I’m not hugely familiar with Disgaea, having some experience with Disgaea 2 and not much else, so Disgaea 1 Complete felt like the perfect doorway to this iconic strategy series all nice and prettied up on PS4 and Switch. Unfortunately, it seems Disgaea 1 Complete went back to basics a little too enthusiastically for its own good.
Disgaea 1 Complete is an iceberg to be chipped away at, both in terms of the fairly hefty battles themselves and grinding through to get to the story sections. If you’ve played another Disgaea title, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting with Disgaea 1 Complete. There are some very interesting and unusual game mechanics, and it’s easy to see why many of them went on to become staples of the series.
Disgaea 1 Complete has lots to offer if you want a game to sink hours into, with the vast Item Dungeon on top of the story chapters. Item Dungeon is either a dream or a nightmare depending on how you look at it. You can go into any item and play through it as a randomly generated dungeon with higher level enemies than those found in the story. Doing this allows you to hugely enhance the effects of items or equipment as well as providing plenty of levelling up time.
On the surface, Disgaea 1 Complete looked like it should really appeal to me, but it’s definitely not my thing – it’s kind of like someone took a bunch of my least favourite aspects of games and mushed them all together. I know that what’s there is a good game, technically speaking, it just focuses heavily on areas and gameplay aspects that I enjoy less. A game dedicated to grinding through lengthy dungeons with a team of somewhat randomised characters? No, thanks.
The worst part is it’s by no means outright bad. For all its vast potential, Disgaea 1 Complete is frustratingly average. I found myself making excuses for its less enjoyable aspects – the original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness came out 15 years ago, after all – but reasoning ultimately doesn’t reduce their irritation all that much. It feels like an old game, which is both good and bad.
Disgaea 1 Complete is frustratingly average.
Disgaea 1 Complete doesn’t like explaining things. At all, really. It’s unfortunate that this is the case, as it feels like there should be a lot more to playing (and enjoying) Disgaea than what the brief tutorials explain to you. The good news is it doesn’t overwhelm you, the bad news is that it also doesn’t really develop much past the initial mechanics.
The battle basics are easy to get behind. Enemies and allies both have their elemental affinities and weaknesses listed, so it’s easy to go and build (?!) yourself another Red Mage if you come up against lots of enemies weak to fire, for example. Unfortunately, crafting characters, like many things in Disgaea 1 Complete, is an undertaking you really have to grind at.
You can only initially create characters with pitiful stats, but your ability to improve units of this type and your ability to create new types of units will grow the more units you make and level up. Having all your new characters start at level 1 can be a bit of a chore, especially if you find yourself missing a fundamental team member for particular dungeons.
Varying terrain height and set dressing in the form of pillars and stairs is visually interesting but makes some of the maps a little clunky to work on, requiring you to spin the camera every which way to see how characters line up for combos or if there are any more enemies lurking unnoticed in the ruins. It’s kind of awkward, and disrupts the flow of battles to be swinging the camera between its 4 positions so that you can see around all the pillars. Just give me a free-moving camera and be done with it.
To top it off, there’s Geo Symbols, which will imbue panels of a particular colour with an effect, such as reducing attack or doubling defence. By moving or destroying Geo Symbols, you can change the terrain and also the tides of battle! Things can get pretty hectic with multiple Geo Symbols in play, so it requires extra careful thinking in where you place units.
Another of Disgaea’s unusual battle mechanics can come into play here: Lifting and Throwing. Lifting and Throwing can be done by any humanoid character and allows you to build big towers of characters in order to cover great distances on the map and get particular units to particular spots. Sadly, in Disgaea 1 Complete, that’s pretty much all there is to it, with none of the later mechanics like the fantastic Tower Attacks introduced at this point.
Disgaea 1 Complete provides plenty of options for customising your team with a variety of different unit types and loads of equipment and items. Keeping your team in tip-top shape is a fundamental element, so organising and reorganising will take up a large chunk of your time and is the key to success when navigating the grid-based hellscapes that await you through the Dimension Gate.
