Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny Review
Look, Mom, No Hands!
Long-time fans of Nippon Ichi Software’s Disgaea series will need little convincing to jump at the chance to min-max their way through its latest installment. There’s been quite a wait for a proper continuation of the franchise; remasters aside, it’s been six years since the last numbered entry was released. Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny certainly delivers plenty of what series veterans have come to expect from these tactical RPGs with a penchant for ludicrous stat tables. However, the series has carved out such a deep niche for itself that it’s fast becoming too obtuse for the casual gamer, the newcomer, and everyone else in-between, and should be approached with a good deal of guarded caution.
The antihero protagonist at the helm this time around is the zombie Zed, on a mission to destroy the most powerful God of Destruction that’s ever existed. Though a mere zombie shouldn’t have a prayer of taking down a God of Destruction, Zed has the use of the powerful Super Reincarnation spell, allowing him to come back to life more powerful after every defeat. Over the course of countless deaths and reincarnations, Zed has developed a strength equalled only by his enormous ego. The story — at least the first ten chapters leading up to the first credit roll — is told via flashbacks, as Zed addresses the Netherworld’s Dark Assembly, claiming to have already defeated the God of Destruction and recounting the events that led up to that point. The five chapters occurring after the first credits take place in the present, and continue the story forward to its true ending.
But the story itself isn’t as much a draw as it is a showcase for some strong presentation values. During his travels through the various dimensions, Zed collects an ever-growing stable of cohorts, like the out-of-touch king who solves all his problems by throwing money at them, or the spoiled princess who frequently bursts into song and just wants a Prince Charming to give her the happy end she deserves. Each story mission is bookended by fully voiced dialogue sections, usually featuring characters reiterating their need to become stronger in more ways than you can throw a Prinny at. The outstanding English voice acting present across the board is very welcome, and pairs perfectly with the character designs and oversized art to give the main cast some strong personalities.
Sadly, this praise ebbs away as one looks outside of the main cast. Apart from the half-dozen unique combatants, the remaining battle roster is made up of generic fighters of different classes, all of whom look good but are virtually identical to all other members — ally and enemy alike — of that class. Stage designs are also unimpressive, with only a handful of locations going beyond the “generic randomly generated map” theme. The first ten campaign chapters even cycle through the same five worlds two times each. And while the voice cast does impressive work, music is far less notable, with only the hub world song “Missing You” being a more noteworthy exception. During combat, however, the ceaseless battle cries that play during each and every animation become grating extremely quickly.
Disgaea’s true draw has always been its strategic combat rather than its story, and it must be duly noted that Disgaea 6′s combat system is 95% identical to the ones found in previous entries. All the traditional staples return, from stacking all ten active combatants on top of each other and throwing the entire column to quickly cover space on the map and avoid obstacles, to attacks being bolstered by characters standing next to one another in the field. Long-time fans looking forward to raising their stats to astronomic heights will find this particular itch scratched quite nicely, as character levels now cap out at 99,999,999 and damage indicators for even basic attacks quickly go into the millions and beyond. At the same time, this is not a system designed to be newcomer-friendly. Ideas like the Item World (where squads can be deployed to randomly generated maps to strengthen gear and other items) can feel quite alien to newcomers, and the single-minded drive towards colossal stats quickly becomes desensitizing.
The one entirely new idea Disgaea 6 adds to combat is both a blessing and a curse. Players now have the ability to activate an auto-battle system that takes over any and all decisions during combat. This is coupled with an auto-repeat option that can be toggled on to have the battle party continually restart the same map over again; since all characters automatically heal after every battle, these two systems have the potential to let characters grind indefinitely while the player steps away from the console entirely, for as long as they wish. On the one hand, this takes the monotony out of grinding and is particularly useful in bringing characters back up to speed after using Super Reincarnation, which resets the desired character back to level 1 while granting them stat bonuses to make them more powerful in the long run. On the other hand, having Disgaea 6 virtually play itself does seriously beg the question of what the point of it all is. Auto-battle makes sense for the randomly generated dungeon worlds, but it also readily takes care of story missions and boss fights, with only a very few select maps actually requiring some minimal player intervention due to the AI being unable to cope with environmental hazards on its own. The game deserves some credit for its large amount of customizability, including being able to set up custom AI behaviors for individual characters to use during auto-battle. But when the heart of gameplay feels like such a chore that skipping it wholesale is a preferable alternative, then the entire game feels like a questionable affair as a result.
It’s a shame, but at about 35 to 40 hours for the critical path, Disgaea 6 still manages to outstay its welcome. The playtime is artificially inflated by the need to let the system run on auto-battle to grind levels when enemies become too spongy, which happens with great frequency. This means it isn’t long before the game essentially turns into a management sim, with the player letting combat scenarios play themselves and only stepping in between missions to upgrade characters with the latest gear, turn in a few sidequests of an active list that likely runs over a hundred, check off a few dialogue sequences, maybe Super Reincarnate a character, send a team to the Item World, or complete any number of busywork tasks before initiating the next mission. Conversely, the game’s pace can be slowed to a crawl by toggling auto-battle off and remaining in charge of each and every combat action; ultimately, it’s difficult to determine which option is the drearier proposition.
The inclusion of the auto-battle mode suggests that Disgaea 6 has been designed with series newcomers in mind, but the game is otherwise densely packed with insider systems and lingo that are anything but newbie-friendly. What’s clear is that this game won’t win over those who were previously on the fence about the series. While the narrative, combat, and management aspects all work as intended, they probably appeal to different audiences rather than create one cohesive experience; those finding satisfaction in one particular area may end up being frustrated in another. Presentation values are certainly commendable, but are let down by a narrative lacking any real depth. Disgaea 6 ticks many worthwhile boxes for series veterans looking to chase that next stat fix; however, newcomers may find the sweet relief when the final boss is at last vanquished by the auto-battle system to be the only high worth noting, and for all the wrong reasons.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
The game plays itself!
Great character designs, proudly displayed
Quality voice acting
The game plays itself!
Deeply ingrained systems will be needlessly obtuse to newcomers
Disjointed systems all trying to appeal to different audiences