I’ve had some interest in Disgaea for a while. It’s a Tactics-style Strategy RPG, and I’ve never met one of those I didn’t like. I’ve heard tales of the grind involved in this game, the levels going into the thousands, the massive amount of time required, and well, that’s kind of a turn-off for me. A while back, though, AK did a series of his Deep Read posts on the Disgaea series, and certainly made them sound quite appealing. So, that, coupled with the promise that the grind wasn’t really that bad unless you’re going after the side content, convinced me to give it a try. So I picked up the first Disgaea. And added it to my copious PC game backlog. And there it sat. Because that is the fate of anything added to my backlog. Until, eventually, it gets pulled out, dusted off, and played with joy. And it was Disgaea’s turn for that recently!
I’m about 5 hours into the game now. I approached it with trepidation, but what I found there really wasn’t what I expected. And I found things interesting enough that I felt like sharing my experiences. So, we’re going to have this, half first impressions post, half after action report. Something similar to that first post of my Dark Souls Let’s Play. Except this one, I don’t really plan on turning into a series, but hey, we’ll see.
So, a bit of story to start us off. Our main guy is Laharl, son of King Hardtospelllongname, who ruled over the demon world. While Laharl was taking a two year long nap, his dad died, passing his rule down to him, except he kept sleeping, so his kingdom all split up into arguing warlords fighting for the scraps of it. Eventually, Etna, who super obviously has ulterior motives for it, wakes him up and sets him to go beat up all the other demons and put his rightful kingdom back together. Got it? Ok.
I remember seeing a lot of Etna around the internet, back in the day, brought up often for her ridiculous lack of clothes, used as an example of exaggerated oversexedness of ladies in games. And, like, I’m definitely not opposed to sexiness in my games, but she does look waaaay too sexualized, looking at her on her own. Now that I’m seeing her in context, though, it’s really not so bad. It seems the humanoid demons as a whole here just don’t wear a lot of clothes. Like, I’ve yet to see a non-generic male demon in this game wearing anything remotely resembling a shirt. It’s a cultural/character design thing. Which is especially helped with the angels I’ve seen so far, by contrast, draped in layers of clothing, whether man or woman, easily visually distinguishing them from demons. I’m not a fan of situations where all women and only women are obviously set up to be eye candy, unless it’s in a context where that’s obviously the goal. But situations where everyone, man or woman, is eye candy? That feels right. Similarly when only some of the characters are obviously sexy, but it’s something that really fits them or signifies something about their character or seems like it’d be a personal choice of theirs, which obviously applies here. So, I’ve talked about this a few times before, but the sexual appeal of the characters in this game does seem to be a deliberate choice that adds to it, an example of good sexy, rather than being thrown in for a cheap pop at the expense of it.
So, I walk out of Laharl’s bedroom, and because of this great feat of my massive gaming prowess, this immediately unlocks a new character, Pleinair. I’m assuming this is a bonus character of some sort that they either added to the PC version or changed the unlock requirements so she’s just there for you at the start of the game. Either way, I’m not complaining, because she’s awesome. Starts equipped with a good, long range gun, and she’s freakin’ powerful with it. Quickly becomes my strongest character. My guess, she’s either a major character from a later game in the series, or a side character from later in the game, because she’s not showing up in any of the plot scenes for now.
Walking through Laharl’s castle, I chat with a bunch of demons. This game lets you see stats for all the NPCs that you’re near, and everyone way outlevels me, by several factors. But no, they won’t join my army, even though they’re apparently my subjects. And also I have barely any money, and I have to actually pay for the equipment I’m getting, rather than just siezing their stocks. And I have to go out into the field and do everything myself. Are we sure Laharl’s actually a demon king and not just playing pretend or something?
So, there’s a bunch of stuff in the castle I haven’t unlocked the ability to use yet, and the only place to go is the tutorial, where we’re introduced to the battle system. It’s a bit unique from most other Tactics games. Your entire army goes on the same turn, and you can do one move and one action with each of them. They won’t launch their attacks or special moves after you select them, rather, you have to key them up, then select the execute command, in which they’ll all go at once. Then, after they execute, you can move and use actions with the character that haven’t done anything yet, execute those, rinse and repeat until you decide to end the turn. If you have multiple attacks against the same enemy as part of the same execute command, a damage multiplier will apply to those, but if you key up an attack for an enemy that gets killed before it triggers, that action is wasted. It’s all a little too much for my genius brain, and I end up spending most of my playtime setting things up for a single character then executing that, before moving on to the next one, as if it was a traditional tactics RPG. Not the most efficient way of fighting and it feels really clunky, needing to bring up a menu after everything I do, so even now, I’m going to need to figure out how to work with this execute system better.
