Disgaea RPG Review – Iconic Series in a Mobile RPG World

    Title: Disgaea RPG
    Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
    Release Date: April 12, 2021
    Reviewed On: iOS
    Publisher: Boltrend Games
    Genre: Gacha RPG

Disgaea is a series that has risen in popularity over the years after three console generations of mainline entries and spin-offs. Its over-the-top SRPG systems keep players coming back for more as the series has evolved to offer almost too many hours of gameplay with some memorable characters. It’s only natural that this experience would find its way to mobile devices.

Disgaea RPG was released in March 2019 in Japan and immediately go down for emergency maintenance on the same day, which lasted until November. This maintenance allegedly was necessary because the servers were stressed under the weight of unexpected overseas logins, which might have played a factor in some money troubles faced by the developer. However, that’s all in the past, and Disgaea RPG is now officially available in the west. Was it worth the wait?

Disgaea RPG offers plenty of elements to enjoy, but it leaves many things to be desired. It competently integrates many series staples into the typical mobile RPG auto-battle format. Further, it has two features in common with the mobile game Granblue Fantasy (which is, as with many other Japanese mobile titles, its most obvious inspiration) that I appreciated.

For starters, the game is played in portrait mode. Typically, mobile games opt to be played horizontally to provide a supposed console-like, cinematic experience to players. Personally, I enjoy the accessibility and simplicity of portrait mode games, as it offers more flexibility in your physical position and less risk of wrist-cramping.

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The other extremely welcome common feature that Disgaea RPG has is cloud saving. As long as you’re logged in through the same Facebook account, you can play Disgaea RPG on as many devices as you’d like. This feature is great as it untethers you from your phone. If you’re somewhere it would be more convenient to play on a larger screen, you can do so with no barriers or interruptions. I can count on one hand the number of other mobile games I have seen with this feature, and considering how several of those games are many years old now, it’s refreshing to see this title adopt it.

The cloud save capabilities are even more appreciated after you find out Disgaea RPG is extremely addicting. The series’ reincarnation mechanic that allows a unit to return to level one in return for greater rewards and higher stats later is integrated into the usual mobile RPG limit-breaking system to great effect. Levels are quick and easy to grind — for a long time, you’ll get at least one character leveling up for every battle — and it feels true to the spirit of the series. Want to watch numbers go up but don’t have the patience for an idle game? This is a solid compromise.

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The other major series element that Disgaea RPG gets right is the involvement of the huge cast of characters. While you, of course, have fan-favorite original generation characters like Etna, Laharl, and Flonne (notably, all in their D2: A Brighter Darkness states), characters from across the whole series return for the original story of this title and are as much fun as ever.

The inclusion of a separate story mode that recaps the older games – complete with switching back to their art styles and their trash mobs – is welcomed, especially since some of those titles still have not been given the complete re-release treatment.

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That being said, as much as I love seeing my favorite characters in an original story, that new story feels very barebones even by mobile game (and Disgaea) standards. I would miss having a true story mode if it weren’t there, but as it is, it runs in a cycle of “short cutscene, three separate battles, short cutscene, boss fight, short cutscene.”

None of the scenes quite manage to build on each other or have me invested in the actual plot because they’re so brief. Disgaea lives on the strength of its casts, and if I wasn’t already familiar with these characters, I don’t know how much I would really be getting from this. Also, it’s apparent that this wasn’t localized by NIS America, given that there were typos everywhere in comparison with the general high quality of previous Disgaea localizations. (This game also, unfortunately, lacks a dub, which is pretty standard for these more niche titles, but seeing as the dubs are a highlight of this series, it’s still disappointing.)

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My biggest issue with Disgaea RPG is much more significant and impactful. As well-integrated as many of Disgaea’s signature systems are into the traditional mobile-game setup, once you get into combat…it’s basically the same as any other game. As unique as this series is for taking a rock-solid strategy RPG foundation and stacking lots of wacky and interesting premises on top of it, in combat plays out like any other mobile fantasy RPG, only with Disgaea characters.

It’s a shame because Disgaea RPG has boatloads of modern quality-of-life features you don’t always expect to see and enough content that I’ve been playing for days without coming close to running out of stuff to do.

Once you’re in combat, though, you may as well just hit the auto button and quadruple the speed – there is no strategy here, and all that matters is whether your numbers are higher than your opponent’s. Disgaea revolutionized strategy RPG gameplay by introducing things like throwing teammates, moving effect panels, and procedural generation and extremely little of that has really been translated here.

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Disgaea RPG represents your typical mobile gaming experience, for better and for worse. It offers a ton of content around this exceptionally large cast of characters for fans of the series to dive headfirst into. However, it borrows many core elements from other mobile games when it should have relied more on the deep strategic planning the series is known for. Still, the game is undoubtedly addicting, and I’m excited to see how this western release evolves.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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