With its quirky humour, isometric Strategy RPG Disgaea is a niche series that has always kept its fans loyal by remaining true to itself, but after 7 mainline games and numerous spin-offs, has the light-hearted and anime trope character-filled narrative with an outlandish levelling-up gameplay and deep customization systems finally hit the big time, or has it run its course?
Well, the answer to that is neither, as the middling title excels in places and disappoints in others.
It is apparently the ‘Complete’ version, however, this release includes all the game’s DLC in addition to the 2021 base release. This extends to items to make leveling up even easier – if that was even possible – plus past characters and popular talent from a Vtuber agency. ‘Complete’ might be more of a hollow promise then, as nothing has improved apart from the game’s performance due to the improved hardware it’s now hosted on.
Never known for having a genre-defining story, the 6th entry grabs its characters from the bottom draw, with cookie-cutter personalities and paper-thin depth who constantly repeat the same thing – jokes, motivations, or otherwise – in every single scene ad nauseum. It’s supposed to be light-hearted and somewhat silly, of course, but the joke is on the player here, as although there is an attempt to build each character a somewhat meaningful and emotional character arc, it’s only fleeting, flashing in front of your eyes momentarily, before it returns to the dry well of gags that have long since worn out its welcome.
To give you a brief rundown, you play as a Zombie by the name of Zed, and are dead set on killing the game’s antagonist – the god of destruction – but happen to be far too weak, falling at every attempt. Death is no obstacle for our undead protagonist, though, as a reincarnation spell brings him back to life stronger in an unknown world, only to also be granted the rotten luck of being followed by the grunting god – and the cycle repeats.
Reincarnating via ‘super reincarnation’ is actually the entire hook of the game here and is encouraged (though done in-menu rather than dying) as it resets your character level and makes your base stats stronger. The higher your base stats, the quicker you can build up your character level again and in turn, the stronger you become. It’s just one of the many clever ways Disgaea adds extra layers of customization to the character system, making you feel more in control of your team.
This isn’t limited to just the protagonist’s base stats though as nearly every item or aspect of your character has its own stat system and is often paired with its own method of leveling up. Whether it’s a ‘farm’ that levels up item enhancements called ‘innocents’, a dungeon system that you send characters to upgrade items in an updating text-based minigame, or numerous battle dungeons, there are countless ways to itch that numerical scratch.
For newcomers, all these options might be slightly overwhelming at the start as the awfully designed base map or ‘Netherworld’, a dimension between worlds, crowds all the features together like a glorified main menu without adding anything else to a universe bereft of detail and depth.
While these do amount to plenty of things to do in preparation for battle, clearing the small isometric grid maps and watching your levels spin like dollar signs in the eyes of a cartoon character in Las Vegas is all the game really has to offer.
You could argue that developer Nippon Ichi Software has done this intentionally, but there are absolutely zero stakes to your battles or any real meaning behind them, and by the time the story gives you something to grab onto, I long stopped caring for the one-dimensional characters. I wasn’t expecting a Fire Emblem-esque relationship system or gut-wrenching permadeath, but something to give the action some meaning would have been nice. Sadly, even the most important battles story-wise – your fights with the god of destruction – are pointless, simple slogfests and further devalue the importance of the story.
Aware of its limitations, Disgaea 6 instead provides a full range of customizable battle gameplay options for a highly accessible experience. You can skip and speed up in-battle animation and even automate the entire thing with an auto-battle button, one that is either controlled by the AI or alternatively follows your own pre-programmed actions.
No longer beholden to long gaming sessions just grinding away – a complaint of Disgaea 5 – you can now improve your characters in no time at all. While tremendously accessible, this is a double-edged sword, as while it’s great for item dungeons and levels played specifically to bump up your figures (with individual characters able to reach levels of up to 99,999,999, and land up to 10 quadrillion in damage in a single attack), you can fall into the habit of auto-battling every single fight which can see the action boiled down to very brief confrontations, narrowing the main gameplay even further.
The character design is another change from the previous entry in the series and went from detailed and emotive 2D sprites to what I’d consider average at best 3D models in comparison. You can understand why the developer would move in this direction – giving it a more modern feel – but it not only slows down the performance of the game, it also removes a certain charm and richness to the animation and makes it feel cheap – which certainly isn’t reflected in the game’s price.
In addition, special moves also now have 3D cutscenes but they contrast with the average quality of the normal actions taken on the 3D map, making me wish for explosive 2D action on a 2.5D background where the camera remains fixed to the map.
This isn’t to say that the action is poor by any means, but it’s not as feature-filled as the elements preparing for battle nor is it as addictive as other SRPG games in the genre. This is partly due to the fact that the fights themselves rarely require a great deal of strategy or thought and that despite having many different character types, they do not inject as much variety into the gameplay as you might think.
There are two main mechanics that mix up the gameplay map-to-map, with ‘Geo Panels’ that change the stats of sections of the map – such as receiving 50% damage to your total health – and areas of elevation that requires teamwork to throw your characters up or across to said ledges, but otherwise, that’s it, and unless you are incredibly underpowered, you can easily clear the maps by ganging up on enemies.
Despite providing an impressive number of ways to adjust countless character stats, Disgaea 6‘s repetitive story and basic visual design fail to conjure up a personality outside of the menus, and with the 3D action a passenger to the all-consuming and overpowered leveling-up system, it feels like one of the more forgettable entries in the series.