Back when I was a wide-eyed gamer just delving into the crazy world of JRPGs, I discovered Disgaea. Here was a strategy game with a difference; wacky characters, hilarious dialogue, challenging puzzles and satisfying, turn-based combat. All rolled into an insanely-detailed and beautiful package, with a real, meaningful story. Fifteen years later the original Disgaea has made its way onto next-gen consoles, and it’s a truly glorious experience for established fans and newbs alike.
This Is A HD Remaster, Not An Overhaul
Let’s get real here; this is not an entirely new take on an established classic. This is a beautiful, HD remake that’s been lovingly crafted to celebrate a series that defined a studio. Nippon Ichi (NIS) is understandably proud of their Disgaea franchise, it defied classification and introduced a generation to strategy RPGs. Yes, Disgaea 1 Complete is a remaster rather than an overhaul, but this is by no means a bad thing. The stunning HD graphics, the return of Etna mode and being able to choose the Japanese voice track are nice extras for established fans, but even if you had never heard of Disgaea before reading this review (thanks for reading, btw) you need to pick up your PS4 or Switch controller and give this a go.
BTW: There’s a new patch for the PS4 version that addresses a couple of bugs and crashes. We highly recommend updating your software.
A 10-Chapter Anime, With Fighty Bits
Disgaea isn’t a game with a great story. It’s a great story that happens to be a game. Every chapter is introduced by a skit featuring the main characters, and it’s so good that they actually released it all on DVD as an anime, in three volumes (you can borrow it if you’re super nice to me).
You play as Laharl, the most spoilt, dramatic, ridiculous prince that ever harassed the Netherworld, and his poor, put-upon vassal Etna, who is totally plotting to kill him (not a spoiler, she actually tells you this herself in the first two minutes of dialogue). Add a naive, adorable angel assassin, several dozen killer penguins that get hurled around the map and explode on impact, some knock-off Power Rangers and the campest baddies you’ve ever seen in a JRPG (one is actually nicknamed “mid-boss”), and you’ve got a wonderfully wacky, lighthearted and surprisingly touching story that pulls on your heartstrings and leaves you in tears of laughter.
Characterisation and Voice Acting
Disgaea challenged conventions by giving us a brattish, selfish antihero and making us enjoy stealing things, beating people up and generally wreaking havoc alongside him. By the end of the game, Laharl has gone on a journey of self-discovery and growth. He’s still a brat, but he’s a brat you can’t help feeling fond of. The voice acting in Disgaea 1 Complete is absolutely superb. In the US Dub, Laharl is voiced by Barbara Goodson, of Naruto, Dragon Ball and Star Wars: The Clone Wars fame. She brings a raw likeability to the central character, especially in the tender moments when he is forced to face his true feelings (that’s not a tear, it’s sweat). Etna and Flonne are equally well-voiced and both have very distinct personalities that bounce off each other well.
The game is split into chapters, with multiple maps. You clear the maps to complete the chapters, and are rewarded with cutscenes and story-progressing scrolls of information. After every chapter you return to your base, where you can heal, recruit characters to your party, petition the Dark Assembly for more powers or advantages, and visit the item world for a spot of levelling up and rare item gathering.
Recruiting new characters is one of the most fun elements of gameplay. The unique master/pupil system lets you pay for a new character using an existing character’s mana, and then have them stand next to each other in battle so that the master can learn the pupil’s skills. This means you aren’t stuck using your main characters as the combat type they start out with. You can have Flonne (angel assassin, remember?) be a healer, archer, mage, anything you want, and Etna is a beast with a lance or gun, but you can have her be a ninja or cleric if you prefer. You can level characters up to level 9,999 and deal ridiculous damage in the millions. As units level up you unlock new classes, and the ability to “transmigrate” old characters into these classes; reincarnating them as stronger allies.
Disgaea offers a unique, turn-based battle system that is more flexible than Fire Emblem or Y’s Strategy and way more OTT. You can deploy up to 9 units on each map, and you should select which classes you take into battle with you based on the enemies you’re facing. Have characters stand next to each other to chain attacks and do bonus damage. Pick up a Prinny and throw it to make it explode over an enemy’s head, or throw human allies around the map to help them reach distant areas. Use the map itself to do damage or turn the tide of battle to your advantage; Geo panels allow you to turn on or off effects and move them to different areas of the map, and blowing up geo blocks can do damage in itself.
Established fans of the series will miss innovations from later titles like tower stack (my fav), evilities and magi change, but I can understand why Nippon Ichi stripped them out in order to be true to the original title.
Switch Vs. PlayStation 4
I played the majority of Disgaea titles on PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS. So I can understand the appeal of being able to plug your Nintendo Switch into the TV, enjoy some big screen gameplay, and then take your game with you on the go. Disgaea is a game that requires grind in order to complete; especially with NIS stripping out later gameplay mechanics for this remake of the first game. If you have both consoles, I’d recommend opting for the Switch version, so you can grind on the go.