A perhaps biased opinion on Disgaea
Hey there, welcome to not a review of Disgaea! I originally wanted to make this a review, but it’s very clear that I am unable to give a justified opinion on it. While I don’t outright hate the game, my opinion on the game is far different from the target audience to the point you can even call it negatively ”biased”. Still, I wanted to express why I didn’t like the game, but also clarify some parts that I genuinely did like. So let’s start from the beginning of the journey and work our way up from there.
How did I actually come across Disgaea? I’ve known about its existence for a long time, especially since it’s not easy to avoid Prinnies thrown into your face when you’re a fan of games with an anime artstyle. While I’m not a fan of NIS America due to how sloppy their localizations have been in the past, I am still familiar with the company and also some of NIS’ other games from Japan. Anyhow, it’s not like I wasn’t interested in the Disgaea series, quite the opposite actually. I like my Turn-Based Strategy RPGs, so it should have been a match made in heaven. The only reason I didn’t play them before was that I know how huge they are. While the main story isn’t too bad when it comes to length, the post-games are the real meat of the game that takes the hours into triple digits quite easily. But since I didn’t really end up liking the game, I stopped right after beating the main story. This is also a reason as to why I’m not making an official review as I can’t judge about the post-game, which is to many people the main appeal of the games. But yeah, I was bored and I can’t postpone this series forever so I thought hey, let’s give it a shot.
So I wanted to start with the story and characters. The first thing I’ll unfortunately remember are their voice actors, but I won’t judge a character on that. But for most of the game, I just… couldn’t care for either Laharl or Etna. In the end I slowly began to like them more, but that’s mostly because of the other characters. Flonne was a cute addition, though Gordon easily stole the show for me with his obvious superhero cliches. My other favourite character would probably be Mid-boss who isn’t even a playable character. But none of these characters are amongst my favourites really, or ones that I will remember fondly. I enjoy some and don’t mind others, but I don’t love any. The story wasn’t really interesting to me either. I do like the setup of a demon, human and angel world with the latter being portrayed as the ”villains”, but there wasn’t a lot happening for most of the game. I started getting interested when, yet again, Gordon entered the scene, although the chapter before it was good too. There was finally something happening now, and it kept that strong pace going for the remainder of the game. There are also multiple endings and I was kind of unsatisfied, but that’s because I have a question for the people reading this in a spoiler tag. Laharl started off as an egotistical, selfish kid and in my opinion, that’s what they should’ve stayed with. But over the course of the game, he began to care for other characters and even sacrifices himself to get Flonne back. This is something I don’t understand, as that’s not the person I imagined Laharl to be. Instead they made him ”just another protagonist”, and I would have liked to see a Laharl that truly was who he was meant to be. Is this an unpopular opinion? I am genuinely curious.
But I can live with a weaker- or satire story as long as the gameplay is good. Disgaea is good… for the most part. Where do I begin… Eh, let’s talk about the core gameplay first. If you’re familiar with other grid-based strategy RPGs, Disgaea will be right up your alley. What makes this game different from others, is that you can lift- and throw both allies and enemies which is a very nice addition to have. You can basically make a tower out of your characters and gradually throw them to the other side of the map, or throw enemies into each other to transform them into stronger variants. There are also multiple weapon types to choose from, each having their own strengths and skills to gain by experience. More allies can be created and if you let them be created by a particular character, they can learn the skills from their pupils as well. This is what I love most about Disgaea even though I didn’t use it a lot myself: the amount of depth there is in improving characters. The characters can be levelled up, their weapons and abilities with these weapons can be levelled up and much more. I can’t name any other SRPG, let alone many JRPGs that give you this much freedom in making your own characters. The weapons- and armour complement this well too, with their wide stat spread that can even make a mage a melee powerhouse. There is one thing in particular about this system that annoyed me though: you only get character experience after actually killing an enemy. This means that for my weaker characters, I constantly had to get the enemy to lower HP with another character and hope they didn’t kill the enemy, and then finish it with the weaker ally and hope they do enough damage. Reminder that the enemy AI is programmed to attack the weaker allies first soo… yeah. Levelling healers with a staff is pretty much impossible since they don’t do damage, so I’m forced to actually use a different weapon on them which… yeah, it works, but I don’t like it. I prefer how other strategy RPGs handle it, which give you experience for every action you do including healing. I believe later Disgaea games fix this though, at least for healers so this criticism probably only applies to the first game.
