Disgaea has, in some ways, always been about grinding. That’s been the gimmick, anyway. Disgaea was always the wackier, edgier tactics JRPG that also made fun of the genre by letting you grind up to level 9999. It was never needed of course, but it was funny. In Disgaea 6, which seems to be a big change in many ways, also seems to have doubled down on the grinding. Instead of the funny gimmick, not only has the cap been lifted to astronomical numbers the grind has become the focal point.
Disgaea 6 Review
We can’t make assumptions about the series, but when Disgaea 6 was revealed something felt a bit off. Not only is it (for now) a Nintendo Switch exclusive, but the 2D style Disgaea is known for has been adapted into the world of polygons. The art style is still intact thankfully, and in many cases looks good! But it can stumble when it comes to animations. Nothing really hits the same way it did with the sprites, which were much more bombastic and wild. Don't get me wrong; the Disgaea style is still here as you can see in the image below. It all just feels a bit more constrained.
The game tries to make up for that by making even skills like Fire cut to a small cutscene, but that also has a negative effect on pacing. Things move a bit slower now; not a ton but it’s noticeable if you’re a fan. But the biggest pain point is where animations have been removed entirely: Team Attacks. In mechanical terms, Team Attacks are more open, allowing characters up to two spaces away to join in on the action.
But there isn’t any action. Instead of the exciting curb-stomping you’d see in the other games, you just get a flash of character portraits and a modifier added to the attacker’s damage. When this happened the first time, I had convinced myself I missed a menu option or something. Nope! As much as Disgaea 6 has ostensible quality of life update attempts, some of them backfire.
One mechanic I’m scratching my head on is how EXP is distributed. Before, units got EXP based on their actions, kinda like Fire Emblem (loosely). That meant you had to make sure everyone participated, or focus more on some over others. Healers needed to contribute, which could be a pain early on. In Disgaea 6 everyone gets to dip in the EXP pool equally. Doesn’t matter how far behind you leave somebody on the field. Sounds great, right? I thought so too, until I realized the gaping strategy hole left behind.
And I think someone on the team noticed, because Disgaea 6 has more of an emphasis on, well, not actually playing during battles. There’s a new suite of super detailed AI patterns you can assign to your team, to make them behave certain ways in specific scenarios. It’s like the Gambits in Final Fantasy XII, but more intricate. You can also speed up battle big time, and of course turn off animations. Many of these features were in previous games of course, as tactical RPGs often include.
It’s the emphasis here. It’s like the game is convinced you wanted the ultimate podcast game and points you in that direction at every opportunity. And to cap everything off, the whole core of Disgaea 6 is a new “Super Reincarnation” feature. This is the crux of the game, and part of what helps protagonist Zed chase his goal of defeating the Ultimate Overlord. Despite the massive level cap, Disgaea 6 wants you to get as high up as you can to build up hella Mana, then Super Reincarnate back down to level one. Over and over. And not wanting to do that by hand is like a weirdly present aspect of the gameplay.
Seriously, there’s so much pumping in this game. There’s a whole juice bar that lets you just feed Karma and money into stats, you can dump Mana and money into skills, go on passive expeditions into the Item World, ask the Dark Assembly for temporary reward boosts, so on and so forth. This is the grinding man’s grinding game. It’s exhausting.
Being on the Switch, there are some performance issues as well. The frame rate can chug depending on what’s happening on screen, especially if you want to be able to tell visually what your units are supposed to be, instead of wobbling blur people. Kudos for multiple performance options though; that’s a sign of genuine effort and care. I could never settle on an option I liked, though. It made me miss the sprites even harder.
To make a turn towards the positive, I do like the scenarios and characters a lot! The series has its ups and downs, but I love when you get to see more of the underbelly of these worlds. Disgaea 4 is the king of that concept, and Zed’s journey from lowly zombie to Super Reincarnating powerhouse has that vibe. Cerberus, a deep-voiced pug stitched together Frankenstein’s Monster-style, is a hilarious presence. And the first party member being a parody of Dragon Quest kings voiced by SungWon Cho is the best.
The overall plot feels like territory NIS has hit multiple times before, with a low-powered hero rubbing up against a powerful Big Bad over and over until they win. But with Disgaea it’s very colorful, silly and macabre all at the same time, which is always fun. So there are positives, but if you’re into Disgaea in a narrative sense you might get a little bored. The more self-contained storylines are a hoot, though.
I’ve come away from Disgaea 6 more confused than disappointed, honestly. It’s still absolutely a game of its series in every way. The meat and potatoes are present and accounted for. But some of the seasoning tastes a little weird.
It almost feels like Disgaea is having a little identity trouble and the folks at NIS are figuring out what to do about it. The stuff with the new art style can probably be ironed out comfortably enough, but (and I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Disgaea game), I hope we pump the brakes a little on the grinding next time. Or figure out a way to make it more hands-on. It’s a tough balance to achieve I’m sure, and I hope we get to see that iteration, and the series, continue.
- Characters and smaller scenarios are lots of fun
- Several attempts at quality of life adjustments
- AI options are functionally impressive
- Some of the QoL stuff backfires, like Team Attacks
- Grinding as the main gimmick instead of a joke gimmick
- The A plot feels redundant and drags
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review