Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny

My personal history with the Disgaea series doesn’t go all the way back to the PS2 launch of the original game, but that doesn’t mean I went into Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny as a newbie.

No, my introduction to the series was with Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention for the PlayStation Vita, which I received a complementary review code for. That was the “complete” edition of Disgaea 3 that came out back in 2012, and I was assigned the review by the site I was working for at the time. I later ended up reviewing Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited for a site called GeekParty (which I co-founded, though it no longer exits) — that game was also for the Vita, and I also payed that one via a complementary review code.

I purchased Disgaea 5 and Disgaea 1 Complete on my own (and also picked up a second copy of Disgaea 1, 4, and 5 for the Switch). That means I’ve played every mainline Disgaea game to date, minus any that have a 2 in the title (I missed Disgaea 2 and Disgaea D2, though someday I’d like to play both of those). Some of these games I’ve played multiple times.

Disgaea 6 - Auto Repeat

Recently, I was given a complementary review code for Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny, which is what I’ll be talking about for the rest of this article. I almost want to say it’s a review. Heck, let’s just call it one, for the sake of argument.

Anyway, at first blush, my history with the series might seem unnecessary. However, I think the most important things about Disgaea 6 are the ways it builds upon — and in many cases, radically departs from — what came before it. Having a pretty robust history of Disgaea games under my belt puts me in a better position to recognize those changes, and to comment on how those impact the fundamental gameplay of the series.

Disgaea 6 makes some of the biggest, most fundamentally game-altering changes to the franchise yet. A lot of those are great, some of them are okay, and a few of them seem like missteps from where I’m standing. I won’t talk about every single change — that would take way too long — but I want to talk about the ones that I felt had the biggest impact on my own experience.

The characters in Disgaea 6 are fantastic

Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny

While any Disgaea experience peels back in layers like an onion (if I can borrow a horrendously overused analogy), the very fist layer of the game you’ll interact with is the main story. Here, you’ll meet the characters and watch them grow and evolve over the course of the game’s narrative. So let’s talk about those characters first.

I think Disgaea 6 has my favorite characters in the entire series. Way too often, Disgaea protagonists have a lot of similar design elements (at least visually). I mean, here’s Laharl from Disgaea 1, Valvatorez from Disgaea 4, and Killia from Disgaea 5. See what I mean?

Disgaea Protagonists

You’ve got spiky dark blue-ish hair, pointy elf-style ears, an outfit that consists of red and black, and something flowy as an accessory (Laharl’s scarf, Valvatorez’s cape, and Killia’s wings).

Further, I think Disgaea 5 had the most generic cast in Disgaea history. While characters from 1,3, and 4 stand out very strongly in my memory, there’s not a character from Disgaea 5 that I can even picture off the top of my head — and I replayed Disgaea 5 fairly recently. In fact, I had to do a Google search just to remember Killia’s name (that wasn’t true of Laharl or Valvatorez, though I did need a quick Google search to check the spelling of Valvatorez’s name).

In contrast, Disgaea 6‘s Zed feels fresh — and I realize that fresh is an ironic term here, considering he’s a zombie who’s in a perpetual state of decay. Design-wise, he’s got teenage energy, with shaggy hair and a hoody. If he has elf ears, you can’t see them, and he lacks a flowy accessory (okay, so he does technically have some strings, presumably for tightening his hood). He does still maintain the blue hair and the red and black outfit, but let’s not get too hung up on that. If you stood Laharl, Valvatorez, Killia, and Zed up next to each other, Zed would be the one who’d stand out the most — at least in my opinion.

Disgaea 6 - Zed

More interesting is Zed’s backstory.

Zed’s deal is that he’s a zombie, which in this universe means he’s super weak. However, he has a grudge against the God of Destruction, who is absurdly powerful. So Zed needs to get more powerful so he can finally topple this horrendously overpowered being. Fortunately, he can take advantage of Super Reincarnation — he reincarnates after he dies, but he keeps all his “stats.” This means he can perpetually get more powerful with each life cycle, so long as he grows even a little in each one.

When we enter the story, Zed has reincarnated tens of thousands of times. He’s still a zombie, but he’s grown immensely powerful. He’s not yet a match for the God of Destruction, but he’s working his way up.

I absolutely love this as a Disgaea story premise. Mechanically, the series has always been about weak little level-1 characters that grind and grind (and exploit various game systems) until they become massively overpowered baddies who can bring down Overlords in a single hit. Part of this is reincarnating characters back to level 1 while boosting their stat growth (meaning a reincarnated character will be more powerful at level 100 than they were at level 100 before they reincarnated).

So now we have a character who’s fundamentally built around that gameplay mechanic. I find that to be immensely more interesting than… what was Killia’s deal again? Something about curry, wasn’t it?

The story is really good (for a Disgaea game)

Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny

Disgaea games aren’t necessarily known for having incredible stories or anything, but as I pointed out in the previous section, this one uses the game’s mechanics as the foundation for its narrative. Of course, when Zed Super Reincarnates as part of the story, he maintains all his stats, including his level, but when he Super Reincarnates using the game mechanic, he goes back to level 1. But let’s not get hung up on that. This is a Disgaea game; it’s not Dostoevsky.

