The Disgaea series is arguably Nippon Ichi Software’s most popular work, but it has been fifteen years since the series kicked off and a lot of people probably never had a chance to play the original PlayStation 2 title when it released. For those who missed that opportunity, Disgaea 1 Complete comes full circle with the start of the series and offers the same excellent RPG / strategy mix that has made the series so successful in the decade and a half since. It is perhaps not quite as robust as its sequels, but the original title is still a fantastic game.
I actually almost never played Disgaea: Hour of Darkness when it first released. I always enjoyed strategy games, but this one never really landed on my radar when it first released. It was a friend of mine who actually loaned it to me. He insisted that I would enjoy the wacky sense of humor, the anime style visuals but more than anything, the deep strategy and different gameplay mechanics. It took a bit of time for me to warm up to the title, its irreverent humor did take some getting used to at the time. However, I found that my friend had steered me true and it was not long before I was sinking several dozen hours into the game, constantly peeling back new mechanics or delving deep into systems that made me want to tinker and perfect my tactics.
Since then, I have been a huge fan of the series, picking them up as they come on. My most recent experience was with Disgaea 5 a couple of years ago, and I absolutely loved the title. While Disgaea 1 Complete is based on the simpler original, this is by no means a bare bones release. Hour of Darkness saw a handful of releases over the years that ranged from mostly just sprucing up the visuals to providing additional modes and content. These serve as the foundation for Disgaea 1 Complete, with crisper visuals that compliment an already colorful art style, even if there are places where you can tell the graphics are based on an older gaming system. In terms of presentation, the music was catchy and fun then, and that persists today. This is a very menu-heavy title, and the interface itself has not really changed, for better or for worse.
The game starts off in a hub region that used to belong to your father. He is however, gone and our primary protagonist Laharl is the prince of the Netherworld now that his father has passed away. During his deep slumber, things have gotten a bit dicey in the underworld. Who knew that demons and other creatures prone to dark dealings would be so likely to battle over a throne. With that as the game’s backdrop, you will spend quite a bit of time in the ever-expanding hub that has all of the things you would expect such as shops and a place of healing, but also additional characters that you recruit along the way. Here the game’s many menus and tutorials are thrown at you, and as you continue to play the game and unlock new systems, they are peeled back revealing more of the gameplay at Disgaea 1 Complete’s heart.
Despite the time spent in the hub, the true Disgaea experience is all about the turn-based combat that takes place on a grid map. The isometric perspective immediately recalls other tactics games as well, some that came first and potentially did it better, but there has always been something about the unique visuals in Disgaea that stand out to me, and that is still the case here even with a touched up version of the original game. One of the primary mechanics that has always made this a unique series is its pick up and throw mechanic. Instead of just moving around an environment to smack enemies while trying to protect your weaker members from getting overrun, there is an important element of spacial management here as you can pick up and throw things (items and characters alike). It’s wacky, but fun.
Progression is fantastic, from leveling up characters to gaining new allies to acquiring new gear and more. There are some pretty pronounced RPG elements baked into the Disgaea DNA, and that can lead to some grinding to complete the story. This is a challenging game, and like other strategy titles like Fire Emblem, these tactics can be pretty unforgiving if your party is under-leveled or not properly equipped. Thankfully, I enjoy a little experience grinding, and Disgaea allows for some pretty fantastically, ridiculously large numbers for those who really want to spend some time mashing some enemy demon armies, but this slower pace of play and the challenging mechanics are not terribly welcoming to those unfamiliar with strategy games like this.