Disgaea 1 Complete Review
An Average Trip Down a Demonic Memory Lane
When Disgaea originally released in 2003, gamers were in store for a truly unique strategy RPG experience. Throughout the years the Disgaea series has produced numerous classics, but Nippon Ichi Software has ensured that there are numerous of ways for players to get into the original. The latest of those is Disgaea 1 Complete, a modernized graphical face-lift of the first entry, with a few additions not seen in the original. While the art, animation, and sprite work all look better than ever, the game does not update any of the old, outdated mechanics that newer entries have fixed over the years. RPGamers who are new to the series, or who jumped into it with later titles, might find it archaic.
Disgaea 1 Complete tells the story of Laharl, demon prince of the recently deceased Overlord of the Netherworld. Laharl has been asleep for two years and while he was slumbering, the Netherworld has fallen into complete disarray. He is awoken by his premier vassal, Etna, who uses extreme measures to rouse the sleeping prince. Together with an angel-trainee named Flonne, the three embark on a mission for status, domination, and love. In 2003, the angel-and-demon dichotomy had not been overly exposed. Disgaea 1 Complete shows that not all angels are so pure of heart, and some demons can learn to show compassion. As fans have come to expect from the series, the story does not take itself too seriously, though it will surprise the player with the occasional emotional moment. The comedy blend of the battle between heaven, hell, and humans is enjoyable as the cast can produce laugh-out-loud moments, while still containing a serious undertone throughout the journey.
The hub section of the game consists of Laharl’s castle as the base of operations. Each chapter sees Laharl start in his throne room where he can walk around an unexceptional few screens. The main area of interest for players hosts the dimensional vortex that sends them to new maps, the item shops, the Item World, the hospital, and the Dark Assembly. There is one secret in the castle that gives a decent reward near the end of the game, but otherwise the hub area is nothing spectacular.
The gameplay of Disgaea 1 Complete remains mostly unchanged from the original release fifteen years ago. Those expecting a strategy game similar to Final Fantasy Tactics will be in for a rude awakening. The Disgaea series is known for its absurd level-grinding where characters can reach level 9,999. Battles take place on an isometric 3D battlefield where up to ten units can be dispatched to wallop the opposition. There are eight different weapon types for characters to equip, one being exclusive to monster units. The human-type characters have access to all other seven weapon types, though certain characters and classes are more proficient with certain weapons based on an alphabetical scorecard. The higher a character’s score, the faster they can level up that weapon type. Characters can level up weapons even if not proficient with them and acquire weapon skills that are only accessible when that weapon type is equipped. One major annoyance about the battle system, however, is that when a targeted opponent happens to die before all attacks against it have landed, as this results in the characters who had a pending action against said enemy losing their turn for that round. Chaining attacks is a great way to multiply damage, and the game encourages players to string attacks together, so punishing the the player by wasting some of their characters’ turns feels odd.
However, battles are still fun in Disgaea 1 Complete. Players can mix and match classes together that are better suited for each distinct fight. The preference is completely up to the player as early on they are given the option to build an army, with classes slowly revealed as certain parameters are reached. Battles can be won through numerous methods. If an objective is out of reach, the team can pick up characters and toss them to reach goals faster. A character can also lift up enemy characters and toss them somewhere out of reach or hold them up over their head to keep lower leveled characters safe, though ending a turn with a character being held will cause damage to the person holding a character, regardless if friend or foe. Players can also toss enemies into other enemies which will cause a fusion of the two units that combines levels. If there is an enemy type that a player wants on their team, they have the option to throw the enemy into their base panel and hope they join the team, though sometimes this can be a detriment to the player. Weapon skills look fantastic, and if the player gets tired of seeing the same attacks, Disgaea 1 Complete offers the choice to skip battle animations for enemies and player characters alike. This can really speed up battles, as some attacks have long, drawn-out cutscenes. This function was not in the original Disgaea and is a welcome addition.
