The Disgaea series has always had the mantra of taking the strategy JRPG genre and doing whatever the damn hell it wants to it. High levels encourage power leveling, a myriad of options help you build characters to fulfill any tactic, and it’s all deep fried in delicious otaku and weeb-appeal.
The series has undergone gradual changes with each installment, and now Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny promises to be the biggest shake up yet. 3D graphics, higher levels, and more quality of life improvements than you can shake a rotting undead arm at. Much like a zombie, there are a few ugly bits, and all that bluster and boasting can hide how surprisingly easy it is to beat. Is it still fun despite the flaws?
Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4 (Japan Only)
Release Date: January 28th, 2021 (Japan), July 9th, 2021 (Australia), June 29th, 2021 (Worldwide)
Price: $59.99 USD
The Netherworlds are in a hell of a lot of trouble. Yes, plural. Multiple worlds across the multiverse are being destroyed by the indestructible God of Destruction; with no motive or pattern. A council of the Netherworlds’ best and brightest are called to address the situation. Right up until lowly zombie Zed blows through the level 999 guards, and tells everyone he killed the big bad.
Cutting to a flashback, we learn how Zed has tried multiple times to kill this monstrosity, failing over and over. Yet the magic of Super Reincarnation has granted him two special abilities; to revive after death so he may grow stronger, and be reborn in new worlds that will help him achieve his goal.
While past games have had narrative themes of getting stronger, it has never been as blatant here. Aside from sound balancing and recording quality being varied among the minor cast; the voice actors for the major characters not having to hit voice flaps leads to a surprisingly good English dub. This leads to the goofball characters still having some tender moments.
Losing sight of your goals, losing who you are to achieve them or because of failure, the titular defiance of what one feels is their destiny and lot in life; this and more are backed by the classic “never give up” moral. This would usually feel played out, yet the Rushmore-sized chip on Zed’s shoulder and harsh tone usually prevents it feeling too cliché.
While some games tackle themes of depression and failure, Disgaea 6 is oddly quite good at it- though far from its intention. On paper, yelling “sure you might fail, but you have to try because of how important this thing is, if only for decency and pride” can be demoralizing. Yet hearing it with such conviction from the cast may convince you that old college try is worth it.
That is, until nigh half of every single voice clip in cutscenes are clipped at the very end. The Prinny’s iconic catchphrase is no longer “dood,” but “doo-“. It’s impossible to not notice, and becomes teeth-grinding once you do. There’s also the odd spelling mistake or synonym in text boxes and menus, but the points are still conveyed.
The ever-present skip button makes it all too clear the story is dressing for the gameplay. For those unfamiliar with past games; the typical mechanics of classes, gear, movement, and defending from most strategu RPGs are here. But the series has always had a few extra mechanics.
The most prominent is how high levels can go, this time proudly declared as up to level 99,999,999. The level curve is steeper than other strategy RPGs, and players are given plenty of tools should they wish to take on something a little tougher than they should be able to handle.
Lift and throw towers of allies to quickly spread out across the battlefield, or have nearby allies power up a unit’s next move. Or you can throw two enemies together to combine their levels for more EXP when you kill it.
Focus on one unit to increase the damage in a combo, or choose when your allies execute their attacks for more control. You can even undo movement and throwing allies before they do anything, all to command the battlefield as freely as possible.
On top of this, some maps have Geo Panels- colored tiles where magic crystals bestow useful or hindering effects to all those stand on the same color tile as it. Combine that with how they can be thrown around, and chain together their destruction for big bonuses, and you can see how battles can be more complex than a single map gimmick or dealing with overwhelming numbers.
This carries over into how a unit is raised. Past games had skills and passive abilities to enhance (the latter called Evilities), weapons to master and learn new skills, inherent playstyles for various classes, and reincarnation.
This let a unit start over from level 1 but with better stats, and possibly re-classed into a better rank or different class all together (with their old skills and Evilities). The Dark Assembly means bribing NPCs for various perks, or just beating their heads in when they don’t vote your way. Characters improve by more than just leveling up, and even items can level up via randomly generated and grindable dungeons.
So what’s new demonic pussy cat? Disgaea 6 has many quality of life and streamlining improvements to make the grind easier, though a few come with a downside and all add up to one issue. The game isn’t a complete monkey’s paw, but veterans may feel unsure or irked more than once.
First up on combat itself; team attacks can now increase the power of skills along with normal attacks. What’s more, instead of just adjacent allies triggering this, up to ten characters within two squares can join in the fun. Except, they don’t beyond increasing the damage. Team attack animations are no more.
Some monsters now take up five squares in a + shape; with wide hitting normal attacks, usually some kind of Evility that capitalizes on being hit more, and capable of being a wall on certain maps. Monsters don’t even use their own weapon type anymore, wielding demon’s swords, axes, and the like (though not in animations).
