Disgaea 6 Review: A Rotten Good Time
Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny promised to give strategy RPGs a throat punch. Turns out, it’s more than just a slogan, though in some ways, Defiance of Destiny is punching Disgaea itself in the throat.
Nippon Ichi Software’s latest entry in the long running strategy series doesn’t do much different from its predecessor, but the changes it introduces are a subtly more substantial refresh than if the team tried changing the entire structure. I’ve played every Disgaea game except Disgaea 2, and Defiance of Destiny is by far the most fun I’ve had with the series.
Disgaea 6 Review: A Rotten Good Time
Disgaea 6 opens in the middle of the story, and while you can guess pretty easily what’s going on, I’ll keep details to a minimum. The story opens with Zed the zombie in the middle of a Prinny-torn battlefield on the cusp of defeating the Netherworld’s most powerful God of Destruction.
Except he doesn’t. Zed dies at the last minute and gets reborn into a new world facing down the same silent, menacing God of Destruction.
The reasons behind Zed’s invincibility are many, but chief among them is his deadpan undead dog Cerberus. Cerberus used to be a powerful sage and developed forbidden magic called Super Reincarnation, an ability that lets the user reincarnate endlessly until they achieve their goal.
You’ll find out what Zed’s goal is the more you play, but I was surprised how effectively NIS integrated the concept beyond just making it a gimmick. Disgaea has never been too big on character depth, and while that’s still somewhat the case with Disgaea 6, there are some notable improvements.
The circumstances around Zed’s mission, how it changes him, and how he ends up connecting with new party members give Defiance of Destiny a more intimate feel. It's easier to care about the tragic zombie lad than it was to connect with Killia the edgelord or the blowhard Laharl, and the story is surprisingly touching at times.
It helps that the cast of Disgaea 6 characters outside Zed is easily one of the best yet in the series as well, both in variety and writing. We’ve covered them before, but there’s a delightful panoply of bizarre personalities.
These range from scheming princess to a slightly delusional TV superhero, though King Misedor’s linguistic quirks and Cerberus’ delivery are stand out points for me. It’s one of the most consistently humorous Disgaea games, which helps give the more serious points the gravitas they need when they do happen.
Of course, quirkiness is nothing new to the series. In that and more, Disgaea 6 is recognizably Disgaea to a fault. Character building and progression are the same, quest styles are familiar, the Item World is almost identical in structure to previous Item Worlds, and even the DLC chapters where you recruit past characters are built similarly to previous games.
Once again, though, NIS is able to get away with keeping most things the same thanks to a handful of tweaks to the formula. These are all more substantial than the changes Disgaea 5 introduced, and best of all, they lower the barrier to enjoying Disgaea without changing what makes the series enjoyable to begin with.
Take the Juice Bar, for example. You’ll accrue EXP and Mana at a good clip over the course of each battle, and some of it gets stored in the Bar. You can spend some of this to level up characters and even increase their class proficiency, which is handy when you make new, underleveled characters.
Getting the most out of the Juice Bar means grinding for extra EXP and mana, and happily, Disgaea 6 makes grinding less of a… well, grind.
Super Reincarnation the mechanic differs from Super Reincarnation the plot device and does require some grinding to make it useful. However, along with the generous heaps of EXP you get from each battle, repeating battles is much more tolerable than before in Disgaea 6.
Auto battle with extensive control over party AI is now a thing, and you can even send squads into the Item World to grind levels without you needing to be there yourself. It might sound like a simple change, but it’s hard to overstate how much of an effect just these few features have on making the game fun.
I’m not a min-maxer and rarely engaged with previous Disgaea games outside the main storyline and a few Item World shenanigans. Disgaea 6 changed that. I was surprised to find myself leveling multiple characters, experimenting more with classes, and powering up items.
In other words, I was doing all the things NIS wanted us to do with Disgaea before but made so unappealing to all but the particularly dedicated.
The best part is you don’t have to do any of this. You’re free to pursue a more punishing or traditional Disgaea experience if you want it, and that level of flexibility is the real punch in the SRPG throat. The only issue is it takes until roughly chapter three or so for these features to open up, which means the first couple of hours feel too familiar at times.
Disgaea 6’s visual changes had me a bit uncertain what to expect initially. The older 2D artwork still holds up, after all. There seemed little reason to change it, so I was pleased to see how much more vibrant it makes the game feel. Character models are clean and distinct, with a satisfyingly chunky design, and despite my initial skepticism, it does make special attacks feel more dynamic.
However, these improvements come with a few drawbacks. Movement in the base is a bit jerky, and load times transitioning into special attacks feel like they’re a few milliseconds longer than they need to be. Neither of these is a significant issue, true. However, Disgaea 6 is hardly a demanding game, and it’s odd such hiccups exist to begin with.
Disgaea 6 Review — The Bottom Line
- A much-welcomed set of QoL improvements
- Consistently excellent writing
- Satisfying and surprisingly emotional story
- The same strong core Disgaea systems and mechanics
- The same Disgaea experience
- Some performance issues
Disgaea 6 is focused more on improving what's already here, and it more than succeeds in that task. Yes, NIS will have to add some more substantial changes to the series beyond just some tweaks here and there one day. With Defiance of Destiny, I'm happy to wait a while longer for that day.
[Note: Nippon Ichi Software provided a copy of Disgaea 6 for this review.]