My experience with the Disgaea franchise goes all the way back to its beginning. I picked up a copy of the first game when it came out on PS2, recognizing the publisher, Atlus, as a major publisher of niche, fun RPGs and strategy RPGs. The quirky game promised that you’d get to play through the unique story of a demon fighting to regain his throne.
I have since played every game available to me, which at this point, means all the main numbered entries except for Disgaea 3 (which has not released outside of a Playstation console). I fully intended to preorder Disgaea 6, particularly when I heard that it was an exclusive to Nintendo Switch (which still feels like a weird move). Then… the reviews came in.
Reviewer upon reviewer docked this game for its awkward graphics, its lack of smooth presentation, and for essentially turning the series into an idle game. They pointed out that the franchise has decided to double-down on the large numbers and grinding, actually making it so easy to grind that the game literally does it for you. This means that for great stretches, you’re not actually playing. It’s a massive switch for a tactical RPG series, and it’s one that had me understandably concerned. Thus, I waited until the Black Friday sales to buy it.
The story does feel like a Disgaea story. It follows the journey of Zed, who claims to only be a simple zombie. He also claims to have killed an impressive God of Destruction, and is telling the story to Overlord Ivar and the Darkest Assembly of powerful demons. This creates a narrative frame that the game plays around with to delightful ends.
Zed has mastered the arcane and dangerous art of Super Reincarnation. This plays off a series staple: the games have always allowed you to reset your character to level one, carrying over skills, knowledge, special abilities, and bonuses. It’s been part of the insane grind and power leveling of the game, and now it’s worked into the plot itself.
Zed has been granted this ability by Cerberus, a dog who claims to have once been an ancient, powerful sage. He uses it in order to continually fight the God of Destruction, a seemingly mindless being intent on living up to its name. They use the power to reincarnate to wherever the god will strike next, fight the god, likely die, and restart the whole thing.
This creates an interesting narrative loop and setup. Each and every area ends with the same fight: a battle against a singular God of Destruction, supposedly the same thing. This creates this urge within the player to want to kill this as much as Zed does. You keep beating it and it keeps not fully dying. It also lets the player set things up brilliantly for that match. If you’re smart, you can triple the experience you earn and rig that fight so that you’ll instantly win. I was quickly going from level 1 to level 9,999 in each of those fights.
This creates an almost primal delight in me as a player. It does get a little repetitive though: the fight is almost always the same, and after about the third time, you’ve figured out the trick (he’s almost always weak to explosions caused when you throw Prinnies; these often deal enough damage to one or two shot him, and you are given a prinny character as part of the plot).
The rest of the time, you’re fighting various missions on a grid based map. It’s fairly standard tactical RPG affair, and veterans of the series are likely to feel right at home. Disgaea mixes this up by adding height and areas to move around, and by allowing characters to throw one another around the battlefield. They’ve polished this quite a bit for this entry, letting you throw all over the place, and it feels rewarding and polished.
What can get annoying is that every ability has a special cinematic that plays out. Each and every time your characters do anything besides basically attack, they go into a cut scene. Even to do something as simple as healing.
This feels weird, and is probably because of the developers’ desire to show off the 3d graphics. They’ve transitioned from 2D sprites to this, and it mostly doesn’t bother me? It doesn’t look great: a lot of these look like PS2 era graphics if I’m being generous. but it’s annoying to continually have these shifts.
The game has really become more of a menu based game now. You enter one menu to establish squads, another to go to the Dark Assembly to reincarnate (which you’ll do a lot as it’s baked into the plot), another to gather player awards, another to buy things, and others to set up fights. I spent almost as much time tweaking and prepping my characters as I did actually playing the game. This actually means you could essentially front-load all your time setting up how your characters will behave, set auto-combat, and watch the game play itself.
This is exactly as much fun as it sounds. However it sounds to you.
Which is a shame, because this might be my absolute favorite Disgaea story (it’s up there with the first, at least). the characters are all fun, and they’re actually pretty dynamic, which is rare for video games in general, though less so for this series. I found myself really liking side characters though: Misedor the Human King is both kinda funny and something of a big cinnamon roll: he’s constantly helping others and really just wants to be a hero. They do lean some on tropes that feel tired and worn out (Melodia, the demon princess who is essentially a parody of a Disney princess continually asks Zed to marry her, and he fights way too hard), but the development is still good and the plot is fun.
Some of this is the smart move in making the God of Destruction a reoccurring obstacle. I always knew what I was fighting, why I was fighting it, and wanted to take it down. As you grow and this becomes easier and easier, you feel like you’re going along Zed and company’s journey. Funnily enough, they twist the plot about two thirds of the way through the game, and they have fun with how that impacts the regular God of Destruction fight. This is done in a pretty creative way that still plays the the fun setups and strengths the game has.
I love the themes here, this idea of not giving up, of fighting for others, of doing what it takes to save those we love. Characters grow and learn to depend on each other and their own strength. They become better people throughout. They also learn to forgive, both themselves and others, and to use strengths they have while developing new ones. It’s a great narrative and very well written, even if dialogue gets zany.
I do wish that there wasn’t quite so much number managing. They’ve shifted the game less from Tactical RPGs and more to just tweaking numbers and menus. The levels and stats get so high as to essentially be meaningless. I’m a fan of Fire Emblem for the exact opposite reason: the numbers there are small. Twenty strength is threatening, and twenty damage is lethal. Here, my characters dealt over a million damage a shot. Their stats were so high it radically skews things and makes it harder than it should be. It took me a while to realize I needed to pump my skills up, and that when they cost a million SP (special points), that was usually a good number.
So I kind of wish that they’d reined that in while still keeping the sort of insane power creep and build up. Or at least that they’d let me raise the level cap sooner: I kept bumping against 9,999 for most of the game (I did tweak the game to my benefits and I bought the experience boosting DLC). It feels like an interesting direction, and I just love how much of the franchise’s lore went into the story itself. this feels like an homage to the games and where it’s going. I hope they tweak a lot of the systems, as they’ve got some potential, and I really hope the series doesn’t delve too much into this auto-battling numbers game. Once the plot ran out (about 35 or so hours in), I lost interest in delving further (I have come close to maxing one Disgaea game, 5, and I refuse to do the Item World; fun fact: I didn’t touch it for 6 at all and had no issues beating it).
8 a great story and a solid strategy RPG that takes a real high number, management approach to things. Not for everybody, but if you’re into this series or that type of game, you’ll find a lot here.