Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny is both the most approachable and the least approachable game in the strategy RPG series. Disgaea 6 feels like a step back for the franchise as a whole, from its presentation to its gameplay. The writing and characterization are forgettable, the combat competent but dull, and the performance falls short. In a nutshell, it’s a letdown.
Zed, a zombie on a quest to defeat the God of Destruction, is the protagonist of Disgaea 6. He’s already fallen victim to it numerous times, but each time he dies, he is reborn thanks to a power known as Super Reincarnation, which makes him slightly stronger than before. Throughout the story, you fight and lose against the God of Destruction on a regular basis. As the game’s sole boss fight, each chapter of the story will end in the same way. It’s tedious and repetitive, and because the plot’s hook implies that Zed will ‘Super Reincarnate’ after every loss, it’s difficult to care about his journey and what’s going on because we know what the end result will be.
Perhaps if the writing had been better, this could have been avoided. Disgaea 6’s party members lack charm and character, in contrast to other Disgaea games, which feature characters that are typically fun and memorable in their design. Each character has a defining quality—for example, Melodia seeking a fairy tale ending or Prism Ranger Piyori seeking justice—as well as a small story arc that allows them to slightly grow as people. I say small because their stories feel rushed and perfunctory.
“As a turn-based tactics game, Disgaea 6 features all the hallmarks of previous editions in the series.”
However, the story takes far too long to provide background on Zed and the game’s main plot, such as why he is chasing the God of Destruction in the first place. It doesn’t value your time, and the lack of amusing dialogue and jokes makes the story far less enjoyable than in previous games in the series.
At first, the combat is enjoyable. Disgaea 6 is a turn-based tactics game with all the hallmarks of previous installments in the series. You can create characters based on a variety of classes (though notably fewer than past entries in the series). You have powerful abilities to use and, to be honest, an absurd amount of character customization.
From the Juice Bar, where you can spend experience and mana to boost stats, to the ability to reincarnate characters to boost their abilities with Karma, to skill shops and Item Worlds to upgrade items; you get the idea. There are numerous ways to improve your characters, but perhaps the most significant addition to Disgaea 6 is the inclusion of auto-battles.
“…you could really get into the weeds when designing how each character behaves in auto-battle.”
You can put the controller down and watch as the AI fights battles for you with the press of a button. This is due to the Demonic Intelligence system, which allows you to customize individual unit AI. For example, you can instruct a character to attack the nearest enemy unless its health falls below 50%, in which case it will retreat to heal. There are templates to help you understand how to create trains of thought, but you could get really into the weeds when designing how each character behaves in auto-battle if you wanted to.
I used auto-battle to grind and complete missions, but I did turn it off at times to better navigate maps with obstacles that the AI couldn’t handle. However, as intriguing and well-thought-out as the auto-battle and Demonic Intelligence systems are, they both reveal that Disgaea 6 is even more focused on grinding than previous installments. Within a couple of hours, my characters had levels in the four digits and were capable of unleashing attacks that dealt hundreds of thousands of damage in a single hit.
The level cap is 99 999 999, and all of the numbers in the game have been inflated to reflect this. When you’re dealing seven-figure damage on a regular basis, upgrades and improvements feel gradual over time. And you’ll have to grind if you want to conquer the post-game, which is disappointing because it’s just regular enemies with bigger health and stat pools. When you’re trying to outnumber your opponent, tactics and interesting character choices go out the window.
“The fact that the combat works as well as it does despite the changes made to the Disgaea formula is a testament to the series’ strength.”
The transition to 3D models in combat is another significant change to the Disgaea formula. I dislike the change, not because it is bad in principle, but because the characters and animations are lifeless in comparison to the old sprites. Watching the models emote in the occasional 3D cutscene is awkward because they move in such a stiff manner, not to mention the fact that they appear to be floating in the air. Attack animations are also unimpressive, partly due to how they appear and partly due to the aforementioned number inflation, which reduces their value.
The real issue with 3D models is how they affect performance. There are three game modes to select from: Quality, Performance, and Balance. The emphasis on graphics comes at the expense of significant performance issues when moving around the hub area or in battle. The framerate is smooth, but the game looks terrible in both handheld and docked mode. Balanced attempts to bridge the gap between the two, but in practice takes on both problems without providing much benefit.
The fact that the combat works so well despite the changes made to the Disgaea formula demonstrates the series’ strength. Disgaea 6, on the other hand, feels like a step back for the franchise as the first Disgaea entry in six years. Poor performance is one thing, but when combined with the lack of a charming story and number inflation in battle, I believe the next installment in the franchise should go back to the drawing board and revisit what made Disgaea a cult favorite in the first place.