Earlier this year when I saw Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny was coming to Switch over the summer, I was pumped. There are plenty of smaller tactical RPGs on the portable console, but few have the storied history, number-crunching depth, and healthy budget of Nippon Ichi Software’s Disgaea series. Unfortunately, my first few hours with the game are giving me second thoughts.
First, the obligatory Disgaea explainer, which I will try to keep as brief as possible. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was released in 2003 for the PS2. It channeled the numerical strategy of hits like Final Fantasy Tactics through an absurd anime lens. Reaching level 99 wasn’t the end of your character’s arc but the beginning, and there were adorable penguin demons called Prinnies to boot. While there have now been six sequels and tons of ports and remasters, none have ever been quite as good and focused as the original, and Disgaea 6, out June 28, hasn’t changed that for me so far.
What it does change is the look and feel of the game thanks to the addition of 3D character visuals. Traditionally isometric looking and sprite-based, Disgaea 6 retains the feel of the previous art styles but in a not always natural-feeling way. New combat cutscenes look like Pokémon battles, and it can be hard to find your way around the grid sometimes.
On Switch, it also looks downright ugly at times. There the game has three modes: graphics, balanced, and performance. Things look alright while static in the graphics mode, but the framerate is dismal when the action starts going off. On the other end, the game runs pretty smoothly in performance mode but looks like someone melted a stick of butter on my Switch screen.
Graphics aren’t the end-all-be-all of a Disgaea game though, and Disgaea 6 does scratch plenty of my longstanding tactical RPG itches. There are still fighters to level up, items to collect, bonus objectives to complete, and a sprawling web of sub-systems for earning and spending different currencies—Hell, EXP, Mana, Karma—to unlock new job classes, power up abilities, and find the most powerful gear. The tinkerer part of me is likely going to spend another dozen hours with the game at least over the next month training up my team and grinding out the story (the narrative this time is a mostly forgettable power fantasy of a punk zombie trying to defeat the god of destruction, but the level design for each chapter’s battles is still quite good).
My bigger problem with Disgaea 6 is just how inflated and frictionless everything feels. The new level cap is 99,999,999, up from the previous standard of 9,999, but in practice that just seems to mean that every character levels up that much faster. Similarly, you can now hit for over ten quadrillion damage, the developers said in an interview last year. Currently, most of my characters are hitting in the five figures, which is the same as double digits since most of the zeroes get cut off anyway.
There are also new quality of life features like double-speed mode and auto-battles. You can even set battles to automatically repeat after they’re completed. RPG players are always looking for ways to optimize the grind, but something about these new tools and absurdly big character stats goes a little too far, breaking the underlying logic of the game. You don’t have to let the game go on auto-pilot of course, but once you do it’s hard to stop. At some point, I left my Switch plugged overnight while my demons battled their hearts out. The only thing that stopped them from quickly becoming overpowered wrecking balls was my Switch’s power-saving settings.
Pushing the gameplay loop of making the numbers go up to absurd places has always been part of Disagea’s allure, but I’m worried in Disgaea 6’s case there won’t be enough new systems or entertaining story beats to keep me coming back for long, especially with so many past games in the series to choose from on Switch. For now, I’m trying to make peace with the easily broken grind by trying to treat Disgaea 6 more like an anime Football Manager. Instead of micromanaging the day-to-day training sessions, I can focus on the bigger picture, coming up with weird, overpowered squads to run through the item world gauntlet and doing my best to check every other box in my menu-filled Netherworld clubhouse.