Walk in the shoes of Daemon Prince and antihero Laharl as he awakens after the passing of his father in hope of fighting for the title of Overlord of the Netherworld. In this remake of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Nippon Ichi Software spoils us with reworked graphics and a new 'Etna Mode' all carefully intertwined into the same tactical RPG goodness the series is renowned for showcasing.
At a first glance and even with fresh eyes it's clear to see that Disgaea 1 Complete is flaunting a fancy visual overhaul. It works hand in hand with the game's anime art style to not only cheekily disguise the PS2 title's age but to also invoke an undeniable sense of charm. Poor, blurry graphics do still endure in some areas but feel more like a nostalgic throwback to the original 2003 title as opposed to a deterrent from the greatness that exists elsewhere as you play.
Disgaea plays out like its very own anime. Its ten episodes (split into several stages) are spurred on by well cast, likeable characters weaved into a compelling narrative, polished off with surprisingly funny Japanese humour. Laharl remains at the helm of the game throughout. Even as an antihero, the Daemon prince remains to be more impudent than sinister, accentuating the lighthearted tone of the game. Sharing the limelight is Etna, and the pair's banter makes for great dialogue that ensures the story doesn’t outstay its welcome.
In a daunting introduction to the game, you're thrown straight into the deep end. While roaming the halls of your late father (which act as the central hub), you’ll encounter an ensemble of vendors including your standard, run-of-the-mill weapon and armour merchants. Moreover, you may expand your party with new characters or bend the law of the Netherworld for funds in the Dark Assembly, or heal up at a hospital that quite literally rewards you for taking a beating. With little offered in the way of guidance, it’s down to you to sift through tutorials and fill in the blanks, ushering this game more towards those with their tastes well established in the genre.
However, all else aside, at the heart of this quintessential tactical RPG title is its combat. Although Disgaea 1 Complete embodies all the trademark elements of the genre, it also branches off with quirky features that bring a welcome sense of nuance and uniqueness. Venturing into the Dimension Gate will take you to a tutorial world where you’ll master the battle basics with the help of a bunch of Prinnys (small penguin monsters that overly use the word "DOOD"). Playing as you'd expect a tactical RPG to, turn based battles take place on a map divided up into a grid from an isometric viewpoint. You spawn in your party members including any you’ve created from the Dark Assembly vendor, and manoeuvre them around the map, using a flurry of attacks and special attacks to dispose of your enemies. Defeating enemies and completing the stage will see your party level up and reward you with valuable items in turn. Although options to rotate the camera and zoom are intact, you’ll likely lose your cursor in raised parts of the map, which can lead to some minor bouts of frustration.
A lift and throw mechanic allows humanoid party members to toss characters to more advantageous spots, or better yet, send an exploding Prinny flying at an unwary group of enemies for big damage. Furthermore, Geo Panels, which allocate buffs or debuffs to specific grid squares, add methodology to what would otherwise be an all-out assault, ensuring the title remains orientated around the more tactical aspect of battle. Even so, Disgaea 1 Complete feels more like a masterclass in the art of singling out enemies with numerous allies and bombarding them with an onrush of attacks before proceeding to the next. This does, however, offer ample opportunity to instigate awesome combo moves in which party members in adjacent squares will attack enemies together in exciting animation sequences. Stringing together combos and annihilating Geo Panels will raise your bonus gauge and earn you higher-tier rewards in turn.
This nifty element, in conjunction with a diverse range of daemon enemies and recruitable allies, makes for versatile combat encounters that abstain from becoming mundane. This is key for alleviating any boredom while grinding for levels. The game punishes you for being ill-prepared and not levelling your characters sufficiently, therefore in order to counter the the steep and unforgiving difficulty curve of the game, you must resort to replaying stages to better equip your party and continue on. In some cases you may even need to delve into the Item World from the main hub to level your gear before continuing with Laharl’s tale.
If your tastes aren’t yet accustomed to the complexity of tactical RPG titles, it’s unlikely Disgaea 1 Complete will take your fancy. In harnessing all the staple features of the genre and bringing an assortment of new elements to the table, it’s more of a game for tactical RPG veterans as opposed to curious newcomers that may find the game overwhelming and otherwise daunting. If your interest is still piqued, however, don't be deterred, for scratch beneath the surface and you'll uncover a commendable remake with exciting new features for longtime fans, and a classic title that still excels in narrative and gameplay alike .