The levels themselves are usually nice with their own patterns, but can often be ruined by one simple mechanic: Geo Symbols. This is another unique mechanic to Disgaea and one that I’m very mixed on. They act as passive (de)buffs that are present when you’re on the same coloured tiles as the symbols themselves. Destroy them, and the coloured tiles will change to the colour of the Geo Symbol if it’s different, and the (de)buff will disappear. I like this, but now how they’re placed in some stages. Geo Symbol placement is probably what I hate the most about Disgaea, as they can be really asinine at times. Travel through an entire stage with casters on the side just to get rid of an invincibility buff that’s only on their coloured tiles, or throw a party member to the other side of the map to get rid of an enemy boost–which will probably mean their end as they’re all alone. I find this to be more of an annoyance than an actual challenge, and it tired me out. It’s probably petty to have this as my most hated thing about the game but eh, it made several stages just not fun to play. I do still want to emphasise however, that Geo Symbols aren’t just bad. You can create massive combo’s by clearing coloured tiles, and they also damage anyone that is on them to add an extra layer of strategy. And hey, it’s thank to buffs like increased experience and currency that there are a lot of good grinding places. The developers knew this, and made stages with these buffs also pretty easy to clear in a minimal amount of time.
Another infamous part of the Disgaea series is grinding. Lots and lots of grinding. I don’t hate grinding in the slightest! Like I mentioned before, the developers did make some specific stages just for grinding. That said, I wasn’t a fan of how grinding worked outside of these stages. The game obviously tries to point you towards the item world for grinding and frankly, I hate the item world. As the name implies, it’s a world inside of an item where you clear 10 floors back-to-back to make the weapon stronger. I like the concept since the levels themselves usually aren’t too long, and there is an item that lets you temporarily retreat. The stat increases you get from these item worlds are very impressive as well, sometimes easily doubling their original values. What I don’t like, is how randomly generated levels can easily screw you over. Sometimes enemies at the start are around level 40 and near the end around level 80 which is too big a difficulty jump for early levels, and sometimes the ability to proceed is even robbed from you due to the randomly generated levels. Oh, and don’t forget the randomized Geo Symbol placement of course. I don’t appreciate the randomness to this mode, and I think I would have liked it more if the game gave you the option to stop at a specific floor and grant you the bonuses you’ve built up until then. There is an item that lets you exit the item world but it’s not exactly what I mean, and you have to work to get this item to begin with. For the main game, this mode isn’t that highly needed and is mostly just beneficial, but it is a necessity for the post-game so you’ll have to deal with this one way or another.
I don’t really have much else to say. So to what conclusion do we arrive today? Neppy is petty, that’s a good summary I guess! But truly, this is the reason I didn’t want to make a review other than having no interest in the post-game, as I don’t want to discourage people from what is a beloved series by many. For my tastes, it dragged on a bit too much. There wasn’t a lot happening for the first part of the game and I couldn’t get invested in the characters, and some stages just highly annoyed me with their Geo Symbol placement. A lot of times I started a stage, just to let out a sigh because I already saw what the game wanted me to do. Having an entire stage covered in damaging floors with the geo symbol at the other end is not fun; it’s annoying. And this truly is a shame because I could also see how well the game handles other mechanics. The ability to fully create- and customize characters can go very deep, and levelling up items is a great idea in concept–but for me, not so much in execution. That said however, I am not against playing another Disgaea game if most of my issues are fixed or at the very least minimalized. So I ask you my fellow readers, probably Neppy haters now and also Disgaea fans: how do you feel about my complaints? And do later games improve upon some of my issues, or does it remain more of the same?