I can still remember when the original Disgaea came out back in 2003. I had a friend who purchased it not too long after its release – he absolutely loved the game. For a while, it seemed like every conversation that I had with him at school (middle school, specifically) was “Prinny, dood” this, and “Dark Adonis” that. He told me about how you could do thousands of damage at once (boy, was he underselling that part), and how you could literally play forever because of this so-called “Item World”. It sounded really weird, but it also sounded like a lot of fun. So, I did what any kid who was interested in a game would do back then. I begged my mom to rent it for me – which she did. And that was all that it took. After popping the game into my PlayStation 2 and booting it up, I had had firmly sealed my fate; I was to be a Disgaea fan forever.
Okay, okay, enough with the overly serious nostalgia. It’s been 15 years since Disgaea originally released, and the series (happily) has had a good deal of success. Since then, we’ve seen four new main series installations, a Disgaea sequel, and even a few spinoffs. But a lot of us also enjoy going back to the basics every once in a while – something which NIS seems to be acutely aware of. So, when it was announced that Disgaea 1 Complete – an enhanced remake of the original Disgaea 1 – would be hitting the shelves in celebration of the Disgaea franchise’s 15-year anniversary, I knew that I had to get in on that action – and I’m sure glad that I did!
What’s Old is New Again
Being a remake of a 15-year-old game and all, I can’t think of a better way to start this review than by taking a look at what exactly makes Disgaea 1 Complete, well, complete! Without a doubt, the most noticeable change going on here is the fact that D1C has done away with its PS2-era sprites, having replaced them with clean, shiny, HD ones. I’ll be frank with you – I didn’t entirely dig them at first. But it didn’t take too much time before I decided to take off my rose-colored glasses, and I haven’t looked back since. While I do love me some old-school sprites, there’s no denying that D1C‘s graphical upgrade breathes new life into the characters themselves by not only allowing them a greater range of physical expressions, but also greater clarity of those expressions. Interestingly enough, a few sprites did end up getting entirely replaced – the Thief is a notable example – but I wouldn’t necessarily call that bad. Strange, but not bad.
Disgaea 1 Complete also grants players access to all content released in previous Disgaea remakes, as well as – in a Disgaea 1 first – the ability to recruit the justice hungry Prisim Rangers, and NIS’s eternal “next game’s hero” Asagi after completing the game for the first time. In all honesty, I’ll admit that I was expecting a little bit more in terms of new content. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still happy with what the game has to offer – who knows how long it will be before I get around to 100%ing a game like this – but I think that something along the lines of a celebratory side-mission would have been nice.
Being 15 years old and all, most of you out there have had plenty of time to catch up on Disgaea 1 Copmlete’s story. But, for posterity’s sake, I suppose that I should go over it here as well. D1C takes place approximately two years after the Overlord of the Netherworld, King Kirchevskoy, suddenly passed away. Laharl, D1C’s protagonist and son of King Kirchevskoy was set to be the heir to the throne, but there was one little problem – he had been asleep during that entire two-year period. Now, with the Netherworld Overlord-less and in total chaos (more so than normal, anyway) Laharl, along with the help of his “faithful” vassal Etna, begins his journey to finally claim the title of Overlord for himself.
If you read that brief story description without knowing anything about the game, you might think that D1C has an at least somewhat serious narrative – but oh, would you be wrong. D1C may be all about death, demons, and claiming what’s rightfully yours, but it goes about presenting everything in the most tongue-in-cheek way possible. Oh, sure, you’ll get the occasional serious scene here and there – especially toward the end – but most of the game’s narrative is covered in so much cheese that you’ll be lactose intolerant (that’s how that works, right?) by the time you’ve finished the entire story. I loved it back in 2003, and I probably love it even more now. The Disgaea series has always had a knack for being cleverly silly and dramatic, but never so much that it become satirical; it’s nice to be reminded that it’s been that way since the very beginning.
Back to the “Basics”
Disgaea 1 Complete may be a little simpler than its more contemporary counterparts, but it’s still so content-packed that it’s hard for me to decide how to even begin going about explaining it. At a glance, this game is your basic SRPG, and has the same goal as any other SRPG out there – to defeat your opponents in isometric, grid-based combat. And victory, of course, lies within the player’s ability to both create unique and situational strategies, and utilize their units as efficiently as possible. Technically, all of what I’ve said is true. D1C is an SRPG, and it does follow normal SRPG conventions (mostly). But, any Disgaea fan can tell you, there’s so much more going on with this game than basic SRPG game mechanics.
