Game: “Disgaea 6”
It’s always a nice feeling when a long standing franchise continues its legacy with a new entry, and even more so when there’s been a big gap since the last installment. So it was with great anticipation that the latest tactical RPG in the Disgaea series, Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny, was launched this year, some six years after the last release in the series. The fine folks over at Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) kindly opened the portal to the Netherworld via my Nintendo Switch and offered that I come inside and check out their latest offering!
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Bright, fun visuals|
|+ Engaging tactical gameplay|
|+ Tongue-in-cheek script has plenty of laughs|
|Negatives||– So. Many. Menus.|
|– Overwhelms you with gameplay choices early on without explaining any priorities|
|– Huge emphasis on grinding|
|Our Playtime||15 hours|
|Available On||Nintendo Switch, PS4|
Right from the get go, Disgaea 6 opens fire with both barrels of ridiculousness and explains the backstory of our protagonist, a zombie who’s rather unimaginatively named Zed. A bit of an egomaniac, Zed is on a quest to defeat the God of Destruction, a near-impervious being who is wreaking havoc on the other demon-folk of the Netherworld. Being defeated again and again, Zed is brought back to life by a Super Reincarnation spell that allows him to grow stronger with every failed attempt which opens up a bizarre plotline that sees him skip between universes to collect a ragtag bunch of party members, as well as open up the reincarnation mechanic that allows for an utterly absurd amount of levelling up to occur as the game progresses.
Disgaea 6 is a completely standalone story and offers a clean slate for newcomers to the series (like me) to start from. In standard anime fare, you play through a revenge story that requires a superhuman effort to bring down the antagonist, only for a more sinister enemy to be revealed later on. The plot takes some time to get going, and you’ll hear the words ‘Super Reincarnation’ and ‘God of Destruction’ more times than you’ll care to count in the first 10 hours or so, to the point that it really begins to grate. Thankfully you’re treated to a fun cast of characters to distract from the repetition, including the stitched together devil-dog Cerberus, the money-obsessed King Misador, and Melodia, the demon princess searching for elusive happily-ever-after. The story is delivered in a still image, storyboard format, but with wonderfully drawn character portraits and character theme music working in concert with great (if rather OTT) voice acting, NIS do a wonderful job of bringing the cast to life. Yes, the characters are all rather tropey, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in the interactions between them that brings plenty of laughs as the cheeky scenes play out.
Much of the legwork for your party management is handled in a small hub world known as the Fourth Dimensional Netherworld, with more and more options being unlocked here as you play through the first few levels, and each offering a different way to enhance your party, skills or equipment. It’s simple stuff to start off with, where you’re given access to a shop and optional quests, but things quickly escalate and before you know it you’re waist deep in assigning ‘Evilities’, accessing the ‘Squad Shop’, and being offered the chance to explore ‘Item World’ and call the ‘Darkest Assembly’. There’s a ‘try it and see’ vibe to the whole thing which is hardly a negative, but it would have been less mind boggling to unlock these options over a greater timespan, where you have an opportunity to understand one aspect in full before being given another one to contend with.
Once you get to grips with all of the choices on offer there’s a huge breadth of scope to improve, but getting there was just a bit of a struggle for me personally; I found it difficult to get my head around what was an absolute must in order to effectively progress in the game and what was only important for meta-gamers and completionists, leading to me feeling a little like a rabbit in headlights early on. Long time fans of the series will be well versed in all of these options, but for a new player like me it was pretty overwhelming to have so many choices thrown at me in such a short space of time.
A true tactical RPG, the gameplay is Disgaea 6 is typical of the series, with the player moving his party around a 3D grid-based battlefield to launch various attacks on enemy units, ranging from close quarter strikes to longer ranged fireballs and even player-character-Prinny (penguin) bombs! The combat has great depth and asks you to make a lot of meaningful decisions about how best to position your team and how to attack; there’s some environmental elements to consider too, like navigating to higher ground and ‘geo effects’, where characters and attacks are modified by the specific spaces that they’re standing on.
