Disgaea 5: Too Many Mechanics, and a Too Long Review
I spent 100 hours on Disgaea 5 over the past two weeks. I’m not sure, though, how much of this time was well-spent. I’m writing this in part to clarify to myself just how much of that I would repeat if given the chance, in line with Nietzsche’s philosophy of eternal recurrence. This article should be accessible whether you’ve played Disgaea or not, and there is one minor spoiler (marked).
What if a demon crept after you into your loneliest loneliness some day or night, and said to you: “This life, as you live it at present, and have lived it, you must live it once more, and also innumerable times; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh, and all the unspeakably small and great in thy life must come to you again, and all in the same series and sequence — and similarly this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and similarly this moment, and I myself. The eternal sand-glass of existence will ever be turned once more, and you with it, you speck of dust!” — Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth, and curse the demon that so spoke? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment in which you would answer him: “You are a God, and never did I hear anything so divine!” If that thought acquired power over you as you are, it would transform you, and perhaps crush you; the question with regard to all and everything: “Do you want this once more, and also for innumerable times?” would lie as the heaviest burden upon your activity! Or, how would you have to become favourably inclined to yourself and to life, so as to long for nothing more ardently than for this last eternal sanctioning and sealing?
— The Gay Science, Aphorism #341
To begin, it’s often joked among Disgaea players that the number of mechanics has ballooned in successive games, with this entry D5 even including a board game (!) as a key mechanic. Strictly speaking, I don’t think it’s possible to have “too many mechanics”. It’s true that having high mechanical complexity can make a game difficult to approach, but it also can yield a form of depth which is most clearly on display in fighting games. This said, I don’t think D5’s multiplicity of mechanics fully lives up to this promise, because many of them — and the most important of them — provide no depth, and are instead only areas for grinding.
First, here’s a list of the major mechanics in Disgaea, which are all necessary in some respect to challenge the last batch of Carnage bosses. We’ll go through each one and discuss it.
- RPG levelling
- Equipment (Item World, Innocents)
- Land of Carnage
- Chara World
- Dark Assembly
- Postgame (Levelling, Reincarnation, Subclasses, and Extracts)
The RPG levelling in Disgaea is much deeper than normal RPGs. First, units only get levelling EXP and Mana for killing blows (or using support magic, but only a few units can do this). This means you have to ration out experience from fights so that everyone is levelling, which gives you a tradeoff between battle efficiency and unit development. Interesting! The other major form of RPG upgrades is skill EXP. When skills level up, their SP cost decreases and their range increases (for certain spells). You only get skill EXP when you use a skill. The point about SP cost decreasing is critical: when you upgrade a skill using Mana, its SP cost will double or quadruple, so an upgraded but unlevelled skill costs prohibitive amounts of SP. This means you have to ration out what skills you use and upgrade looking forward to what skills you will use. Again, it’s a tradeoff of battle efficiency and unit development.
The wrench is: this mechanic only forces tradeoffs during the main game. In the postgame, since levelling and skill EXP are primarily obtained via grinding, you’re reduced to grinding around these tradeoffs. Overall, this mechanic is the key to making RPG levelling — otherwise a boring and grindy system — into a set of strategic tradeoffs, at least during the main game.
There is a lot that goes into equipment in Disgaea. For each weapon type, there is a linear upgrade tree (here it is). On top of this linear upgrade tree, you can upgrade the level and rarity of each item via clearing levels in the Item World of the item. However, even if you do so, this primarily buffs its stats, and thus does not delinearize the upgrade process. The other major item mechanic is Innocents, which are basically buffs that you apply to your item like adding stats or increasing crit damage. These kinds of incomparable buffs are usually the basis for nonlinearity and strategic tradeoffs in equipment builds, and in games like Path of Exile are taken to an extreme. Here’s an example from PoE:
Adds (255–285) to (300–330) Fire Damage in Main Hand
Adds (255–285) to (300–330) Cold Damage in Off Hand
(10–15)% increased Attack Speed
100% increased Damage with Ignite inflicted on Chilled Enemies
25% chance to Ignite when in Main Hand
Chill Enemies for 1 second on Hit with this Weapon when in Off Hand
There are a few reasons why innocents do not produce strategic tradeoffs in Disgaea. First, you can freely shuttle these buffs around between items, so you never are in the situation of choosing one set of Innocents over another. Second, there are no dropped items which have a significant amount of buffs. In the main game, you get +1 or +2 HP when you already have some hundreds, and in the postgame, you get +100 HP when you have several million. For the buff to be meaningful, you have to upgrade it by either grinding in the Item World or waiting for it to grow in the Innocent Farm. However, even this is limited, since innocents stacks are capped. You can only get a stack of 50,000 HP innocents. By the time doing this is feasible, you’ll already have 300,000,000 HP, and there will be no use in grinding several hours for such a boost. What ends up occurring is that you grind a few specific innocents postgame, like the +100% crit damage buff, and put it on any character that deals damage. Yet this is grinding and no longer incurs any sort of strategic tradeoffs.
