Picture this: You’re 29 floors deep into a dungeon. Reaching the 30th floor is your only means of escape. Failing to leave a space open for Mr. Gency’s Exit, an item allowing the player to escape dungeons, your party wipes on the 29th floor. An hour and a half of leveling your weapon has gone to waste.
Such is the nature of Disagaea 1 Complete‘s grind. Simple mistakes can lead to enormous chunks of lost time, but in the end, its turn-based combat and quirky humor prevents it from feeling like a drag. Side note: This review is written from the perspective of a first-time player.
Disgaea 1 Complete‘s story serves its function. It sets up a decent backdrop for a turn-based strategy game without bogging itself down with excessive assertiveness. Disgaea knows players invested money to spend hours grinding and min/maxing party members; not to come out of the experience with some newfound appreciation for interactive storytelling.
Etna awakens Laharl from a two year long nap to alert him to his father’s death. As king of the Netherworld, the death of Laharl’s father signals a demonic race for the throne. Laharl sets off with Etna to defeat other demons in the name of his rightful heir to the throne. Around the mid-way point, after becoming the Netherworld’s Overlord, a new turn of events involving humans begins to take shape.
With a simple plot and clearly defined goal, Disgaea 1 Complete discards a lot of the fluff weaboo games tend to burden themselves with. While some semblance of world-building does exist, lore takes a backseat to dialogue. This isn’t plot-advancing dialogue. Rather, cutscenes usually exist to support snarky banter.
After all, we’re talking about a franchise whose mascot, Prinnies, are reincarnated criminals mandated to utter “dood” in practically every sentence. Disgaea 1 Complete‘s cast runs the gamut from self-absorbed narcissist to overly zealous peace guru to a caricatured embodiment of American heroism. Cutscenes play before and after every story grid, but they typically don’t last long enough to become grating.
Disgaea 1 Complete is a simple HD re-release. In the years since its PlayStation 2 incarnation, the original Disgaea has been ported to the PSP, Nintendo DS, and PC. Etna mode, an alternate story mode starring Etna, first showed up in the PSP port. This leaves Disgaea 1 Complete with no unique content.
It features improved character sprites over the most recent 2016 PC release. However, aside from the visuals and a slightly modernized user interface that holds up better in high definition, Disgaea 1 Complete hasn’t changed.
Despite carrying the “remake” moniker in marketing material, Disgaea 1 Complete doesn’t retroactively incorporate later mechanics unlike past Disgaea remakes. Tower attacks and the Magichange system don’t make an appearance, for example. While the boldness of its untouched core makes it an excellent entry point for newcomers, i’d find it difficult to recommend to returning players unless they consider themselves hardcore fans.
So basically, if you have a Prinny profile picture, this is probably a safe bet for you. I’d caution others to wait for a price drop.
Disgaea 1 Complete and Geo Symbols
Missions don’t involve anything more complex than eliminating every enemy on the map. This could have been a disastrous recipe, but Disgaea circumvents the perceived tedium through its unique Geo system. Most maps contain differently colored tiles. On their own, the colored tiles do nothing, but with Geo symbols thrown in, an extra layer of engaging strategy presents itself.
Geo symbols have different bonuses or debuffs attached to them. One Geo symbol might give the character a 100% XP bonus while another deals 40% damage each turn. Before these effects are applied, Geo symbols must be placed on a colored tile. The Geo symbol’s color doesn’t have to match up with the colored tile, though taking note of Geo symbols’ colors in comparison to the map’s accompanying tiles pays off in the end.
Geo Symbols Getting More Complex
As you can guess, if a Geo symbol is placed on a red tile, every red tile on that map receives that symbol’s effect. Geo symbols can also be destroyed, which is where taking note of each map’s arrangements comes into play. When a Geo symbol is destroyed while residing on a tile, those tiles take on the Geo symbol’s color. If the tiles and symbol already match, nothing happens aside from its effect on those tiles disappearing.
If they don’t match, however, the act of switching colors causes a reactive explosion damaging anything on those tiles. Provided the player is skilled or perceptive enough, he/she can co-ordinate massive chain reactions, annihilating every tile and Geo symbol in a single turn. As the chain count increases in number, more substantial bonuses are provided to the player at the end of the mission/dungeon floor.
Core Disgaea Gameplay
Disgaea’s core gameplay is simple. Players control individual units, executing their actions before the enemy’s turn. Movement is tied to a grid, with a character’s movement and attack rage dictated by its class’ stats.
While each class can technically wield any weapon, their starting aptitudes differ. These aptitudes are leveled through repeated use. Mages, for example, can technically reach S-rank aptitudes with gauntlets, spears, guns, and swords, but it’s quicker to just use bows or staffs.
Most classes begin with one or two skills, making acclimation a simple process. It’ll take a bit of time before a class has enough skills to offer multiple viable combat options. While Disgaea‘s core doesn’t have much to it, it finds its depth in extreme granularity. Other rpg’s feature a range of complex systems that require the user to engage with each mechanic on a deeper level to reach the end-game, but much of Disgaea‘s granularity is optional.
It’s only as deep or grindy as you make it.
