Disgaea 1 Complete
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch
Price: $49.99 USD
Fifteen years ago Disgaea: Hour of Darkness introduced Nippon Ichi Software’s brand of dark-humored role-playing games to the PlayStation 2 audience. It was a new take on the strategy RPG formula popularized by the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together that tasked players with becoming the best villain, rather than a heroic knight in shining armor.
It was also a grindfest.
An old friend of mine spent more than 300 hours inside of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness back then, grinding away inside of the item world and leveling up their characters. Since then, the series has enjoyed success on various consoles (most recently, Disgaea 5 Complete for the Nintendo Switch).
Games evolve over time, addressing concerns from earlier iterations and making quality of life changes as each new entry reaches physical and digital storefronts. Disgaea 1 Complete aims to introduce a brand new audience to the Disgaea series with the game that started it all, but without the quality of life changes made in more recent entries, it makes for a pretty hard sell for anyone who had already spent large a chunk of their life with the original back on the PlayStation 2.
So, what is Disgaea 1 Complete?
It’s an HD remaster of a 15-year-old PS2 game, getting a fresh coat of paint with new hand-drawn character models. You play as Laharl, son of the recently deceased Overlord, and it’s your job to be the best villain in the land. Using a resource called mana, Laharl can create new characters and monsters, each with their own job class and weapon affinity, and lead up to 10 of them in battle. The battle system is a grid-based strategy RPG staple where each character moves along tiles and can be issued specific commands to attack, defend, use abilities, throw exploding penguins that say “dood!” a lot, etc., but that’s about where the similarities end. Okay, maybe not that last part.
What sets Disgaea apart from your standard SRPG is a combination of the Item World, Geo Panels, and Dark Assembly systems. Each item in the game is literally its own randomized dungeon, which Laharl and company can enter, grind, and level up the item itself. Geo Panels are colored tiles within a battle that affects anyone standing atop them, be it increased stats or experience gains, and can be removed entirely by destroying their accompanied Geo Symbol. And finally, the Dark Assembly is a governing body within the game that passes or denies new laws presented by the player. Each member can be bribed (because you’re evil, remember?) to greater your chances of passing a hot a new 200% bonus XP, or directly battled to pass it by force instead. It’s an interesting system that kept Disgaea: Hour of Darkness fresh back on the PS2 when so much of your time was otherwise spent grinding. And grinding. And grinding.
Where does it go wrong?
Disgaea 1 Complete doesn’t do much wrong, really. If you’re new to the series, it’s a great jumping on point to see how it all started. However, if you’re familiar with some of the other games, it’s probably going to tire you out rather quickly.
I’ve been around Disgaea for a while now, and not having some of the newer quality of life offerings made revisiting the game in Disgaea 1 Complete a bit tedious. It’s still a fun game with interesting mechanics and a light-hearted story full of rad characters, but it’s a grindfest that I’m just not willing to sit through again fifteen years later.
There is a new Etna Mode that offers new playable characters, but that wasn’t enough to keep me going.
Is it worth checking out?
If you’re new to Disgaea and have a fondness for SRPGs, absolutely. Disgaea is a fun series that’s unlike anything else out there and Disgaea 1 Complete is a fine way to get your feet wet.
However, if you spent a lot of time with Hour of Darkness back on the PS2, very little has been added to make a 100+ hour return trip worthwhile over playing one of the more user-friendly newer entries.
Personally, I spent about 10 hours with it and thought to myself “yep, this is Disgaea 1” before immediately feeling the desire to move along to the next game in my queue. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense, but as someone familiar with Hour of Darkness I wasn’t very compelled to keep going.
I did play and review the game’s PS4 release, though, so the intense grinding is likely easier to swallow on the Nintendo Switch with its handheld capability.
I don’t use review scores here at Cheap Boss Attack, so hopefully you find the above text far more informative than an arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Have any questions about the game that weren’t answered in the review? Sound off down in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them without spoilers.
Full disclaimer: A copy of Disgaea 1 Complete was provided by the game’s publisher, NIS America, for the purpose of this review.