What Is Disgaea? A Beginner’s Guide To Tactical Role-Playing Bliss

What Is Disgaea? A Beginner’s Guide To Tactical Role-Playing Bliss

Years after everyone has caught all the latest Pokemon and the credits roll on Ellen Page, people will still be playing tone of this week’s more low-profile release — Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness. What is Disgaea, you ask? Let me explain.

If you’re unfamiliar with Nippon Ichi Software’s 10-year-old PlayStation-centric series, don’t feel too bad. It caters to a very specific sort of gamer. The type of gamer with a mind for strategy, an eye for anime art, a healthy sense of humour and much more free time than the average player. The sort of player who’ll spend weeks, months, or even years on getting their favourite characters from level 1 to level 9,999. The series might look goofy, but it’s serious business.

It’s also rather unforgiving to newcomers, which is where this guide comes in.

Let’s do this. What is Disgaea?

It says it right in the headline — tactical role-playing bliss. Take your average tactical role-playing game, multiply it by bliss, and you’ve got Disgaea.

Helpful. Maybe start with what a tactical role-playing game is.

A tactical role-playing game is like a traditional turn-based role-playing game, only with much more to do than press a single button over and over again.

Like what?

Pressing the direction pad or analogue stick, for one. Instead of your party lining up and facing off against an enemy on the other side of the screen, a tactical RPG scatters everybody across a map and makes them move into range of their target before swinging swords or casting spells.

So it’s like a Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics?

Sure, it’s along those same lines, only it’s not quite as casual or limited.

Casual? Limited? But…

Don’t get me wrong. The Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem series are wonderful examples of the sub-genre. It’s just that Disgaea games are so much deeper and more complex. They’re built for hardcore fans of the tactical RPG, who want nothing more than to play the same game over and over again until they either max out their characters or die.

Seriously? You’re saying people spend years playing Disgaea?

I am saying that the first game, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness came out in 2003, and I personally know people who are still playing it on a regular basis.

Why so long?

Because there is so much to do. The main story of any given Disgaea title lasts maybe 20-40 hours average, depending on how many characters you create and how much time you spend grinding through previously run scenarios to level those characters up. The New Game+ features allows players to continue playing, perhaps aiming for an alternate ending. There are multiple characters and monster-types to unlock and level. There’s the Item World, where players can enter their equipment and battle through a series of randomly-generated levels in order to strengthen said equipment. The Dark Assembly allows players to petition and battle in order to create new troops and introduce new laws and ordinances to the world.

There are, as I mentioned previously, 9,999 levels to raise.

That seems like an awful lot of work.

It is. I’m getting a little sleepy just thinking about it. I’ve played five of these now (including tomorrow’s release), and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there will never be enough time for me to fully complete each one.

Then why keep playing?

Because Nippon Ichi Software makes an incredibly compelling tactical RPG. The developer began with fresh concepts — the ability to pick-up and throw your allies across the playfield, destructible Geo-Panel crystals that grant heroes and villains resting on similarly-coloured areas special advantages or disadvantages. Then NIS spent the next 10 years piling on new features — monster mounting to help lower level characters, a dojo to help characters earn additional stats when levelling, character apprenticeship — there’s always some new feature to explore.

The series has consistently featured excellent music, the gorgeous 2D art of Takehito Harada, and an outstanding sense of humour.

Disgaea is a funny series?

A funny series set in a demonic netherworld, no less. The first game in the series, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, tells the story of Laharl, son of the former Overlord, as he embarks on a quest to seize power in the wake of his father’s death. His most loyal subject is a female demon named Etna (I’m a bit of a fan), who wouldn’t mind killing him and becoming Overlord herself, but somehow manages to stand by her demon. Early on in their journey, this happens.

Consistently breaking the fourth wall, self-referential humour, clever dialogue and the occasional visit from a Power Ranger-ish superhero team are just a few of the reasons fans keep coming back.

What’s the main reason fans keep coming back?


What’s a Prinny, dood?

Awww, they’re so cute!

Aren’t they? They’re stitched-together vessels for the souls of murderers, thieves and other unsavoury criminals, condemned to an afterlife of servitude for their transgressions. When you throw them, they explode.

They also say “dood” a lot, so there’s that.