Healers are the most frustrating characters to level in the game. The more recent Disgaea games allow healers to gain experience by simply healing allies. In both the original game and Disgaea 1 Complete, healers are awarded no experience when using recovery magic. Healing-focused characters either need to equip an offensive weapon to collect kills on their own, join up with another character’s team attack, or have an apprentice teach them offensive magic in order for them to raise in levels. There is a also rewards for completing maps that often gift bonus experience to all remaining units on the map, which can be useful by placing lower-leveled characters on the map for free experience. Staff weapons, often used by healers and magic-focused classes, are distinct in that they do not provide weapon skills, but rather let characters learn new magic as they increase in level.
The monster class is the only unit that can equip the red-skulled monster type weapons, though there are numerous monster classes available. There are no intelligence-based weapons for monsters in Disgaea 1 Complete; that addition came in later entries. This leaves all monster party members restricted to being physical damage-dealing units. Nevertheless, there are tons of classes for the player to tinker with. Each class has a tier list to climb with each subsequent tier being slightly better. Reincarnating characters lets players change a character to any class and tier available, starting that character back at level 1, but with better stat gains. If persistent, the player can create a level 1 character with stats that far exceed the final boss’s stats.
Players can grind to their heart’s content in the Item World, randomized side-dungeons where Laharl and company jump into a selected item to raise its stats and grow stronger themselves in the process. This is one of the better ways to level up a character early on, plus it creates stronger items for the characters to equip. Inside these items are Specialists who, if killed, bestow the item with additional stats, debuff prevention, or additional experience and HL, the game’s form of currency. Once captured, these Specialists can be transferred to other items. The player has the option to leave the item after every tenth floor, though an instant-escape item can also be used.
Unfortunately, the Item World design in Disgaea 1 Complete retains the original’s lack of polish. Item World floors are completely random and the map generation often results in floors where the gap to reach a batch of monsters to slay is insurmountable. This can leave items incomplete of their maximum strength, which can be irksome for completionists. The Item World is also a site for the game’s big technical complaint on Nintendo Switch: random crashes. Most of these crashes come in the Item World, which is unfortunately where it can erase the most in terms of time and effort for players. It is encouraged that players leave every ten levels and save as often as possible, just in case.
The main game takes 20-30 hours to complete, but with the addition of the Item World and the post-game dungeons, the game can easily eclipse 100 hours of gameplay. The Item World is an easy place to sink time into and, depending on the time they devote to it, lets players make the game as easy or hard as they decide. Eventually, near the end of the game, extra maps will open up that allow the player the option to over-level which leads to bonus content that is far beyond the difficulty of the main story. Some story maps have geo-panel puzzles that can slow down progress due to brute force will not always being the best solution, but most of the time having one super-powered character is all it takes to power through the main game.
Disgaea 1 Complete comes with the option to switch between English or Japanese voice tracks. The English cast does a fine job voicing all the character, though Flonne’s voice can get irritating. The soundtrack is still as enjoyable as it was back in 2003. The music in Disgaea 1 Complete remains unchanged, and Tempei Sato’s tracks are all back. The one glaring omission is the lack of Tsunami Bomb’s “Invasion From Within” which was exclusive to the PlayStation 2 version. Despite this, Disgaea 1 Complete has that musical charm that has become a staple in every entry.
Disgaea 1 Complete is a good place for players new to the series to start. The cast is enjoyable, the story carries itself, the gameplay offers a nice blend of strategy and freedom to play around with while unlocking more content, and battle animations are more vivid than ever. However, the gameplay is stuck in 2003. The quality-of-life improvements seen in the newer games makes Disgaea 1 Complete feel outdated, even with a wonderful graphical upgrade. Still, if one can get past all the shortcomings, Disgaea 1 Complete is a worthwhile game to own on the Nintendo Switch.
Disgaea 1 has never looked better
Good starting point to jump into the series
Non-gimmicky battles are crisp and quick
Battle animations can be turned on or off for allies and enemies
Playing this after Disgaea 5 feels like a major step backwards
Get ready to grind
Some maps have an irritating layout
Flonne's voice can be grating
Crashes are an issue