Laharl, the son of the demon-king of the Netherworld, and a Prinny walk into a bar. The Prinny says:
“DOOOOOOD. LAHARL-BRO. DISGAEA IS ON PC. YOU GOTTA GET IT, DOODZERS. IF YOU DON’T, WELL, I WON’T BE YOUR FRIEND ANYMORE, DOOD!
WAIT, DOOD. WHY ARE YOU PICKING ME UP, DOOD? DOOD, NO DOOD! DON’T THROW ME DUDE!
And… that pretty much sums up how to deal with a Prinny that just won’t shut up, Laharl style!
Sometimes, you just can’t get an edge in with those damn “not-penguin-but-penguin-shaped-human-soul-package-bombs-but-not-bird- penguins-but-nots!”
Phew. Well, I’m happy to finally say it. Disgaea’s first entry in the series, Hour(PS2)/Afternoon(PSP) of Darkness, has now been ported from PS2/PSP for release as a freshly repackaged title on Steam for PC. Strategy JRPG lovers, rejoice! And I’ve got my very own Prinny here to help review it, DOOD. And if you don’t like him, just let me know—I’ve got no qualms against throwing him for a tactical advantage. Muahahaha!
But, don’t rejoice too hard—we still have a few battles to fight through, technically. Since I’m certainly biased in that I’m a huge lover of the Disgaea franchise, and have played Disgaea for endless hours prior to picking up the PC port, I’ll start with my commentary about the port itself, before we delve into the glorious Netherworld and the tale that started it all.
Now, I’m rarely one to complain when a title is ported to a new platform and given a nice coat of wax...
...(Final Fantasy SNES title to mobile to Steam port ‘graphical updates,’ I’m glaring at you here…), so this may come as a surprise to most, but I was not all that thrilled by the new graphical features added to the PC release. Is it because I feel Disgaea should have been ported to PC in all of its core glory? Absolutely not. You can easily disable all of the new hardware and software rendering options to play the core title as originally released, easily. But, when new features are added to something old to revamp it, they should at least do what they were supposed to do— enhance the graphical experience of the game!
In an art style that hearkens back to Ragnarok Online, Disgaea uses chibi-style pixel art, with 2D character sprites on a 3D isometric background.
This creates an anime style experience, as the characters can freely move around to explore the world (when in free exploration mode and not in a combat map or scenario), but still have that artistic feel that the world has grown to love. Extra effects added to Disgaea seem to distort this, rather than clarify things, as well as cause a myriad of technical issues that Nippon Ichi Software has stated will be solved soon. However, soon isn’t launch. We’re looking at this beast as it launched, and these “upgrades” essentially boil down to taking an artistic gem down to the quality of a potato.
Particularly, I’m considering the intentional upgrades as the main problem with the port, rather than technical issues that accidentally occurred due to unforeseeable problems or incompatibilities. When you deliberately add something to make it better, but it becomes worse… what have you really done?
Added to Disgaea were enhanced shadows, screen edge blurring, depth of field blurring (lolwut?), character “filtering,” enhanced map textures, normal mapping, and SSAO. Sounds pretty impressive for a PS2 title, AMIRITE, DOOD? No, Prinny… just no.
Why in the world do we need screen edge blurring when we’re looking at a tactical title with some small amounts of exploration involved?
I wasn’t impressed by it, nor did I feel it enhanced the classic experience any, so I turned it off. I suggest you do too. It doesn’t create a realistic feel (nor should it), and doesn’t create a deeper ethereal feel either (which would be preferable).
Enhanced shadow, SSAO, character filtering, and enhanced map textures are all geek-tech terms that get me excited. Seeing them in action here? A bit underwhelming, in my opinion. Now, when you’re working with 2D sprites, it’s pretty common to see the nasty little jagged edges, as you’re drawing rounded edges with square pixels. Even going in a gradual pattern of 1-2-3-et cetera to generate curves, you’ll still get jaggies. That’s what anti-aliasing is for—to smooth out those jaggies and create a nice, smooth curve that’s pleasing to the eye of the player. Is there some blurring involved in smoothing out those jaggies? Absolutely. Should it make your character sprites look blurry overall? Absolutely not!
It is with a heavy heart that I say that NiS, in my humble opinion, missed the nail with their proverbial hammer here. Seeing some true high definition sprite work would really help renew this classic turn-based strategy RPG for the masses, both lovers of Disgaea and to new audiences that may have missed this gem the first time around on PS2. Textures that don’t look like they were simply ran through a few filters and pushed out when the “new map textures” are enabled would be fantastic. Truly, there’s a great market here for some real updating, with new rendering. We’ve come a long way in design technology and methodology since the days of PS2 titles—let’s take those and apply them to make more than a rehash, but a proper update, DOODS!
Sadly, even with care taken to provide for us enthusiasts who want to play Disgaea on our PCs, we’re still plagued with a few issues of yore in the port market. We’re locked to resolution options of “Full Screen or Windowed” and 30 fps with V-Sync as well, which is pretty unsettling. Free us PC gamers with options we’ve had for decades now… please!
The good part is, all of these “upgrades” can be disabled to play Disgaea in its original glory, as intended. Way to go Nippon Ichi.
You guys are the real MVPs—even if you broke it trying to fix what wasn’t broken, you still gave us purists a way to get at the original. If it wasn’t for this, we’d be dancing a much different dance.
Now, beyond the very much intended graphical “updates” for Disgaea, we were blessed cursed with a myriad of technical issues. Although there are indeed workarounds for just about all of these lovely quirks that Laharl’s re-awakening has brought to the Netherworld’s adventurers, it’s still annoying in this day and age to have titles release with some very simple glitches. Most notoriously, frame rate issues.
