Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Available On: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 & 5, and PC (Windows)
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
IT'S THE NETHERSHIP! - Introduction
It’s hard to fathom that over two decades ago, Disgaea was unleashed to the world, and it has, without a doubt, become Nippon Ichi’s flagship. When hearing their name, I can’t help but associate the pair. Even in the marketing for their other titles, that familiar, lovable blue penguin is front and center - a Prinny, the vessel of the damned with the pension to explode whenever tossed, but also hopelessly addicted to sardines. Their design is simple but iconic, and they’re also single-handedly responsible for dude forever being spelled as dood in my head. Despite that, I wouldn’t exactly peg it as mainstream, but I would say that it can be classified as a niche juggernaut.
Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless is a departure from other entries. We’re not visiting several different Netherworlds as has been the norm. Instead, the setting is focused on one shrouded in themes surrounding Japan, or to be specific, of Bushido - redemption, loyalty, honor, and more will be explored, but the question is, will this be a favorable change?
UGH, I CAN'T EVEN! - Writing
NIS America has this uncanny talent of ensuring their co-protagonist is adorable, which continues with Pirilika. Her charismatic energy is radiating from her pores, with her bubbly personality leaving me smiling. She seems like a parody of the rich, spoiled brat, solving her problems primarily by bribing. It felt like she was an embodiment of Gen Z, too, poking and teasing at the generation but doing so in a lighthearted fashion. Her childlike demeanor won’t appeal to everyone, and I could easily see it causing eye-rolls, but if you’re prone to the Disgaea writing style, I reckon it’ll be incredibly enjoyable. Her quirk of mistakenly uttering a common idiom could cause heads to shake, but I found it added to her naivety and, by proxy, came across as a cute mannerism.
Sure, the gushing was immense in the prior paragraph, but buckle up because Pirilika has nothing on Ao - a little girl that’s the epitome of chaotic. Her appearance may be that of a sweetheart, but once she begins speaking, you quickly realize looks are deceptive. While her reasons for creating mayhem are innocent, the damage left behind doesn’t reflect that. What caught me off guard about her is in our initial interaction, a seed is immediately planted. There's a sense of mystery, however minute, that helps tug me along. Don’t get it straight; if you’re coming into this title with delusions of an in-depth plot, disappointment is a hop, skip, and a tumble away. It’s meant only as an extra spice to an otherwise absurd narrative.
Finally, the last character I want to discuss is Fuji, but shout out to Yeyasu, a gamer with identical buying habits as myself, with another honorable mention to Higan, who has a strong mommy vibe to her. Basically, everyone is delightful. The banter exchanged by Fuji and Pirilika is especially stupid fun. Their relationship reminded me of siblings in the way she purposely did things to antagonize him, like aggravating his allergy to empathy - as a demon, niceties cause mouth bleeds, seemingly a play on the anime trope of blood squirting from the nose. It amuses me how he’ll respond and correct her whenever she says an expression wrong, as well. It's evident he's done with her shenanigans, but that annoyance has an underlying blanket of acceptance.
OH, HOW NAUGHTY! - Writing
Long-time fans won’t need to be briefed about the existence of perversion, but newcomers might. See, it definitely has a presence here, and it borderlines immature with a healthy heaping of cringe. I’m not going to pretend it won’t induce a groan or three if you’re not already predisposed to all of the lunacy of Disgaea. It will, but take solace in knowing it doesn’t dwell on the subject. It’s a snappy mention before it pivots and continues pushing the story forward - it’s a very inoffensive silliness. Sure, this game could exist without it, but that would mean stripping an identity it has built through the years. Literary prowess is supposed to be carefree, and that’s precisely why it has amassed a massive fan base - sometimes, you just want to lay back for a hearty chuckle.
WOAH, THAT'S META, DOOD! - Writing
Something else Disgaea is known for is the avalanche of pop culture references. From a Yu-Gi-Oh tribute to breaking the fourth wall and echoing a sentiment shared by many folks - resellers are usually evil. Without question, this is the whimsy I crave. It also maintains the trademark NIS humor while pulling from our reality in a way that won’t detract or feel awkward. It helps that the plotline is segmented into episodes, too. Yeah, it maintains a cohesive overarching story, but there’s ample wiggle room to venture down a route that’s a full 180 from the locale the player was just in, which also comes with the positive effect of keeping things novel. As a bonus, as someone sheltered and an introvert, I still understood it all.
