RPG Spotlight: Disgaea

by Kimberley Wallace on Oct 03, 2013 at 10:50 AM

One of the questions readers ask me most is if they would like a particular series. As a way to provide the answer and celebrate beloved franchises, RPG Spotlight gives a concise overview of the elements that give a franchise its heart and soul.

In this edition, I take a look at Nippon Ichi’s Disgaea, a strategy/RPG series with plenty of comedy, customization, and tactics to take you to level 9,999. Disgaea has been one of the few consistent strategy/RPGs on the market, tapping into both consoles and handhelds. Disgaea’s popularity has been so unstoppable it’s even made its way to the manga and anime scene.

Claim To Fame

Since its debut in 2003, Disgaea has captured an audience by being unpredictably zany and letting players work their way through mind-bending isometric grid-based stages. As players ventured into the Netherworld, they’ve discovered that Disgaea’s version of hell is much different than expected. Sure, characters are selfish and do awful things with no remorse, but in Disgaea, every bad occurrence is matched with some level of hilarity. The jokes have no filter and often poke fun at video game stereotypes. To add to the hilarity, an antihero is often paired with a polar opposite. Oddly enough, the charm is so entrancing that you often find yourself rooting for the antihero, anyway. 

The other shining star is the complex gameplay, which features character placement, throwing abilities, special skills, and geo panels that give bonuses and penalties; every stage becomes a puzzle where you must choose the best strategy between all your options. Disgaea also stands out for making max stats feel limitless compared to any other strategy/RPG. Seriously, you can keep leveling your way to 9,999. While the main characters are offered as party members, you can also build up your own army, choosing between mages, thieves, monsters, and more. Also, I can’t write this piece without giving Prinnies a nod, the peg-legged penguin servants have become iconic. Whether you’re merely using them to deal damage by tossing them at enemies or sparring against them, these little guys have easily become the face of the franchise. 

Play If You Like

Fans of strategy games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, Fire Emblem, and Shining Force should enjoy the gameplay, but I must warn that Disgaea’s over-the-top silly stories aren’t for everyone. If you played La Pucelle: Tactics back in the day and enjoyed it, that game was Disgaea’s predecessor, and Disgaea’s developer was also behind PS2 niche titles Phantom Brave and Makai Kingdom, so the overall gameplay of both took many cues from Disgaea. 

History Catch-Up

Disgaea debuted in 2003 and has kept its kookiness alive for the past 10 years. The franchise is by far Nippon Ichi’s most successful product to date. Since then, four main entries have made it to store shelves, with Sony’s PlayStation 2 and 3 being the primary home. Spin-off titles have also released, including Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome, Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?, and Disgaea Infinite. The main games, Disgaea 1-3, have also made their way to handheld systems after console release in the U.S., a trend that NIS president Niikawa told me he hopes continues when I spoke to him at Tokyo Game Show. It just might as Disgaea 4 has recently been announced for a Vita release in Japan. 

Good Starting Points

Disgaea’s most-popular cast by far is from its debut, Hour of Darkness. Starting with the first game isn’t a bad idea, as since then even more complicated systems have entered the Netherworld. However, having prior knowledge of the series isn’t required to start elsewhere (besides the upcoming D2: A Brighter Darkness, a direct sequel to the first). Versions of Hour of Darkness are available on PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, and PlayStation Portable. My other recommendation for a point of entry is PlayStation 3’s Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten. This is by far the best outing to date, and the online play adds tons of replay value – even allowing you to create your own maps. 


While Disgaea’s quirk is part of its charm, the jokes aren’t for everyone and can often be too juvenile and in-your-face. Think of Disgaea like that loud jokester at a party; while funny, you wouldn’t mind him taking it down a few levels. That said, playing a game that pokes fun at the industry and doesn’t take itself too seriously is a nice change of pace. Disgaea’s other biggest downfall is that sometimes the systems can be too complicated for their own good. The developers are known for adding in unnecessary elements just to offer something “new.”  Mastering the systems with all the choices thrown in front of you for customization can be overwhelming. Sometimes you just have way too many potential pies to dip your hands in. 

On The Horizon

Tuesday (October 8) marks the release of the newest title, D2: A Brighter Darkness. D2 is a direct sequel to Hour of Darkness, the very first entry of the series, and features the same beloved cast. That’s right, expect Laharl, Flonne, and Etna back as Laharl tries to prove why all should fear and respect his reign. Not much has been revealed about the inevitable Disgaea 5, but Nippon Ichi has dropped some information, like the president confirming to Dengeki Online that it’s in the pre-production stage. As Nippon Ichi is aware, Disgaea is its most popular venture, and it’s using its team to go beyond just Disgaea games. The company also had people who have worked on the series tackle the upcoming roguelike The Guided Fate Paradox and action/RPG The Witch and a Hundred Knight, so those may be worthy candidates to pass the time until Disgaea 5.

Want more on RPG series to consider? Check out previous RPG Spolight on Tales