Disgaea 1 Complete is making its English debut fifteen years after the game first appeared in North America and Japan. To be honest, this new port does not offer too many additions or changes. So why are people still so excited and happy to head back to this world again and relive Laharl, Etna, and Flonne’s story? It all comes down to the timeless story and characters. This is a game that never gets old.
Editor’s note: There will be spoilers for Disgaea 1 Complete below.
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness came around at a time when we did not regularly see character explorations where we saw the value of antiheroes and antagonists. When Laharl, a brash and entitled young demon who decided he was the rightful overlord of the Netherworld, headed out to reclaim his throne after an unexpected multiyear nap, we had an opportunity to help him go out and be a brat. We would assault enemies! We would pillage competing overlords’ manors. All possible usurpers would be pulled down from their pedestals. Even when an angel descended from Celestia, Flonne, appears, we continue on our journey. (We just had someone on our side spouting about the importance of the power of love.)
What helps is the depth each character has, showing that they are not totally light or dark. There is good and evil in each of them. Laharl can be a brat, but he will grudgingly pay prinnies, try to impress Etna, show mercy to enemies, and fight people in power for the sake of his friends. Etna is devoted to King Krichevskoy, who took her in and raised her. She can show kindness to people like Laharl, protecting him even when being blackmailed. Flonne will actually get angry if teased about her physical attributes. Even though she is good, she is an airhead and is willing to fight against other angels, a sin, for the sake of her newfound friends Laharl and Etna. She is impulsive and gets carried away, but tends to have the best of intentions.
Even now that antiheroes are common and we have five Disgaea games introducing us to different overlords, Netherworlds, and people of varying moralities, it stands apart as an original. It reveled in its villainy, presenting us with characters who would not exactly be good, but were still too human and silly to really hate or fault. While we may see characters who are greedy and immature, like Laharl or Etna, they have redeeming qualities and offer a good juxtaposition when placed alongside someone like Vulcanus, who is truly evil.
Perhaps this is because of the other recurring theme in Disgaea 1 Complete: the power of love. Throughout the game, we see how love can redeem people and show their humanity. We continually see the sacrifices people are willing to make and the effect such actions can have on people. Laharl is alive because his mother sacrificed her life for his, becoming a prinny in the process. Laharl would have killed Hoggmeiser, one of the bosses and competing overlords, if his son had not come in willing to sacrifice himself for his father’s life. Seraph Lamington sent Flonne to the Netherworld on an impossible assassination mission to show that demons were capable of love. In one of the endings, Laharl will even sacrifice himself so Flonne, who had been turned into a flower by the Seraph, can be restored.
It is because of these things that I often feel like the segment introducing Gordon, Jennifer, Thursday, Kurtis, and the human invasion of the Netherworld by Vulcanus can be the weakest part of the story. While it is humorous, parodying classic space operas, and important, as it shows us another part of Vulcanus’ plan to possibly instill himself as a god, I feel it does not exemplify the themes of love and the balance between good and evil in the way other chapters do. Especially since it comes right after learning the Big Sis Prinny was Laharl’s mother all along and before Flonne revealing demons can feel love and group’s fight to avenge her.
A good way to describe Disgaea’s story is enduring. The Disgaea games do have some great gameplay that can keep people coming back and grinding for months, but it is Disgaea 1 Complete’s story and characters that keep people coming back. When Disgaea: Hour of Darkness first appeared in 2003, we did often see games where we rooted for characters that were “evil” and ruling what was essentially hell. Now, even though this series is established and we see a lot of games where we want the bad guys to do their best, it stands apart for its genuine sweetness and heart.
Disgaea 1 Complete is available on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 in North America and Japan. It will arrive in Europe on October 12, 2018.