Overview – developed by Nippon Ichi Software and published by NIS America, Disgaea 1 Complete is a remaster of the classic PS2 tactical RPG that uses a mixture of slick 2D sprites and 3D models. Featuring strategic turn based combat that takes place on an isometric grid and beautiful anime styled visuals. This title is available on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Links to both versions of the game will be at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: this is a rewrite of a previously published article, updated to fit the quality and standard of other reviews that are on this site. The previously published version of this article is no longer available, so this is the only version of the review for reading.
Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the story.
Story – The Netherworld, a place that damned souls and demons call home. The ruler King Krichevskoy has died, leaving the throne of Overlord vacant causing a power struggle to ensue. The son of the now deceased king, Demon Prince Laharl has been awoken from a deep slumber lasting two years, unaware of his father’s death. Upon learning of the events that occurred during his deep sleep, Laharl along with his loyal vassal Etna set out on a quest to defeat those trying to usurp the throne and claim the title of Overlord for himself.
Gameplay – Disgaea 1 is a turn based, isometric strategy RPG that utilizes systems similar to tabletop RPG and miniature based wargames. The core focus of the game revolves around the combat stages, with the goal of each level being either the elimination of all enemies or reaching a specified point depending on the game mode. The systems implemented in this initial release define the core mechanics that the Disgaea franchise is known for.
On the battlefield, each side takes their turns with the player side deploying units from their party to combat the enemy units on the field. The player can deploy up to ten units per stage, with the ability to switch out units depending on the situation. Each unit has the capability to take two actions, a movement action and an attack, skill, item use and more.
When combat occurs between units, experience is earned in three categories. The experience earned goes into unit level, class level and weapon mastery (however specific unit types don’t gain weapon mastery). As a unit levels up each of the three categories, they get stronger with increased stats, new abilities and additional special skills.
If a player unit falls in battle, that slot is disabled to prevent the ten unit limit from being bypassed. Fallen units can be revived in the netherworld hospital for a fee, allowing them to rejoin the party and continue the quest outside of battle. However, if the player has less than ten members in their party or all deployed characters are defeated totaling ten the game is over.
The stage layouts vary with each mission, some locations feature hazards and a unique object called a Geo Symbol. This is a special object that exists in all Disgaea releases, with many special properties that can change a battle both in the players favor and to their detriment. Each object is color coded, with colored tiles on the grid based field that show the effect when hovered over in the heads-up display.
When a symbol is destroyed, it causes a Geo burst changing tiles to that color if they are different and damaging all objects and entities that occupy those spaces. Other symbols may be destroyed by the burst, causing a chain and setting of an additional burst. The symbols can also be picked up and moved to different spaces, giving the option to set up combos, manipulate the battlefield and get the most out of each effect.
These are just a few details about the core mechanics of the battle system present in Disgaea 1 Complete, with many more details and skills to be discovered. Outside of combat there are other features that make this game (and the franchise as a whole) stand out on its own, here is a brief description of each feature/mode;
- Dimension Gate – this is where the story missions and other stages are accessed. The story missions are often accompanied by visual novel styled story segments, featuring some voice acting alongside slick anime style visuals. At the end of each mission a ranking is obtained, with each rank providing rewards upon completion.
- Item World – fundamentally identical to the missions accessed through the Dimension Gate but with a major difference. The Item World is made up of an almost endless set of randomly generated stages, with the level of enemies tied to the level of the item that has been chosen. Each item has different properties and challenging different items provides many benefits, from leveling up party members to strengthening the item itself by unlocking boosts and other bonuses.
- Dark assembly – a key feature of the franchise, here the player can create new characters for their party, unlock new items for the stores and several other options at the cost of mana accumulated through play. This is achieved by trying to pass bills in the senate, success means that the requested features and upgrades will be unlocked, failure will give the option to persuade by force, and if the attempt to use force succeeds the bills are passed.
- Home Base – in the Overlord’s castle the player can buy equipment, revive fallen team members and manage the inventory for their party by selecting items and gear to be equipped to units. There is also a records manager, allowing players the ability to view details about the enemies and more. The home base is the hub world for the player, allowing access to the Dimension Gate, Item World and Dark Assembly.
This title like every other release in the franchise features the “new cycle” system. A mechanic where the player is allowed to restart the game with the majority of their progress intact, functioning in a way similar to new game plus in other games. A new cycle playthrough can be accessed by obtaining an ending during the previous run, giving additional replay value to the experience and encouraging further play to discover the different endings available.
Now with the gameplay covered to a level that I feel prevents spoilers for those wanting to experience the game blind, I will be moving onto the other aspects of the game.
Difficulty – Disgaea has a flexible difficulty curve, allowing players to approach the experience in the way that they feel most comfortable. Players can choose to repeat early stages, increasing party levels and the equipment available to lower the challenge of later stages. There is also no level requirement applied to any of the stages, giving the option to deploy under leveled units to quickly boost them but at the risk of defeat.
There is an auto save system implemented between completed stages, a quality of life improvement for this remaster that works as a safety net, reducing the risk of lost progression when defeated in battle. The flexibility that this game offers adds to the depth of gameplay available, giving players of all skill levels the ability to enjoy the game at their own pace.
Controls – the control method is simple yet effective. The menu navigation, character management systems and battle controls are easy to pick up during play. The Joy-Cons and pro controller are both comfortable to use, the buttons in place of a d-pad on the Joy-Con work quite well giving a lot of control over the cursors and menus. Both handheld and docked play is satisfying no matter how the game is played.
Presentation – visually Disgaea 1 Complete is stunning, with beautiful HD anime style art for character portraits, rendered 3D models for the isometric maps and crisp character sprites. The attacks and special cutscenes for skills are beautifully animated, with zero lag or frame drops during the more spectacular attacks. The mix of art styles meshes well together, creating an aesthetically pleasing package that is showcases the quality that Nippon Ichi Software is known for.
The sound design is a real delight, with music that fits the title perfectly both thematically and in execution. The soundtrack is comprised of a variety of music styles, ranging from grand fantasy themed pieces to a simple music box styled melody that develops into a full orchestral composition. The English voice track for this release is excellent, featuring voice actors from anime and video games such as Michelle Ruff (Persona 5), Sandy Fox (Sailor Moon) and Grant George (Kill La Kill) with each actor performing their part very well.
Final Thoughts – I first discovered Disgaea many years ago when it was on the PSP, becoming a fan of the series very quickly and I was excited when a full HD remaster was announced for Nintendo Switch. The quality of this remaster is of the same high standard as other titles in the series on the hybrid system (which I will be publishing reviews of before the end of the month). The gameplay is engaging, the story as satisfying as it was the first time I experienced it and the quality of life improvements along with additional bonus content really elevated this release.
I cannot recommend this version of the Disgaea 1 enough. While some minor things may have been altered to fit alongside the later installments on the Nintendo Switch, this is the definitive version of the game which is perfect for both new and returning fans of the franchise. The overall quality of this release showcases the love that Nippon Ichi Software has for their most popular franchise. Creating an experience that is well worth the hundreds of hours that can be lost battling demons to get to level 9,999.
In the end, I give Disgaea 1 Complete a score of 5/5. Disgaea 1 Complete is the perfect remaster, the definitive version of the game that started the legendary franchise. The gameplay, visual style and additional content are engaging, filled with charm and worth the time investment to fully enjoy. If you want to check this game out for yourself, links to both version of Disgaea1 Complete will be below.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)
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