It’s always interesting to revisit older entries in a long running series. You get to see just how much has changed over the years, for better or worse. We’ve had many opportunities to re-experience Disgaea 1, having been released on a multitude of systems, and the announcement of Disgaea 1 Complete on PS4 (reviewed) and Switch has us wondering what would be changed this time. Each previous release has seen the now 15 year old SRPG receive new content and characters, so it seemed safe to assume that there would be more to come in this so called ‘Complete’ release. Well… we were wrong.
After all these years, it was certainly interesting to go back to the game that started it all. The original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was a unique entry in the SRPG genre, having easy to learn basics but offering many in-depth systems for hardcore RPG fans. The story was also rather enjoyable, telling the story of prince Laharl and his journey to reclaim the throne to the Netherworld, a world inhabited by demons. We’re happy to say that the main story is still fantastic, the dynamic between Laharl and his devious vassal Etna being especially funny. There’s also a separate Etna story mode that can be unlocked, adding some extra character development to the supporting cast.
For those that have ended up avoiding the Disgaea series, battles take place on grid based maps, with you and the enemy taking turns moving characters and attacking. Unlike other game of this style like Final Fantasy Tactics, the way units interact is far more interesting. Characters can trigger combo moves by being close to each other, and attacking the same enemy in sequence boosts how much damage you do. Many skills also require certain spaces around the user or target to be free, making character positioning and terrain height important if you want to fight effectively.
Another creative mechanic is the ability to lift and throw units around the map. This can be used to overcome large gaps or keep low health units out of the reach of enemies. This mechanic truly shines when paired with the geo panel system. Spaces on the map can have various colours which are known as geo panels, and these panels are given various effects based on what geo symbols are placed on them. These symbols have their own colours too, and can be thrown or killed like regular units leading to some interesting map layouts.
Battles may be pretty unique, but it’s character creation where things really get crazy. There are a varied amount of classes and monster types that can be used, each with their own favoured weapon types and unlockable skills. When creating new characters a master must be chosen from your existing roster, which determines what extra skills they can learn. Characters can also be reincarnated, resetting them to level 1 but giving a substantial stat boost based on the level they were beforehand.
It’s also possible to level up not just your characters but their equipment too. The item world is used to create dungeons using gear and other items. By clearing each floor in the item world, the item’s parameters will be increased. Furthermore Innocents, monsters that can be found in the item world, have bonuses to tied to them and once subdued can be moved between equipment. Between reincarnation and the item world there are many ways to power up your team, something that is required to make your way through the substantial post-game content Disgaea 1 has.
This may all sound great, but as this is the first game in the series there are many areas that have been improved upon in later entries, such not being able to level up healing classes by actually healing and the item world sometimes generating impossible to complete floors. There’s also the fact that you cannot speed up character movement during battles, making grinding take longer than necessary. It just goes to show how much the series has changed over the years, and Disgaea 1 Complete really should have brought over some of the improvements seen in later entries.
Even with the various issues that Disgaea 1 has, it’s still an enjoyable experience overall. But this isn’t the first time we’ve played the game. This is the 5th version of Disgaea that has been released, meaning that most people that are interested in the series have likely already played it. If you compare this version to the last port the game received, Disgaea PC, the only difference between the two is the visuals. These aren’t even new either, since they’re all taken from Disgaea D2 and 5. As nice as the new character sprites and UI are, these do little to hide how outdated the game is now. The visual change is also somewhat sloppy, with many textures left unchanged and certain sprites (such as Laharl’s non-diagonal walk animations) were removed instead of replaced with higher quality versions.
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It’s honestly hard to recommend Disgaea 1 Complete. Without any additional content or fixes to the game it’s nothing more than a prettier and much more expensive version of Disgaea PC. Only get this if you have no way of playing one of the many other ports of Disgaea, otherwise there are many cheaper alternatives.