The one possible exception to this is unique innocents. These buffs cannot be moved between items, so if you find an item with a unique innocent attached, there is a tradeoff between your normal equipment and this new equipment with a strange buff. However, this does not occur in practice for several reasons. First, unique innocents appear naturally on only a few story and quest items, so you generally don’t encounter them. Second, the effects of unique innocents as seen in story and quest items are rarely complex enough to force tradeoffs. Of the six effects from the PoE example, a unique innocent will provide one, and multiple never occur on one item. Finally, because the story/quest items which contain unique innocents are cripplingly weak, you will probably equip them in your off-hand slot, which ignores stats. This means that the tradeoff in-practice of unique innocents is not complex item vs complex item, but one effect vs one effect in the off-hand slot.
You can actually get unique innocents on any item by upgrading it in the item world. This seems like it would provide an interesting point of endgame build choice. In practice, it’s a grind, and you actually end up putting all the unique innocents on your item. This is because you unlock unique innocents for each item randomly when you kill special bosses on every 100th floor of its Item World (and there are about 45), so by the time you’ve randomly unlocked the few you need, the item will have enough innocent slots to hold all the ones you unlocked. There’s no strategic tradeoff because there’s no limitation.
One critical location of build choice is in the three secondary equipment slots for each character. This is because you can put any of the seven types of secondary equipment in each slot, each of which focuses on different stats. For example, Muscles raise HP, and Glasses raise INT and HIT. You might stack three Muscles on your bruiser and three Glasses on your mage. But you now have tradeoffs. Maybe your bruiser’s magical resistance (RES) is too low, so you equip two Muscles and one Orb (which buffs SP and RES) instead. Maybe your mage is too squishy, so you trade out a Glasses for an Armor (defensive stats). Maybe you have Ripple Impact (deal splash damage if your target is adjacent to you) equipped, and you need more movement, so you switch something out for some Boots. These tradeoffs are real and significant, but only occur during the main game. In the postgame, equipped items become meaningless — the stat buffs are incomparably tiny against your base stats — until you start duping a maxed-out Trapezohedron, which gives a 2m boost to all stats, and therefore yields no tradeoffs.
I mentioned the Item World previously, but how does it work? Each item has its own item world, which is a dungeon with an infinite number of floors. A floor is randomly generated on entry. Each floor contains some enemies and a Skip Gate. Defeating all the enemies will increase the level of the item, but using the Skip Gate will not. Either way, you move to the next floor. Every 10 floors there is a boss, and every 100 floors there is an “Item God” boss. These bosses are just buffed versions of normal enemies, so aren’t interesting on their own merit. You can leave and come back to the same floor within a specific item’s item world either by talking to an NPC at the “safe floor” after a boss, or using a common item (Mr Gency Exit).
On the face of it, the item world is purely a grind. I want to clarify just how pure of a grind it is.
In the main game, you might jump into the item world to strengthen some item a bit, but it’s largely unnecessary. The item world is primarily a postgame feature. Let’s discuss its usage.
First, it is used for subclass mastery. In the postgame, before reincarnating your character, you should master all subclasses (clarification in the Postgame section). There are about 50 subclasses, and while the first few ranks of a subclass can be achieved in a few postgame fights, the final rank is incredibly difficult to get. The most efficient way to master a subclass is by teaching the character Geo Blast, entering the item world for a strong Land of Carnage (to be discussed later) item on max difficulty, and using Geo Blast on a Geo Symbol. Most subclasses will be instantly mastered with one Geo Symbol. You then change subclasses and repeat. Doing this once is easy, but you will need to do it 50 times on at least 5 characters. I didn’t master a single subclass in the 40-hour main game, so imagine how bad the grind would be without this “trick”.
Second, it is used for upgrading innocent buffs. Without going too much into the mechanics, if you put an “unsubdued” innocent on an item, it will randomly appear in the item world as a neutral enemy, and you can kill it to make it “subdued”. Subduing an innocent increases its strength and can be done only once per innocent. This is, again, a grind.
Third, it is used for strengthening items. We will discuss the specific usage in the Postgame section. There are actually three ways to strengthen an item in the item world: its level (increase by killing all enemies on a floor), its kill bonus (increase by killing enemies on higher difficulties), and its training bonus (increase by mystery rooms or bosses). Both the level and kill bonus are clearly grinds. What about mystery rooms and the training bonus?
Every time you clear a floor, you might randomly encounter a mystery room, which is a special room with an optional event. Some events are simply opportunities to purchase items, but to increase the training bonus, you have to enter a fight event and kill all enemies. While it’s nice that you get to engage in a more scripted fight, you’ll be repeating each fight 10 to 100 times to max the training bonus. It’s a grind.
What makes mystery room fights especially annoying is that there is a super-strong neutral NPC in every mystery room. They won’t attack you unprovoked, and you don’t have to defeat them. However, the most efficient way to clear an item world floor or mystery room is via the spell Land Decimator, which hits all characters except the caster. This makes the neutral NPC aggressive, and you’ll have to defeat them. So: training bonus is an annoying grind.
