Now before you all jump on this accusing me of a being a horrible shill (buy me a ko-fi at the link above kthnxbai) This article isn’t in any way sponsored, backed, endorsed, looked-upon, sneezed towards or even hinted at by NIS. When Shenmue 3 was announced there were plenty of articles looking back at 1 & 2 with the same feverish excitement that you get from me when I get to talk about Disgaea. It’s a series I’ve loved since I happily sunk hours into the PS2 original and every iteration since. Now that the obvious is explained and safely out of the way, let us get on with this mess!
Fancy jumping into an SRPG (Strategy Role Play Game) series that’s managed to go from strength to strength despite only mixing up small aspects each time? Then what better time to get into Disgaea? The first game is celebrating its 15th anniversary and much like the Final Fantasy series each numbered title is self-enclosed and tells a different story. Numerous characters come together for a mish mash of reasons which results in a typically suitable epic that plays out over a 3D SRPG with isometric levels, grinding custom characters and story units into a powerful army and finish the story levels. Typically each game is packed with other side activities from item worlds, voting systems, geo panel puzzles, hidden bosses, multiple endings and various extras that devour time more than any Candy Crush could ever hope to.
There’s a quick caveat to this; I’ll only be covering the main numbers in the series, so no Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness, Disgaea Infinite or Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? This is largely because they either started out from existing stories or experimented with other genres using the same characters from existing titles and deserve to be classed as separate entries entirely (you wouldn’t include Chocobo’s Dungeon or Dissidia in any Final Fantasy numbered list). Also a quick mention that the Disgaea anime was pretty disappointing so that’s best to be avoided to.
Lets start with the most obvious title in the series. Arguably the most succesful not only to create numerous spin-off titles and sequels but was ported from the PS2 onto DS, PSP, Android, PC and PS3. This resulted in FF7 levels of porting that just results in a mix of numerous versions with little additions added as it was ported along the lines. Now given the release of Disgaea 1 Complete (check out the PS4 review here) It would be bonkers to go back to an older version of the classic. It’s always more fun to play a large SRPG on the go and Disgaea1 is no exception. You’ll find some battles easily take up hours but typically you’ll finish a stage, heal up, save and go back to whatever it was you were supposed to be doing before you fired up the game in a few minutes (saving the boss fights for a big cup of tea). The PS4 release of Disgaea 1 Complete is your best choice to play the classic now but if you really fancy a retro looking Disgaea 1 then your best off digging out the classic PS2 original just to see how it holds up today.
I’ll admit Disgaea2 was the sequel I most looked forward to and was the most disappointed by. I have a memory of picking the game up after a preorder and being delighted to find the soundtrack included but surprised at how niche the series was then. The main character Adell is just a little too ‘goodie goodie hero’ at the start but he does eventually grow on you. The inclusion of the felony system and various bits made this entry interesting but without easy access to a guide that explained it in basic terms back then it came off as a bit of a quirky mess. That’s a lot different now with youtube and google at your finger tips and despite the PS2 and PC versions being great you really are better off with the PSP port here. It’s perfect for on the go play and given PSP 3000s are still great gaming machines (that can still run a surprising amount of media formats) you’re in for a good time. Memory cards are not proprietary either making it much more affordable and it’s a great way to enjoy the game if you can track down the UMD.
Set in a netherworld school this Disgaea is the most polarizing for me. You’ll find just as many fans of the story as people entirely put off by the Soul Eater-like aesthetic. It does look absolutely fantastic on the PS3 and was the first ‘next gen’ title in the series but it still retains the original retro style sprite graphics. The systems all feel more worked out and sensible here and despite a punishing difficulty curve it’s one of the best titles in the series (if you can look past the setting). Just like Disgaea 2 was most fun on the PSP this title is also best played on the PSVita due to its portability. I know I struggled to get into the game on the PS3 but when I picked up a copy on the PSVita I skipped past the story chapter I was up to in hours and I’ve cleared a lot more had a better time for it. The screen size on the PSVita also has a strange side effect of condencing the sprites which adds a layer of polish to the artwork as well making it appear nicer than a HD tv.
Possibly the most refreshing title in the series. Introducing the beloved Prinny girl as a canon character and various other features (Demon Fusing Monsters into gigantic weapons is more fun than it should be) that built it up into a fantastic title. The HD upgrade to the sprites that still have the anime style yet retain a polished 2D grace in simple 3D environments adds a layer of visual prowess not seen before in other Disgaea games. It’s one that largely seems to have been overlooked (I know I really need to go back to this one) and despite being largely forgettable on the whole you’ll likely remember it fondly when your done with it. The PSVita port again showing that portable SRPGs are just the best thing on the planet.
Damn that’s a ridiculous outfit. The most polished original title in the series. Disgaea 5 defiantly stopped and looked back at what worked best from the previous titles and then created something different. There’s a little more DLC than I’d like to see from an SRPG on show here but the core game is still chock full of content. The demo on the PS4 is also a brilliant taste of what to expect from the game and a welcome addition for introducing people to the series. The PS4 version is fantastic but as with Disgaea 1 Complete if you have a Switch and you’re travelling a lot you’re best bet is to pick this up on Switch. The inclusion of all the DLC as a Complete version also helps justify it.
Obviously none of these games compare to the greatest Disgaea game of all….