Review: Disgaea 6
By: Fernando Da Costa
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software/NIS America
Available On: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 (Japan-only)
Review Console: Nintendo Switch Lite
A STRATEGY VETERAN! - Introduction
Back in 2003, a quirky, whimsical SRPG burst onto the scene by the name of Disgaea. I don’t recall my initial play-through, but thanks to a re-release on Nintendo Switch, I got the chance to revisit it. In doing so, I was reminded of just why I fell in love with this series. That lighthearted humour always brought a smile to my face. Now, eighteen years later, the sixth instalment is finally upon us. With it comes the jump into the third dimension as 2D sprites get left behind. The visual change is a huge change, but I kept an open mind. After all, it’s inevitable for a franchise to evolve. That hopefulness, however, was a bit derailed with the eShop demo. There were notable framerate stutters that were jarring to see. I held my breath, all the same, hoping this was no indication of the finished product. Then I saw that in-game purchases were available, and while cynicism grew among most, I tried to stay optimistic. Will Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny be a blessing, or should it have remained in the Netherworld, never to be seen?
A SILLY BUT SERIOUS TALE! - Writing
The outlandish humour that Disgaea is known for is firmly intact. Despite all the visual changes, the game retains those perverse quips that allow it to stand out. It’s never done gratuitously either, oftentimes barely scratching the border of vulgarness. Disgaea does a great job at staying away from being outright offensive, but to say it isn’t immature wouldn’t be factual. It most certainly is, and I’m sure that there are folks that will roll their eyes at what’s said. As someone that’s played several of the entries, all this felt almost cozy. It was all familiar and, honestly, very charming. The self-awareness of the dialogue is refreshing and fits perfectly within this universe. There’s plenty of pop culture references, too, with one being a direct mention of a popular Pokémon meme. There’s a ton of soul throughout this franchise, and Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny is no different. The characters are full of life, and that’s saying something since Zed is Undead. Ignoring my bad jokes, I adored every personality and enjoyed the excellent voice acting. I reckon that this was the key reason why it resonated so much.
Rather unexpectedly, there’s a healthy dose of positive messaging sprinkled throughout. I can’t recall if the others had much, but it's evident here. Of course, it’s all interlaced with humour and delivered with that authentic Disgaea flavour. It’s wrapped in crudeness and never betrays the character. For example, Zed expunges on how no matter the exterior changes one goes through; they’re still the same person on the inside. He, however, does so while likening his growth to having his limbs ripped from his body during combat. It’s impressive how rapidly it bounces between utter lunacy and sincerity. During my session, there were more than a couple of chuckles. I couldn’t help it; the smiles kept pouring out as I played, and while I didn’t outright belly-laugh hysterically, it was very much a memorable romp.
TO THE ITEM WORLD! - Gameplay
The driving hook to the entire Disgaea-verse is, without a doubt, the Item World. At its core, the concept of it is not only insanely repetitive but mindless too. It’s a collection of individual dungeons that each item possesses. Once inside, there are several treasures to be found and enemies to murder. Coincidentally, this is also the ideal method for completing quests. These become available as you progress through the story and offer various unlocks that include different companion classes. To obtain the currency to create these comrades, further exploration of the Item World is needed. As you can see, there’s plenty of variables at play, and this isn’t even scratching the surface of what this single mechanic can do. It’s singlehandedly both the reason why Disgaea is so grind-heavy and incredibly addictive, despite how, when boiled down, it's just an amalgamation of repeating battles.
Like in most RPGs, characters require levelling to become capable of ransacking a group of helpless creatures effortlessly. Unlike most, however, regular items, in addition to armaments, have their own statistics. Furthermore, these are capable of also being levelled by traversing their particular dungeon. Each floor essentially translates into a single level. This opens up the door to what basically becomes a limitless amount of customization. I was head over heels in love with this process and the endless experimentation it offers. There’s just something so satisfying about obtaining a weapon and single-handedly slaughtering your foes with it. The only actual downside is the obnoxious number of available equipment and items in general. It’s ridiculously easy to get completely overwhelmed.
By now, we’ve firmly established Disgaea as being all about those digits. As a self-proclaimed lover of grinding, there are days that I even need a break from it. Because however, this game is built around this concept, that’s not exactly possible. Luckily, there are ways to unlock methods that increase the total experience points earned in a single battle. One of which is an in-game “Cheat Shop” that manipulates the percentage rewarded. It can also affect things like money earned and so much more. This won’t come free as a trade-off is needed. For every 1% added to experience, the same must be subtracted elsewhere.
Yet another manner of ensuring more points is by completing special goals. You achieve this by, you guessed it, venturing through the Item World. Apart from the various other benefits of doing so, it also nets specific currency used to procure passive abilities known as “Evilities.” These have a plethora of effects, such as a higher chance for enemies to drop loot or a 50% chance of striking twice with a melee attack. They can tip the very scale of battles in your favour. If RNG is on your side, these can even save your butt. I was on the verge of death on a few occasions, and I had given up hope. Then, from out of nowhere, sweet zombie Zed decided to attack twice. The moral of the story is that investment in these can prove to be vital.
The core marketing for Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny was Super Reincarnation. It’s a riff off the default reincarnation that’s a mainstay in this franchise. I, sadly, didn’t fully understand the intricacies of it. The tutorial wasn’t especially helpful and did an inadequate job explaining. Perhaps this had something to do with my disabilities, but it’s worth noting. Based on the brief description, each time Zed resurrects, he can inflict 1% more damage - to a maximum of 200%. By toying with this in conjunction with the other methods of gameplay, the damage output can and will get astronomical. I was dishing out ten figures, but that was without comprehending this mechanic. I can only imagine what that number will be when it all finally clicks in my head.