When using their basic melee attacks, character have a chance of combining their attacks with the characters next to them, essentially giving that ally extra attacks, because the combined attack doesn’t take their action. Makes positioning real important in this game. I think I’ve got a grasp of that part of the system really well, at least.
When I was a cub, Ogre Battle 64 was one of my favorite games. That game has an alignment system and multiple endings, and one of the biggest factors in which ending you get depends on how many towns you’ve liberated vs how many you’ve captured, which essentially means whether they were taken by a unit that matches the town’s alignment as opposed to being taken by a unit that didn’t. My first time through the game, I had no idea that was a thing, didn’t know the difference between capturing and liberating, and had all my units one alignment as we went through and took all the towns. So after many, many hours, I beat the game for the first time, made all of what I thought were the good choices, only in the ending to find that the new government I instated thought I was an absolutely evil beast and didn’t want anything to do with me anymore. So, surprise superbad ending. I hated that. And I’ve hated not getting good endings in longform games ever since.
So, I reach the tutorial level covering Geo Crystals, which basically gives you extra buffs or debuffs if you’re standing on panels the same color as the one the crystal is on, but they can be moved or destroyed. If they’re destroyed, they’ll deal damage to everyone on any panel of the same color, possibly destroying other crystals, which will then do more damage, possibly destroying other crystals, rinse, and repeat. If you know what you’re doing, you can go real crazy with these. The biggest factor in getting a good ending in Disgaea, I know from AK’s posts, is not killing any of your own allies throughout the game. So when I manage to set off a geo chain that deals enough damage to one of my own characters to destroy them, I know I screwed up in the tutorial level. So embarassing. So I quit immediately, and back into the backlog it goes. Only for me to find, looking into things online, that allies killed in geo chains don’t count as ally kills for the purposes of deciding your ending. I just ragequit in the tutorial for nothing.
Some time later, back in the game, I… basically start over, because I didn’t even accomplish anything before saving last time. So I get through the tutorial, then the first chapter has us going after some random schmuck at his castle. But first, so far, we’ve just got Laharl, Etna, Pleinair, and three prinnies making up our combat squad. We’re going to need some more bruisers on our team. And we just unlocked the ability to make some. So we do that, using mana we’ve generated from killing guys in the tutorial to make… a bunch of losers, really, because that’s all I can afford right now. Like, the game makes you downgrade their stats after creating them, so lame are the ‘good for nothing’ class of new player characters you can build. So far, we’ve got no magic users, so I bring in a few, getting us one cleric for healing and one blue skull for offensive magic. Then I bring in another warrior, because I like hitting things, so getting one more guy that can do that would be good for me. Pack him with our extra axes. I name them all after wrestling finishers. I figure that I’m going to be making lots of these guys, so having a theme for it will save me some decision-making time.
I use what money I have to outfit them, and then we’re storming the gates of the castle. Two things become apparent really quickly in this battle; 1) 2/3rds of my new recruits are absolutely borked and 2)where part of this game’s grinding complications come from. As I mentioned, because I could only afford the lowest rank characters in creation, I had to downgrade their stats some when building them. High Fly Flow, my warrior, had a really easy dump stat in his intelligence to do that with, so he ended up being pretty decent for it, but Shock Arrow, my blue skull, ended up being so incredibly fragile. Like, even hours of gameplay later, he still gets himself one-shot by even the lowest-level creatures. And for Bloody Cross, my cleric, I figured she wouldn’t be doing any actual fighting, so I put all the negative stats in her strength, which makes her a decent healer, but plays into the second problem. See, in Disgaea, you only get experience points when you score the killing blow on an enemy. Most Tactics RPGs will give you some experience points for most any action you take, possibly more if you finish someone off, but in Disgaea, only ending an opponent counts for anything. And Bloody Cross, with the only attack available to her, is so weak that she scores 0 damage against anybody. So she’s unable to level up at all. Shock Arrow too, to a lesser extent. I didn’t touch his magic stats, but his magic still does so little damage that its actually rather hard to set up a position where he can finish off the enemy. Pleinair, by contrast, is slaying so many enemies she’s leveling up in droves. This presents a problem for the next several hours. Until I realize they’ll get EXP if they part of a combined attack that kills an enemy. That helps some, but is still rather difficult for them to keep up.
