The PSP port of the first Disgaea game was one of my earliest reviews for RPGFan, and I’ve been grateful to the site for introducing me to the series ever since. As the series has evolved over the years, I’ve looked forward to each new entry similarly to how I look forward to each new Pokémon game, even though I know it’ll closely mirror the last one. And yet, with each new evolution comes a little worry that this will be the time that things head off in the wrong direction. It’s been an unfounded fear in the past, but I think we might have gotten there this time with a new auto-play function that reduces you from player to spectator of a game that looks as fun as its predecessors.
In Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny, you play as a lowly zombie named Zed who uses the power of Super Reincarnation to come back from the dead every time he’s defeated in a quest to take down a God of Destruction that nobody else has been able to deal with. Zombies don’t often get to be heroes, but this tale of redemption and perseverance for both Zed and his allies is now one of my favorites from the entire Disgaea series. No matter what obstacle is in Zed’s way, he won’t stop until he meets his goal, and although all of the companions he picks up in his journey start out as one-note characters, his example teaches them all to better themselves as part of their own quests. The series’ typical humor is on display throughout. Although there are occasions where a cutscene’s dialogue seems to ignore what you just heard in an optional conversation between characters at the base, it’s typically easy to chalk up the discrepancy as a joke or as a momentary backslide in character growth that goes away by the next conversation.
Two hallmarks of the Disgaea series have always been tactical gameplay (including both positioning characters for combo attacks and throwing them across the map to reach distant enemies) and the ridiculous numbers that become possible if you keep grinding. Not many series have a level cap as high as Disgaea‘s 9,999. And as if that weren’t enough, characters can always be reincarnated back to level one with a boost in stats, proficiencies, and skill knowledge to show for their past life. But the crazy numbers have never been quite as upfront as they are this time around. Even in the first battle, you’re a few hundred levels past one, and when a new character joins the party, they may already be in the thousands. I hit the level cap in Disgaea 6 with my entire party and reincarnated them back to level one multiple times before the end of the game, which I’ve never done in a past entry.
I was largely able to accomplish this due to new functionality in the series: player-programmable artificial intelligence, auto-play, and auto-repeat. Each character starts with a set of pre-programmed AI (or as they’re called in-game, Demonic Intelligence) routines that you can choose between, but you can also build additional routines for them from scratch or by copying an existing routine. Doing so is very easy to understand, and you can make routines with a lot of sophistication, like telling a healer that if an ally’s health is under a specific percent, move just close enough and heal them, or if nobody’s like that, get as close as possible to the nearest treasure chest and do a normal attack, or if there isn’t one, move just close enough to the closest enemy to blast them with a spell, etc. You don’t need to dig deep on every character to be effective — I set one or two characters to prioritize chests and just let the rest ignore them, and that worked out just fine.
Obviously, having these AI routines in Disgaea 6 is what enables the auto-play feature that simply plays a level for you; if things seem to be going wrong, you can hit a button at any point to stop the auto-play and take over manually, and again to turn it back on after you’ve handled whatever situation required your personal attention. Once you’ve completed a level the first time, you can return to it and use auto-repeat to accept your rewards at the end of the level and start it over without going back through the hub. The game can also easily auto-repeat a level until you tell it to stop, no matter how many hours it takes you to do so.
It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that these functions combine to handle the level grind for you, and the game even encourages you multiple times to do exactly that. Find a level that your characters have no issue completing with their current AI, turn on auto-play and auto-repeat, and then walk away while the game plays itself. And I did. A lot. Helped out by the pre-existing options to turn off attack animations and fast forward movement, my characters looped through the same levels literally thousands of times while I was at work or sleeping. Couldn’t have been easier.
The thing is, when your characters are a few thousand levels above their opponents (or have reincarnated a few times), there’s no reason to take a hand in the gameplay at all unless a level is set up so that your AI doesn’t know how to handle it. The scenario that came up multiple times for me was that a treasure chest was inaccessible unless you threw a character near it, so my character who was targeting chests would run back and forth like a happy dog by a fence. I might have been able to resolve that by changing a couple of folks’ AI, but it was faster to just play the game myself for a minute or two.
It’s a weird position to be in as a player, playing a game that encourages and incentivizes you not to play it, but that’s exactly what Disgaea 6 does. I only had to step in a few times, so most of my actual hands-on time with the game was hitting the button to advance lines of cutscene dialogue and updating my characters’ equipment after discovering that their grinding had filled up the inventory with new equipment. Because I needed to finish quickly in order to review the game, I didn’t set any limits for myself on how much grinding or auto-play I’d do, but I would definitely encourage players to do so, because I feel like I robbed myself of fun. However, I didn’t feel like I was gaming the system or being naughty in any way. I was playing the game the way it told me to! I guess games really can be a bad influence…
This series has always had a consistent presentation style, and Disgaea 6 is no exception to that style, with familiar audio and graphics everywhere. They’re not just reused artifacts, though — the animations in particular are fresh and new and smoother than before, and they are a very nice upgrade over past games. As in other areas, this entry is evolving the series forward. It even adds in some background animations in cutscenes that I don’t remember seeing before.
There’s really not much more to say about this game without moving into gameplay guide territory — a mistake I’ve made before (in the review I linked above). If you’ve enjoyed the Disgaea series in the past, you’ll like Disgaea 6. If you’ve never played it, you can jump in at any entry, and this is a good one to go with. Either way, you’ll get more enjoyment out of the game if you are judicious in using the new auto-play feature. After all, why let the game alone have all the fun?