VERY INCLUSIVE, FUJI! - Writing
Given the motifs we’re dealing with in Disgaea 7, you’d be forgiven for expecting nothing but the ridiculous, and I was, too, but I ended up discovering a bit of progressive dialogue in addition. Gender norms have been abolished, but if there’s any worry about how that’s handled, rest easy because it still has that NIS flavor. I don’t anticipate that including such a message was a political stance but more a subtle sign of solidarity, seamlessly blending into the insanity on display - I mean, its delivery is tongue-in-cheek and on the mouth. Again, implied drug use and curvy women remain fixtures, but seeing a subset of folks being embraced warms my heart. It not being tastelessly done is a nice extra to the inclusion.
EXCUSE ME, COME AGAIN! - Gameplay
Allow me to preface this portion by saying it’s a big nitpick. Chances are, it won’t bother the majority like it does me. With that said, each character has a set number of Evilities - essentially, these are passive skills. They boast nifty boons, like a certain percentage increase to a stat or money, or Hell as it’s known, earned after a battle. Typically, classes have a laundry list to learn, but you can add others you think would be a good fit - enter scrolls. It’s a cool concept, but the problem arises after obtaining one. There's zero intel about what said passive does. The minuscule information bar that should tell me is filled with redundant drivel, making for a convoluted workaround.
See, nothing prevents me from using one of the said scrolls on a party member. In doing so, I can check the effect it bestows. If I, however, think it’s better suited for another, I can select whatever it taught to generate a, you guessed it, second scroll. Realistically, it’s a process that doesn’t take a long time, but to do it in the first place is pointless. If that’s not enough, my poor memory meant I forgot what anything did. Unless I wrote it down, I was destined to enter a cycle of reiterating my actions. Yeah, it’s a teeny frustration in the vast scheme of things, but patching in a quick note as to what these abilities even do would not only aid quality of life but help with accessibility - I also don't want to appoint a test subject.
THAT'S A HUGE GIMMICK! - Gameplay
With each new Disgaea, a unique spin is introduced as a hook. For the sixth entry, that was Super Reincarnation, but this is the seventh, and we’re doing it big, literally - Jumbofication is the feature, and apart from making my auto-correct freakout, it also lets me supersize everyone I control. I adore it more than I probably should because the image of a Kaiju Prinny striking a group of enemies and squishing them to death is so satisfying. Yeah, it could have been overpowered, but it isn’t due to a decent balance. There’s a limitation to how long I can stay in that form. It’s short, but filling the meter that activates it is a breeze, requiring the player to go totally kamikaze - charging in, full of piss and vinegar, is key, and I approve.
TOO MANA POSSIBILITIES! - Gameplay
I can bolster that duration, though, by simply spending currency I gather through combat. It’s called Mana, but it has a ton of additional usage, too, like opening the door to a plethora of abilities. Some are practical, like triple jumping while in the hub base, while others are more battle-oriented, like tossing allies further or, due to the SRPG roots, movement distance. It’s great watching the tangible progression of my warriors. The most important thing about this facet, however, is how it helps make grinding feel rewarding and worthwhile. I’d happily partake, knowing that when I came out of the metaphorical fires, I’d be hardened and ready to invest in aspects that, in turn, would quicken the act of encounters. The grind may be a core notion, but it’s riveting as hell.
REACHING NEW HEIGHTS! - Gameplay
You'd be justified in saying the identity of Disgaea revolves around beefing up fighters and watching their stats soar. There's even a separate facet geared to providing an avenue to do just that. It’s called the Item World, which allows you to tap into the universe within a, well, item. Everything I collect has one, from spears to swords and eggs to candy. It’s a gnarly idea, letting me buff the lethality of a weapon and the defensive nature of armor or bolster a novelty accessory to the point of surpassing the rest. It’s super addictive and is made more so due to Nippon Ichi reimagining how it functions. I’ve got to say, the minor tweaks made to this mechanic made it my favorite implementation by a city mile.
It's a complete revamp, but before getting here, each floor I beat would equate to a level being added to whatever it is I’ve delved into. In Disgaea 7, there are now quests that I must conquer. These range from eliminating all enemies on the field deploying a set number of units to massacring all foes within a set turn limit. Successfully pulling off these objectives corresponds to a boost, be it an uptick by one, two, or three. The reason this fresh methodology enamors me is the engagement factor has been upped. It introduces a challenge because I must work within the confines of the rules, especially when the amount of characters that I can use is restricted. Sure, I don’t have to adhere, but the consequence is missing out on potential levels, and that's no bueno.
If y'all hate the thought of investing minutes, hours, and days in the hustle, here’s further insight on why I’m a sucker for it. I’ve made it no secret how much I love going out in video games and gathering troves of loot. It triggers something in my brain, causing dopamine to rush through my veins. It’s the same deal with the Item World. Yeah, I recognize I’m a weirdo; as I’ve already said earlier, seeing numbers grow is arousing. Whether it be the output of damage I inflict or Hell in my pocket, I can’t help but be giddy. Add in the hope of perhaps finding a better shield or bow is The proverbial icing on the pie. Disgaea is a wet dream for anyone who shares my obsession, though for others, the repetition could be a repellent.