Yeah. They’re pretty amazing. So much so they starred in two spin-off games Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero? and Prinny 2: Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood! for the PSP. They regularly appear in all of Nippon Ichi Software’s games, and have become a sort of mascot for the company.

So, um. How many games are in the series?

In the main series, counting the latest release, there are five games.

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (PS2, DS as Disgaea DS, PSP as Afternoon of Darkness)

Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories (PS2, PS P as Dark Hero Days)

Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice (PS3, Vita as Absence of Detention)

Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten (PS3)

Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness (PS3)

What’s the deal with that last one’s name?

Disgaea D2 features a different numbering convention because it’s an official continuation of the original game, featuring the unholy trio of Laharl, Etna, and the fallen-ish angel, Flonne. It’s a homecoming for the series.

Disgaea 2-4 focused on other characters in other netherworlds. While many of the themes were the same (fish-out-of-water heroes mingling with anti-heroes) none of the characters in those games caught on quite as well as the big three. Perhaps that had something to do with them being the main characters of the anime and manga series that spun-off from the games.

Do I need to play all the games in order to “get” the series?

No. Oh god no. At this point I’m not sure any of us has the remaining lifespan to play all five titles from the main series to completion before nature takes its course.

Pick up a portable copy of the first game, Hour of Darkness, or maybe catch the anime series — it’s not 100 per cent faithful, but it’ll give you a good introduction to the characters and tone of the series.

Once that’s done, the only thing you’ll be missing out on by jumping right into Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is an appreciation for how far the series has come over the past decade.

But you’ve played them all?

Yes! well, to an extent.

OK, I play them for the story and then set them on the shelf, vowing to go back and max out everything but never getting around to it. I will be buried with these games. they’ll use the case inserts to form my Prinny suit.

Don’t make my mistake. Cut off all ties with significant others, pick up a copy of Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness for the PlayStation 3, and hide from the world until you are done.

Was that a review?

As close as we’re going to get.


  • I liked the first 2, then NO.3 on the ps3 went insane with microtransactions and I haven’t played one since.

    Large Edit: After playing Agarest: Generations of War on the pc, it makes me realise this needs a PC release, I hate buying console games since backwards compatibility isn’t something you get or should expect in a console game and I dont want my house cluttered up with outdated hardware. This is especially problematic due to how late it is in the consoles life span. pc games on the other hand, using 1 work around or another I can play anything from the last 40 yrs on the same hardware. These guys are missing out on a huge audience by not releasing on steam.

    • I totally agree with you. I have a ps3, but gave up buying games for it because most of the time I’m on my PC. I’ve recently made the decision to only have a PC due to the large amount of out-dated hardware sitting around my house, combine that with the fact my PC can emulate most of the hardware I now realise that it is taking up far too much storage space.

      The PC is starved of great tactical RPGs and JRPGs in general. I hope that this isn’t the case in the near future.

      • I’ve always considered Disgaea to be a Sony title (although Hour of Darkness did get a NDS version) There is something about the origins of countless JRPGs on a Sony platform that makes me appreciate the history of it, and the future can always make way for a compendium pack. As for immediate convenience to loyal fans, things should be done the hard for the sake of exclusivity between PS and PC titles, I’m already skipping a xbone cause my PC does it better (insert multiplatform laugh here)

    • It’s kind of funny you stopped playing D3 because of microtransactions and then say you’re playing Agarest because that game is just as bad. (Though they actually are a God send in the end game if you screw up your weapon upgrades). It’s worth pointing out though that the Vita version of D3 has quite a lot of the extra DLC as part of the game.

  • I love how ridiculous the attacks are in disgaea. It must be fun coming up with the weirdest attacks possible. 623711362 dammage lol

  • I’d been curious about Disgaea for a while, having played quite a lot of Nippon Ichi’s other games (or at least, games they had input into since most games are usually Nippon Ichi, Gust, Compile Heart, 5pb, NISA or some subset collaborations) and seen their general game design styles. Having finally finished 3’s story the other day. I’m now getting my teeth firmly embedded in D2 and having just as much of a blast.

    If you’re only going to play one Disgaea game, I’d recommend D2 as they’ve reduced the complexity a bit and it’s relatively easier to understand and pick up. I wouldn’t really recommend stopping at that though since the entire series is a treat to play.

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