I’ll have to confess that I’ve never actually played a Disgaea game before now. I knew it was there and being a fan of other strategy RPG’s I had made eyes with it more than a few times. Now, thanks to the benevolence of Invision, I’ve finally been able to dip my toes in the pool. While I’m not sure I’ll be doing many return swims, my time spent with Disgaea PC wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. The game did provide some genuine fun, but whatever joy it gave me was always tinged by something frustrating or annoying.
Disgaea PC is an ‘enhanced’ port of the PSP game Afternoon of Darkness, which itself was an enhanced port of the original Disgaea game Hour of Darkness. Now some of you may assume, as I first did, that PC stands for personal computer, as this is a Steam release; in fact the PC acronym stands for Poor Conversion. Yes, I am addressing the elephant in the room right off the bat. Steam users have been reporting instances of slowdown, hitching and FPS drops across the board and while I personally didn’t run into any performance issues, this port still leaves a lot to be desired. Opening the settings menu will give you a plethora of fancy options like SSAO and Character Filters and Remapped textures. Unlike gift giving, it is not the thought that counts as all the options presented are just terrible. SSAO and Depth of field give heavy bluring that intrudes deeply on the game screen rather than blending in naturally. The character filter make it look like someone spilt water on the art work. And apparently all this (shit) options are what cause such heavy slow down for other users. The only option that’s worth a damn is the new textures, and even then the difference between the two states is minimal. Controller support is also very iffy as the button prompts do not reflect Xbox or even PlayStation inputs but instead are numbered like you might find on an off brand PS2 knock off in PC World. The port job is sloppy at best and unstable at worst.
With that out of the way I can focus on the core game, and my outlook here is much more positive. Disgaea is your typical Strategy RPG taking many of its core elements from games like Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics. You move a variety of units around a grid based map during turn based combat. Each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses and you’ll want to make a party with a healthy balance in order to have successful missions. All pretty standard so far, but from this point on standard is the last word I’d use to describe anything in Disgaea . Along side your usual suspect of strategy units (like warrior, mage, rogue etc…) you’ll be able to recruit monsters like ghosts, imps and … penguins. Monsters are typically much less impressive than humanoid combatants but they do have their uses. For example Prinnys (penguins) can explode when thrown, which is another unique facet to this game. You can pick up various items around the stage and throw them at enemies or you can just skip the middle man and throw the enemies themselves. The biggest tactical advantage throwing gives you however, is the ability to throw your own troops. Say you want to get your big hitter to the enemy right away, but their movement is limited, you can use up a weaker units turn to throw your ringer direct at the opposing forces so that they can spend more time in combat. You’ll also want to be throwing around Geo Symbols as much as you can. Geo Symbols are colour prisms that offer up various effects when placed on panels of the corresponding colour. They can be helpful or harmful to both your own and enemy units, so you’ll want to consider how you use them carefully. Destroying a Geo Symbol on a different coloured plane of Geo Panels will start domino effect that ripples out from the epicentre changing the colour of all the panels it touches, and anyone stood in the area, be it friend of foe, will take damage.
The amount of options offered up by Disgaea is really impressive, its just a shame that all of these lovely options can be safely ignored for pretty much the entire game. I remember when I first booted up the game, I was wondering around the main hub area talking to all the NPC’s and getting a feel for the systems in the game when one characters finished off her explanation with the rather ominous, “Don’t Worry, you can still beat the game with minimal knowledge”. And unfortunately this turned out to be very true. More often than not victories were won, not with careful planning, but by having bigger numbers than the enemy; both in terms of the amount of troops you bring, and in terms of how high you can grind out your stats. Oh and you will be grinding in the game! Thankfully you can kill two birds with one stone and level up items and characters with Item World. Each and every item in the game (weapons and armour included) can be levelled up by having your party physically enter them and completing the randomly generated dungeon associated with that item. It is an inspired idea, especially in a game like this that expects you to dump hours into it in order to achieve the best gear. I really love the amount of depth on display here, I just wish the design forced you to use strategy more. Occasionally I would enter an encounter at just the right level so that I was just a little weaker than the opposing force, it was during these moments the game truly came alive. Unfortunately those kind of encounters were few and far between and I either steam-rolled everything or got steam-rolled in return.
Thankfully, where the gameplay didn’t fully sate me, the story and characters were more than enough to keep my interest. You play as the demon Laharl, on his quest to become the overlord of the nether realm (hell). Because you play as a demon, your intentions are not exactly pure or heroic, so I really appreciated the way the story backed up the game play. Laharl and his party constantly reference using unfair tactics and how absurd the things they do are, if you’re into this kind of referential humour then you’ll probably really enjoy the cutscenes in this game. Fair warning, this game is Japanese… VERY Japanese. So if that floats your boat then alls well, otherwise, maybe just pick up XCOM 2. I don’t really want to talk too much about the story and the characters because its the kind of thing best experienced for yourself; sufficed to say the game oozes charm all over.
In the end the question isn’t whether or not Disgaea is a good game in and of itself. Despite its strategic shortcomings it is a genuinely good game. But it was a good game on the PS2 and on the PSP before it came to the PC. In the end you’ll end up getting an equal if not superior experiences by playing the old version of the game. If you already have access to the game, then I’d say stick with your existing copy. Otherwise my recommendation would be to pick it up if you’re into kooky JRPGs. While I’m not willing to call this game great, I did have fun playing it, so in the end I’d call it pretty darn good.