There are two special mystery rooms which have incredibly important endgame functions. One allows you to duplicate the item you’re currently exploring. However, this duplication might fail if you’re not 1500+ floors deep. Regarding the other: at the end of each linear weapon upgrade tree are three rank 40 items. The first you get via a mechanic described in the next paragraph. The second is just sitting there in a mystery room in the item world of every weapon of the same type. However, you can’t take it at will: you must already have the first, as well as a character with max weapon mastery in that type. Since mystery rooms are random, getting the second weapon is a painful and random formality once you’ve satisfied the requirements (more like bureaucracy than a grind). And duplicating an endgame item enough times for your entire core party is a mind-numbing formality.
If you have an item of rank X, and upgrade it to level 80 and 50 rarity (rarity increases with the training bonus), then the Item God boss on the 100th floor will hold the direct upgrade of the item (ie. same type, rank X+1). You can steal this item. This is a useful way to get rank 39 items, which are difficult to find, and is the only way to get the first rank 40 item. It’s an interesting mechanic, but in practice you’re doing the same item-levelling grind, except on an item you’ll throw away.
The one tradeoff that occurs in the item world is that you can change the “route” on the safe floor after each boss. Choice of route makes a specific type of grinding more effective. If you are grinding innocents, use the innocent route. If you are looking for mystery rooms, use the mystery room route. If you are upgrading the item level, use the item levelling route. There’s little depth to this mechanic, but it is useful for grinding.
Land of Carnage
In the postgame, you get access to some challenge maps which lead to a questline that gives you access to Land of Carnage. The enemies in these challenge maps go up to level 2000 with up to 200k in all stats. This is somewhat problematic, as you end the game around level 100 (the final boss is level 120 and has 2k in all stats), and 200k stats for most characters come around level 9999. So you’ll have to do some grinding to get there.
The Land of Carnage is, on its surface, harder versions of all the original maps. However, all these maps are extremely easy compared to the questline for access and the LoC questline, so you’ll probably never use them, except for the grinding stages. (There is one difficult map, which is the LoC version of the final story boss map. This boss has capped stats — 100m — which puts it only behind the LoC Super Overlord boss. There is no reward or acknowledgement for beating this map, and I’m not really sure why it’s there, given that all other boss maps have the boss removed in LoC. I took this “hidden” boss as my final boss.)
LoC has a questline which gives you one challenge map per story chapter. These maps jump significantly in difficulty, and you’ll need to continue optimizing your team in between them. The final map is especially challenging, as its boss has 50m stats, compared to 30m max for previous maps. I was getting one-shot even with 300m HP and 40m stats. Via this questline (and the LoC access questline), LoC is the major guiding force of the postgame. It provides the targets that you need to work towards in order to eventually beat the questline’s final boss, and then the unacknowledged LoC story boss.
What distinguishes this method of a “string of targets” from standard progression is the gaps between targets. In a normal RPG, and in the main game of Disgaea 5, you can expect to be able to clear level N+1 if you successfully cleared level N. In this postgame string of targets, each level is much harder than the previous, and it’s up to you to bridge the gap. What you might consider the absolute final level of the game — the LoC Super Overlord — is especially distant from the hidden LoC boss.
I think that the performance of the string of targets method depends on what methods the player has to get from one target to the next. Disgaea is half-satisfactory in this regard. A significant part of preparing for these maps is picking a few damage dealers, building them in complementary directions, and organizing support roles. This is the kind of open-ended team organization which characterizes fun strategy. Furthermore, since these maps are particularly big with a lot of annoying enemies that attack in parallel, you can’t 4head them as you would a normal map; you must devise a plan of attack.
On the other hand, because this is ultimately an RPG with big stats, the main way that difficulty is actually increased between levels is by jacking up the stats of enemies. This means that the player must likewise spend time jacking up their stats to compete. This is where grind comes in. We’ll discuss how this grind works in the Postgame section.
Evilities are basically equippable passive skills, and are probably the best postgame mechanic. Without going too deep into the grit of the mechanics, I want to give some examples to show how incredible the build diversity is here. As a general notion, you have 20 common evility slots and 4 unique evility slots.
When filling out evilities, you have two goals: get the character to +100% in all stats (the evility cap), and then build in whatever direction is convenient. Both of these are much more open than they might seem. For example, here is how I build my Sage (a magic caster).
First, I consider how I want to use the Sage. One use case is a first-turn global AoE — useful for the Item World, where you want to clear the stage in one turn, as well as boss stages where there are a lot of small fry. In this case, I start with Unstable Power, which for 1 evility slot gives +50% stats on the first turn, but cripples your character afterwards. The standard option for +50% stats is Violence, which costs 6 slots. Hasty Rush allows me to attack an extra time on the first turn only. Over Limit increases my spell power, but drains SP rapidly every turn. If I plan to focus on non-boss units, I can add Fatal Slash, which gives a chance to deathblow enemies with lower SPD. Another use case is as a more focused local caster. In this case, I’ll drop the first-turn evilities and focus on more consistent ones, like Attack Weakness, which enhances spells that have type advantage (not useful for the global AoE Land Decimator, which has no type). I could, of course, merge these use cases, by hitting a strong Land Decimator on the first turn, and then switching to local casting. In this case, I might keep Hasty Rush, and I might switch Attack Weakness for King’s Dignity, which increases damage against bosses, who often don’t have type weaknesses.
