Sparky's Update - An Introduction to Disgaea for New Players

Heya folks, and welcome to a special edition of Sparky's Update! I'm guts deep in the middle of a brand new Disgaea game (the so-far-spectacular Disgaea D2), but I thought atter this week's positive feeedback to the idea of a new Disgaea blog series, I'd take some time to introduce some of you to what Disgaea is and how you can dip your toes into its universe.

What follows here isn't necessarily specific to Disgaea D2, but some of the intimate details might not apply to all the Disgaea games. That said, we're just going to be talking about its very basic mechanics in order to acclimate you slowly into the world, so the guide should serve as a basic primer for all Disgaea games.

What is Disgaea?

At its very core, Disgaea is a strategy role playing game, not entirely dissimilar to something like Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre/Ogre Battle. It has a very anime-esque atmosphere, with a definite Japanese sense of humor and aesthetic.

Story battles take place on a predetermined grid. Enemies are placed in specific locations, as is your "base," or the square where your characters come out from. In each battle, you can have ten characters on the field at any time. If one dies, then that character cap goes down by one.

The combat is relatively straightforward. Your characters can attack, use special skills, defend, or use items. They can move before or after an attack (but not both). By positioning characters next to each other, you get a chance to perform combo attacks, which deal significantly more damage and generally look cooler.

Levels are listed out in a very basic form - there's no overworld or area to explore outside of your castle or main hub area. Your team of characters is two-fold - those central to the plot, and those you create. The list of characters you can create might seem a bit intimidating at first, but most of the humanoid classes parallel normal fantasy/RPG tropes, such as a mage, healer, monk, warrior, and the like. Since it's really easy to obtain the necessary in-game currencies, create as many characters as you like without worry of screwing something up because you'll always have opportunities later to create more characters or try new things.

Your First Playthrough - What You Should Know

I think what scares most people away from Disgaea is talk of the post-game content, which is incredibly deep. But for your first playthrough in any Disgaea game, what you should know is this - the game, at its core, is very, very simple, and you never have to stray very far from a basic formula to get yourself through your first playthrough.

Here's the biggest not-so-secret secret every new player should know - every level in Disgaea's story missions can be beat with a little grinding. Even better, in your first playthrough, this grind isn't at all taxing. Essentially, for your first playthrough, what I'd recommend doing is getting through the tutorial missions, and then work your way through every level twice with your favorite team of characters. That's it - that's all you need to do to enjoy Disgaea at its most basic level.

The game will introduce some fairly intimidating elements to you early on, particularly the Item World and the Dark Assembly. Let's examine those and I'll show you why they're far less intimidating than you think.

The Dark Assembly

Disgaea has a lot of options you can tinker with through the Dark Assembly. This is essentially the tool you use in-game to create characters, make the game easier or more difficult, and add more items to the weapon/armor/item shops in the game.

For your first playthrough, I'd really only recommend playing around with the options you're comfortable with. As mentioned, creating characters is a breeze, so play with that all you want to. You'll obtain plenty of Mana (the currency used for the Dark Assembly) through battles. Also fairly easy and useful? The Dark Assembly also features a bill that can make more expensive items appear in the shops, which allows you to buy better equipment than what the shops have originally.

When trying to pass bills through the Assembly, you'll have to sit through a "yay" or "nay" session in front of the Assembly itself. Seems complex, I know, but thankfully, it's fairly straightforward. Each bill comes with a certain likelihood of it passing or failing. Now, most simple bills like creating characters don't even need to go through the Assembly, so there's not much to think about there - just create the character, and you're good to go. But when you pass, say, that "more expensive items" bill, you'll have to push it through the Assembly. That process is really easy to understand, if a bit frustrating in its actual practice.

The Assembly is comprised of parties of creatures that either want the bill to pass or fail - think Democrats and Republicans, but with dragons, zombies, and prinnies instead. The most basic bills like "more expensive items" will usually have a favorable likelhiood of passing, so you won't need to do any work. I wouldn't recommend trying to pass any more complicated bills than that on your first playthrough - we'll get into the nitty gritty of the Dark Assembly and how you can pass more complex bills in a future blog. But for your first playthrough, limit yourself to just the essentials - creating characters and making more items appear in your shops.

