Sometimes, you come to be known as that guy that likes something obscure. I’ve picked up a few obscure likes, and one of them has been a JRPG series known as Disgaea.
Disgaea is a strategy RPG developed by Nippon Ichi Software (NIS). While most strategy RPGs have exquisite political stories and intricate mechanics, Disgaea deconstructs those by starring bratty characters and by embracing imbalance and over-the-top complexity.
The main characters of the first installment (Disgaea: Hour of Darkness) are motivated by things like money and power (except the foil character, Flonne), but there is a certain morality at play that isn’t immediately evident, and though many of the characters claim to be demons, the true nature of what they are becomes apparent as the game progresses, and factors well into a subtle lesson about how good and evil aren’t necessarily evident by aesthetics.
However, Disgaea isn’t for everyone. Some people might be lured in by the stylistic charm, but quickly be turned off by the over-the-top complexity that quickly becomes evident just on the surface. What’s more, the pacing might be a little slow, even for what basically rewards power-leveling and gaming the system.
I’ve played most of the games, and of them, my favorite is Disgaea 3 (the one that takes place in a college). That one does the best job of catching the charm of the originals, while at the same time doing the most to bring the series forward.
Sadly, by the time of Disgaea 4, things started to go downhill, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so. It’s main draw was that the sprite art was redone for HD. However, that was the only positive thing about the fourth one, as the game system hasn’t changed much compared to the previous installment. Mechanically speaking, each of the more recent games have resembled the third, which means that they haven’t really done much to justify making new installments besides making up new characters and new stories to go with them.
Disgaea 5 held up pretty well (by sticking to the formula), but the writing early on was so cringe that I found myself glad that I had the option of skipping the cutscenes and going straight for the stages. I feel like I’ve enjoyed the game more for it, and I still don’t have any idea what motivates any of the main characters in Disgaea 5 (aside from that Usalia and Majorita can’t stand each other).
So, what do we have to look forward to in Disgaea 6, as far as gameplay mechanics go? By the looks of it, it’s pretty much more of the same. On the one hand, one can point out that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. On the other, one can also point out that if an identical game already exists, then it becomes hard to justify spending an additional $60 on what is basically the same experience.
Then there’s the DLC abuse. If NIS weren’t such an obscure game company, it wouldn’t do such a great job of avoiding the criticism it should be getting for its DLC practices.
If you’re familiar with the Disgaea series up to this point, you know that it’s almost certain that most main characters from previous games will be present in Disgaea 6. The only question is, which characters will be available in the base game, and which ones will be withheld for release as DLC? At this point, we already know that Mao, Rasberyl, Usalia, and other characters are already being planned for DLC, even though the game hasn’t been released yet, which looks suspiciously like they’re being arbitrarily used to further drive up the profitability of the game.
If the characters weren’t complete in time for launch, that would be understandable. But when it seems like a game company knows just what they intend to release as DLC, that’s suspicious. But hey, Disgaea is supposed to be a deconstruction of Strategy RPGs, so maybe a pretense of DLC abuse is part of the humor, and when gamers buy the DLC, they’re participating in the joke.
Another reason I’m not looking forward to Disgaea 6 is because my taste in games has changed quite a bit since I was first introduced to the series.
When I first played Disgaea, I was a poor guy. I don’t mean the kind of poor guy who collects hand-outs while at the same time could somehow afford all three major game systems and an enormous screen with which to play them. I mean the kind of poor where you work at a grocery store, and actually attempt to live off what you make. I had little flexibility in my budget, so when I did buy a game, I had to make my choice carefully. So I sought out games with high replay value for the price of admission.
At the time, Disgaea was just the kind of game I was looking for. I liked my games complicated, and with tons of replay value, even if that replay value was artificially inflated by hours of repetitive grinding.
Since then, my budget has been much kinder to me. Not only that, I feel as though my taste in video games is shifting towards the experiential and somewhat away from the strategic. I still enjoy strategy games, but I enjoy them in a different way; not out of a desire to extract as much replay value out of them as I can, but for the fun of exercising my judgement in intricate game systems.
For one thing, it’s great that NIS has discovered that people with Nintendo systems are actually interested in their games. It took them a really, really long time to figure it out, and it wasn’t much help that they tested the waters with droll stuff like Phantom Brave for Wii. It’s kind of ironic, considering that NIS is about as prolific as Nintendo when it comes to sequels, remasters, and generally playing it safe.
However, I would’ve been more excited about it a decade ago. As it is now, I don’t feel much excitement for a game series that I was once really into. While that might sound depressing in a sense, I don’t think so. Sometimes, change is an opportunity to discover something new. And the way it’s looking, Disgaea 6 doesn’t look like it will be doing much of anything new.
Also, it stars a zombie. And I don’t like those.