I took two gunners — Salvatore and Asagi — and built them in completely opposite directions. I buffed Salvatore’s range with Sniping and Flying Bullets, then gave her Acceleration Shot (increased damage when you are farther from the target) and Support Attack (when an ally attacks an enemy, attack it if it’s in range). For Asagi, I gave her Close-Up Shot, which increases gun damage against adjacent enemies, and Assault Attack, which increases damage the more you move before attacking. I gave her three Boots for secondary equipment, so she flies around and shoots enemies at point-blank range.
There is, as you can see, a lot of choice that goes into evility builds. However, there are three wrenches. As mentioned, evilities are primarily a postgame mechanic. This is because you unlock evilities on a character primarily by levelling up the subclasses associated with those evilities. Levelling subclasses is painfully slow until you can do the Geo Blast trick, but you need to do it on a LoC item, which you won’t have until halfway through the postgame. The default evilities are uninteresting (and are almost never used in final builds), so before this you’re left with a bunch of evility slots and not much reason to fill them. The “ideal” way evilities would work is that you would choose subclasses with interesting evilities and level them up during the main game, acquiring a few pieces of an early build and unlocking more pieces as you go. This might be possible if subclasses were easier to master, and if there were some way to actually know which classes give which evilities. AFAIK the only way to even find out which evilities exist is to check one of the info dumps. But you can’t expect players to dig through GameFAQ threads in order to play your game. As a result, evility builds are a mechanic available primarily to dedicated postgame players.
The second wrench is that you don’t have all your evility slots by default. You have to go through some formalities and grinding to get them. For each character, you need to get 8 common slots by running through the Chara World (the worst mechanic in the game, to be discussed), and 2 unique slots by landing the killing blow on two bosses from the LoC questline (again, a postgame mechanic). While I think the EXP-on-killing-blow mechanic is interesting, as it forces you to ration out kills, this one is an annoyance, as it forces you to repeat a boss battle for every character you want to build.
The third wrench is that some evilities require a random formality to unlock, similar to finding the two key mystery rooms. In general, once you acquire an evility on any character, you can duplicate it and give it to another character by running through the Chara World. This is an annoyance, but it’s not the main problem. As mentioned, most evilities are unlocked by levelling up subclasses (the character in question can then buy the evility for themself). Some are unlocked by levelling up unique characters (these must be duplicated), and the remaining are only available in the Chara World. Specifically, at the end of a Chara World run, one of your options is to choose a evility to add to your character, out of about 5 options. There are over 200 Chara World evilities. This means you can expect to do about 40 Chara World runs to find the one evility you need.
A squad is a group of characters which produce a special effect. Each character can be in only one squad. There are two aspects to squad optimization: character selection, and strengthening. You have to select which characters go in which squad, and you have to buff squads by sending prisoners to work for them. In the main game and early postgame, strengthening is the main form of optimization, as many squads provide universal bonuses. For example, the Cyber Special squad gives a universal accuracy boosts, and the Interrogation squad controls the interrogation feature, which is independent of combat. Only the Skill Training squad, which allows you to copy skills, and Boot Camp squad, which allows EXP sharing, require significant selection. In the postgame, strengthening becomes a grind and selection becomes a formality. This is because you need to farm large quantities of prisoners from maps like the Sandcano challenge map, MT4, and Double Fake in order to get anywhere near strengthening the important postgame squads. Selection is a formality because you basically dump your strong characters into the Foot Soldier Squad (stat boost for members only), then spread your unused characters around support squads like Dark Assembly Squad and Cyber Special Squad. There are no real strategic tradeoffs, just menu fiddling.
Overall, though, the squad mechanic primarily requires grinding for prisoners. What little selection is required in main game strengthening is undercut by the mostly unsubstantial effects of squads. Most strengthening bonuses come down to minor benefits like “squad size +1” or “‘increase effect’ of X”. There are a few incredibly powerful effects; the Interrogation squad allows you to interrogate all prisoners at once when you level it up for the first time. Yet this imbalance of incredibly powerful and mostly unnoticeable boosts doesn’t create any meaningful choice, only an obvious path and a lot of grind.
Curry is an incredibly imbalanced mechanic which is absolutely necessary for the postgame. You throw some random stuff into a pot and then get a buff. I didn’t use this feature during the main game because it’s a crappy cooking mechanic without any real explanation. What occurs when I put a spear instead of a sword in my curry? What if I put both? What if I put a spear and a staff? The first time you try the curry mechanic, you’ll probably see a minor buff which lasts you for one battle. You can also buy the default curry, which provides a minor buff for one battle. After that, you’ll consider it as a waste of time and a waste of items.