Wait, DOOD! You’re telling Prinny that in a 2016 port, a title originally released in 2003 has frame rate issues?! DOOD. GET OUT.
Yes, Prinny, that’s what I’m saying. There really isn’t an excuse these days to put out a port with frame rate issues of older titles, but Nippon Ichi isn’t the only party guilty of the travesty. Square Enix has done the same crap with the Final Fantasy 13 series ports. Most notably, and one problem which Disgaea shares, is the need to have a controller of some kind connected to your computer to avoid insane frame rate drops below tolerably playable levels.
So, keyboard and mouse users, while you have the ability to use your preferred peripherals (try saying that 10 times fast…), you’ll still need to plug in a controller of some kind to prevent the frame rate bleed.
Final Fantasy 13 had the same issue, with the exception that it was a frame skip every few frames that made the game jitter like mad until a controller was plugged in, although it was released at in 2014—a good two years prior to Disgaea.
Thankfully, I have many controllers handy, so it was easy to fire up InputMapper and plug in a PS4 controller. Afterwards, I did not experience any other lag-inducing issues, although it has been said directly by Nippon Ichi that having Steam beta enabled somehow causes insane amounts of lag as well. If you’ve got it enabled and experience lag or frame rate drops, disable it and restart everything, and you should be gold until Nippon Ichi offers a solution for Disgaea.
Now, that’s all for the port issues, so… onto the good stuff! YAY, DOODZ!
Disgaea itself is an absolute gem of a strategy JRPG, which frequently flirts with the line of a player’s expectations for a title in the genre, and never takes itself too seriously. From the get go, you can expect to be treated to not only a very deep strategy RPG experience, but a masterfully written story that will take hold of you, and never let you go.
We begin with Laharl, the son of the demon-king, awakening...
...from his coffin after the many deadly attempts by a castle vassal named Edna to awaken him. Edna trains Laharl in the basics of combat (the tutorial for the player), and also advises that Laharl’s father has died, and the throne has been usurped. Laharl sets out to reclaim the throne with his servants and minions (and Prinnies, DOOD!) at his side.
Laharl’s castle acts as a hub. In it, minions can be recruited, renamed, dismissed, or upgraded. Gear can also be purchased and swapped around as needed. Characters can be talked to in order to embark on quests or episodes, and they also give tips and tricks to aid in combat.
There’s a surprising tactical depth to Disgaea that isn’t readily apparent by its quirky dialogue and hilarious characters. Between weapons, skills, and classes, as well as a multitude of statistic point boosts that can be found, Disgaea offers hundreds---no, thousands—of hours of playtime to those players who fall as in love with Disgaea as I have become. No two characters are exactly alike, be they hero or minion types, since they can differ in grade and stats, as well as preferred weapons, and can be built in a plethora of ways.
Plus, the bloody Prinnies explode when you throw them. Who in their right mind doesn’t like exploding penguins, DOOD?!
Artistically, we’ve touched on the port in detail, but what about the classic graphical interpretation?
Absolutely gorgeous and well thought out, although a little dark in general at times. The anime style sprites on a 3D rendered background has always been a huge favorite of mine, so it’s nice to see more titles with this style than just Ragnarok Online (which, I admit, I sunk countless hours of my teen years in). I don’t know why, but it just works to my eyes. It keeps things fresh, while still allowing for a great level of contrast between world element and character element.
Skill animations are just as they should be for an anime style strategy JRPG of such comedic renown—completely over the top and, to be blunt, completely bat shit insane. Flat out, some abilities look so damn COOL, even if they only do a little bit of damage. I’m not going to lie, sometimes, I’ve lost battles using skills that were so damn cool looking, but weren’t as effective as I needed, just because the animations are so on point. Really, try as many of the abilities and classes as you can—you won’t be disappointed.
The audio choices Nippon Ichi made with Disgaea have always been absolutely mint. From voice acting, to background audio tracks, and especially the sound effects, tender love and care have been given to preserve a delicately balanced tone unlike anything else I’ve played before. Disgaea plays off of a dark fantasy setting, while bending expectation of character behavior and the JRPG flow into contortions that constantly keep the player guessing as to what will happen next, and smattering the entire plotline with tongue in cheek humor. It’s a fun ride all the way through, which will take you on an emotional roller coaster turning up, down, reverse, and sideways. It'll leave you in tears of laughter along the whole way.
All in all, I cannot stress how much I feel like everyone should pick up and play Disgaea, as long as they don't absolutely hate JRPGs or strategy RPGs. The entire series is damn good, and Nippon Ichi has given us the opportunity to experience this in a fresh way on our glorious PCs. Now, I know I can’t issue a review score for things to come, however, I don’t hesitate to recommend this gem despite the port’s shortcomings. I know Nippon Ichi is generally good about following through with their promises, and we should be expecting an update to fix most of the unintended issues. I can’t say the graphic “upgrades” will be fixed, but it will indeed be playable in its classic glory, and that, my friends, was NiS’ saving grace with this port.
All in all, I cannot stress how much I feel like everyone should pick up and play Disgaea, as long as they don't absolutely hate JRPGs or strategy RPGs. The entire series is damn good, and Nippon Ichi has given us the opportunity to experience this in a fresh way on our glorious PCs. Now, I know I can’t issue a review score for things to come, however, I don’t hesitate to recommend this gem despite the port’s shortcomings. I know Nippon Ichi is generally good about following through with their promises, and we should be expecting an update to fix most of the unintended issues. I can’t say the graphic “upgrades” will be fixed, but it will indeed be playable in its classic glory, and that, my friends, was NiS’ saving grace with this port. GET OUT THERE AND BUY IT, DOODZ! (Prinny… STFU! PLEASE! Don’t make me throw you again…)