The Disgaea games are what got me into tactical RPGs before anything else. Before going all-in on the likes of Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics, it was this bizarre and slapstick-fueled series that made me understand how deep and rewarding this genre could actually be. I’m not sure if it was the art direction, or the hilarious dialogue (I still crack a smile when thinking about Laharl’s allergy to sexy women), or the endlessly suffering Prinnies, but it won me over.
Now, with the sixth installment of this storied franchise soon to be out in the wild, it’s also shown how a game from a niche studio should properly change and improve upon itself, but there are still some bumps and mishaps along the way.
What Is It?
Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny is the titular sixth installment in the cult-hit RPG series from Nippon Ichi Software. The universe of Disgaea is a fantastical and diabolical one: Hell is a very real and wacky place. There are several Netherworlds scattered all over various dimensions, some of which even have entire galaxies and solar systems. But all of them have some key similarities. Netherworlds are typically ruled and controlled by Overlords via Might Makes Right, many have similar monster species, and all of them have the penguin-like Prinnies (human souls working off their karmic debt) as underlings, servants and manual labor. Other than that, pretty much anything goes story-wise.
In this particular story, you play a young Zombie named Zed. Zombies in the Disgaea universe(s) are among the lowlier species, largely relegated to mooks and cannon fodder. But Zed is no ordinary zombie. Zed has lived tens of thousands of lives, having by mysterious means mastered a high-end spell known as ‘Super Reincarnation’. Why? Because he seeks to kill the nigh-invincible humanoid force of nature known as the God Of Destruction, whom he blames for the death of his little sister, Bieko. Zed is accompanied in this quest by a strangely eloquent (and deep-voiced) pug named Cerberus, and along the way he meets up with other companions, including a money-obsessed King, a singing princess, an idealistic leader of a Sentai hero squad, a millenia-old witch who has been unintentionally turned into a scantily-clad magical girl, and a frumpy and egotistical Overlord.
As you can probably guess: shenanigans ensue, along with a few plot twists here and there and a lot of anime references.
Why Should I Care?
One of the first things you will notice is the graphics: for the first time in franchise’s history, Nippon Ichi has forsaken their famous elaborate pixelated animations for fully 3D character models. Whether or not you think it loses something in the transition is purely up to your opinion (I’ll hold mine until the end).
Gameplay-wise, it still retains many of the traditional aspects of the Disgaea franchise. You choose a party of a dozen or so characters (from main story characters to recruitable ones) before each battle, equip them with the best equipment you can acquire, and then send them out one at a time to attack the enemies on the playing field. Each character has specific special attacks that are inherent to that character (though there are also generic special attacks that can be learned in tandem), and each character specializes in certain weapons (gunmen use guns, martial artists are good with fists, etc.). However, no character is restricted to a particular weapon and can use any in you arsenal (including monster characters). Depending on the location of other characters in your party, you can also use team attacks, where other characters can either increase damage or tack-on various effects (poison, stunning, and such). Also, as was the case in pass Disgaea games, you can lift up and toss other characters to other parts of the map, getting them to go farther than even their standard movement distance would allow (except for Prinnies, who explode when you throw them). There are also new, giant-sized enemies that take up multiple spaces. They’re bigger, stronger, and can block off entire areas with their size.
However, there are also some new mechanics that have been introduced this time around. One of the major ones is the Super Reincarnation system. Using this feature, a character can expand the limits of their stats. Though you return to level one, your strength carries over. Furthermore, SR earns you karma, a point system that allows you to increase your stats and skills, including stats that typically cannot be increased (like counter-attacks). This means that you can become insanely over-powered, theoretically getting to Level 99,999,999 (which even by Disgaea standards is absolutely ridiculous).
Another feature that has been added is Auto-Battle, which is exactly what it sounds like: relying on the AI to control your characters and battle for you. You can pre-program characters using Demonic Intelligence, specifying what skill is used against which enemy. This is particularly nifty when attempting to grind for experience, and opens up a new area of strategy. This is also combined with auto-repeat (replay a single stage over and over) and high-speed mode (exactly what it says), allowing you to grind at lightning speed (at least when compared to prior games in the series).
Also, as was the case in prior games, you have a hub world that you use in order purchase new equipment, get side missions, talk with other party members, going into ‘item worlds’ (procedurally generated areas) in order to increase the level of items and equipment, and assembling an easily bribable legislative body called the Dark Assembly in order to get various enhancements and character classes. New to this is the Juice Bar, which allows you share EXP and Mana with party members that did not take part in battle.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
I’ll be frank: the transition to 3D has definitely lost some of the charm of the original pixelated character models. The older models were able to emote and express themselves far more convincingly in spite of their limitations. Though they have plenty of animations for battle, when it comes to actual in-story animation they are far more wooden and less emotive, often attempting to mimic the style of the old games but failing.
That also goes for the story: Although the characters themselves are great, and the dialogue can still be incredibly funny, the actual story line doesn’t really measure up to the past ones. Because of the constant Super Reincarnation angle, you never really get a chance to settle in and explore any particular world, making them seem rather generic. Connecting with any one particular character is a bit of a chore.
That being said, the gameplay is still very solid, and the new additions do improve on some of the issues of the previous game. But if you’re looking for an entry point into this series, this isn’t it (especially if you hate grinding). But if you’re a fan of the series like me? You’ll still find much to enjoy. Exploding Prinnies never gets old.