Just like demons, monsters they have preferences, and are free to equip anything. They just can’t use weapon skills, and instead have their own set of unique skills. So do demons, as weapon skills are gone. This means they can’t be used if they reincarnate into a different class (only spells). Even if you give a Warrior a sword, he’ll have Boulder Crush and is shown wielding an axe while doing it.
There’s not much difference between a demon or monster now. Fusing monsters into a giant unit or turning them into weapons is gone, and they can lift and throw just like demons. Along with only having three kinds of giant monster, a lot of the staple classes don’t return; though this is arguably in exchange for a greater variety of builds with what you get. At least Thieves can steal without a special item now.
Turning eyes on how characters are raised, they don’t gain EXP for themselves. If one guy does all the work and everyone else stands on the field scratching their hell’s bells, everyone gets a share of the EXP and Mana (the latter for improving skills and learning Evilities). Unlike communism, sharing here actually helps elevate those who in need, and level up weaker units easily.
Not enough? How about the Juice Bar. A little “spare” EXP and Mana is stored when winning battles, along with being able to obtain the essences of stats. You can then pay out to make them into a stat-boosting drink, even improving weapon mastery and class levels. These can even be spent on improving Squads- groups your units can be set in to gain various passive bonuses.
How about being able to level up a class? While 99% of the time you will want your Warriors to focus on being Warriors (unlocking their higher ranks and Evilities), any character can select a class to gain access to their Evilities when they unlock the next rank. Better than reincarnating as a class you don’t want stats in just for their Evility.
Still not enough? How about scrolls that can grant you Evilities of other classes, the gamut of generic Evilities not tied to anyone, and sometimes even spells. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find one, or you can pay the Mana cost for learning an Evility you already have to make a scroll of it. You also gain a free random Evility on reincarnation.
What, you’re worried you’ve got too many options? How about D-Merits, mini achievements for every unit. Use them to gain Karma for better stats during reincarnation, and even items. There’s a limit to how much a character can hold, but the game will warn you before you’d lose anything.
The juice drinking D-Merits can be abused with 1-point drinks, but will take you a LONG time. Unfortunately, a 200 point drink doesn’t mean you’ve had 200 drinks. So why shouldn’t you always take baby sips? Sheer god damn boredom comes to mind.
Even your base has improved quality of life. You heal up for free, so the hospital is just a place to claim prizes for how much HP and SP you expended, the shop is no longer a random selection of items, and if you level up an item you can buy more of it at the higher level.
Too busy to grind the Item World? Send a crack team of units you don’t care about as a Research Squad to not only level the item up. While they can level up as you fight other battles, this is vastly inferior to using them. You can even trade in your old items for points to improve other items, or get the Research Squad to bring you back more items and stat-boosting innocents.
We ain’t stopping yet, we got quests. You can accept as many as you like, and repeat some. Kill targets, reach goals, and turn in items (at the cost of everyone having “QUEST!” floating above their head) and you can get more items, stat essences, EXP, mana, and unlock new classes. The only downside is you can be overwhelmed with what to do next, but they’re sorted by the reward they’ll give.
So what’s the downside to all these wonderful new tools? The problem with the above 797 word rant on all the new and improved features?! You don’t need them!! At least, not for the campaign. The talk of higher levels is all smoke and mirrors, since you level up much faster. The returning Cheat Shop- increasing how much you gain certain EXPs, mana, and money at the cost of others- doesn’t help matters.
I admit to downloading free DLC which came with double EXP for your first 100 battles. But even when disabled it I found my party jumping to levels far higher than they would have been by the same chapter in other Disgaea games. As a series about power leveling, why wouldn’t you take the free DLC- even if you disabled it for when you needed it?
Excluding newly created units or those reincarnated, I rarely found myself needing to grind. This was despite usually deploying the lowest level units I could each time, and building an army of one of each class, the unique story characters, and a few free DLC guys. Even then three of them practically lived in one run of the Item World for most of the story.
True to past games, the challenge doesn’t truly “begin” until the post game. Nonetheless it’s egregious here how little it takes to match or surpass the challenge in your first run of the story. Past games at least had some bite, usually through it being harder to reach the levels of your next foes, and Geo-Panels and layouts demanding unique ways overcome them. The true insult comes from “Demonic Intelligence.”
The series has had autobattles before; your brave troops charging towards the nearest sap like Black Friday. But, you can now add your own AI- or Demonic Intelligence. The visual programming allows you to create simple if/then statements. “If your health is over 50%, move toward the lowest defense enemy and use basic attacks; otherwise run away from enemies and defend.”