If I had to choose a gripe, it's probably the huge maps. Size doesn’t matter, or so my exes have said. Even so, while I appreciate large areas if a paltry three or four monsters inhabit it, and there’s an empty vast section, that bulkiness is unnecessary. All it achieves is making traversal monotonous. I was bored as I sluggishly went towards the exit or as I was making my way to a killing spree. If that isn't convincing, I didn’t feel motivated to open the treasure chests in the vicinity - I couldn’t be bothered. While I understand these are all procedurally generated, Nippon Ichi could have coded in a boundary to avoid excessiveness. Whenever compact zones did appear, I gobbled every chest up.
IT ISN'T AUTOMATIC!? - Gameplay
Believe it or not, I’m a grown adult, and sometimes, I can’t be glued to a screen. A mechanic I absolutely adored in Disgaea 6 was complete automation. It had some niggles, of course. For instance, it couldn’t lift and throw anyone across gaps or on top of a cliff. I assumed 7 would solve all these issues, but I was wrong. While before, I could initiate a fully automated run in the item world, that’s no longer possible. It baffles me, to be frank. Please don't fret, as it's still an included facet, but I can only activate it when replaying story missions, and it costs resources. To be fair, they’re not difficult to get, but it doesn’t lessen the kick in the trousers that it is. Maybe I have missed it, and if so, that goes back to my complaint about the failure to convey.
SMOOTH LIKE A PEBBLE! - Performance
Not many players were partícularly impressed with the performance of 6. When I had the gall to say it was serviceable in Balanced Mode, I got flack. Fortunately, that won’t be a worry here because Disgaea 7 is vastly better than its predecessor. It isn’t flawless, and when abilities using light particles are executed, stutters are evident. I spent an embarrassing chunk of time playing, though, 70+ hours, to be precise, and that was all I experienced. Nippon Ichi optimized this title sublimely after the previous disaster, which paid off. The coveted peanut butter smoothness I look for is present and accounted for. Even after speeding up my movements, I didn’t notice any faltering. The differences between 7 and 6 are night and day.
OU, LOOKY LOOKY! - Presentation
If you’ve never heard of the phenomenon known as visual perversion, well, you have now. Disgaea 7 has a fair share of it, primarily in the designs. Females have especially seen their curves accentuated, specifically Higan, while the 3D models, in general, have crazy proportions. Naturally, with an aesthetic like this, I’m sure there’s hesitance due to the stigma surrounding the look. What I’ve said certainly doesn’t offer reprieve, but I can say that when it comes to Ao, she’s in age-appropriate clothing. Pirilika is dressed modestly, too, despite being older. The colors are vibrant, but I wish that when in the middle of dialogue, there was more variety in the backgrounds. It’s samey as is, which, while it’s beautifully presented, the lack of variation is disappointing.
LISTEN TO THAT BOP! - Sound Design
When I go to the bathroom, come back, and hear the music from my Nintendo Switch, prompting me to bust a dance, I reckon it’s safe to surmise that it’s fantastic. Disgaea 7 does a spectacular job with the soundtrack, matching it with expertise to the Japanese theme. It’s even better when thrown on some speakers that amplify the bass, too. That’s not what we want to hear, though. People want to know about the dub, and I found it mint. I can see Ao's voice grating, given her speech, but I thought it fit her to a tee. Pirilika, Fuji, Yeyasu, Higan, and everyone else were all serviceable in their delivery. When voices are given to fierce creatures that clearly don't match their appearance, I giggle - that’s the Disgaea charm. It’s random, ludicrous, and by God, it’s awesome.
AND THE NETHER'S VERDICT IS...
If you look up the definition of fun, Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless has a photo smack dab in the middle. After all the criticism that 6 received, Nippon Ichi didn't fold, instead thriving under the pressure. They needed to make a franchise statement and assert that a stumbling faux pas was just that and not an utter derailment - they nailed it. Not only did they take a risk by concentrating on a lone theme for the Netherworld, but they went to extra lengths to simplify the mechanics. I'm so happy the Item World maintains the alluring pull I’m obsessed with, too. The plot continues to be crazy, insane, and bonkers, all wrapped with a bow. Honestly, I went back to prior games, and they felt archaic. There’s zero doubt that this series has hit the highest of highs, solidifying its place as an SRPG classic.
DISGAEA 7: VOWS OF THE VIRTUELESS IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Special thanks to NIS America for the review code used for this coverage.