Ai-Phuong and I have been talking about the Disgaea series many a time in The Gameolio Podcast with Dan and Rich, not to mention the new RPG! RPG! podcast. So listeners will know that we are very passionate about this series.
Disgaea is one of the few third-party series that remained loyal to the Playstation brand (apart from Disgaea DS). From the first Disgaea game, its quirky black humour and twisted sense of morality had quickly cemented Disgaea as major cult series in the tactics RPG genre. Gameplay wise, Disgaea hasn’t changed much as a tactics RPG. You command your troops on an asymmetric battlefield like you would do in all other tactics games. The character development system has been tweaked and perfected over the years though. From the basic kill and level up system to complicated systems such as the Classroom and Social Club mechanisms, that allow units related to each other to acquire stat bonus or crossing learning skills, Disgaea always provides a fresh take on how you can develop your characters.
However for me, on top of the simply brilliant gameplay, what distinguished Disgaea from all the other tactics RPGs is its moral ambiguity theme and its ability to laugh at video games or the gaming industry itself. Firstly, Disgaea is one of the few games that rewards you when killing off your own characters. Take the Prinnies, in the game, as an example; players are rewarded with massive damages to your enemies when you throw these explosive penguins at them. The higher the level of these penguins in your party the more deadly they are when being thrown. Of course it does not matter that once exploded, these penguin comrades are gone for the rest of the battle, and until you revive them back in the home base. Also in the first game Nippon Ichi even constructed a hidden ending for you if you had killed enough of your allies in battles during the game – so much for taking care of your comrades.
Disgaea also demonstrates this amoral way of life in the Netherworld through its stories. In the first game, Flonne the love freak angel assassin from the heavens was a constant subject of mockery from Laharl, the Netherworld Overlord’s son. At one stage Laharl questioned Flonne about her obsession with love, and the fact that she is an assassin. Flonne was lost for words. In Disgaea 2, Adell’s ridiculous commitment to promises, even to protect his own enemy Rosaline, the Overlord’s daughter, was also a subject of mockery throughout the game. In Disgaea 3, Mao is the number one honour student, because he had never attended a single class at the Evil Academy. But on the other hand, Raspberyl is determined to be the number one delinquent by not missing a single class and by helping other students in need. In Disgaea 4, it mocked Valvatorez’s own downfall as an Overlord and tyrant because of his promise to someone important to him. Fenrich, his servant did everything he deemed “appropriate” to trick him back into Valvatorez former tyrannical self. Disgaea not only twisted the sense of morality, but it also mocked the seemingly shallow goodness of people. However, to avoid spoilers I will not go into those aspects in further detail.
Disgaea likes to toy with the idea that you are playing a game. This is seen pretty early on in Disgaea 2 when Laharl showed up in the game, not only because he was not happy Etna left her duty as a sidekick but also because Nippon Ichi chose a new main character instead of him. So he decided to go into the second game’s world at a whopping level 1000 to claim his glory back. Also, Etna lost her super levels in Disgaea 2 because of a mishap, and was determined to take them back. The concept was taken even further in Disgaea 3 when they talked about cheat codes to quickly level up instead of fighting battles. In Disgaea 3 it even jokes around with the class title they gave to the characters, and made it one of the important aspects in the story telling. Disgaea also makes statements on the video industry as a whole. For example, Laharl really hates busty female monster and characters, so the enemy specifically sends that type of enemy on to the field to give him heart problems. They also commented on how skimpily dressed female characters could fight on the battlefields without getting hurt.
The Disgaea series has it own sense of humour that makes it stands out as a cult classic series. It does not take itself too seriously, although you can see the serious thoughts that have gone into the scripts and gameplay (e.g. the classroom seating system in Disgaea 3’s Evil Academy setting and the Camp-aign maps in Disgaea 4). Disgaea is also the first game that allows you to level up to 9999 but still provides serious challenges to your troops no matter what level they are. It is one of the few rewarding experiences, and because of this provides huge longevity in terms of play time. If you haven’t tried any of the Disgaea games yet, I would highly recommend you to take the plunge and give it a go. Who knows? You may get addicted to their dark and interesting Netherworlds.