Curry becomes useful when you read on GameFAQ that you can put three Carnage Elixirs and 100 Thimbles in a curry, exit out of the menu before eating it, win 100 battles, and then eat it to get a 180,000,000 HP boost and a 100% crit rate for 100 battles.
Not only is curry an opaque mechanic which really doesn’t make much sense at first glance (I have no reason, after all, to expect that dropping brass knuckles in curry will increase crit rate, or that exiting a menu, which normally cancels operations and in the Item World makes NPCs ignore you, would increase the power of curry), it’s also an extremely powerful mechanic with only one “correct” solution (as it is the only method to raise crit rate to 100%) that is in no way obvious.
Let me add that putting 100 Thimbles requires manually selecting 100 items, since items do not stack in Disgaea. Even this is a bureaucratic formality.
Let me also add that the effects of curry, for those who are inclined to experiment with opaque systems, are also opaque. The only place where I could find curry’s effects stated was on the curry menu. Here’s the statement for the 180,000,000 HP and 100% crit rate curry:
HP Up HP/SP Heal
That’s right — it doesn’t even tell you that it boosts crit rate. Bless the heart of anyone who wants to experiment with this.
While I clearly bear much resentment towards the curry mechanic, I think Chara World is worse, as it’s an absolute pain whether or not you’re browsing GameFAQ while working through it.
Chara World is a board game (!) that you play by selecting a character and paying some mana. However, every time you play, the cost goes up by 10x, capping at 100k. This means that you might be able to play Chara World two or three times per character in the main game. However, you need to do it closer to 60 times per character to max them out. As a result, it’s primarily a grindy postgame mechanic.
Basically, every turn you roll a dice, and can move your character that many squares in any direction. The square you end on will have a random event depending on the color (blue is good, red is bad, green is random). You have to fight enemies on the way by rolling dice. When you reach the goal, you can select one of several rewards. You can duplicate an evility or spell, choose an evility to learn, gain an extra evility slot, increase innate stats like movement range and throw range, and increase weapon or equipment aptitudes.
During the main game, this mechanic gives you a short diversion and two or three useful upgrades for your carries. You actually have to think out how you move around the board, since the red events can significantly harm you (especially by draining your mana) and enemies might actually kill you, but you can get great stat boosts from blue events. In other words, it’s not bad.
During the postgame, running through Chara World carries no such tension. Enemies are trivially weak, you have so much mana that losing or gaining some doesn’t matter, and the stat boosts are too small to be relevant. Rather, you just spam the movement buttons until you reach the end, then claim your reward and repeat 60 times. Imagine playing Snakes and Ladders with yourself, 60 times for every character you want to build, except none of the snakes or ladders do anything.
The one upside to this story is that you only need to do Chara World 60 times per character if you want to properly maximize your character, which would be necessary to fight LoC Super Overlord. You can get away with doing it around 10–20 times per character if you don’t do equipment aptitude maximization, since that’s the main cost. With five DPS characters, I think I only played Snakes and Ladders around 100 times. I think I enjoyed it about 10 of those times.
There are certain actions you can take which require calling the Dark Assembly and having them vote. The most important ones are for unlocking postgame maps and getting buffs for one battle (eg. have one character take all EXP gained on that map). The most important bills will be extremely unlikely to pass, and you’ll either have to bribe or fight the senators to get them passed.
The Dark Assembly accomplishes several goals at once. It is thematically appropriate: you are engaging in “demon politics”, so of course the emphasis is on bribing or chloroforming senators you don’t like. It also forces tradeoffs, as bribing involves giving away your items, some of which may be useful, and the best bribing items are generated by the Alchemist, who you might want to have creating something more useful. And like the Chara World, it is a diversion from the main combat mechanic.
The Dark Assembly doesn’t fall into the same repetitive rut as the Chara World. Even though you might have to pass the same bill multiple times — the bill to increase a character’s evility slots and the bill to hog all EXP on the next map come to mind — the Dark Assembly prevents itself from becoming annoying by carrying over “bribing progress” between bills. This means that once you go through several rounds of bribing on common bills, they will become basically guaranteed to pass, and you no longer have to spend time on them. It may seem strange to praise a mechanic for making itself disappear, but ultimately, the Dark Assembly and the Chara World are shallow diversions, and shallow diversions aren’t fun to repeat.
As mentioned, the content of the postgame is primarily the Land of Carnage challenge maps and the questline that leads to it. Also as mentioned, the structure of the postgame is a “string of targets” where you need to bridge the difficulty gap by doing extra work in between missions. Our question here is what this work consists of.
As a long-term goal, you need to get your core team (probably 5 members) to 20m stats, where it is possible to fight everything except the Super Overlord.
There are two lines required to get to 20m stats on one character. First, you must master all subclasses, reincarnate, and level to 9999; this gives you 10m base stats. Second, you must get 10m in bonus stats, primarily from extracts.
