Disgaea as a franchise will always hold a special place in my heart. It and Final Fantasy Tactics were my first foray into the strategy RPG genre. I actually didn’t get around to playing the first Disgaea title until after I had played Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories. Until developer Nippon Ichi Software released Disgaea 1 Complete, I still hadn’t beaten it. Luckily more and more players are getting the opportunity to play this fantastic strategy series, and now is the perfect time to dive back in.
Nippon Ichi Software is no stranger to re-releases. Countless Disgaea titles have been released on various consoles over the years. Even last year, Disgaea 5 Complete was released for Nintendo Switch. Even this Disgaea game has been released four times since launch for PS2, PSP, DS, and PC. This is a special year though, as it is the 15th anniversary of the initial PS2 launch, and PS4 and Nintendo Switch are host to one of the best strategy RPG’s available.
Much like Disgaea 5 Complete before it, Disgaea 1 Complete on Nintendo Switch feels right at home. Nintendo’s handheld portable is the perfect host for the genre. This is not a short game, and being able to run through a stage or two when I have time on the go really helps pick up the pace a little bit. The pace of the gameplay is still slow and deliberate, but instead of having to sit in front of a TV and sink a bunch of time into the item world, I can play on the go or while l lay in bed at night and get through a chunk of gameplay.
Even the PS4 version has the capability of doing this through remote play if you have a Playstation Vita. I can’t stress enough how great it is to be able to play this title on the go, as it knocks some of the monotony out of putting countless hours in sitting in the same place. And anyone who wants to really get the most out of Disgaea 1 Complete really will have their work cut out for them. Disgaea is a huge game, with more to do than almost every comparable title.
There are fourteen main episodes in Disgaea 1 Complete, and each of these features a handful of stages. Most of them play similarly, with some twists on the core mechanics thrown into the mix. The main campaign alone will take over 40 hours, add in side content and players are easily looking at 100+ hours of gameplay.
Disgaea 1 Complete follows prince Laharl, son of King Krichevskoy. After being awoken from a two-year nap, Laharl learns from one of the castles vassals that his father has died, and a civil war of sorts has broken out in the Netherworld for dominance of the throne. The story remains intact from 2003, but that isn’t a bad thing. Part of the Disgaea charm stems from the silly and simple storytelling.
The campaign isn’t littered with CG Effects or fully animated cutscenes, instead Laharl and his companions pop up on the screen with text boxes with dialogue. The characters are almost all fully voiced though, and the for the type of storytelling Disgaea 1 Complete employs, the voice acting is pretty great. However, Disgaea never takes itself seriously. The constant jokes from Laharl, Etna, and even the Prinnies are a great balance to the tactical gameplay. Dialogue is bolstered by a strong cast of characters too, and everybody fits right at home in this demon driven story.
The gameplay loop hasn’t changed much since 2003, battles take place on a grid based plane. Players select characters from a starting point, and position them within a limited movement distance. Enemies move around the battlefield intelligently, and often ended up attacking characters I wished they hadn’t. Positioning characters next to others before attacking leads to link attacks that can cause massive damage to enemies when both characters jump into the fray. Positioning characters is just as important as actual damage stats, causing battle in Disgaea 1 Complete to be very strategic. Geo Panels are where players will spend a lot of time strategizing as opposed to just beating enemies to death.
Geo panels serve to add buffs or debuffs to enemies or playable characters. A geo symbol, represented by a small pyramid, sitting on a geo panel of any color other than its own can be destroyed, causing damage to all geo panels of that color. These geo attacks can be chained as well, so if a geo panel getting destroyed causes a geo symbol to be destroyed, the chain of geo panel destruction continues, and damages all enemies and characters within it. It can be counterintuitive to cause these chains though, as it can lead to the defeat of characters unintentionally.
Most of the stages in Disgaea 1 Complete generally are themed towards different styles of characters as well. An example of this is one stage early on where a majority of the enemies are weak to fire. Bringing a red mage or two in to utilize their weakness to my advantage was important towards completing stages at the highest bonus level I could. Bonus levels are rewarded to players for fulfilling certain attack conditions, and often reward players with items of higher rarity than can be bought or earned by usual means.
Players wanting to recruit new characters to their party will do so by utilizing the Dark Assembly. Different gender and class characters can be earned through the Dark Assembly by spending mana gained by defeating enemies. A majority of the classes that can be recruited in the Dark Assembly are standard tactical RPG fare, but they can also be adjusted by rank and stats depending how much mana players put in. The Dark Assembly is also the place where players can go to unlock proposals for the party. This kind of works like politics in real life, where Laharl can attempt to unlock endings, secret characters, or special maps. Senators will ultimately vote on each proposal and can be bribed if they aren’t leaning your way, adding a sort of mini-game to an already huge title.
The last place players will be spending a ton of time is the Item World. From Laharl’s Castle, which also serves as the main hub of Disgaea 1 Complete, players can enter items that are in their inventory to increase their stats. Items can have up to 100 levels for players to navigate, and all of them are randomly generated. Defeating specialists inside the item world increases the stats of that item. There are some more surprises hidden inside item world, but I’ll leave those open for discovery.
Disgaea 1 Complete looks great in HD for the first time. Even on Nintendo Switch’s portable mode, the game runs really well, and the sprites are crisp and colorful. The environments are the worst looking thing in Disgaea 1 Complete, but NIS hasn’t done a lot of work in this area in any of the Disgaea titles.
Fans of tactical RPGs, or even anyone that hasn’t played the first Disgaea title in a while finally have a reason to jump back into the Netherworld. Sharp HD visuals highlight an already incredible tactical RPG. The biggest drawback to the Disgaea franchise is how little has changed over the years. Game in this series don’t come out very often, so fans willing to really put the time in are going to get the most out of this re-release. There isn’t a lot new, other than Etna mode where Etna accidentally kills Laharl and becomes the main character throughout the campaign. Anyone willing to put in the time should, because Disgaea 1 Complete remains best in class, even 15 years later.
Disgaea 1 Complete launches October 9th for Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch. This review is based on a Nintendo Switch copy of the game provided by the publisher. Pre Orders are available here.