The Item World

Any item, be it a sword, a piece of equipment, a healing item, or whatever you'd like, can be leveled up in Disgaea. This is done through the Item World, easily the most fascinating and fun part of the Disgaea games once you understand what you're doing.

The Item World is essentially a string of randomized battles wherein your goal on each map is to eliminate all the enemies or get to a certain portal to go to the next level. There's one catch - you can only leave the Item World through the use of an item called an Mr. Gency Exit, or by making it ten levels down. Your item will level up depending on how many levels you've beat, so if you've cleared the first three levels of enemies, your item will level three times.

There's a lot of random stuff that can happen in the Item World and not all of it is pleasant. If you're going to explore the Item World, try to keep an Mr. Gency Exit item on you at all times, and be prepared with a decently powerful team. The cheaper the item was, the easier the Item World will be.

For your first playthrough, it's really up to you how much you use the Item World, but I would only recommend using it when the game leads you there. At least, at first - like I say, it's a riot in the post-game, but we're not concerning ourselves with that right now. Keep in mind to ALWAYS save before you go into the Item World, as you won't have an opportunity to do so until you've left it again.

I'd also recommend during your first playthrough of limiting your Item World trips to equipment and weapons. While you can level up a piece of gum if you want (no, really, you can), there's just very little point to it.

Assorted Basic Tips and Tricks

Treat yourself to new equipment and weapons liberally, but keep a focus on the characters you use the most. I like having a very basic ten man team comprised of a few story characters, two mages, two healers, an archer, and a monk. Every now and again, when created characters reach a certain level, they can choose to reincarnate into the next tier of that class. This will reset their level to one, but it will give them a sprinkling of bonus stat points and some new, more powerful skills. It's entirely up to you to choose whether to reincarnate or not - it will mean a bit more grinding, as you'll want to get those characters back up to speed level-wise, but the bonus stat points do come in handy and the more powerful skills are always a positive thing. It's all dependent on how much grinding you really want to do, but I would at least recommend keeping your mages and healers up to their highest possible class tier.

You can heal yourself in between battles in a shop (it's called a hospital, but it's really just one character standing there) - that should always be your first purchase outside of battle. Always save right atterwards.

Don't bother with building monsters unless you're playing Disgaea D2. Outside of a few story characters, they're by and large completely useless.

Each character class specializes in certain weapons but anyone can use any type of weapon. Try to stick with your character class's specialization, as they'll do more damage with them. This can be viewed from your character's status screen.

I can't really emphasize this enough - if you're having trouble, just grind. Everything in the game can be beat with better characters, weapons, and equipment. There are some ways to cheat the system a bit (in every game to date, there's been a way to abuse level 5-4 in order to power level your characters), so if you find yourself really frustrated with a particular level, look those up on GameFAQs or a similar site. Otherwise, feel free to hit me up and I can help you out.

And that's Disgaea in a nutshell. So far, Disgaea D2 feels like the most accessible of the Disgaea games to date, but you really can't go wrong with any of them. Their stories are fairly disconnected (save for D2 from the original Disgaea, but even Disgaea D2's story is set apart from that one, so you won't need to know the first game in order to enjoy this one). I know they seem intimidating, but if you stick to the basics at first, I guarantee you, they're just as accessible as something like Final Fantasy Tactics. Unless you're like @arbitrarywater and hate the thought of anime-inspired games (and this is VERY anime-inspired, so bear that in mind), give the series a go. If you get as hooked as me, you won't need another gaming drug for a very long time.

In the next blog, I'll discuss slightly more advanced combat mechanics such as the Geo Panels and Geo Blocks. We'll also talk a bit more about the Dark Assembly and how you can pass more complex bills. See ya then.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Maybe I've overstated my distaste for "JRPG Anime Bullshit". What I'm mostly referring to are the particularly obnoxious characters and tropes that grate at my very soul, and if the gameplay is good enough I don't even care. I played through Valkyria Chronicles II after all, and that game is dripping with the worst one-note characters I can fathom. Most of my distaste for Disgaea comes from the way you can instantly and immediately break it with the right kind of grinding, and less to do with the part where I find it actively unfunny. Now Persona 3, that's an anime-inspired JRPG.