AUTOMATIC WARFARE! - Gameplay
One of the newest quality-of-life features added into this iteration is auto-battle. It functions precisely as the name suggests - there’s no need for manual inputs. I was skeptical at first because I had no idea how it would even work. The Item World itself has obstacles that usually require chucking your companion either over a gap or wall. My main question was how the CPU would get around that. Well, after sinking several hours into Disgaea 6, my skepticism was sort of warranted.
Now, don’t be disillusioned by the sheer amount of grinding this franchise demands. No one argues that it fetishizes increasing your damage output to ludicrous heights. That’s exactly why implementing an automatic mode is, without exaggeration, a Godsend. I, in fact, am currently levelling up both an item and characters while writing this review. The inherent tedium of repetitiveness has been nullified because I’m not sitting there button-mashing. What’s more, Disgaea finds a healthy balance between using skills and weapons, favouring the former. This made improving my proficiency quick and easy. Not to mention that I easily accumulated a collection of overpowered equipment.
Unfortunately, those aforementioned obstacles hinder this very mechanic. See, when in auto-mode, Disgaea can’t maneuver around gaps or walls. It doesn’t understand how to lift and throw characters to access out-of-reach areas. It’ll, instead, keep cycling through turns until it eventually quits. That’s right, the game gives up and returns control. This is problematic because it undermines a self-sufficient grinding session. You’re still expected to be nearby so you can pick up when it fails. To be fair, the number of times it does this is minuscule. I never had to keep tabs obsessively, but that doesn’t negate the reality that I still needed to be wary of this occurring.
What completely breaks automation is that every ten floors, you’re teleported to a rest stop. This is used to heal up and purchase items of varying rarities. It’s quite useful since there’s a chance to acquire a legendary weapon. What’s puzzling is Disgaea can self-cycle through the experience points allocation and reward screen. Yet, there’s no way to do so with this - it just refuses. While I understand it was done this way to give you a chance to patch up your fighters, it’s also redundant. I’m baffled why healing wasn’t automated to streamline this mechanic. Yes, the shop is neglected this way, but it’s a fair trade-off. Even then, if that’s truly an issue, by making it a choice that can be switched off or on in-game, everyone is considered. As is, this auto-battle mode isn’t automatized at all.
MICRO-TRANSACTIONS!? - Gameplay
Since the trailer indicated in-game purchases, the internet demanded blood. I wanted to dedicate a small section to state one thing. Contrary to how these are utilized on mobile devices, Disgaea 6 can be played without buying anything extra. In fact, the Hololive DLC is free to download. Not only that, but characters such as Female Laharl from Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness are included as a, you guessed it, free update. If you so choose to part with money, it’ll net you boosters. This essentially aims to soften the need to grind. In other words, one tier nets 100x the experience you’d regularly get in a single battle, while there’s another that plops a specified sum of Netherworld currency into your in-game total.
DID I STUTTER, DOOD?! - Performance
Regrettably, stuttering is, indeed, still present. Every time I moved forward, there was a noticeable jankiness. That said, Disgaea 6 also has the option to alternate between Graphics, Performance, or Balanced mode. The issues, thankfully, only plague the former. The best choice between the three is the latter. Not only does the resolution look serviceable, but it also runs at a steady 30fps. The middle mode is also solid, but as a repercussion, the visuals become muddy and blurry. Playing docked mode does rectify this and eliminates the washed-out look but, if, like me, you’re partial to the portability, balanced is the most optimal.
CAN A PRINNY SING?! - Sound Design
There’s a mixture of both old and new in the overall score. The most remarkable track plays while inside the hub world. It’s vocalized and sounds beautiful to the ears. It’s like caressing my lobes with a silk cloth, causing goosebumps to form. It was oddly soothing, and while I fully admit I’m biased to vocals, there’s just no denying how pleasant it is. Once the music of past entries began, I couldn’t help but feel cheerful. There’s something truly unique with how they’re composed. It’s distinct and fits perfectly with the overall presentation and silliness of the franchise. Every minute spent was full of smiling, vibing and grooving to the outstanding melodies.
As I previously touched on, the voice acting solidifies the satirical tone of the script. I loved the hell out of the cadence in several of the lines. One of my favourites is a bunny monster that you confront in the Item World. The specific line in question is delivered in such a deadpan manner. It’s both dry and very blunt, kind of reminiscent of British comedy and their deadpan, sarcastic jokes. To hear the monster declare that he has died in the most monotone way possible was hilarious. It was as if he couldn’t be bothered and accepted death.
AND THE NETHER WORLDLY VERDICT IS…
Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny is a fantastic addition with barrels of charm. I had a ton of fun during my session and plan on replaying once review duties let up. The mechanics are engaging and keep calling my name. Furthermore, seeing damage and stat numbers grow both tickle and motivate me. The character artwork is gorgeous, with Bieko tipping the adorable scale to eleven. Be prepared, though, to have an overloaded brain. While compelling, there's so much to do that it’s overwhelming. I struggled to keep track, but on the bright side, I got excited again upon rediscovery. While that’s proof of my awful memory, it also showcases something else. Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny is made of intriguing gears that keep this SRPG functional. The music has an air of coziness that made me grin ear-to-ear. I do, however, wish that it relayed information better. As is, it comes off assuming the player has prior knowledge of past entries.
Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend this game. It has all the right ingredients for a great experience. There’s perverse humour and pop culture nods that will have you snickering. Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny is, without a doubt, an 8.
Thank you to NIS America for providing the code for the purposes of this review.