Disgaea is one of those series that I’ve absolutely adored for years. My original avatar for social media used to predominantly be a Prinny (even this website had a Prinny for a placeholder). A creature from the series that eventually became its mascot and resulted in two spin-off games. When Disgaea1 originally came out for the PS2 I was deep into my university degree and enjoying what was a golden age of JRPGs. It was an age of experimentation and new ideas that we’re now thankfully seeing come around again. I first dived in hoping for a spiritual successor to Shining Force 3 but instead found myself easily sinking over 100 hours on a quirky, deep and complicated Japanese strategy RPG that had a better plot than you’d ever expect of this genre before.
Why start this review of Disgaea1 Complete with a quick talk of my experience with the original PS2 title? Well, when you look at Disgaea1 you find that it has now been ported onto the DS, PSP, PC, Android and PS3. It’s worth remembering that although Disgaea1 Complete is following the brilliant Disgaea5, the game at its core is still exactly how the first version was all the way back in the day. For better or worse you’ll find you’re looking at an old die-hard strategy classic wrapped up in new shiny clothing and ported onto a new console.
Now that fundamentally isn’t a bad thing, Disgaea1 was a huge success and a powerful title that has warranted all of those ports. The nostalgia is so strong with this game in particular (for me at least) that I now understand why people got teary eyed when they announced Shadow of the Colossus was getting a PS4 port. The sounds, the music, the grinding, the controls, it’s quite shocking how fast muscle memory and knowledge comes back in wave after wave of nostalgia. It does hold a lot of trappings that the original PS2 had and annoyingly it feels like a few improvements could have been made but have just been left for ‘authenticity’ sake. Disgaea1 Complete is still essentially one of those titles where the more you put in the more your rewarded.
What is Disgaea1 Complete to the uninitiated then? At its core the game is a turn based SRPG about a demon called Laharl as he deals with his overlord dads death, his cold heart learning to love again and his various companions stories that he meets along the way. It sets itself apart from a generic anime JRPG story by not only its huge openness to player choice but also by setting the story into episodic chunks that fit the change in stage style nicely. The episodic nature also gives the larger epic undertone and story the time and pace to naturally evolve. Each episode will typically start with a voiced cutscene, 5 or so levels each with various cutscenes, a closing scene for the episode and then an extra unrelated scene of madness (typically a parody of an existing anime series). This system gets a bit tired by Disgaea5 but Disgaea1 Complete is a healthy reminder that the first game started this trend for a reason and it completely nails the humour, pacing, world building and story as a result.
Ironically given it’s title Disgaea1 Complete is probably the worst entry to get acclimatised to the series for a new player. There is a tutorial but it’s only text provided by an NPC that stands out of the way. The basics before you’re unleashed on a wealth of content and possibilities are skimmed over and sure you do get a tutorial to explain the general concept of battles, how to place units next to each other and cause extra damage but unless you go out of your way to read up on weapon proficiency, mentoring and class transmogrification you’re likely only going to scratch the surface. This provides the same experience as the original PS2 title though and given how many ports the original title has had tutorials are plentiful online and regardless of this you can typically get by and enjoy the story without going very deep into the mechanics. Thankfully even the PS2 original had a basic tutorial in the game for the puzzle aspect of the geo panels (so Complete has it to) it’s not too overwhelming which is good as you’ll need to learn this quickly to get to grips with chaining and clearing most of the item world stages it just doesn’t go into much detail and that’s where external sources help.
Aside from your standard strategy RPG systems of new characters dropping in based on the plot, a large amount of the appeal in Disgaea is creating your own characters. You’re given the freedom to create anything based on the mana you collect from kills meaning that levelling your own characters and developing them into a powerful army is always fun. The basic tinkering with equipment aside they will level up and learn new skills as you progress. When they reach levels of 10 they also unlock new more powerful colour palette swapped alternates of them (or sometimes an entirely new class). This means you can then create a new buddy or transform them into this new class but at the cost of falling back to level 1. That sounds terribly grinding but there are mechanics to quickly get a single level 1 character back to a high level through sharing experience and clever use of the in-game systems. If that sort of enjoyable management tinkering doesn’t appeal then your going to have a bad time, this game is full of it.
