Disgaea 1 Complete (Switch) Review
Disgaea has been a series that I have always been interested in since the first one came out all those years back. At the time I didn’t have a PlayStation 2, so I only ever got to experience the series from afar through reviews and screenshots. Now, over a decade later, it is finally time to take my rightful place as Lord of the Underworld!
The game starts with the main character Laharl waking from a two-year slumber to find his Father and Lord of the Underworld King Krichevskoy has passed, and he is the heir to the throne of the underworld. It’s time to reclaim the throne and build up an army worthy of a King. Early on it’s Etna and her team of Prinnies (violent penguin mascots who say ‘dood’) aiding you as you begin to build up your armies of darkness. The story overall is amusing; there’s a decent mix of humour (or at the very least, tongue in cheek) as it takes interesting twists and unexpected turns, while never really taking itself too seriously. When the story is over it doesn’t mean the game is, and there’s a lot remaining to accomplish if you’re prepared to work for it.
While the story has its jokes, the gameplay is not messing around for a second. Tactical RPGs are a different beast from your turn-based or action RPGs. While tactics-based games aren’t my favourite, I still enjoy playing them (Final Fantasy Tactics I’m looking at you). As a newcomer to this series, it felt a bit overwhelming. Sure there’s a tutorial, but outside of that, you’re on your own. On one hand, it forces you to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, but on the other hand, it feels needlessly complicated — maybe just a product of its time.
Initially, the game felt like a slow start. Progress doesn’t seem to be gated by how good your tactical abilities are, but more on how much you’ve ‘grinded’ the levels leading up to it. Eventually, you’ll get to a point where it’s quicker to build up experience, but there’s a lot of grinding up until that point and I would be lying if I said there wasn’t more afterwards. At risk of overusing the word, to accomplish anything in Disgaea you’re going to have to grind levels for it. Your level of enjoyment comes down to how much you enjoy tactical combat. Want to power up your army? Then you better grind. Want to improve the level of your items? Then you better grind (in Item World). While you’re going to need to replay levels to stay powerful enough to progress through the story, it’s the other content that you’ll really need to grind for. There are all kinds of side- and post-story content to keep you busy, there’s just a lot of content all around. For someone who doesn’t have tons of free time like myself, there’s only so much I could play. On the plus side, the story was fun, and fortunately you don’t need to delve too deep into the other parts of the game to get through it.
Each level takes part with a grid where the enemies are already placed. You’re given a portal from which to choose your characters and where they go. It pays to keep them close to one another because you can have units gang up on enemies to inflict extra damage. The enemy can do this too, so it’s making sure you don’t get surrounded either. If you’re sick of where an enemy is standing you can just lift them and throw them away from you. As you find out very early on, the Prinnies are highly explosive when you throw them, so you have to decide if you want more numbers on the field or to do some splash damage to a group. Geopanels are coloured tiles around the stage that can give you or the enemy positive or negative effects. There’s also Geo symbols around the map that when destroyed can change the properties of the panels, but also do damage to every unit on the relevant panel. This can be great for you, or a sudden turn towards defeat if you’re not paying attention. With the damage done from destroying a symbol, you can also set off chains of explosive damage if other symbols get caught up in it. This aspect adds another layer of things to consider whenever you make a move and ensures you never get complacent.
If the story stages aren’t enough, there is also the Item World. You’re transported inside the items that you hold, even your healing items, and you must fight through several floors worth of opponents to level up your items. It’s a strange yet intriguing concept that adds something extra to do. Being randomised floors you never know what you’re going to get… well besides fighting. Lots and lots of fighting.
Dark Assembly is where you’ll find yourself bribing and forcing senators in the Dark Assembly to pass proposals to give you access to better items, characters for your army and even unlocking new stages. If you want to improve your rank it’ll be more fighting for you and with only one unit. But if you’re requesting some form of support that’s when you have to take it to the vote. You’ll stand before a court, you can place the cursor over each senator to see how likely it is they’ll support your motion. If they loathe the request then they may need something extra to sweeten them up. It’s an interesting system, even if they made me work hard to get increased funding. Like with the Item World, there’s all these extra mechanics outside of the usual levels. But as you’re reminded in-game, you don’t need in-depth knowledge to beat the story.
Early on, I found it annoying when the stage seems cleared but it’s not showing as completed, only to find out the camera is hiding enemies behind the scenery. So for anyone new to the series like myself, make sure you make good use of rotating the camera buttons to save on frustration. Another issue that popped up throughout the game was the cursor being unruly a bit too regularly when trying to select the right ally amongst a group, or when moving the cursor around in a section where there’s steps or gaps in the grid. It’s nothing that can’t be worked around, but the simple act of selecting things feels more clunky than it should.
Visually, almost everything has been spruced up to fit more in line with current games, and overall it looks good. While it’s not a game you’re likely to be running over with a fine tooth comb, if you really wanted to nitpick it still has the odd rough texture here and there. I did enjoy the music, it never takes things too seriously. The voice track comes in both English and Japanese. You don’t even have to download the Japanese voices separately, which is a pleasant surprise, as it’s usually something you have to download extra. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference which voice track you’ll prefer. English tracks can tend to be a bit average and Disgaea’s is no different, but once again it’s very much a personal preference thing.
With the fifth Disgaea already out on the Switch, fans of the series were taken care of. Now there’s Disgaea 1 Complete for the newcomers and for those who just want to play the original again with some extra content from the later ports. If you love Disgaea and you want the original on the go, or on a current console, then this is the game to get. As someone new to playing the game I found it overwhelming initially, and if it wasn’t for this review I likely wouldn’t have pushed as far into the game as I did. Fortunately, the story mode makes it worth it. The abundance of level grinding and lack of quality of life upgrades to this game makes it a harder sell. If you enjoy tactic RPGs it’s definitely worth a look in, and there is plenty to enjoy despite its roughness. If you like RPGs but aren’t sure about tactic based games I recommend playing the Disgaea 5 demo to get an idea if this is a game for you.
+ Abundance of content
+ Fun story
+ A jumping in point on the Switch
- Overwhelming/ The Grind
- Missing quality of life improvements
- Cursor/camera annoyances