Despite their conventional premise, D1C‘s battles tend to be a little zanier than the norm for a number of reasons. First, there’s the fact that, along with basic sword-swinging, spell-slinging, and item using, units in D1C are capable two unique, distinctly Disgaea-esque actions – combos, and lifting and throwing. Combos are a special type of team attack which can occur when an attacking unit – either friend or foe – is joined in the attack by adjacent allies, with the likelihood of joining in depending upon the relationship between the units in question. While combos start off being incredibly useful in the beginning, their usefulness begins to wane once you start acquiring powerful skills.
Lifting and throwing is exactly what it sounds like – the ability for (humanoid) units to lift and throw other units. Sounds kind of boring and useless, right? Wrong! Admittedly, the mechanic isn’t something that plays a huge part in the beginning of the game, but it becomes more crucial to master the further you get along in the game. This mechanic, while simple, ultimately provides a way for players to traverse incredibly long distances in a single turn, reach places that they normally couldn’t, and even chuck enemies into areas where they can’t provide harm. It’s almost funny how big of an impact a mechanic like this has on the game, and I’ve always enjoyed making use of it.
D1C is also the birthplace of Geo Symbols – colored pyramids which buff or de-buff whatever color Geo Panel they’re on – and the Geo Panels that they affect. This dynamic Geo duo is particularly important due to the fact that they, if manipulated correctly, can be used to majorly turn the tide of battle – as they cause a number of things to happen, ranging from damaging or warping units around the field, to granting complete invincibility – and can also be used to fill up the bonus gauge which, when filled, bestows upon the player a number of exciting, and sometimes rare, goodies. To the uninitiated, there is a bit of a learning curve here. Fortunately, however, it isn’t a big one, assuring that even the freshest of newbies can become Geo masters with just a little bit of work.
How High Can You Count?
Disgaea 1 Complete may present itself as a silly-yet-serious SRPG surrounding the eternal struggle between angels, demons, and humans, but, when it comes down to it, there’s only one thing that really matters — numbers. And no, I’m not saying that to put some kind of nihilistic spin on the this game. On the contrary, I actually mean it as a compliment. Touting a level cap of 9,999, and the potential for characters to literally do millions (if not more) of damage within a single hit, D1C is a game where numbers are king (or Overlord, maybe?) — a point which the game will drill into your head as you play it.
The fact that I’m dedicating an entire section of this review to specifically talk about numbers — a concept that appears in nearly every video game ever in some form of a number — might sound strange to you, but it would be foolish not to when talking about Disgaea — especially the remake of the Disgaea game that started it all. When it comes to D1C, grinding is a labor of love. You can’t grind in the same way that you would in most other RPGs. You have to be smart about it. Characters, enemies, equipment, transmigration, Geo Panels, and more — there are a lot of things that go into efficiently leveling your characters up and D1C absolutely demands that its players fully understands each and every one of its deceptively convoluted mechanics should they want to reach that coveted 9,999 status. Leveling as hardcore as that might be intimidating to some to be sure, but for others, D1C‘s off-the-walls numbers gives the more hardcore fan base an (rather extreme) exciting goal to chase.
Disgaea 1 Complete‘s extreme-ness doesn’t make it a hostile place for casual players, however. Despite its potential to utilize numbers higher than some people could even hope to count, the game’s core levels are surprisingly tame. Beginning with level 1 baddies and featuring a level 90 final boss, Disgaea 1 Complete‘s main campaign sticks to what could best be described as “traditional RPG numbers” fairly well. Yes, there’s still a bit of grinding that needs to be done, but as someone who casually completed the story in a little over 30 hours (I may have grinded more than what was called for), you can definitely get your money’s worth without dipping into the level-maxing offered by the game (although I’m not sure why you would).
All Hail Laharl!
Fans may have been traveling the Netherworld with Laharl, Etna, and Flonne for 15 years now, but they certainly show no signs of stopping nay time soon. Featuring fresh graphics, a near-endless amount of content, and an irresistible nostalgic charm, Disgaea 1 Complete will have players experiencing the birth of the Disgaea series like never before, and makes plenty of compelling reasons why they should want to.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch ; Publisher: Capcom ; Developer: Capcom ; Players: 1 ; Released: October 9, 2018 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $49.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Disgaea 1 Complete given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.