When the first installment of the Nippon Ichi Software’s Disgaea series, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, was released in late August of 2003, it flew under the radar. There were no English television advertisements for the game, and written previews were only available for people who went out of their way to look for them. August’s limited release sold out, leaving advertisement in the hands of the community. While other functionally similar titles produced by NIS had previously made it to America, Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure was not met with the same positive review scores as Disgaea.
Disgaea 1 eventually became a super hit. Harada’s art style was unique, the characters were memorable, and the story is adorable, even with slapstick moments. Due to the nature of the limited release of the game, original copies were hard to come by, selling for as much as $100 on ebay until additional runs of the game were printed. Taking a recordbreaking five years to have its “Greatest Hits” version, Disgaea 1 personified the term “sleeper hit”.
With no related titles appearing for three years after its release, Disgaea seemed to be resigned to being a one-hit-wonder for Nippon Ichi Software. However, with the glut of new fans every day demanding more, a sequel was released. Though generally considered to be worse than the first, Disgaea 2 was also well received. This solidified its status as a cash cow, as shortly thereafter a flood of Disgaea related titles hit the shelves in America, and the fans ate them up.
A list of related releases include:
- Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (PS2) – 8/2003.
- Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories (PS2) – 8/2006
- Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness (PSP) – 10/2007, a remake of the original, with additional features
- Disgaea DS (DS) – 8/2008, a remake of the original, with reduced sound and graphic qualities.
- Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice (PS3) – 8/2008
- Prinny: Can I Really be the Hero? (PSP) – 2/2009, a 2D platformer featuring the demon-penguin prinnies, and their master from Disgaea 1, Etna
- Disgaea Infinite (PSP) – 6/2010, A graphic novel that primarily features a misadventure starring the cast of Disgaea 1
- Prinny 2: Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood! (PSP) – 1/2011, much the same as the original Prinny game.
One of Disgaea’s myriad of selling points is its gameplay system that’s only as complex as you want it to be. It’s entirely possible to beat the game without worrying about item rank, item level, resident distribution, reincarnation, skill levels, or weapon mastery level. The old tried-and-true system “Can’t beat this boss? Go back and level up!” will work as well as it does in every other RPG since Dragon Warrior. However, this game shines in that there are so many ways to power up your character, and that they all have synergistic compatibilities with one another.
Can’t beat the boss? Try one of the following!
- Level up your gear – Diving into Item World is a great way to power up, and it doesn’t favor one character over another like a hard grind does. Is your brawler too strong? Take his Imperial Seal and give it to your mage! Most items can be levelled up to 30, while rare items can get up to 60, and legendary items can hit level 100. The system can be even further augmented by including stat-boosting residents of the desired type on the item while levelling it up.
- Find items of matching rarity – If two items have a matching rarity number, the effect of both of those items is increased by 10%. If three items match, all three of those items have their effectiveness increased by 20%, and finally, all four items matched will give each a boost of 30%. it’s very helpful if you only have the patience to level up one item in item world to just amplify it with three other items that match its rarity.
- Increase Weapon Level – Every level a character has in a weapon increases the stats of the weapon by 3% while equipped. This also stacks with the matching rarity bonus, and with the boosted stats from levelling the item up. Furthermore, having the specialist “Armsmaster” will multiply the speed at which a character gains weapon experience, to a maximum of 1900 Armsmasters, yielding a staggering 20x gaining speed.
All of these things combined with Reincarnation, maxing out the residents, and a lot of patience can yield some truly silly results.
The story of each Disgaea game is different, but shares many key elements. The main character is a demon, or travels with demons and the story is serious, with moments of slapstick comedy to lighten the mood. Though the stories themselves are largely unrelated, it doesn’t stop characters from previous games from making cameos (or even starring roles, in the case of Etna in Disgaea 2) in later games.
Nippon Ichi tries to develop a universe where humans, demons, and angels can all coexist. Naturally, the differences between the characters creates many situations to give the player a laugh, but the more intriguing part is how they endear the demon characters to you. Even the Overlord Laharl, a cynical and selfish megalomaniac can tug at your heartstrings at certain parts of the story.
While the underaged succubus, Etna, makes herself Nippon Ichi’s equivalent of that catgirl Felicia, appearing in nearly every title NIS has a hand in since Disgaea (Cross Edge, Trinity Universe, Prinny games, etc.), the most memorable thing to come from Disgaea is the Prinny. Prinnies are little winged demon-penguins with stick legs. Though they technically count as demons, they are actually shells that contain the souls of humans that were bad in life, they are the weakest creatures in the netherworld, and they explode violently when thrown.
The prinny squad is a host of prinnies that serve under Etna in the Disgaea series, and are hilariously mistreated. One of her attacks is called “Prinny Raid” in which she drops several prinnies on the heads of her foes. Prinnies were regarded as cute and charming, and gained a lot of popularity. The prinny plush dolls were easy to make, and as such, are easy to find. The NIS newsletter is called “Prinny Bomb”, and the Prinny Bomb newsletter features pictures of the prinnies throughout the email. The popularity of the prinny also caused Nippon Ichi Software to name their annual news conference event after them. The “Tipsy Prinny” press event in 2008 even featured several prinny dolls hanging around the room.
Etna is an impossibly thin succubus with a fiery temper and very tender about her flat chest. While this makes her seem one-dimensional, she also has a story that will paint her out to be more than a walking gagreel. She has a deep respect for Laharl’s father, King Krichevskoy, as he helped her at a young age, which turns out to be a driving force in Disgaea’s story. Unfortunately, this story does not translate well outside of Disgaea 1, as in other games, she reverts back to being the hot tempered girl with entitlement issues.
While there are tens of other characters worth mentioning, all with deep storylines that make the characters more believable, these are the ones that have picked up the most screentime.
Disgaea is a spectacularly popular title that shows no signs of slowing down. Takehito Harada’s art is distinctive, the characters are lovable, the story is engaging, and the gameplay can be hundreds of hours perfecting items, slaying secret bosses, or battling your friends. With Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten scheduled to release in September 2011, the Disgea series is only going to get more exposure.