Before you can efficiently level subclasses, you need to unlock the Land of Carnage. This requires raising a few characters to at least level 2000–5000. Generally, you do this via grinding on the Martial Training maps, which are a set of five maps with convenient enemy layouts and EXP buffs for easy grinding. This is the early postgame. While the method of bridging the difficulty gap between the last story missions and the first postgame missions is fairly 4head, it’s not too bad an experience, since there are several miscellaneous postgame maps to do in between, many of which are prerequisites for unlocking the LoC, and a few of which give you some new characters to play around with.
After unlocking LoC begins the mid postgame, where you will focus on subclass mastery. Subclasses work as follows: you can freely assign each character one of about 50 subclasses. When you fight enemies, you also gain subclass experience. Subclasses max out at level 7. Without delving too deep into the grit, the number of mastered subclasses determines how many stats you gain when you level up. Since you’ll already be near max level by the time you master all subclasses, you need to reincarnate (reset your level and stats to level 1) to get the maximum level up effects, and this gives you 10m stats.
The process of mastering subclasses is tedious. The only efficient way to do it is via Geo Blast. You enter the Item World, go through a couple levels until you find a Geo Symbol, destroy it, leave the Item World, switch subclasses, and repeat 50 times per character. There’s a lot of menu-fiddling involved in every step as well, which is aggravated by that you can only switch subclasses after leaving the Item World. This also isn’t something you can do in the process of doing something else: you must do it all at once, and it is the first thing you must do. The Geo Blast method requires using an LoC item and max difficulty, so a party that isn’t already maxed out can’t actually fight any enemies. While this process also levels up your characters, you don’t get many benefits until after you reincarnate, so it’s a long slog that doesn’t have much in the way of real content to break it up, unlike the early postgame Martial Training grind.
Once you’ve mastered all subclasses, you reincarnate and level to 9999 again to get the first 10m stats. This is another grind, but luckily, you only have to do it once. This is because there is an easy way to level from 1 to 9999 via the “take all EXP on the next map” Dark Assembly effect, but you need a helper character who has about 8m stats to do it.
This completes the first line. The second line — the late postgame — is “bonus stats”. The only practical method of acquiring bonus stats is via shards and extracts, both of which you can farm either at Double Fake or MT4. Once you collect 10m stats worth of extracts, you can use them all at once on up to 5 characters, which is why your core DPS will probably consist of 5 characters. The question is then: how long does it take to acquire 10m stats worth of extracts when your core team has 10m stats?
What makes bonus stat farming so tedious is how insignificant shard and extract drops are, and how the game limits your progression in this area. With the best possible setup (that I could fix up), I was getting around 50k in stats per run on MT4 (a fast map), and about 100k in stats on Double Fake (a slower map). I ended up running MT4 140 times, and Double Fake 32 times. It’s a grind.
I should have been able to get away with half as many. With 10m stats and a good build, you can farm MT4 on max difficulty — the enemies there have 40m stats. However, when farming extracts, you need to capture enemies and then “interrogate” them. Problematically, the interrogation function is based off one character’s stats; this means that you’re forcefully limited to farming extracts on lower difficulties until you’re finished farming extracts.
With these two methods, you can get 5 characters to 20m stats, and this is enough to beat everything except for the Super Overlord. As you can see, the postgame is extremely grindy, and it’s a tedious sort of grind — running the same few maps several hundred times.
And the Super Overlord?
What if you want to beat the Super Overlord? The tedium of the final grind far outclasses anything we’ve discussed so far. You’ll need to get a few characters to 50m stats, which, first off, requires doing the full 60 Chara World runs on each of these characters. (I might have gone for the Super Overlord if not for this.) Afterwards, you need to do item powerlevelling.
Specifically, you want to get a Trapezohedron — the level 40 all-rounder secondary equipment — and max its level, its kill bonus, and its training bonus. You can max the level by clearing (killing all enemies) about 330 floors of the Item World. The kill and training bonus might take slightly longer, but they can all be done together.
Then, you need to dupe it three times for each character. As previously mentioned, duping is not difficult; it is just a random formality, where you have to repeatedly go through floors in the Item World until you randomly happen upon the room where an NPC might duplicate the item. Based on my experience, I would say you can expect this room every 50–100 floors you complete (kill all enemies or use the skip gate). However, again, the NPC only might duplicate the item, unless you’re a good 1500+ floors deep. I did not even make it through 1500 total floors after going through the Item World to subclass 10 characters, acquire a Trapezohedron, and get it to level 112 before giving up.
How do you find a Trapezohedron anyways? It doesn’t have to come down to luck, but it can be a bit tedious. As mentioned, by leveling an item to 80 and boosting its training bonus, you can steal the linear upgrade from the Item God on the 100th floor of the Item World. This only takes a few hours. You get a Devil Ring from a story quest, but then you’d need to repeat this eight times to get a Trapezohedron. If you’re lucky, you’ll randomly happen across an Exodus or Testament, which can be upgraded to a Trapezohedron within two or three steps.
You can consider this the endgame of Disgaea. It’s a brutal grind, and there’s not a single piece of game content between the hidden LoC boss — who can be completed without this — and the Supreme Overlord — who cannot be complete without this.