Disgaea games usually have their own set of twists, but generally those are pretty predictable. The series has never been great about throwing well-earned narrative curveballs. That said, Disgaea 6 features some twists that I honestly did not expect. It builds the game as a framed narrative, which it then uses to catch the player off guard with late-game reveals that are both poignant and genuinely surprising.

I don’t want to say too much for the sake of spoiling anything, but I will say that I think Disgaea 6‘s story might very well be the best in the series (though, as I mentioned earlier, I haven’t played 2 or D2).

I really like the map design in Disgaea 6

Disgaea 6 - Lecture Hall

I tend to like tightly packed, constricted maps with a lot of verticality, though not enough verticality that characters disappear offscreen. I like being able to get enemies into clusters and whop on them with special attacks. I like trying to figure out how to get my characters on top of towers or across narrow chasms. I also like maps with geo puzzles to solve.

For me, Disgaea 5 had some of the worst map design in the series. I’m talking about maps that are incredibly spaced out, where you spend a lot of time moving characters rather than fighting. Disgaea 5 had a tendency to put one-panel-wide bridges across vast expanses of nothing, forcing you to create towers and throw your characters, spreading them out across its enormous maps. There might be people who love expansive Disgaea maps, but I just don’t see the appeal. As you might have guessed, I prefer Disgaea 1‘s maps to Disgaea 4 or 5‘s.

With that said, Disgaea 6 uses a lot of the sorts of design tricks that I really like, without overusing the ones I don’t. For me personally, Disgaea 6‘s map layouts are a massive, massive improvement over 5‘s. While there are some pretty big maps here, those are balanced against some really narrow ones. And I don’t think I encountered a single overly long bridge. While it does seem like the game uses geo puzzles more conservatively than its predecessors, you’ve always got the Item World, right?

Disgaea 6 - Zed's World

Visually, I like green pastures or castle interiors for grid-based tactical maps, and Disgaea 6 is loaded with those (I did actually really like Disgaea 5‘s windmill stages). Plus, Zed’s World, with its “blue Halloween” aesthetic is getting added to my list of Disgaea map color palettes that I really dig.

These maps both look and play great, making Disgaea 6 a huge step up from Disgaea 5.

The game will do everything for you if you let it

Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny

Disgaea 6 features a whole lot of quality-of-life features that make the game so playable that it basically plays itself. I’ve created a decent-sized breakdown of these features, so I won’t repeat everything here, but here’s a really quick summary:

You can set your characters to battle automatically. Then you can set up Auto Repeat, so they just repeat a map endlessly, grinding completely on their own. They auto-heal after every battle, and you can even pass bills in the Dark Assembly to speed up battle animations (up to 32x). So yeah, you can just leave your Switch on for hours at a time and have your characters doing all the work for you.

In the beginning, I absolutely hated this, but as I played, I began to see how this fits into the machinations of the Disgaea grind. Because these games are so much about min-maxing and exploiting deep game systems, grinding EXP the traditional way (by manually playing maps over and over again) was never the most efficient way to make your characters more powerful. Even with the absurdity of Auto Battle/Auto Repeat at 32x, it’s still not as effective as exploiting the game’s deep systems.

For example, it took me hours and hours of auto-grinding to get my characters to level 9,999 the first time (which is the level cap until you hit postgame and raise it). Then I learned that someone figured out how to grind from 1 to 9,999 in a single battle by exploiting Evilities and Dark Assembly modifiers. And they did this in the demo (meaning they only had access to the first two chapters of the game). Here’s a video of how this all works:

Now, this takes a really long time to set up, but setting this up and watching it play out is so much more satisfying than auto-grinding. It’s also way faster, once you set it up properly.

So basically, yes, auto-grinding is now an option, but it’s still not your best option. That does feel like it manages to strike a good balance between these systems.

On the other hand, when you’ve been auto-grinding at 32x (or even 4x or 8x) for hours, manually moving your characters around on the grid feels really, really tedious. As much as I told myself that I would save Auto Battle for passive grinding only, I couldn’t hold myself to that for more than one or two fights. It’s just so much faster to use Auto Battle.

I think there are two different types of Disgaea players: those who actually like micromanaging the grid-based battles, and those who find the meat of the game to be in stat menus. It seems like Nippon Ichi is focusing on the latter group while ignoring the former. Further, I would argue that these two groups are not exclusive, and in fact contain a great deal of overlap. Someone can enjoy both. In fact, there’s a third type of player, I think, who appreciates how these systems work together. And I can only assume this isn’t a small amount of Disgaea players. For those people, auto-grinding is going to feel a lot less satisfying than the manual grinds of previous games.

Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny

Even now, after having completed the main story and having dabbled in the Carnage Dimension, I’m still divided on this. This is what it looks like to take quality-of-life features to their natural-yet-absurd conclusion. Conceptually, taking things to such extremes has been a part of Disgaea‘s DNA for the entire history of the series. It was only inevitable that these extremes would reach this far by the seventh mainline game in the series.

