a character is accidentally flung off a stage will ever occur here.
As with most Nippon Ichi games – even this one, a sequel – a mostly new cast is presented, along with a few cameos, and it is set in a new world. Laharl and company do appear, but never as main characters. Even a few Makai Kingdom characters make appearances, at least acknowledging that this title has arrived after that game's place in Nippon Ichi history. Spunky young lead Adell is exactly the type of character one would expect of a Nippon Ichi character given that description, although for most fans, I'm sure he isn't a replacement for the original game's Laharl. Most of the usual humor is intact, either way.
The only troublesome concept here is how little has been changed from the original game, outside of characters and settings. Given the massive strides forward NIS usually makes with each yearly entry, it has been rumored that Disgaea 2 is simply a stop-gap to fill in this year with a release and to generate projects for an original title. The new project they are working on must be huge, considering that Makai Kingdom itself was produced on a shoestring budget. Perhaps a massive graphical step forward is being planned, moving away from the series' 2D roots, but this might alienate the current fanbase (which would be right at home with Disgaea 2, by the way).
The upcoming Makai Wars, moved from PSP to PS3, may shake things up and introduce some innovative gameplay dynamics, but how many Nippon Ichi fans are going to shell out the required $500-600 needed to obtain the console? Just as From Software is cutting back on PS3 development, Nippon Ichi may want to put their larger profit margins from these last two cheaper productions towards a game that may have a better chance on the market than an obscure strategy RPG may have on the PS3.
It might have been better for the last PS2 entry in this series to be a fully featured, brand new game, with production values akin to the first three in the series. Based on our current preview build, Disgaea 2 probably won't be as solidly presentable as Phantom Brave, but it will provide a resoundingly entertaining experience.