Ok, so we get the castle, smash up some people, take all the stuff, and get to the fourth level. There’s a guy there. He had a name, but Laharl changed it to Mid-Boss out of total disregard. Like, the game updated his name and everything. And then we fought. And this fight was a big step up from everything we’ve seen previously. Like, it starts with two ranged attackers sitting on tiles with a combination of geo crystals that, combined, give them 6 times the attack power and an extra attack each turn, meaning they can one-shot my characters twice each turn if I position them in range. Pleinair, my strongest member, falls to that before I realize what a threat they are. I have to toss Laharl over to the crystals, and lose another member in the process, before I’m finally able to neutralize them. The rest of the enemy units fall quickly, until Mid-Boss decides to stop hanging back and actually joins the fight. And, I think there’s something in my memory about there being one of those special endings making fun of you for losing to Mid-Boss, or one of those humiliating achievements you get for failing something, or like, the community will make fun of you or something. Point is, Mid-Boss is supposed to be embarrassing to lose to. So weak that it’s shameful to fail against him. Or something.
And I almost do. The guy ends up being very overwhelming to me, blasting away two of my units in his opening move. I only have three left against him and two remaining members of his size, and taking down his two midcarders ends up costing me one of mine. Then I have him on his own against Etna and Laharl, and Etna goes down quickly as well. He takes Laharl down to the wire, too, and it’s probably more luck than skill that I ended up the victor. So yeah. I almost lose to the embarassing-to-lose-to guy. I might not be very good at this game.
Which takes me to a new chapter, so I’ve got another chance to not embarrass myself, at the very least. There’s something going on about someone trying to assassinate me badly, but never mind that, I’ve just unlocked the Item World. Which I have heard is where the real game of Disgaea begins. The grinding. I don’t plan on spending much time in it, but hey, it’s worth checking out at least. So, the way this works, is you go into an item, where you’re fighting what seems to be procedurally generated levels with random enemies and the more level you beat the more potent your item gets. Weapons get stronger and armor gets more defensive and healing items get more potent, etc. The rarer your item gets, the more floors it has, so the more you can level it up. You need an item I don’t have yet to get out of it without finishing it up, so if I jump in I’ll be stuck until I get it done, but I want to experiment. I pick an axe I bought at the store, figuring that given that I’m at the beginning of the game and going with something so common I can buy multiple copies of it, it’ll probably only have like one or two floors.
Turns out, I was wrong. It turns out the minimum amount of floors for an item is ten. And it turns out what I expected to be a quick jaunt into an item took me like an hour and a half. And it turns out going through the item world is an ironman run. You don’t get healed between floors. And it turns out I barely had any healing items on me. So, going through a much longer engagement than I expected completely unprepared, as you might expect, attrition wears on me. My team starts dropping, and I have to play more defensively, trying to make them last. Even so, I’m not able to avoid all the hits aimed against me. And the enemies just get stronger and stronger the deeper you go. As my team of nine dwindles to six, then four, it becomes less about grinding and more about just basic survival. If I lose, I imagine that’s all the time and progress I’ve sunk into this item lost. The deeper I go, the higher the stakes get. I reach the next to last floor, and in the battle there, end up losing two more members of my team. I’m down to just Laharl and Pleinair on the final floor, both wounded, neither with any healing available. Luckily, the tenth and final floor spawns me right next to the floor’s exit, which having one character reach is an instant win. Laharl and Pleinair both book it there, narrowly making it as the enemies close in behind them. I managed to survive. Just barely. Again. But it was a total misadventure. Stepping into something of which I completely underestimated, and it took everything I had to make it out. But you know what? That misadventure was a total blast.
Before I ever played the game, I expected things. I thought combat would be pretty fast-paced, because the screenshots looked pretty wild with lots of stuff going on. It’s not really more fast-paced than a typical tactics RPG. Given that you can level up to nearly 10,000, I thought levels would be frequent and minor, instead, it seems they’re hard earned and pretty significant. I was thinking this game would be a lot of things that it turns out it’s not. But what Disgaea is, is pretty deep and frankly entertaining. I may be bad at it, but I’m having a great time being bad at it. And I’m looking forward to diving in more.
Although don’t expect me to be losing tons of hours to grinding like all those Disgaea passion stories that have been warding me off the game for years. Your main man don’t abide with that.