Disgaea 1 Complete Nintendo Switch Review
For many videogame companies, it’s pretty easy to trace the source of their success with one breakout title. Final Fantasy put Square on the map, just as Dragon Quest did for Enix. Super Mario Bros defined Nintendo and console videogames for generations, and Rockstar used Grand Theft Auto to put their name on the lips of both PC console gamers.
For NIS America, their breakout hit is unquestionably Disgaea. Originally released in 2003 on the PS2 under the name Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, the Strategy RPG ushered in a new area of JRPGs not put out by Square, featuring lower budget offerings which were defined by their deeper min/max mechanics and chibi anime designs. It was a specific niche that was both hardcore in nature and beloved by the hardcore audience in turn. And like all breakthrough hits, the game was re-released over and over and over. Perhaps not as often as Skyrim, but pretty close.
The latest re-release is titled Disgaea 1 Complete, a subtitle that no one will ever believe. Nevertheless, this is the most up-to-date version to ever exist, and the Nintendo Switch holds the honor (alongside the PS4) of hosting the original’s new makeover. Said makeover consists of brand new HD visuals, albeit lifted from a previous source, as well as all of the content, both original and added through prior ports. With a multitude of sequels and spinoffs available, including the more recent Disgaea 5, how does the first demonic RPG hold up?
The story of Disgaea is untouched from the original: after accidentally oversleeping for two years, demon prince Laharl is surprised to find his father, King Krichevskoy, had passed away. More importantly, Laharl’s claim to the throne has been ignored as countless usurpers are competing for the vacant title of “Overlord”. With his trusty (?) sidekick Etna at his side, not to mention a whole host of over wacky party members, most who are roped into Laharl’s army unwillingly, the short-tempered but frighteningly powerful demon boy fights to reclaim his throne in a battle that involves the underworld, the human world, and the very heavens itself.
In case it wasn’t apparent by the cutesy character designs or the iconic penguins, Disgaea’s premise is not one to be taken seriously. Relying on fourth wall jokes and meta commentary at a time before either became trendy, the series is filled with wacky characters with their own quirks and (often contradictory) ideologies that are too likable to resist regardless of how “evil” they claim to be. The original trio of bratty prince Laharl, short-tempered schemer Etna and overly naive, somewhat air-headed Flonne are often regarded as the most popular characters in the entire Disgaea series, making this game a perfect entry point for newcomers or old fans looking for a reunion.
The biggest addition to Disgaea 1 Complete is the visual overhaul, which replaces all of the PS2 quality sprites with bigger, more colorful HD character models, most of which are lifted from games like Digaea D2 which made the HD jump prior. Music and voice acting are still intact, though Etna’s lines are all taken from the PSP re-release, which switched her original actress. Funny enough, all of the images featured in the next episode previews (Disgaea wears its anime influences proudly on its sleeves) still retain the original sprites, a case of NIS America missing a couple of spots during the restoration work.
This includes the battle system, which is completely untouched from the original. For those unfamiliar, Disgaea’s gameplay is centered around stages, with each stage placing the player’s party of heroes against a swarm of enemies at opposing sides. Each character takes a turn, where they can move a fixed number of steps and can attack enemies within their field of rage, represented by 4-way grids. Anyone who has played Final Fantasy Tactics will instantly recognize the style of strategy-based gameplay here, though Disgaea adds a few wacky additions to the standard formula.
The most recognizable mechanic involves team-up attacks, where allies placed next to one another have a chance to link up their attacks based on percentages, which can be raised through various means. The best part about team-up attacks, besides the extra damage they can inflict on a single enemy, is that every character can still take a turn, meaning that having a lead character take their turn, have their buddies join in the attack, and then move out of the way for another character to take up lead for another joint attack is just one of many strategies the game has to offer. Other combat-based features include the ability to lift and toss allies and enemies to either close the distance or temporarily take more powerful foes out of the equation, geo panels that highlight extra boons (such as increased attack or extra EXP) or penalties (reduced defense, the inability to cast spells, etc) for any character that steps on them.
Detailing the complexities of every system would extend this review four times over, but the most popular and well-recognized mechanic of all needs to be discussed: The Item World. A whole other system that is practically a separate game entirely, every single item in the game, from weapons to armor to restorative items, has its own assortment of randomized stages, each filled with additional rewards along with the ability to level up said item. Aside from beefing up a particular favorite weapon or armor, Item Worlds also offer limitless opportunities to level up player characters far beyond the standard 99 cap. In fact, Disgaea has no level cap, allowing grind-happy players with far too much free time the free reign they need to create characters with power-levels so big that it would make Goku envious.
As timeless and addicting as the gameplay remains, it would have been nice if Disgaea 1 Complete carried over a few of the quality of life additions its modern day successors brought. Though nothing stands out as overly archaic, little things like having to view a character’s weapon stats in a separate menu and then outfitting them with the best suited weapon in another menu does bog things down, as well as needing to go back to older stages in order to grind out newly recruited party members, who all start at level 1. There is also a lack of clearer indicators during battle, such as letting players know when a character has already attacked or whether they can continue to move. Once again, none of these nitpicks are deal breakers, but they would have served to bring the original’s gameplay up to the standards of its sequels.
Overall, Disgaea 1 Complete is a sufficient reminder of what made the series such a cult hit that continues even today, but the recent release of the more feature-filled and modernized Disgaea 5 puts it at stiff competition. For anyone looking for a fix after 5, or is hankering to go through the series’ roots either for the first time or the fourth time, there’s still plenty to love in this classic re-release.