Your write up is almost enough for me to go "That seems like a game I'd be interested in". But I never beat Tactics Ogre, so... priorities? Keep on blogging, I'll probably read it.

Edited by ZombiePie

I still don't own a platform that can play any of the Disgaea whatever I guess. It sounds dumb.

Posted by Slag

I don't know what it is but these Nippon Ichi SRPG games just don't connect with me even though I really like those style of games.

La Pucelle didn't, Phantom Brave didn't and the Disgaea games didn't. This sounds good for existing fans of the series, but I don't see anything that's going to win me over.

Features like Item World just sound like the kind of grinding I no longer have patience for, yet feel compelled to do if I play a game. Which leads me to burning out on the game.

Edited by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@slag: i can't blame you. There are lots of reasons NIS still is a niche game company. That said, the grindy goodness, it calls to me!

@zombiepie: Don't you still have 82 weeks left on your ban?

Posted by bobafettjm

The first Disgaea game is one I bought when it first came out and I honestly had no idea what it really was. It ended up being the first SRPG game that I actually finished, and then beat it again, and again.

Edited by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@bobafettjm: I had a similar experience with Disgaea 2. It was an impulse buy, and I've been hooked ever since.

Edited by bobafettjm

@sparky_buzzsaw: So since you started with the second in the series, are you more partial to those characters, or does that not factor in? I feel like I have not been able to get quite as into the sequels because I liked the characters so much in the original.

Posted by Miyuki

I owned the first Disgaea and ended up selling it because I had never played an srpg and had no idea what I was doing. I recently beat SMT Devil survivor,which I loved, so I'm wanting to try Disgaea again. Might start with the original on the Vita. Thanks for the guide - I remember feeling pretty overwhelmed with the original, and I had plenty of RPG experience!

Posted by wemibelec90

@sparky_buzzsaw: This seems very well put-together! I've dabbled with Disgaea before (I think I own the first one on the PSP?), but it always seemed a bit too daunting. Maybe I'll give it another go.

Posted by TowerSixteen

This makes me cry over the fact that I could never justify a Ps3 purchase for my broke ass. I almost bought one multiple times for this series alone. To anyone wondering- In my experience in the first two games, it was absolutely reasonable to beat the main story with minimal grinding and never touching the item world. Don't use grind fear as an excuse not to try these games, clever party building and strategy gets you through just fine!

Posted by the_d00d

Awesome entry man. Idk why people are coming to this post to say they don't like the game... Take that shit to IGN.

Another thing to note is the Thief is a class you need to get highly leveled in order to get the best gear. He also steals stats and retains them so putting in the leg work makes the thief amazing!

Posted by TobbRobb

Maaaan. Now you made me want to go play more Disgaea games. I only ever played the first one. D2 seems like a good buy considering I'm already attached to the characters..... Oh well, I can't be broke forever. Probably.

As a side note, what's your opinion on using small 2-3 man parties and just powerleveling them to crush the game? While I see the appeal of larger created parties, it's just so much simpler to keep it small. And leveling healers is such a massive pain in the ass that I didn't want to deal.

Posted by TowerSixteen

@tobbrobb: Having only played one and two, I've always found full parties to be less time-consuming but more micro-management intensive- you trade an hour of grind for thirty minutes of micromanagement and party planning. For me, thats an easy trade, because I find the party calibration fun and I would rather dig out my eyeballs than grind for more than twenty minutes at a time. So, opinions may vary. Oh, and if your going after extra content, I've found that the relative-invested-time gap increases.

Posted by TobbRobb

@towersixteen: I dunno, it's been a while. But I can't remember grinding for very long, especially since you earn more experience per map by being a small group, and because the maps go down faster when you have micromanage less. Not to mention the exponentially increased money cost of a larger party. I actually feel like it was less of a grind using a smaller party. But user experience may vary and all that. And I expect that you would need more characters to deal with post-game content, but I didn't dabble in that very much.

