The last few years have seen a plethora of video game remakes, remasters and reboots. Now I am a cynical little man and have cast off most as pandering to the sheeple through nostalgia. I, however, have transcended and care not for the revival of old franch- wait. Is that Disgaea 1 on the Nintendo Switch? Fuck what I just said give me that!
Disgaea 1 was one of those games that I never got around to playing. I have always been fond of JRPG’s and Strategy games and this is both. A glorious fusion of cheesy dialogue, over-stylized and ridiculously named attacks, and incredibly well-balanced gameplay.
Disgaea 1 follows the young demon, Laharl, as he wakes up two years after his fathers’ death, the Overlord of the Netherrealm. With his fathers’ death comes a power struggle among other fearsome demons. It’s fairly textbook but the application of the dialogue amongst the colorful cast helps to keep the story very fresh.
All games need a steady difficulty curve and Disgaea 1 should be the standard. A straightforward tutorial means that everything you need to know about how to battle is delivered to the player with little play time dedicated, but applied very effectively throughout test battles, the final of which can be replayed. No fight has ever been too easy or too hard. Even when outnumbered there is always a chance to win as all it takes is a little evaluation.
You can plan nearly every aspect of a turn without commitment, this means you can plan a straight up slaughter with the right application of strategy, or slowly chip away at enemy ranks. Though there is no turning back once you execute a set of commands and watch the beat down ensue. The level of intricacy you can put into each turn is only made better by having the ability to lift and throw, quite literally, everyone. Friend, throw them at the enemy. Foe, throw them at the enemy too, but beware, this may remove from play one enemy, but whichever one is left standing is going to get a significant boost in power. And I fucking love that.
Gameplay in Disgaea 1 doesn’t begin and end with just the combat though. Between fights you can jump back into the main hub of the game which allows you buy and sell equipment, further improve your equipment, and beef up the ranks of your team. The level of depth put into this one area is deep enough that, even after neglecting my family to pour my very soul into this game, I am still learning how best to utilize each function.
Disgaea 1 features an array of characters. You will come across the undead, demons, humans, dragons, and angels, each hosting numerous, violent sub-species for you to burn, freeze, hack and slash. The real kicker though is that this armada of opposition that you face is also one which you can command. Requirements do need to be met before some characters are available, but this just adds to the games already high replayability. Every new unit you create starts at level one, therefore this means the grind for the ultimate team of murderers is constant.
Each unit isn’t necessarily locked to using just one style of fighting in Disgaea 1, like is more commonly seen in JRPG’s. You can have mages wielding axes or brawlers auditioning to be Robin Hood. This doesn’t mean that your misfit cast of weekend warriors will be any good though. Every character is graded on their ability with the different weapon types from A through E. Therefore, this means if you give someone a weapon they are graded E with, you may as well throw a pocket full of glitter over your enemy and offer up a cheeky sporting butt-slap, because that’s about as much use they’re going to end up being. Offer them something they’re graded in A though and watch them go all John Wu and watch those sweet power moves play out.
It’s safe to say that between its original release and now, Disgaea 1 has had a serious overhaul on its graphics. Originally delivered as a 32-bit game, this edition has moved over to a hand-drawn appearance. This isn’t very surprising as Disgaea 1 was originally released on the mighty PlayStation 2 (the greatest console to ever exist, don’t @ me) back in 2003, and even after a decade and a half, all the characters are still easily recognizable as well as being comparable to how they were originally portrayed.
Level design in Disgaea 1 is also excellent. Elevated landscapes and cliff faces make for an excellent challenge in traversal and combat. Many stages also include game-changing Geo-stones, so even though you attempt a stage after completing it once, through strategy and a little improvisation, no two fights are ever the same. This means that the main campaign of the game can offer a near limitless amount of variability.
The soundtrack for Disgaea 1 is very well composed and was extremely catchy. Though saying this, I did find that I only realized how good it was when I decided to pay attention, which is a shame because a great amount of atmosphere in a game is complemented by the inclusion of a memorable soundtrack, and if you don’t pay some attention to it, then you lose out on some of that experience.
In contrast though, Disgaea 1 does have a huge amount of voice acting considering it uses character cut-outs and single still backgrounds during dialogue events. They all come across as over exaggerated and corny, so what isn’t there to love of an English dubbed Japanese product? Even during fight sequences, the special attacks have a vast amount of voice work put into them as well as the sound effects which are applied to each attack.
Disgaea 1 is one of those games that deserved to be given the remaster treatment. You can pick it up and play for a brief period of time thanks to the portability of the Nintendo Switch, or you tell everyone you know and love to leave you alone as you segregate yourself in a dark void and bury your nose in. Remasters seemed only to be exclusive to dead platform mascots (you know who you are) and Disgaea 1 was a game that didn’t need it, but it was most definitely deserved. If you missed it during its initial release, then you can finally sink yourself into it as I have managed to.