Graphically Disgaea 1 Complete is a compelling argument to keep 2D sprites in 3D environments. The colours and the sprites are just fantastic and this game as a whole is just a visual treat. It’s absolutely gorgeous how good this game looks now which shouldn’t be a surprise given Disgaea5 but it’s nice to see the same level of quality throughout. Some of the designs haven’t aged particularly fantastically (Mid-Boss how long is your stomach dood?) but the overall look still fits and is spot on. The fact that the game uses the original screenshot artwork for the Etna special episode endings is just a nice reminder of how far the series has progressed over the years and how old the PC port of the original now looks by comparison. The fonts and text are clear and all of the button prompts fit nicely. Easily readable subtitles is always a bonus in any game. The explosions, fire and magic look equally amazing and worth the upgrade on their own.
The voice work is still as good as you remember it being. It’s a nice inclusion to have the Japanese audio in the game if you never got a chance to hear it on the other ports but the dub is frankly amazing. The first Japanese game that ever comes to mind when I need an example of a fantastic dub. Nothing has changed since the PS2 original with the voice work, it’s a textbook example of how to own a character’s evil laugh and make it your own performance. Flonne is still beyond annoying but given she’s supposed to be frustrating throughout the story this does make sense and even her charming arc eventually overlooks her annoying voice (which is pretty appropriate for the story)
There are a few nice touches for the seasoned Disgaea1 player in Complete. The ability to fast forward any cutscene or in-game text with R2 is a nice touch and should you want to see a moment instead of a simple skip and loading screens with most remasters it’s a useful tool (it’s also fast enough to not be pointless). There are still unfortunately a few niggles that are hard to shake off that feel like they could have been patched without being a detriment to the experience. For example when a unit is attacking behind any object out of sight, the object doesn’t go translucent, you have wait until you have control of the camera and then rotate the camera to see which can be a little frustrating. The geo panel colours are either on and flashing or off entirely and given how integral they are an “always visible” option would have been appreciated.
It’s these few niggles that were present in classic Disgaea1 that start to add up to a frustrating experience in Complete when starting out. When hovering a moving character over a coloured tile there’s no pop up for what colour/effect is currently on the space. You can’t walk a character onto another to shift to a lift/throw situation. You can’t skip geo panel changes. You either have all the Friendly animations on or off, no choice for only having movement turned off. After all this time you still can’t jump or rotate the camera in the castle areas. The nitpicks aren’t large enough to ruin the experience but chip away at what could have been ultimate perfection. I know NIS were going for an authentic release of a complete Disgaea1 package but it leaves the list of new features a little lacking.
What feels odd about the experience is that there have been some changes made. Guns now work the same as Bows and you are no longer limited to direct line of sight shooting but areas to attack. The punishing failure of dying in the court would have previously resulted in a game over but you’ll now be warped back to the castle rather than a cold end to title screen. It’s these little updates to Disgaea1 that have come over the ports and various little quality of life changes which (niggles aside) lift Complete from being just a port of the PC version with nicer sprites to something better.
The game is still as difficult as you remember. They really worked out the balance of difficulty to signposting in Disgaea over the games but 1 is the most punishing. Expect to be progressing nicely until you hit a wall of difficulty that either results in grinding the previous levels or delving into the item world. Old practices die-hard and you’ll find yourself saving your game and saving often. Level complete, heal everyone, check the equipment and items, see if anyone could use a boost, sort the equipment, heal again (typically a boost in stats will raise base HP) and then save again. This is the same grind that has people going back to WOW or Diablo3, the cycle is addictive and fun. Despite its lack of signposting the core gameplay cycle shows how much of a gem Disgaea1 Complete really can be.
Fundamentally what more is there to say? Disgaea 1 is nearly 15 years old now and Complete is a package that contains the Etna mode from the PSP game and a few changes but aside from a lick of paint that’s about it. Is that such a bad thing? It’s not a small game by any stretch of the imagination. There is huge potential to be a time sink with a level cap of 9999, multiple endings and multiple extra bosses. What begins with a fantastic start does slowly lose its shine a little after a while but after a quick brush ups on knowledge from old guides (that PS2 guide is worth its space on the shelf again) you’ll quickly find yourself losing hours in Disgaea 1 Complete and what more do you want in a Remaster?
8/10 – Still the ruler of the Netherworld
Code provided by EU Partner Relations – NIS America Inc. Check out NIS here