The world feels like a colder and crueler place than it was fifteen years ago. The news is filled with stories of political controversies and manmade calamities, all of which seem to threaten life as we know it. It’s hard not to be depressed by the state of the world lately, and that’s why now, more than ever, we need a game like Disgaea to come back from the Netherworld.
It’s always tough to touch upon remasters and re-releases like Disgaea 1 Complete. When do players need them? And how much can developers change before we consider it a completely different game? The answers to these questions are subjective and largely dependent on the fans, as well as prospective newcomers. There is no right answer, and I often find myself on the fence when considering both of these questions. Luckily, in the case of Disgaea 1 Complete, I think most will find it to be the over-the-top escapist experience we all so desperately need.
Overall, the original game is largely kept intact and is still a blast to play today, even though some mechanics have not aged well. The game follows the story of Laharl, prince of the Netherworld, as he awakens from a two-year nap and learns of the untimely demise of King Krichevskoy, his father and Overlord of the realm. With the help of his servant Etna and the angel-trainee Flonne, Laharl sets out on a quest to reconquer the Netherworld and become the next Overlord.
From this short description alone, the game may seem dark and grim in nature, but in actuality, it is anything but. Unlike many RPGs which aim for realism as much as possible, Disgaea ventures away from almost all serious subject matter and instead pursues outlandish material to offer players one simple thing: a good, old-fashioned fun time. Despite the somewhat dark premise, the dialogue is witty and lighthearted, and the characters are quirky and likable, often feeling like the ones you would see in an over-the-top anime. In regard to the story, nothing has changed from the original, which was definitely the right decision.
The same can also be said for the core gameplay. Everything from the original is back. This includes my three favorite elements that make this game unique from other isometric, turn-based SRPGs: team-based attacks, geo panel effects, and character throws. I cannot emphasize enough how much the latter two features add to gameplay and strategy. I remember one level that seemed practically unwinnable due to the presence of a 3x Enemy Power Geo Symbol situated on the complete opposite end of the map. But by cleverly chaining throws between your characters and choosing sacrificial pawns from your team, you could destroy the geo symbol in two turns and level the playing field. I believe it’s scenarios like this that truly separate Disgaea from other SRPGs, and I am extremely glad to see these mechanics unmodified. While I don’t intend to touch upon the gameplay mechanics any further in this review, as many before me have already extensively covered this fifteen years ago, they truly have withstood the test of time.
While it’s good that the story and gameplay remain unchanged from the original, other aspects of the game could have used some touching up in this remaster. In fact, it would be more appropriate to describe Disgaea 1 Complete as a graphically improved port than a true remaster. This becomes abundantly clear early in the game with respect to sound and controls. While many other elements of the game have not aged terribly, the sound and controls sorely need the refinements you would expect in a remaster.
Frankly, the sound is subpar. Fifteen years ago, the voice acting and audio quality may have met players’ expectations, but by today’s standards, both are mediocre at best. Somehow, the voice acting manages to be both good and bad at the same time, like a talented actor cold reading lines from a script. You can see the potential and know the game is capable of so much more, but it just doesn’t quite reach the level of quality you would expect. Personally, I wish the dialogue was completely redubbed, either by bringing back the original voice cast or employing new voice actors. This is largely due to the poor audio quality, which is best described as listening to an old-fashioned tape recording: it sounds slightly degraded and unnatural. If I were reviewing the original game, I would not emphasize these points too much, but since this is a remastered version, I believe fine-tuning dated elements like this is expected of the developer. This is the second largest letdown of the game, and it’s one of the key things the remaster should have attempted to improve.
My largest criticism focuses on the controls. Just like the audio, the controls were likely above average when the game first released. But by today’s standards, they feel sloppy and convoluted. It took me a solid two hours to grasp the mechanics for menus and movement on the isometric grid. The addition of a just few more button controls would have vastly simplified matters. This is especially apparent when it comes to selecting characters and speeding up battles. The character cycle feature is chaotic, and it almost feels easier to manually move the cursor to a given character than cycle through the team roster. While there are many possible ways to improve this mechanic, none are even attempted, which feels like a huge oversight. Additionally, there is no option to speed up characters or combat in the midst of battle, which I find frustrating. Many modern turn-based games have the option to speed up gameplay, and for a game that contains as much combat and grinding as Disgaea, this is a necessity.
Even though the remaster forgoes some much-needed changes, this is still the definitive version of Disgaea 1. The graphical improvements are extremely noticeable, especially when looking at the original and remaster side by side. However, with no other improvements aside from updated graphics, the $50 price tag may be too steep for some. But for those looking to play a classic and embrace nostalgia, Disgaea 1 Complete is definitely worth picking up.