In 2003, the original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was something of a shot in the arm for the then-static strategy RPG genre. Nippon Ichi's first real North American release blended a solid SPRG backbone with a few new quirks, piled on an systematically insane and positively Japanese story, and somehow scored a hit with strategy-starved American audiences. A couple years later, the original Disgaea was re-released on PSP (with bonus content) as Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, and now, Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days looks to put the same portable spin on the original Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories. However, with titles like Jeanne d'Arc and Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, the PSP already has a stable of impressive SRPG's; can a port of a three year old game really leave that much of an impression?
Dark Hero Days begins innocently enough. Everyone in the world of Veldime, save Adell, happens to have been cursed by a prototypical ruthless tyrant, Zenon. Seemingly unsatisfied with walking around half mutated with three eyes, Adell's mom decides to try and summon Zenon and break the curse. Unfortunately summoning is a tough job, because something goes haywire and, despite the sacrifice, she winds up summoning Rozalin, Zenon's daughter, instead. As one can imagine, neither party is happy about this (as Rozalin, through summoning rules, can't just leave), so Adell and Rozalin set foot on a course for Zenon's mansion, where they intend to fix their respective messes. What follows is a charming look at a clichéd, but often hilarious, spunky youth plus spoiled brat matchup. The episode based narrative often takes a backseat to the characters which, in the age over pretentious JRPG's and cookie cutter space marines, is a wonderful chance of pace. Its zany in all the right place, cameo heavy, has a ton of (English or Japanese voiced) dialogue, and often reaches for every joke in sight. Basically, everything you'd want to counterbalance the reasonably deep and typically challenging tactical combat.
As with any SRPG worth its grid, combat in Dark Hero Days is heavy on depth, nuance, and appeal, and excess. Of great notice is that last one, excess; not only does Dark Hero Days allow you to reach level 9999, but you can do so through and with 200(!) character classes! The breadth of possibilities, which can of course be further augmented and customized with items and equipment, allows for near limitless combinations of battle arrangements. A maximum of ten characters are available for a fairly standard grid and elevated field, which typically follows most genre conventions, save it's exceptionally implemented GeoEffect system. In layman's terms, this refers to the oddly colored panels in each battle grid. If a character happens to be standing on one of these spots, they stand to gain the benefit, such as boosted experience or attack, that goes with that spot. As a bonus, chain reactions with the panels can be engaged, which push the win bonuses into considerably absurd levels. If that wasn't enough, you also have the ability to throw enemies (or party members). Minor detail, yes, but for whatever reason it's intensely satisfying. Lastly, experience is not only gained from defeating an enemy but also, and your healers will love you for this, simply using skills.
Of particular interest is the Dark Assembly. Similar to the Senate, from here you can introduce bills to be passed into law. Or, more appropriately speaking, use mana to unlock character classes, items, bonuses, reincarnation, and even the odd quirk of transforming your enemy into a Prinny for the next round. A metric assload of stuff can be created here and, perhaps more intriguing, are the ways in which you can go about getting this stuff done; to get approval you do things like offer a bribes, or straight up try to bash someone’s head in.
Not to be confused with the Dark Assembly is the Dark Court. If you're randomly issued subpoena, it means you've been accused of a crime. Crimes range from having too high stats, to and I quote, "being a loser." Anyway, this is actually a good thing, because if you travel to the Item World, make it to a Dark Court, and are found guilty, it means you've now got a felony under your belt. What does that mean? Why, an experience bonus, of course! Without sounding completely hammy or going into the minutia (or my compulsive need to make sure all my characters were getting subpoenas), it's safe to say this system can range anywhere from a distraction to an obsession.
If that wasn't enough to tickle your craving for weird, seemingly limitless content, Dark Hero Days also begs you to consider the Item World. Every single item in the game has the option to be explored and leveled up by clearing out select worlds in said item. Unfortunately it seems that the only way to prevent the Item World from being an easy grind fest was to limit your exit to every ten levels, but it still provides a wealth of random content, which could last into infinity for those obsessed with getting the best of the best.
The visual package wasn't all that impressive in the PS2 days, but little has been lost on the way to the small screen. If anything some of the pixilation in the sprites appears further blurred into obscurity thanks to the smaller pixel count. In any case, the game is quite easy on the eyes with its polygonal backgrounds and 2D sprites. The music ranges from excellent to tolerable, with a couple tracks occasionally grating on the ears, but a vast majority of the tracks are poppy, if not slightly forgettable, tunes. The voice acting gets a passing grade as well, but, to be perfectly honest, I played most of the game in Japanese.
New to the PSP version are four brand new chapters staring Axel (similar to Etna's extra modes in the previous PSP Disgaea redux). Joining those is a feature implemented first in last year's Disgaea 3, the magichange system, which allows you to forge monsters into items. The press sheet also boasts "100 new skills and magic," but, as I never spent an extensive amount of time with the original Disgaea 2, I can't confirm if that's PR fluff or a legitimate upgrade.
Despite thoroughly awesome rundown thus far, I can't end this review without bringing to light a few of Dark Hero Days' flaws. Or, more specifically, one glaring blemish. As a strategy RPG, especially a highly Japanese-flavored strategy RPG, Disgaea is certainly not for everyone. Its quirk is part of its charm and, while that can easily become an acquired taste, its mechanics cannot. There is an incredible amount of stuff to do in the game, so much that it might even push the hour count toward triple digits for dedicated players, but those who are new to SRPG's or lack a sense of patience may not find an interest in Dark Hero Days. Once you get past that, you're home free, but the ticket to ride may be too daunting for some.