Disgaea is one franchise I’ve heard enough about but just never had the time, resources or interest to pursue it. The series has been out since the early 2000’s where it first appeared on the PlayStation 2 and has since come out with sequels and spin-offs. As a completionist, I always feel odd jumping into a franchise so late in its cycle without previous knowledge of what came before it. What if this random character says something randomly in reference to some off-hand comment made by a background character? How would I ever get the reference?!
This is honestly something that has prevented me from reading many comics, watching certain television shows, and, of course, getting into games like Disgaea. Luckily, NIS America has me covered with their enhanced Disgaea 1 Complete for the PS4 and Switch, allowing newcomers like me to jump into the fray with updated visuals and a other little tweaks to the original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness released all those years ago in 2003.
Truthfully, I was prepared to feel underwhelmed by the game on appearances alone, as it looked like something I’ve either seen or played a million times over. To be fair, considering the age of the original release there’s some truth to my hesitation – Disgaea helped spawned countless and often mediocre imitators since it was originally released. And yet…I was immediately won over by its charming characters, light-hearted tone set in a demonic Netherworld, not to mention an incredibly jaunty soundtrack that had me grinning each time I loaded it up.
Not knowing anything of the story, I was pleasantly surprised by the idea of playing as a bad guy, or Anti-Hero, opposed to the usual hero type we’re constantly subjected to. You play as Prince Laharl as he attempts to make his way to the throne to be named Overlord. Laharl, and nearly every character you run into, is played with the same kind of charm and attitude that really helps make the game a tremendous amount of fun.
Disgaea 1 Complete is unchanged in its mechanics, but have been updated visually for today’s standards. Taking a cue from the Disgaea PC re-release a few years back, the overhaul matches the same crispness seen in more recent entries in the series like Disgaea 5. Everything looks and feels buttery smooth – almost like an entirely new modern game. Gameplay remains largely the same, however, with slightly clunky isometric movement that’s the only real indicator to when it was originally released.
Essentially, this is your basic Tactical RPG set-up with characters on a floaty and grid-shaped terrain. You’re able to move them around like pieces on a board and initiate attacks, defend, or use items to defeat the opposing force. But Disgaea adds some welcomed differences to those other games by adding some interesting tweaks to the battlefield that make them feel a lot more lively which, again, helps sell the tone of the game so perfectly. It may sound silly (because it is) but one thing I haven’t seen before is the ability to pick up other characters on the grid – allied or enemy – and you’re allowed to throw them around the field. It’s an interesting twist to a somewhat vanilla gameplay system that helps add a little flavor.
Not only that, but there are Geo Symbols that can be thrown around to add color and, thusly, damage to the field. Difficult to explain, yet easy to grasp, this system allows you to essentially paint the field in certain colors that add or take a way buffs of damage. When used correctly, you can attack the symbols to deal damage to anyone on that specific color. Successfully pulling this off creates a situation that is far more puzzle-based than just strategy-based, which I found to be quite interesting.
What’s good about the combat is that it always feels fresh while also maintaining the same strategies throughout by keeping the core concepts something easy to understand. Disgaea is not an easy game, however, and you will find yourself dying or taking more damage than you anticipated more frequently than not. It’s a challenging game that requires you to actually use caution when proceeding each time instead of just expecting to bumrush an enemy to the point of victory.
While the game originated on the PS2, subsequent updates included Sony’s own PSP and then modern consoles like the PS4 and Switch. It’s only with the latter that you’ll experience the game as it was truly made to be – mobile. While there’s nothing wrong with the PlayStation 4 version, as a game that’s sure to steal countless hours from your precious life it’s something that just lends itself better to being a bit more portable for those ‘off’ hours. Regardless, the game looks and plays exactly the same, so if you’re not desperate to take the strategy with you either version would be fine.
Disgaea 1 Complete may be a blast from the past, but what a blast! As one of the better strategy RPGs from the turn of the century, it holds up remarkably well, helped no doubt by a fresh coat of digital paint that accentuates its better details for modern gamers. Even if the deliberate pacing is slow, the game happily advertises its crazy cast of characters and extensive amount of content that help make this an extra-long adventure worth taking part of. If you’re like me and never had the chance to check out the original release, or may be curious about the series as a whole, here’s your chance to experience the tight gameplay, utter charm and catchy music.