Systems and Mechanics
Item worlds are perhaps Disgaea‘s biggest claim to fame when measured against competitors in its genre. Levels and experience points play a huge role in rpg’s and all their sub-genres. Progression, stat-crunching, and micro-management make rpg’s an incredibly flow-state inducing genre. Disgaea understands this, but also understand not every single player may necessarily want to or have the time to invest in all the minutia.
Item Worlds are one of the best example of this optional mantra. Every single story mission can be replayed infinitely, meaning if all a player wants to do is grind character levels, they can almost completely avoid the item world aside from one story mission that mandates leveling up an item 10 times. While this is all fine and dandy, item world excursions provide some of the most satisfying moments and nail-biting encounters.
Players can enter any item and explore a series of randomly generated dungeons with the floor count dictated by its rarity. The most common items feature 30 floors with the rarest items consisting of 100 floors. 50 floors comfortably mediates between the two ends of the spectrum.
When you think entering items, you probably assume this exclusively refers to swords, armor, and accessories, right? Silly goose. You thought Disgaea would make it that simple? Everything from healing items to even Mr. Gency’s Exit, the consumable used to exit dungeons outside of the prescribed “every 10 floors” rule, can be entered. Every cleared floor further increases that item’s stats.
Item Worlds Continued
Only unequipped items can be entered, meaning if you want to level up your favorite sword or armor piece, you’ll have to settle for something weaker while traversing its item world. Each item also contains what the game calls specialists. These units grant different statistical bonuses to items depending on their occupation.
Specialists can be carried over from one item to another or combined with specialists of the same type. Specialists can only be transferred after being defeated within the item world. If you clear a floor containing a specialist without killing it, or worse yet, letting an enemy do the job for you, you’ll be unable to carry that specialist over to other items.
Item Worlds Causing Problems
Unfortunately, while grinding through item worlds provides a tangibly euphoric feeling, navigating its randomly generated dungeons proves to be hit or miss. I can’t speak much to later entries in the series, but some of the maps the game churns out are astonishingly offensive. The only real parameter its randomly generated tech seems to adhere to is making sure the player can reach the exit portal. Everything else is left to the wolves.
Many floors find themselves burdened by massive gaps between platforms, making them inaccessible. This becomes a problem because enemies, oftentimes confined to those inaccessible platforms, are impossible to kill. Sure, you can always reach the exit portal to move on to the next floor, but you’d be cheating yourself out of the bonuses you’d have gotten were all enemies on the map wiped out.
Another less common, though equally offensive, occurrence comes in the form of strategically handicapped grids. You see that screenshot just a few paragraphs above? Yes, that actually happens in the item world. You’ll sometimes have the misfortune of spawning in cramped maps with every single tile except the entrance occupied by enemies, leaving no room to plan out any strategy.
If nothing else, Disgaea 1 Complete could have been an opportunity to fine tune the item world’s regular bastardization.
Reincarnation, though, is where hardcore players will likely find the most fun. Every single unit can be reincarnated at any level. Each reincarnation resets the character back to level 1 with improved starting stats and a faster rate of xp accumulation.
Units can be reincarnated as the same unit or an entirely different class without eliminating the previous class’ skills. Without a reincarnation cap, Disgaea breaks down artificially imposed barriers, lending a surprisingly large degree of flexibility. Upon finding out I could reincarnate everybody as many times as I wanted with no limit, I prayed to video games for existing.
It’s this malleability and hardcore attachment to stats that makes Disgaea 1 Complete such an endearing strategy game. Did I reincarnate more than one unit before beating the game? Hell yeah, I did. Do I regret the process of leveling them back up? Definitely not.
Do you have any interest in the Netherworld’s political underpinnings? No? Well tough luck, kid. Before gaining access to new items at shops, among other things, you’ll need to propose a bill to the senate. As you play the game, each felled enemy adds Hell points to that character.
Proposing bills costs Hell, with the more beneficial laws requiring more Hell. The actual player’s interaction in these voting sessions is relatively meager. All he/she really needs to do is press a button to initiate the vote, hoping enough senators vote in your favor to pass the bill.
Disgaea spices this up, though. Understanding that demons are inherently less predictable than humans, Disgaea lets the player bribe senators with gifts to improve the player’s standing with them. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, though, you can forcefully persuade senators by beating them up. While this wins you the vote in that moment, it also decreases their standing with you, which carries over across voting sessions.
It’s an oddly creative and fleshed out way of introducing new content and gameplay modifiers.
Disgaea 1 Complete is the perfect entry point for newcomers. If you like this, you’d best scope out the rest of the series. Despite that positive association, though, I can’t help but feel there’s missed opportunity here for those that have already played the game. All it’s got going for it is high quality character sprites and a modernized user interface.
First-timers shouldn’t regret their purchase. If you’re a returning player, though, I’d recommend all but the most devoted Disgaea fanboys/girls to wait for a price drop before picking up this fairly straightforward, though competent, turn-based strategy game.
Disgaea 1 Complete
- Pretty good music
- Layers of optional grinding and mechanical depth
- Simple core gameplay
- Doesn't add anything new despite passing itself off as a "remake"
- Item worlds are inconsistent