Disgaea 1 Complete provides plenty of options for customising your team.
The Dark Assembly is a very unique mechanic, but one that’s overall more hassle than fun. In order to create particular characters or unlock special maps, you need to pass a bill in the Dark Assembly. This costs mana, which you naturally build up by defeating enemies. A group of senators will then vote for or against your proposal being passed.
You can bribe Senators to take your side with items, and if the bill fails you can try and persuade them by force, causing a battle right there in the middle of the Dark Assembly. The effects of both bribing or fighting a Senator will carry over to your other audiences with the Dark Assembly, so you have to choose your steps wisely!
While it’s by no means the worst strategy game I’ve played in recent years, it’s also certainly not the best. Disgaea 1 Complete‘s not really a game that can be rushed and I think it would probably benefit from a much more laid-back approach. There isn’t a massively interesting story driving you to get further, the mechanics are pretty much laid out in full from the beginning, so it’s not like you’d be forgetting how to fight when you came back to it, which can so easily be a problem in games.
There are hints of darkness in between the story’s pervasive jokes and banter, but it’s clear from the beginning that this isn’t going to be a particularly moving or poignant quest. You play as Laharl, the one and only heir to the Netherworld who has awoken after a two year slumber to find his father dead and demons far and wide clamouring to the take the title of Overlord which is rightly his.
Put simply, Laharl’s a brat, but his primary vassal Etna’s consistent frustration with him doesn’t lend itself to the most interesting of character dynamics either. Add sickly sweet Angel Trainee Flonne into the mix, and you’ve got a ragtag little bunch that don’t mix hugely well. With your many hand-crafted units and monsters thrown into the mix for battles too, of course.
It’s pretty funny, in a zany kind of way, and its humour is one of its more prevalent aspects. Even the item descriptions are funny, be it due to puns, references, or because some of them are just downright odd, like the Iron Lance, which is apparently popular among housewives. Disgaea 1 Complete probably deserves to win a prize for straight-up giving me a New Game + option in the first chapter too.
Losing to Mid-Boss apparently classifies as a full-on ending, with a background CG and new music while the credits roll and all. This certainly gave me a laugh, even if I would have appreciated being able to skip it. Thank goodness for that fast forward button the second time around too. It’s a game that seems to pride itself on this kind of whimsy and being over the top, but the light-hearted story doesn’t serve as much of a reward from the tedious dungeons. Especially when you only get it in tiny bite-size pieces.
In addition to its main story and the endless nightmare that is Item World, Disgaea 1 Complete includes Etna Mode, which is a nice addition. Etna Mode is a shorter alternate telling of the story with Etna as the main character after she accidentally kills Laharl when he wakes up at the beginning of the game. It’s a fun little extra and one it’s nice to see carried over from the PSP and DS remakes.
It looks incredible, with smooth new sprites to better show off its bold and quirky character designs.
The game looks great, and the soundtrack is good. It would have been nice for the soundtrack to get the same treatment as the visuals, perhaps with some new arrangements, but the pieces are pretty solid regardless. They’re noticeably catchy, though their bleepiness does get a little grating after a while.
Disgaea 1 Complete‘s new HD visuals certainly help how it looks on a big screen. It looks incredible, with smooth new sprites to better show off its bold and quirky character designs. Which is good because you’ll be seeing a lot of them. Sadly, the distinctive soundtrack and cute character art aren’t enough to make up for the game’s overall shallowness.
Disgaea 1 Complete is a great opportunity to play an old genre-defining classic
I want to like Disgaea 1 Complete more than I do, but it just didn’t grab me. It’s like a nice glass of water. It does its job, but it’s not overly enjoyable, and I would definitely understand someone picking something else. I wouldn’t put Disgaea 1 Complete down as a recommendation for newcomers, despite it being the first game.
For people who missed it the first time around, or have a lot of nostalgia for the original, Disgaea 1 Complete is a great opportunity to play an old genre-defining classic. It’s nice to see where it all began, but you’re probably better off going for one of the later entries in the series if you’re looking for further refinement and mechanics.
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