Tragically, most of the changes to Disgaea 6 fall flat, leaving the strength of the franchise’s foundations to carry this iteration to competency.
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Release date: June 29nd, 2021
Price: $59.99 via Nintendo eShop
Much like Disgaea 6’s indomitable and undead protagonist, Nippon Ichi Software is remarkably resilient. Two years ago, the launch of the Disgaea RPG was deeply troubled, forcing the company into financial finagling to pay its employees. For fans of the famed strategy role-playing game, this was disheartening news. But as the game’s moniker announces, the company was somehow able to revive themselves, evading what looked like the inevitable.
Zed, the zombie lead, as well as the rest of Defiance of Destiny’s cast have an ability called super-reincarnation. This mechanic makes death somewhat meaningless. While a character must revert to level 1, their base stats are increased while abilities like movement range and jump height increases. Essentially, you’re reborn stronger and demonstrate more potential. Tragically, this doesn’t reflect Nippon Ichi after the Disgaea RPG debacle.
As a devoted franchise fan ever since Laharl, Etna, and Flonna’s banter and battling enraptured me in 2003’s Hour of Darkness, I have some tragic news to report. While Defiance of Destiny might be a competent role-playing game, it’s the worst entry in the mainline Disgaea series. If this review sounds overly negative, that’s because I’m disappointed with the direction, story, streamlining and performance of the Switch title.
Zed, Literally Dead inside.
The best Disgaea entries found a gratifying balanced spirited dialog with traditional grid-based combat. But Defiance of Destiny’s characterizations waver in quality. Other than his tenacity, Zed is a rather lackluster lead with few interesting qualities. He lacks the entitled childishness of Laharl, Valvatorez’ rich backstory and quirkiness, or the slow redemptive arc of Mao. Instead, his canine companion Cerberus is the much more charming one, with his deadpan humor and feisty attitude.
There’s the typical ensemble of secondary characters, who mostly hail from a higher social ranking. While the writers could have used the difference in class to introduce an interesting subtext, the setup is exploited only in the most obvious ways. We’re a long away from Laharl lamenting about love or the inverted delinquency of Diagaea 3. Sure, the trademark humor is here, especially with the franchise’s traditional madcap item naming. But character exchanges lack a moral dilemma worth caring about.
Even the Appearance of a Prism Ranger Doesn’t Stir Much Excitement
The game’s setup centers on Zed’s desire to kill the God of Destruction. While the game eventually explains the protagonist’s motivations, much of the provocation isn’t explained until mid-way through the game. As such, it’s easy to lose interest in the plot, especially given that combat in now non-compulsory.
Instead of the frisky rivalries and camaraderie felt by the cast, interactions can feel disjointed. The explanation is that super-reincarnations spawns Zed inside each new character’s world. As such, there’s rarely the satisfaction of a party united with a common ambition. The sense of fragile unity that often permeates the series is only here in measured doses. Yes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has milked the satisfaction of witnessing a synergic team in action. But seeing a group put aside their differences and take down Baal is a franchise staple and it never quite gels together in Defiance of Destiny.
The Arbitrariness of Numbers
Similarly, the gratification that comes through grinding is also retrained. Disgaea might be best known for outrageous character level and damage totals that parodied role-playing peers. When 2003’s Hour of Darkness arrived, players could level character up to 9999. Now, hyperinflation has plagued the Netherworld, adding zeros onto everything. As such, the level cap is 99,999,999 and it’s now possible to do ten quadrillion points of damage.
Just like when pinball started adding zeros to scores, it’s a fairly insipid technique. Sure, you might marvel once or twice as you grow by hundred of levels or an assault can be re-written in exponential form, but the effect won’t feel novel for franchise fans. Especially since grinding now feels rather meaningless.
The “Pay to Not Play” Genre
What will be one of the game’s most decisive decisions is the inclusion of auto-battling. While I expected Defiance of Destiny to temper the lure of automatic grinding, Nippon Ichi actively encourages it, reminding players repeatedly of its possibility as you play. I don’t know about you but paying $60 for a game that persuades you to not play it feels strange, especially when combat is one of the best constituents of the series. As a mechanic, it’s too tempting to ignore, and as much as I resisted, I found myself giving in against my best judgement.
In theory, auto-battling offers a shift in perspective. Instead of playing a platoon leader giving orders on the battlefield you’re a general with a broader macro-perspective. But once you see the world through the eyes of an elite commander, returning to the trenches seems like drudgery. Why invest dozens of hours grinding when the task can be automated at an accelerated rate and accomplished overnight? Investing hours power-leveling up characters was a trade-off for reduced difficulty. But since you can do that automatically, challenge is no longer relevant.
DIY Demon Control
If there’s an upside to all this, it’s found in the game’s Demonic Intelligence component. Like a robust reworking of the Gambit system from Final Fantasy XII, Defiance of Destiny provides a full-bodied programming system to guide unit behavior. From telling characters how to attack, when to heal, or emphasize the accumulation of loot, you’re in control of a lot of variables. I’ve always been fascinated with these kinds of AI-coding systems, and Disgaea 6 offers one of the best ones found on Switch. As enjoyable as fine-tuning behaviors is, I do wish Nippon Ichi used the system for a spin-off game and left the mainline series alone.
But dedicated Disgaea fans will find a number of returning gameplay systems. Geo Panels are as enjoyable as ever, providing the possibility for ally boosts. Or more gratifyingly, destroying the symbols starts a domino-like sequence, injuring anything unlucky enough to be caught on their path. The Dark Assembly returns, offering the possibility of new characters, items, or war bonds. Getting a bill to pass through bribery remains one of the satirical takes on modern political systems.
But there are a few qualities that won’t sit will with Netherworld veterans. Most noticeable is the condensed number of classes, with Defiance of Destiny extending 13 humanoid and nine monster classes. Even more concerning is the removal of abilities like fusion, magichange, and mon-toss as well as distinctive equipment for monsters. No, there’s little difference between the two groups. At least some of the new classes are fun to use, with Psychics have invaluable knockback and teleportation skills as well help identify weak points. Mecha Girls are especially effective when facing large groups, while Pincers are giant crabs with a protective exoskeleton. Even more than previous entries, team synergy is optional and it’s a lot of fun to make your own band of ragtag eccentrics.
Defiance of Destiny shift into the third dimension is an uneasy one. Disgaea 6 provides three different visual options, favoring graphic quality, performance, or a balance between the two. Each has their own drawback, with it’s a sputtering framerate when lot of units are onscreen or lower resolutions that are rather blurry. While the shift to polygonal characters allows for some eye-grabbing animations, character models lack the charm that’s ubiquitous in Harada Takehito’s art. Fortunately, character portraits are unchanged.
Following a near-unbearable six year wait since the last entry, Disgaea 6 has finally arrived. But instead of celebration, a muted sense of contentment is imminent. From a reduction in classes to undercutting the value of grinding, many of the delights have been tampering with. Underneath it all, it’s still Disgaea, but coated in a thin layer of minor irritations and missed potentials.
Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny was played on
Switch with review code provided by the publisher.