Review by: Jonathan Hynes
Published: September 29, 2003
While the tactical role-playing genre is definitely a niche market, it has also consistently generated some of the best titles in recent memory, from Square’s cult classic Final Fantasy Tactics to Working Designs’ beloved Arc the Lad Collection and Atlus’ Tactics Ogre. Aside from being renowned for their high level of difficulty, each of these games offered something unique to players. Now, developer Nippon Ichi delivers a strategic RPG that has the most basic of the genre’s nuances at its core, but also some innovative gameplay elements that give Disgaea a personality of its own.
Set in the netherworld, Disgaea is one of the most offbeat RPGs to come along in years, offering an amusing take on the genre’s clichés. The story begins with your character, the Dark Prince Laharl, awakening from a long, two-year slumber. You discover that your father, King Krichevskoy, died during your absence and the underworld is now in a state of chaos as many demons struggle to claim power. Accompanied by your not-so-faithful vassal, Etna, you must assemble a party of fighters to help Laharl rise to his rightful place atop the throne. The story is told through a series of episodes, each of which contains a sequence of connecting battles that must be cleared in order to proceed. Each encounter is significantly more difficult than the previous, leading up to the boss fight, which is usually the most challenging of them all. Quite often, the enemies’ strength will increase faster than your own, which is why the game allows you to revisit previous maps so that you may build experience on weaker foes.
To aid in the task of developing your characters, Nippon Ichi has created a sort of great congress called the Dark Assembly. This council is made up of a dozen or so senators – all versions of monsters that you’ll face on the battlefield. Some are naturally inclined to vote in your favor, while others are intent on striking down any proposal that you put forth. Senators can be bribed and even eliminated if you so desire, though many are quite powerful and shouldn’t be messed with. Ultimately, this legislature will decide whether or not your proposal should pass and thereby take effect. The other part of the Dark Assembly allows you to create new characters using mana that you collect from defeating enemies. As you collect more and more mana throughout your quest, you can afford to produce stronger, smarter and better warriors, mages and monks, among others. You can even take promotion exams that allow you to raise your rank, opening up even more character classes, and giving you a little more stroke in the senate.
While the need to level up your characters is a forgone conclusion in any RPG, Disgaea takes this process one step further with the innovative item world. By actually entering one of the items from your inventory, you can build up its statistics, such as a sword’s attack power or the defense rating of a piece of armor. Skirmishes are fought on randomly generated battlefields that can be completed by either eliminating all enemies present, or escaping through special portals that allow you to move to the next level. The item world may only be exited after every tenth level, or by using a special, rare item.