Visually, Disgaea’s always been a bit backwards. It looked basic in 2003, with its bright colours and myriad of spunky character designs failing to make up for the low-res sprites and rudimentary 3D environments. It’s the very epoch of gameplay over graphics; a hardcore, number crunching, SRPG from a tiny Japanese developer appealing directly to a niche market. Six years later and the visuals aren’t looking any better, but the two sequels and, for the DS, second port of the original prove that there must be something appealing in developer Nippon Ichi’s most popular of zany strategy-fests.
Disgaea’s lo-fi nature means that the DS’s dual diminutive displays are a natural fit. Whereas Disgaea 3’s graphical simplicities horrify PS3 owners, by comparison it’s a decent looking game on the lower spec handhelds. Compared to the other ports, though, it comes off the loser: certain effects have been scaled down from the PS2/PSP versions, and the character sprites have had just a touch of detail shaved away. It’s hard to notice unless you’ve got both versions side by side, however. Nobody is playing Disgaea for the graphics, anyway.
The DS port also, sadly, lacks a lot of the speech, and like the original PAL PS2 release there’s no option to hear the dialogue spoken in Japanese. It does, however, retain the Etna Mode that graced the PSP version, as well as the multiplayer battle features. It also gives you the option to recruit Pleinair, series artist Takehito Harada’s signature character and former receptionist to the Dark Assembly, into your party: she’s an excellent character to have, with very high stats from the start.
Famous for its characters dealing damage in six digit numbers against bosses who sit and soak it up, Disgaea is a game where having a character at level 2000 is positively encouraged. Getting there from level 1, however, can seem daunting. At first glance you might feel like you’re stuck in a hopelessly anarchic environment, but the game does a fairly decent job of tethering you to a semblance of linear progression. Bureaucracy plays a large part in this, with the player convening the Netherworld’s Dark Assembly to judge on all sorts of in-game minutiae, such as whether to raise the prices of items in the shop, to bring in more powerful items, or increase the difficulty of monsters, which gives you substantially more experience per kill. These options are only made available after meeting certain prerequisites, such as being the adequate rank or having spent enough money.
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