Disgaea is often praised for offering many “possibilities” regarding how to defeat your enemies. It’s true that choice of core team and evility builds offers possibility, but there is no escape from the grind if you want to engage in open-ended building, since those are postgame mechanics, and the postgame requires grind.
This completes our discussion of Disgaea’s mechanics. Only after writing this have I really understood just how grindy and thankless is the postgame’s string of targets model. No grinding is necessary, though, in the main game. This would be a point in Disgaea’s favor if the main game were any good. But…
D5’s story is garbage. I don’t take issue with the Disgaea storytelling method, nor with the Disgaea sort of twisted comedy which is absolutely pervasive in previous games. The problem is that D5 moves away from both towards a generic shonen fantasy model with tropes for characters and a Naruto-style NAKAMA POWER resolution to almost everything. Let’s go through some of the early characters you’ll meet (no significant spoilers):
- Killia, the MC, is the brooding shonen protagonist with a traumatic past that prevents him from making friends, but who will inevitably be opened up by the NAKAMA POWER of the people attracted by his untiring will to help the suffering;
- Seraphine, the other MC, is the “temptress” who uses her magic powers to control men, and who falls in love with the single-minded Killia — the one man who doesn’t submit to her magic (could we not? this is terrible representation for an MC);
- Red Magnus, a musclehead;
- Zeroken, who is a wannabe apprentice to a legendary martial artist and is eager to prove his potential to himself as well as the world;
- Void Dark, who is literally just pure evil and randomly kills his secretaries for no good reason (this is the running joke)…
Because most of the cast is so tropey, most of the story chapters follow a basic tropey shonen fantasy model: something bad happens somewhere, so the gang goes out to protect the people who are being hurt by Void Dark, and on the way have to discover something about NAKAMA POWER to defeat the Big Baddie at the end of the area.
I recall one chapter which started on a more classically Disgaean premise: a suspicious Prinny sneaks into your base and steals the last plate of curry, which you must recover before it is lost forever. The problem for D5 is that you can’t have many Disgaean premises without Disgaean characters, and there are no Disgaean characters in D5. This episode barely subsists on a substitute, which is that everyone is obsessed with tasting this amazing curry.
Consider the first episode. In D5, the premise is: there are bad guys in this one random place, so we should go and defeat them. It’s In D4, the premise is: Valvatorez promised to give sardines to the Prinnies in his training before they left, but the warden takes away the Prinnies before he can, and so he must embark on a quest to defeat the warden and government agents in order to fulfill his promise. The Disgaean characterization of Valvatorez here is his obsession with sardines and his obsession with promises, and this absurdity is flush in the adventure, no matter how serious it gets. Let’s also not forget Mao’s legendary motivations.
Consider the bad endings as well. In D5, bad endings conclude with Killia broodingly concluding that he doesn’t have the power to save anyone, and leaving the group, leading to interminable war or eternal domination by Void Dark. It’s basic and boring shonen fantasy. In D4, bad endings are, like the rest of the game, absurdist. There is an interminable war bad ending: a virus turns everyone in the world into a copy of Axel, but they end up in a war over the question of who’s the most handsome among them.
Because of Axel’s strong self-confidence, none of them could admit that anyone else was better looking than they were, so this battle lasted indefinitely… Thus, all Netherworld history came to an end.
I don’t want to see low-quality shonen writing in Disgaea — there are enough Naruto clones in the world. I want to see this kind of absurdist nonsense.
There’s not much outside of the standard-fare shonen fantasy tropes to analyze in D5, but there are a few tropes which stand out a bit much. First is the extreme emphasis on sin, repentance, and “taking responsibility”. It’s an uninteresting and outdated morality to which everyone in the diegesis subscribes and which nobody opposes. Something similar infects D4 and makes it fairly preachy at times. Second is the demeaning presentation of adult women in the cast. Until the postgame, Seraphine is the only adult woman in the cast. (When others show up in the postgame, all Seraphine does is complain about them “competing” with her.) At the same time, she’s an utterly shallow character whose only role seems to be that of obsessing over the brooding protagonist Killia. And it only gets worse: towards the end of the story, each of the main protagonists has to overcome some personal doubt before awakening their true potential. Settling past trauma, or facing their own errors, or reforming their moral compass — classical personal growth stuff. Minor spoilers: Seraphine’s personal doubt is that she‘s scared of being poor. It’s a joke —especially given that she’s abundantly rich throughout the entire story. She’s the only character in the story who isn’t given a serious conflict. And finally — I won’t explain this, but you’ll understand when you see it — is Schrödinger’s Refrigerator. A superposition in the most literal sense.
This concludes our discussion of D5’s story. I’d like to finish by talking about a favorite topic of mine: localization.
Disgaea’s localization is, frankly put, garbage. Specifically, the translation of evilities and spells is often inaccurate, due in part to structural issues and in part to incompetence.
