The original Disgaea came out 15 years ago, in 2003. It was a formative game for a baby gamer such as myself, who barely knew what things like anime were at the time outside of Dragon Ball Z. I didn’t even have my own PlayStation 2 at the time, merely getting a sample of the game at a friend’s house. Disgaea wasn’t like anything I had played before (although I had played Final Fantasy Tactics). It was bright and colorful, but weird and macabre at the same time. The good guys were the bad guys, and the cast of characters spent most of the game being jerks to each other. This was a far cry from the likes of Final Fantasy, in which the ensemble casts of flawed fighters still wanted to be friends with each other and do good. I was engrossed, the still developing parts of my brain that would grow into my current weird dork self had begun to stir to life. I’ve played nearly every Disgaea since, including the spinoffs, as well as reading the manga and watching the anime. Now, it’s time to go back to the beginning.
Remember Laharl? Do you? Huh?
Disgaea 1 Complete is a new version of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, the game that refuses to die. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense, it’s just a fact that Disgaea has been ported, referenced within itself, and expanded constantly since that 2003 release. The original game was updated for the PSP, ported to the Nintendo DS, sort of landed on mobile, and even appeared on Steam. Each of these versions are different in some way, and Disgaea 1 Complete brings its visuals up to par with the current Disgaea games, which started using higher resolution character art with the fourth game (the latest is Disgaea 5). It has a very crisp and clean look, but is otherwise the Disgaea fans are familiar with, although the PSP version (Afternoon of Darkness) with its updates such as Etna mode (and of course different voice acting) appears to be the base to some extent.
As someone with a long history with the series, I do feel some nostalgia for Disgaea, but not as much as I’d like to, as weird as that sounds. Nippon Ichi, the house of Disgaea, never really gave fans the opportunity to actually miss these characters, as they continued to show up over the years, either as post-game unlockables, story cameos, or in their own sequel, which was one of the more disappointing entries in the franchise. Laharl is easily the most memorable Disgaea lead, but he hasn’t truly gone anywhere. And Etna is almost as much of a company mascot as the Prinnies. That said, it has been several years since D2 left a bad taste in my mouth, and this is a welcomed excuse to revisit the original story.
Complicated nostalgia vs branding feelings aside, there’s no better place to start than the original, and Disgaea 1 Complete is as accessible as it gets. It’ll run on your contemporary hardware, it won’t look fuzzy or dated, and you won’t miss quality of life changes from newer entries if you don’t know about them. So if you’re not a fan who buys every new release by default, or have otherwise committed to having a new version of the OG on your shelf, here’s what you’ve missed.
Dungeons and Demons
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness as it was originally titled, is about Laharl, the prince of the Netherworld. He wakes up from a long slumber to learn his Overlord father has passed away, and in his absence the demon world has been torn apart by fighting over the throne. Thus Laharl, who everyone either thought was dead or has never heard of him in the first place, has to go out and assert his authority as the true heir of the Netherworld leadership. Along the way he meets Flonne, an angel in training who is convinced Laharl, and even demonkind, is capable of more than violence and hatred.
The hook here, besides the grid-based, turn-based, tactical RPG gameplay, is numbers. The numbers in Disgaea go real high, higher than you would possibly ever need to complete the story, as high as you want until you’re satisfied, really. We’re talking damage, HP, and MP stats well over 9999, with near-endless opportunities to grind to your heart’s content. To match the escalating numbers is an escalating spectacle in battle, from massive multi-unit combo attacks to apocalyptic special moves. Characters in Disgaea are largely demons, and demons hit hard and with pizzazz. A commitment to Disgaea is a long one, although the series only grows longer and more complex with each entry. That said, simply enjoying the story and not diving into the meta and post-games is totally an option, one that can be managed with less dedicated play. If you’re just here for the whimsical, but horror-tinged soundtrack, intriguing characters, and core play, it’s possible to be satisfied without diving into the Item World, a system that lets you battle inside items so you can grind while you grind, once.
What you’re really getting out of Disgaea is a lot of fact-paced, tactical gameplay, tons of grinding well beyond what you see in similar games, and quirky, off-kilter humor that will appeal to your inner irony goth. It’s less remarkable now that anime is just a normal part of everyday geek culture now, but what you’re looking at here is history, from when being weird was in the middle of starting to be cool, and Persona was still a grungy PS1 game nobody had heard of. Disgaea 1 Complete is a celebration of that legacy, of the game that put NIS on the map. Disgaea is so familiar to me that I’m not blown away by this release in particular, but I’m glad it exists, so that someone new can.
Disgaea 1 Complete review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a Standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.