What You Should Have Played: Disgaea

May 25, 2009
And Here... We... Go!

And Here... We... Go!

‘What You Should Have Played’ is exactly what you think it is: a weekly look at the kinda old or very good games that you either missed because of forgivable ignorance or repugnant character flaws. The idea being that after you read my amusing,  masterfully written columns, you’ll give these often overlooked games a try.

For my first post, I’ve chosen Disgaea, a hidden gem in the tactical role-playing game genre developed and published by Nippon Ichi Software. The first game in this series was originally released on the Playstation 2 in 2003. Since the original release there have been two sequels and a series of ports to other systems. Each one stars a prince of Hell that seeks to rule over all of the Netherworld while warding off the ambitions of traitorous servants and other devious would-be usurpers. At the prince’s side are a vast cast of fun and cheeky characters.

It sounds like the most derivative and hackneyed thing ever written. Hit the jump to see why it’s worth your time.

Two things save the experience: the entire game is a tongue-in-cheek parody of the genre, and the gameplay reflects this with over-the-top charm, and a rare respect for the player’s level of interest in anything it has to say. Disgaea is one of the more self-aware games I’ve had the privilege of playing. It features a bizarre credit card-esque reward system for getting hurt, the ability to toss characters (some of which may explode on landing), and a small army of hilariously out of place pop culture references. In the main quest you’ll find a great deal to love. Each chapter is treated like an episode of a bad anime, and the writing and dialogue revels in that campy mood. Really, the Netherworld setting takes a backseat to the characters, and in turn, those characters take a backseat to what really matters: the gameplay.

This is Art, People!

This is Art, People!

Disgaea is different from the other kids in the RPG playpen. The characters’ levels are capped at 9,999 which is about 2 more digits than your run-of-the-mill RPG. The game rewards obsessive leveling with an infinite number of randomly generated fields to fight on. If that’s not your speed, you can work through the level-scaled main quest without all of that pesky grinding. If a good grind is what you’re after, though, you’ll find a deep, nuanced character development system that will provide hours—nay—days of fun.

The beauty of Disgaea is that it responds to what the player wants it to be. You can skip all of the cutscenes and dialogue and get right to technically strong, deep action. Or, if it’s more your speed, you can sit back and enjoy a campy romp (yes, romp) through a short, but enjoyable story. Though the art direction ranges from attractive to eye-rollingly atrocious, the interface is clunky at times, and the non-sprite graphics are a bit muddy, these are minor complaints. Ultimately, Disgaea is a shining example of a game that doesn’t get caught up in itself. And the one who really benefits from that arrangement is the player.


One comment

  1. I lost my copy of this game. It was sad. A tragedy, really.

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