Edited by SunBroZak

Great guide you've got there.

I'm a pretty big fan of the series, so while it's not really of any help to me, it's definitely made me want more Disgaea. Unfortunately I'll be taking a pass on D2, though, until I get a vita version with all the dlc packed in. I want the dlc characters, but I don't want them enough to pay £60 for them all. Still, D4 is coming to the Vita, so I have that to look forward to.

Posted by BBAlpert

This is how you powerlevel in the first Disgaea.

Step 1:

Step 2: Repeat

Posted by oldenglishC

Great info. I think a big reason that a lot more people don't try these games is because they think that you can't beat the main story unless you level to 9999. (But is the story really over if you haven't taken down Pringer X?)

NIS is the reason I cancelled my PS4 preorder. Between the few hundred hours that I'll end up spending on this and The Guided Fate Paradox, my winter and spring gaming time is spoken for.

Posted by EXTomar

Hmm, that is not true. You can always beat the main story doing the minimal amount. If you want to do "high level stuff" then you need to do all of the extra things.

Posted by believer258

I still don't own a platform that can play any of the Disgaea whatever I guess. It sounds dumb.

You don't have a PS2, PSP, PS3, or PSVita on hand anywhere?

Edited by JohnTunoku

@extomar: If it is possible to grind in a game some people will invariably call it a grindfest. This appears to be some sort of law. I think it has to do with the fact most people will always take the option to grind if they are given it and won't usually try without. So they just presume it is the only way.

Alternately they will try and fail once on a boss or other hard encounter and firmly believe it is due to lack of grinding as opposed to considering boss patterns or other things they did clearly did incorrectly. SMTIV is the freshiest example in my mind, you really just have to exploit weaknesses and not have your weaknesses exposed and you're fine regardless of level for almost any fight in the game.

Posted by Chop

I just can't do it; I don't have it in me to play these games anymore.

Posted by ZombiePie

@zombiepie said:

I still don't own a platform that can play any of the Disgaea whatever I guess. It sounds dumb.

You don't have a PS2, PSP, PS3, or PSVita on hand anywhere?

I have never personally owned a Sony console.

Posted by believer258

@zombiepie: *drops jaw in disbelief*

Um... A Ninitendo DS perhaps? There's a Disgaea DS

Posted by ZombiePie

@zombiepie: *drops jaw in disbelief*

Um... A Ninitendo DS perhaps? There's a Disgaea DS

I don't own any handhelds. I haven't since the Gamboy Advance. I'm mostly a PC and 360 person right now.

Edited by EXTomar

ZombiePie might be one of those guys who went 3DO during the height of the fighting between Playstation and Saturn. :)

I feel like the definitive version of the original Disgaea is the PSP version. Up-resed graphics but still has all of the annoying classic limitations. The only thing really missing is that Tsunami Bomb song! :)

Posted by ZombiePie

@extomar said:

ZombiePie might be one of those guys who went 3DO during the height of the fighting between Playstation and Saturn. :)

I did...after it died. That's why I have 970 wiki points on the 3DO platform page.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@oldenglishc: Ohhhhhhh, GFP is just right around the corner, isn't it? Crap! I'm hoping to find that one in a B2G1 or Black Friday sale this holiday season. We'll see how that little pipe dream goes. And ashamed Disgaea fan admittal - I've never actually beaten Pringer X in any Disgaea game.

@sunbrozak: If I had a Vita, I'd try to wait. I'm sure my resolve would last all of about ten minutes, though.

@the_d00d: I am absolutely terrible about keeping my thieves leveled properly.

@towersixteen: Aw, sorry you've missed out on the PS3 games. They've introduced a ton of great new elements that add up very quickly. This latest one has streamlined everything, and it's fantastic. And yeah, you're absolutely right - getting through your first playthrough doesn't require much grinding (if at all).

@wemibelec90: Hey, thanks! That PSP Disgaea is all right. I've got the DS version and it's not too shabby either. At some point, if I can get a Vita for cheap, I'd love to have the more recent re-releases on that handheld. I have no idea why - for the sake of collection, I guess!