Here’s a structural issue. ATK is your damage stat when using a physical weapon (eg. swords), and INT is your damage stat when using a magic weapon or magic spell (eg. staffs). This is fine. There are also a separate quantity in damage calculation known as attack adjustment, which increases damage regardless of the weapon or spell. When a skill raises your attack stat, it says “increase ATK”. When a skill raises your attack adjustment, it says (wait for it): “increase ATK”. Now, the game doesn’t tell you about attack adjustment, but it does tell you about the ATK stat, so you might go through the entire game without realizing that +ATK skills work on magic weapons (but only sometimes).
To make sure that this is the fault of localization, I checked several badly described skills and all of them were translation errors. For example, this ATK problem doesn’t exist in Japanese, since the stat is referred to as ATK and the attack adjustment is referred to as 攻撃力 [attack power]. Imprecisely-translated skills like Magic Bundle (in English it increases “special skill power”, which is not an actual variable) were all perfectly clear in Japanese. Other localizations actually seem to be much better. In French, I only found the ATK/attack adjustment problem. I understand why the ATK/adjustment problem occurs widely, but many of the errors in the English localization are clearly due to incompetence. Here are a few examples which are particularly egregious, as nobody with a high-school understanding of Japanese should make them.
Increase stats by money owned x 3%.
Stats + 3% x le nombre de chiffres de la somme de HL que vous possédez. [Stats +3% x the number of digits in the amount of HL you hold]
プレイヤーの所持ヘルの桁数×3%能力がアップ [Stats up by 3% x number of digits in the HL held by the player]
Having several billion moneys, I would really enjoy increasing my stats by several billion percent. Don’t forget your log signs, kids.
Increase critical damage dealt by 100% if target unit’s SPD is higher than yours.
Dommages des coups critiques +100% quand votre VIT est > à celle de votre cible. [Damage of critical strikes +100% when your SPD is > that of your target.]
攻撃対象のSPDよりも自分のSPDが高い時、クリティカルのダメージ＋100% [When this unit’s SPD is greater than its target’s, damage of criticals +100%.]
If you’re translating out of a textbook you might read “target’s SPD is higher”, since Japanese comparisons often put the bigger thing first. But like all other noun-phrase relations in Japanese, the bigger and smaller thing in comparisons are marked by tagging particles (ーより is smaller). It shouldn’t be possible to make this mistake. (To clarify just how bad this tagging particle business is: If I say “I sent the letter to Sam”, how bad at English would you have to be to conclude that Sam wrote the letter?)
Increase ATK by 50%, but use 1% of mana every time damage is taken.
ATQ +50%, mais 1% des dommages de mana consommé à chaque attaque. [ATK +50%, but 1% of damage of mana consumed with each attack.]
攻撃力＋50%だが、攻撃のたびにダメージの1%分のマナを消費する [Attack power +50%, but every time you attack, consume mana equal to 1% of damage.]
Dropped the “damage” term, which is pretty important (1% of damage as mana hits the mana cap in postgame, but 1% of mana is cheap). I have no idea how they got “damage is taken” from “every time you attack”.
100% of the damage taken will be deducted from your HL instead.
[I don’t have access to the French version…]
敵ユニットに与えたダメージの100%分のヘルを得る [Gain HL equal to 100% of damage dealt to enemy units.]
This is particularly strange, as the name of the skill should have ticked localizers or QA off (it’s also what made me suspicious when I saw it first). I see how the localizer might have gotten “damage taken” by again misreading tagging particles, but I have no idea how they got the notion of HL substituting for damage.
There is one interesting thing to discuss in the localization of Disgaea as a series, but I’ll probably do this in a more general article. Specifically, how do you localize gobi (Japanese sentence-ending particles)? That Prinnies use the gobi “su” is a critical part of their design, and it’s a major running joke in every game (especially D4, since Valvatorez is a Prinny instructor and Fuka is a failed Prinny). The English localizations replace it with “dood”. The problem, ultimately, is obtrusivity and flexibility. “su” is not as obtrusive as “dood” — in fact, it’s pretty strange to end sentences with “dude” except as a form of address, but gobi like “su” are normal in Japanese. Because it’s a standard form in Japanese grammar, you can also play around with it pretty easily. There’s a scene in D4 where a girl disguised as a Prinny says something like “shimasu wa su” — the joke here is that she uses the normal feminine gobi “wa”, and then sticks “su” on the end. But “wa” and “su” are incompatible as gobi, and this gives away that she doesn’t actually know how to use the gobi “su”. (“shimasu wa yo” is compatible.) Look forward to the full rant — er, article.
My goal with this piece was, rather than to provide a “review” per se, to catalog the way that an RPG like Disgaea operates. It’s clear that Disgaea in some areas could learn from other games — for example, incomparable equipment builds in PoE — and in some areas sets a bar — for example, postgame evility builds. But the majority of its mechanics are founded upon painful grinds and dicerolls, and only a handful involve decision-making and tradeoffs, which are otherwise the core of strategy.
My assumption is that grinds and dicerolls are bad as foundational progression mechanics. While I can enjoy them for a while, I can’t bear them for long. I can recommend Disgaea 5 only as long as you know that this is what you’re getting yourself into.
Thanks for reading this to the end; I’ll probably never write a piece this long again.