However, there’s a certain level of satisfaction in setting up your battles properly and micromanaging your way out of what seemed like hopeless situations. Once you get used to auto-grinding, this satisfaction is stolen from you. While it’s still more effective to exploit game systems, it’s also more effective to auto-grind than to do it manually. I still haven’t decided if that’s a good thing or not.

The level cap increase doesn’t feel like it matters

Disgaea 6 - I feel a dump

The level cap was increased from 9,999 of the previous games to 99,999,999 (though you have to unlock this level cap in postgame). While that seems like a huge deal, it’s not as big a deal as it appears, and it introduces some frustrating problems.

Most notably is that you level up way faster, but you don’t notice your progress as much. When I played the first map of Disgaea 6, Zed leveled up to 3. On the second map, he leveled all the way up to 25. So I broke out Disgaea 5 to do a quick comparison. Killia leveled up to 3 on the first map, and was still at level 3 after the second. So while the level cap is higher, the amount of time it takes to level up into the really high numbers is almost inconsequential. This makes leveling up feel a lot less satisfying.

When you level from 1 to 1,000, that feels like a huge amount of growth. When you level from 2,000 to 5,000, that’s three times the amount of growth as the first example, but when you glance at the numbers, the second one doesn’t seem that much bigger than the first one.

Human beings are naturally bad at comprehending math, especially when looking at long strings of digits. If you sit down and work out the math, the amount of space between 2,000 and 5,000 is actually substantially more than between 1 and 1,000. However, it doesn’t look that way just based on the digits.

Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny

In Disgaea, your stat growth happens so fast that your brain literally can’t keep up with it. For example, it’s really obvious that a +3,500 stat is bigger than a +35. But when you see stats like 35,678,834,342 and 35,234,232,124, you have to look really, really closely to figure out which one is higher. You can see how much less satisfying the latter is than the former.

And Disgaea 6 runs into this problem immediately. Your stats are incomprehensible strings of digits before you’ve barely even done anything. Once you’ve gotten past the first few maps, you’ve basically broken the part of your brain that keeps up with stats. Everything beyond that is just white noise.

The Item World has never felt this meaningless

Disgaea 6 - Item World

Disgaea 6 is the first Disgaea game that where I finished the entire main story without ever setting foot in the Item World.

For me, the Item World has always been there to smooth out Disgaea’s massive difficulty spikes. If one stage is doable at level 200, and the next one features enemies at level 1,000, then you need to fill that level gap by grinding. These are the places where I’d personally get the most use of the Item World.

On top of that, the Item World provides a really nice break from the game’s main maps, because these maps are randomly generated. You’ll end up seeing all sorts of weird stuff here, and that’s really fun if you’ve just spent an hour or two grinding the same map for EXP and Mana.

And then, there are the wild events that can happen here (cough, pirate attacks, cough), which add even more spice to the Item World.

Disgaea 6 - Item World

When all of these things are combined, you can genuinely spend dozens of very enjoyable hours in the Item World. Disgaea 6 basically takes all of those things away from you. You don’t need to smooth out difficulty spikes when you can auto-grind, which is easier than manually visiting the Item World. You don’t need a break from the monotony of the premade stages because auto-grinding has that covered too. And Disgaea 6‘s Item World just feels less interesting than previous ones. The lack of pirates is a huge piece of that for me, but these maps just don’t feel as bonkers in general (I admit I haven’t spent a ton of time in the Item World yet, but mostly because of the previous points I’ve made).

On top of all that, you can now have characters grind the item world for you instead of doing it yourself, and they’ll even subdue Innocents for you. So even if you want to get super deep into Innocent grinding, the game will do that for you too.

All this considered, Disgaea 6‘s Item World feels like an afterthought more than a core part of the experience. And it’s never felt that way before.

Special move scaling is way off

Disgaea 6 - Enhance Skills

No matter how much Mana I invest into my special skills, my basic attacks always deal more damage than special attacks. Perhaps this is just due to bad balance in scaling these numbers when the digit count gets too high (which happens remarkably fast), or maybe Nippon Ichi just figured that most folks would spend their time using the Auto Battle feature, so balancing special vs. normal attacks just didn’t seem important.

Either way, this ends up being a source of frustration for anyone who actually wants to attempt these battles in the old-school, manual way. It’s even more reason to turn on the Auto Battle feature, even if you swore to yourself that you’d never use it.

Conclusion

Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny

Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny does a lot more right than it does wrong. Its missteps are pretty big, but even then, the stuff it gets right is handled exceptionally well. Without its missteps, this would have easily been the best in the series. With them, it’s still a vast improvement over Disgaea 5, though longtime fans are going to miss some of the features of the old games.

If you’ve played every Disgaea game so far, you’re going to play this one no matter what I tell you. If you only check in with the franchise now and again, Disgaea 6 is essential because it makes so many radical changes to the formula. If you’ve never experienced the endless grind that this franchise offers, Disgaea 6 is Disgaea at its most accessible.

To sum all this up, if you have any interest in Disgaea at all, Disgaea 6 is a must-play. It might be the most divisive entry in the series to date, but it also feels like the quintessential Disgaea game in a lot of ways. I’m just left wondering where the series can even go from here…

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