Disgaea 1 Complete (NS) – laugh and grind
Gaming’s only comedy strategy role-player comes to Nintendo Switch and PS4 with a remaster of the original game that’s perfect for newcomers.
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Considering it’s a game that prides itself on the fact that it can keep players busy for hundreds of hours it’s a bit disconcerting to realise this is the fourth version of the original Disgaea we’ve played. First it was on PlayStation 2, then PSP, then DS, and now – in its 15th anniversary year – the Switch and PlayStation 4. There have been plenty of sequels and spin-offs since, many of them very good, but it’s always the first one fans put on a pedestal. And with good reason…
The term strategy role-playing game probably doesn’t sound a very appealing one to those that have not already succumbed to the genre’s charms. For years the best-known example of the genre was the po-faced Final Fantasy Tactics, which although a perfectly good game took itself very seriously. Disgaea is the opposite, in that it’s essentially a comedy. One that’s stepped in anime tradition and which its creator, according to an interview we recently conducted, never expected to become successful in the West.
Despite expectations though, the game was a success and this is in fact the second entry in the series on the Switch – after launch title Disgaea 5 Complete. But while that game represents the most recent evolution of the franchise Disgaea 1 is a chance to see how much it has changed over the years. And it has changed a lot, because while Disgaea 1 is certainly more simplistic game it’s also a funnier one.
The Disgaea games revolve around the constantly warring denizens of the Netherworld, with the first game centring around the demon Lahral’s attempts to become Overlord following the death of his father. All this is played for laughs though and as he gathers a team of misfits around him the game pokes fun at various anime tropes and the gameplay itself.
At a top level the battles are relatively straightforward to control. Each fight is resolved on an isometric, grid-based map on which you and your opponents take turns to move and attack, like an anime version of chess. As well as more conventional attacks you have other options of varying degrees of silliness and complexity. You can set-up more powerful group attacks by boxing enemies in and also pick up and throw both bad guys and allies. The latter is more involved than it first seems as you create absurd towers of team-mates or combine monsters to make them purposefully tougher.
Each map is also covered in coloured tiles called Geo Panels, which cast various modifiers on whoever stands on them. More experienced players can learn to change the panels’ colours, use them as weapons, and change their effects. At first the Geo Panels are only a minor, easily ignored, detail but in harder battles they turn the battleground into a patchwork of colours that proves vital to success.
The mechanics really aren’t any more complicated than that, with the nuance and difficulty coming from how you deploy your team and deal with the specialised attacks of different enemies. As well as named companions you also have the ability to create new allies and mentor them, with a character creation tool that involves petitioning a parliamentary group and beating them up if you don’t get your way.
The most controversial aspect of the game is the amount of level-grinding it requires to beat later missions. This is all firmly acknowledged by the game, and the subject of constant jokes, but it’s still a necessity for getting anywhere and that feels less palatable now than it did at the time. You can famously upgrade each weapon and item by travelling inside them and battling the monsters you find there, as well as purposefully making opponents more dangerous just to get more experience.
But even if you accept that as part of the game there are other more straightforward elements that betray the its age. The whole combat interface is clunky and unnecessarily long-winded when perform even simple tasks. And although the game looks better than we’ve ever seen, with the 2D sprites polished up impressively well, the 3D camera still only moves in 90°steps, which can make getting a clear view of the action frustratingly difficult.
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None of these problems ruin the experience though and apart from being ideal for nostalgic fans of the series Disgaea 1 Complete also proves to be a great starting point for people new to it all. Not just because it has the best cast of characters but because the simpler mechanics are easier to grasp and stand you in good stead for what’s to come.
Since they generally don’t rely on graphics, strategy games do tend to age better than most but it’s still great to see that Disgaea is just about as much fun as it’s always been. This is a great introduction to the franchise and the genre, but it’s also a reminder there’s no need for even the most complicated game to take itself seriously.
In Short: Still one of the best strategy role-playing games ever made and a great place for newcomers to the franchise to start – assuming they’ve got the dedication necessary.
Pros: Deep but surprisingly accessible gameplay, with a great sense of humour and some of the most entertaining characters in the series. Graphics have polished up surprisingly well.
Cons: The need for level-grinding is going to frustrate even most ardent fan at some point. Awkward camera and controls and less features than later games.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PlayStation 4
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Release Date: 12th October 2018
Age Rating: 12
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