The downside is not that you lose the grind; working out the “programming” to make a squad that can beat the maps that are best for grinding could be a fun puzzle in their own way. The downside is that you can use this even in the campaign with very basic AI, robbing what little challenge you had. Of course if you’re over-leveled you can brute-force anything. So how hard is it to over-level?
Disgaea 6 features Auto Repeat. Combined with Auto Battle, your party will continually repeat the fight on the map over and over again. You may need to optimize with different Evilities and maps; but ultimately you can leave the game running, and comeback to a demonic horde who can fell any challenge. Leave it long enough, and you have won the game that was already simple to beat.
Of course you can resist the temptation and only use it for the post-game challenges, or to grind up a low-level unit ASAP. It depends how you treat the Disgaea series’ ethos. Is working out how to break the game in half part of the fun? Do you try to best foes before you are ready? In either case, there’s no challenge here.
A possible ulterior motive for the streamlining and quality of life improvements then comes into sickening focus thanks to the ease of the game. The new 3D graphics demanded a bigger budget, which meant tighter belts elsewhere. Familiar classes and even balance may have gone out the window to bring the series out of 2.5D. Was it worth it? It’d have to be a lot better to even reach “hardly.”
To be clear the models look OK (when not in performance mode), and are accurate to classic units and weapons. While simplistic they fit the Disgea universe, at the cost of some detail compared to the sprites. The attack animations also keep most of the personality of their respective units, now elevated by facial expressions and camera angles past games could not do without unique sprites.
The limitation of sprites bred special attack animations that started as quick but meaty, all the way to apocalyptically over-the-top. Now, every attack takes places in its own “pocket map” robbing a sense of scale, and overall are a little slower and more drawn out. Seeing a planet blow up just doesn’t have the same impact here.
The previous cost-cutting trick for cutscenes using basic battle poses and animations to emote are still kept in 3D- and it looks cheap. Some cutscenes are purely full character portraits; which is better than the stiff poses and animations.
Editor’s Note: The above gallery shows the game’s graphical modes from highest graphics to highest performance.
What is unforgivable is the frame-rate. In Graphics mode, it hits sub-30 for everything except menus and special attack animations. Performance mode alleviates this, but blurs the screen so heavily it ruins what positives the models had.
Balance mode gives the worst of both worlds, so it’s highly advised you enjoy the game from a distance with a big TV. These matters are not resolved in handheld mode. The game is available on PlayStation 4 in Japan, but it’s clear there was no attempt to modify the game for the Switch, and twice as infuriating this is the only way to enjoy it in English.
The game also abuses asset reuse more than ever. Past games had plenty of recolored weapons and map tiles, but here it openly admits to returning to past locations, and bosses with original models are seen to a creatively-bankrupt degree. Both are given narrative justification; but combined with all of the above, you have to wonder if all the game’s issues are born of the budget being spent mostly on 3D models.
Much like the recent Pokemon games, Disgaea 6 leapt into 3D sacrificing balance, challenge, and (in this case some) animation in the process. Yet, the 3D models are not shown to the best of their ability. So if you knew mid-development your game had those issues, how would you amend them while not spending too much? Perhaps a game everyone can feel like a hero in would soften the blow?
It’s not dumbed down enough to be casual, but it lacks that bite fans would be looking for. It doesn’t seem to go as far as to aim for the dreaded “wider audience.” The game is littered with references to anime and Japanese games, and 3D has allowed boob jiggle to thrive. But making a game easier would appeal to new blood, who can also help dilute criticism not knowing what came before.
This is far from a concrete theory, and many of the improvements are genuinely welcome. So would have the Auto Combat and Auto Repeat; had they been unlocked much later to the point you would be grinding excessively in the post game. On the other hand, why shouldn’t you give the option to those who want to become almighty early on, and cake-walk the rest of the game?
Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny has been streamlined to bring more bonkers strategy RPG fun, but losing most challenge. While trying to be more accessible and easier to enjoy, fans and keen minds may end up feeling like they’re on auto pilot until the post-game challenge brings what they came for.
It’s a baffling move considering how the game still seems to focus on fans aesthetically and mechanically. If you like seeing numbers grow bigger and building an army, this’ll still easily scratch that itch. But for the current asking price and the performance issues, newbie and fan alike deserve better- most older Disgaea titles would be recommended over this.
Higher levels and better stats were necessary in past games for the mounting challenges, which came through working out how to grind effectively, better items, and reincarnation to build your units. Here it’s almost inevitable you’ll have units strong enough to aid you. Basic tactics can leave Disgaea 6 utterly dominated; panting, sweating, and not even caring it’s sleeping in the wet patch.
Whether you work out how to play optimally, or choose to, the game is still fun on a basic level. You may even want something less taxing, as big numbers tell you you’re number 1. Even so it won’t take much to be too smart for your own good; including when you think you can waltz through the post-game like you did the main story.
Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review code provided by NIS America. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.