The strategy RPG has never been the most accessible or inviting genre out there. You've got pages upon pages of rules to follow, a grid-based map loaded with enemies and troop deployment data to crunch at any given second of gameplay - enough to scare off all but the most hardcore gamers. But Disgaea 2 makes all of it seem easy and fun by wrapping all those thick details around an eccentric cast of demonic warriors and their lone human leader.
And yes, it's the cast, the dialogue and the overall sense of callous humor that makes Disgaea 2 so much fun to sit through. Even though you're spending 20-30 minutes per battle, the back-and-forth banter adds character and depth to a game that could easily be nothing more than a collection of sorcerer-against-swordsman war games.
Case in point - because everyone's been turned into a demon, all their feelings are gone. Your mother knows she should care her son has been kidnapped and could possibly be dead, but all she can muster is slight concern for all the food she may end up wasting for dinner that night. Putting this silly, lighthearted touch on such a dense game makes it easy for anyone to hop in and, at the very least, want to learn more about this series.
Not that the bottomless options of the last Disgaea aren't here - fans can expect everything they already loved and more. The never-ending Item World is back, as are the monstrous senators of the Dark Assembly. This time, however, you've also got the Dark Court to deal with.
In the first Disgaea, you had to go to the Dark Assembly in between battles to ask for more troops. Same thing applies here - if you want powerful units, the senators have to approve drafting such a potentially dangerous ally. If they're not really fond of you, they'll strike your proposal down, so, you've got to bribe, booze or blast your way into their hearts.
The Dark Court, on the other hand, is all about contradictory behavior. The more times you pull off cheap shots in battle, or level up too much, or whatever the situation may be, you're called to court, where the guilty are rewarded. Demons wear felonies like trophies, but go too far and even these judges will crack and hand down some punishment.
The new stacking ability (piling units on top of each other for a vertical-gauntlet kind of attack) lets you pour on the pain, but you can coast through most of the game without relying on it. But, this is a personal choice, just like the armies you can craft, so each player will find different uses for stacking, recruiting troops and summoning them onto the battle map.
It would be nice if the bottomless Item World weren't the primary way to level up your weapons. Most of the time, the stores don't sell the best stuff - you've got to literally head inside the item in question, tear through its series of monster-ridden floors and gain attributes for each area cleared. Not a bad way to lengthen the game, but annoying when you just want a new axe, dammit.
But all the nitpicking in the world can't keep Disgaea 2 down. It's just too tight a game, even for people who historically hate this type of thing. At least give it a shot - these guys call for help on cell phones and hail cabs in mid-battle, for crying out loud. The sense of danger is there, as are the endless arenas for customization, but the best part will always be the characters and their dead-on voice work. This one doesn't change much, but it's hard to imagine this genre done any better.