While mostly empty, the battle arenas are vibrant and characterful and I’m a big fan of the character models too, all of which have been rendered in full 3D for the first time in series history. The different classes have slick, distinctive looks and the game makes it simple to remember each type of enemy and their threats by way of their look alone, which is definitely handy for a newbie to the series. Seeing the enemies use the same models as the players party annoyed me though, and seeing carbon copies of my characters staring me down made me care a lot less about my team than in most other RPGs I’ve played. Outside of the central characters like Zed, my party members just felt like cloned fodder, and it was really hard to connect with characters whose exact faces you’ve spent the past ten levels pounding into defeat.
Whilst the tactical elements are definitely engaging and enjoyable, the lack of flair makes fighting feel a little soulless for a game that’s otherwise so bursting with colour. In fact the most noticeable thing about the combat in Disgaea 6 is the use of menus… lots and lots of menus. There’s obviously a complexity to RPGs and their systems that require a lot of text and menu inputs, but Disgaea 6 takes this to the extreme and it feels like every menu has a sub-menu, and the sub-menu has a pop-out, and the pop-out has a confirmation. Clicking through all of the selections gets tiresome and I’d have liked things to be scaled back just a little to make for a better experience and help the battles to flow more smoothly.
My main gripe with the combat however, is just how long it takes to get into the thick of it on each level. Your party and the enemy are often positioned at opposite ends of some pretty large battle maps and it can take 3-4 turns before you can even engage the opposition and attack. It feels like there’s a lot of wasted time, especially when you have such a big party to organise and take actions with. Ultimately, the length of the battles are fine, but I’d rather those extra turns be spent actually in battle than just traipsing across the map.
That said, Disgaea 6 does have a trick up its sleeve to help alleviate some of the more repetitive elements of the gameplay, and that’s the choice to Auto Battle. There’s a ‘Demonic Intelligence’ system that allows you to program the AI of each of your characters and determine how they should act in various scenarios, and if you’re willing to put the time into setting this up, it allows you to basically complete the levels without so much as entering a single command. To add a further element of hands-off play, there’s the option to Auto Repeat your battles, allowing you to simply leave your Switch on to farm experience for as long as you’re willing to pay the electricity bill. While I’m sure this is a very welcome addition to the min-max junkies, the appeal of letting a game play itself is entirely lost on me, and simply removes the need to experience the game at all. Disgaea is a series that asks its players to grind to an inordinate amount – more so than I would personal find palatable – so I can see why an automated system would make this more manageable, but I fear this level of automation only encourages players to skip the well constructed gameplay in favour of an AI programmer.
Leaning into this need for automation and one of the most well-promoted points about Disgaea 6 is just how BIG some of the numbers can go, and honestly, it’s pretty ludicrous. In a series already renowned for having damage running into the millions, the latest installment allows characters to level up almost to Level One Million, and to have damage outputs in the quadrillions. Things start as they mean to go on, with character stats starting in the 10,000s and only sky rocketing from there. In reality though, this is mostly smoke and mirrors, with a tonne of zeros added on only for effect. And while there’s definitely some laughs in pulverising an enemy to the tune of one trillion, two hundred and fifty-eight billion, nine hundred and sixty-three million, five hundred and sixty-six thousand, two hundred and twenty-five damage as a one-off, I think you can agree that it’s a touch unnecessary when it’s every single attack.
While I feel like I’ve had more negative things to say about Disgaea 6 than positive, I definitely enjoyed my first foray into the Netherworld. The characters are great fun and make up for a rather well-worn plot by quite simply being well presented and entertaining. The combat is a little long-winded for my tastes but once you’re in the thick of battle there’s really a lot to like, and I can see why the series has so many admirers. There’s plenty to enjoy for returning fans and newcomers alike, though I warn first-timers to be aware of the emphasis on grinding to a ridiculous rate, and to be ready to have AI completing more battles than you in the long run. If you’re someone who enjoys fine tuning party management and are happy to leave the hands-on battle management to the robots, I think Disgaea 6 is definitely one for you, dood!
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.
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