@miyuki: They can be enormously overwhelming, particularly when the games throw so much at you all at once. Just remember to focus in on the story for your first playthrough, and you'll be fine. The best way to acclimate yourself to these games is just to familiarize yourself bit by bit. I hope you get to try it again - they're well worth the investment.

@bobafettjm: I've managed to play every Disgaea game to date, although definnitely not in order (2, 3, 1, 4, D2). I'm fondest of Disgaea 4's characters, followed loosely by the first and second games. I don't remember any of the third game's characters sticking out save for the school chef. The series' weakest point is that all the games feel too similar in tone, setting, and atmosphere. Disgaea 4 did the most to break out of that rut, and in the process, came up with some charming characters to boot. Like the sucker I am, when I saw Fuka and Desco were up for download in D2, I bought them straight away because I liked Disgaea 4 so much. Having now hit the halfway point in D2, I don't think I like it quite so much as Disgaea 4 in terms of its story or characters (although Laharl and Etna still have their moments), but mechanically, D2 knocks it out of the park. So much of the confusing crap from Dis. 4 was stripped out and replaced with easier-to-use systems that it's going to be nigh impossible to return to it. I wish D2 had Dis. 4's shine, though. Everything seems slightly lazier in terms of its presentation.

@tobbrobb: That's really dependent on what part of the game I'm at. For example, in Disgaea 4, I kept a fairly balanced six or seven person crew up until the point when I needed to power level for post game content, and then it became entirely a two person show (Desco and Valvatorez). Given the way that game is structured, keeping others leveled at a fraction of theirs was a breeze. That said, I really do find a larger, more diverse team usually helpful for the more difficult Cave of Ordeal challenges as well as deep Item World jaunts. Leveling healers is a bitch, but at that point in the game, healing through items is just about pointless.

Edited by Slag

@the_d00d said:

Awesome entry man. Idk why people are coming to this post to say they don't like the game... Take that shit to IGN.

because I told Sparky I'd read his blog if he wrote it when he asked in his last one.

I didn't really have much else to add,Sparky's description of the game mechanics confirmed for me what I already feared, that Disgaea is still a series I can respect but not enjoy. And I wouldn't have known that as well as I do if he hadn't done such a thorough job of explaining a lot of the core mechanics of this entry.

I just figured Sparky's excellent blog always deserves a good bump or two eventhough I didn't add much to the conversation. The man deserves more readers.

anyway I'm sure he knew why I posted even if it understandably wasn't clear to others. :)

Edited by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@slag: Yup, you're good, man! There's certainly no harm in dissenting opinions, and I always welcome discourse if people disagree with me.

Posted by bobafettjm

@sparky_buzzsaw: I still need to pick up Disgaea 4, I have heard good things and that it is better than 3.

Posted by the_d00d

@sparky_buzzsaw: @sparky_buzzsaw: I know the feeling, disgaea 4 is the first disgaea game that I went deep into post game due to coming to the series late. At first I would just level rush them without stat stealing and I couldn't even steal white items in the LoC. This time I am using him in the item sea and stealing stats before I kill the baddies. Luckily the amount you steal jumps significantly when you hit the higher levels. Stealing 3-4 points is bogus but you hit double digits pretty quick which takes some of the hopelessness away from it.

@slag: I understand, I might have been a little testy, sorry. I just never understood people who go to game dedicated articles just to hate on them, which wasn't the case I guess.

Posted by Sinusoidal

I've still only played the first Disgaea. Grind to level your characters, grind to buy weapons, grind in the item world to make those weapons better, grind to buy items to bribe the council to pass bills to level up enemies to grind on to gain levels and to buy items to bribe the council to pass bills to level up enemies to grind on to gain levels and to buy items to bribe the council to pass bills to level up enemies to ... you see where I'm going here.

Don't get me wrong: I like a good grind, but I also like to see an end result. Disgaea's grind goes on forever!

Edited by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@sinusoidal: The games lend themselves to smaller self-made goals, but I definitely get where you're coming from. For me, the "end" usually means finishing up the Cave of Ordeals challenge maps. Which, actually, I've never done. But that's my goal, regardless.