What is… Deep Rock Galactic?

Rock and Stone, Brother!

Deep Rock Galactic is a cooperative PvE first-person shooter. You and your friends are a team of space dwarves, mining ore among the stars. The core game is about you and your team of up to four other players trying to complete whatever dig you’ve signed up for this time. While the game does have procedurally generated maps and a variety of mission objects, the thing that sets it apart is how it handles its classes.

Deep Rock Galactic breaks away from the Holy Trinity of Heals, DPS, and Tank. Instead, any player can play any role when needed. The added spice is that each class also excels uniquely via pure utility by environment interaction.

The game’s four classes are the Engineer, Scout, Gunner, and Driller. Each of the four classes can do great damage, great support, and some form of escape or defensive mitigation for the team. For example, the Engineer has a platform gun that can create platforms in the environment. You can use these platforms to build choke points to funnel glyphids (the game’s bug enemies), or as a safe pad to land on in an emergency escape, or to make a bridge across great divides.

The Scout’s specialty is to provide vision to the team via his flare gun. Without his flare gun you could get surrounded by unseen glyphids in the dark at a moment’s notice. He is the most mobile role of the squad, best for filling in any gaps of defenses or daring rescues. Gunner has the highest sustained firepower, and also the best defensive ability in the game: the bubble shield which blocks projectiles as well as regenerates allied shields. Driller’s specialty is obliterating wide hordes of small glyphids through bombs or fire, or freezing boss enemies, making them stunned and vulnerable for the team to destroy. Driller’s drill gauntlets allows him to make tunnels straight to evac, or shape the terrain to his advantage as well.

There are also general character perks that you can earn that apply to all classes. These upgrades are generally straight increases to damage, survivability or cool new ability that’s always good. When choosing between upgrades of the same tier they are mainly trade offs or side-grades. Deciding which upgrades you want allows you to tailor your dwarf to play your way—which is really fun. If you are a min-maxer, you can look up guides for best upgrade paths to unlock first, but I’d recommend against it. Overall, experimenting with all of the upgrades and discovering what works for you is the most fun for getting longevity from Deep Rock Galactic. It’s a slow burn of a journey and not about getting max power ASAP.   

The game can be played in single player mode but I wouldn’t recommend it. Thankfully, the game enjoys a large player base where you can always find a lobby for whatever mission you want to do.

That said, I found the end game raid missions difficult to do with just random players. These missions are called “Deep Dives” and give out unique loot that can change your class by modifying what your guns do. Some modifications just swap the elemental damage type of the weapon, but others fundamentally alter your gadgets to do something entirely weird and new. For example, one piece of loot makes it so when you shoot your shotgun at the ground, you jump higher. This is just one of tons of possible changes you can apply to your gear, although the limit is one per gear piece so you can’t stack a bunch of modifications on one gun.

Deep Rock Galactic has limitless stuff to unlock, and I imagine it’d take hundreds of hours to unlock all the talents, gear, and cosmetics the game has to offer. The available missions are rather diverse, but you’ll probably find some you like more than others. The game has consistent updates, and is currently in the process of adding a 3rd weapon choice for all classes, as well as doing balance revisions to all current weapons and talents, with an estimated patch release in quarter 3 2021 (sometime between July and end of September).

If this sort of thing sounds exciting to you, here are some my tips for starting off:

  1. Feel free to mix up team compositions. For the most balanced gameplay, 1 of each class seems best, but for some mission types you may feel like more than one of a class might suit it better.
  2. Nothing wrong with taking it slow. When starting out I’d recommend a hazard level 2 or 3 mission at most (hazard levels are just difficulty level: 1 is easy, 2 is normal and so on). Then when you feel like you can handle it, increase hazard levels for better rewards. I’ve played about 90 hours since the launch and promoted each class about once. Personally I wouldn’t recommend trying hazard 5 or higher till you’ve promoted a class… but hey, you do you.
  3. Take advantage of those credits! Deep Rock Galactic has a deep character progression system where the credits and materials you earn from missions can buy tons of upgrades to specialize your class a lot.

I think it’s a gem of a game, and if you had to pitch it to a friend in like 10 seconds, I’d say, “It’s like a co-op shooter like Left 4 Dead, fused with looter-shooter talent leveling and survival game terrain manipulation like Minecraft, but you are an awesome high tech space dwarf squad, killing the zerg Glypids.”

4.5/5 Etrodons is my overall rating. And when you do play the game, remember to hit “V” to ROCK AND STONE, BROTHER!

Magic: Legends is Dead After 4 Months

Goodbye, and good riddance.

I don’t think there’s anything positive or noble about kicking dead horses, or beating men while they’re down, unless they’re into that, and you okay it beforehand. That said, I find the state of Magic: Legends so incredibly funny that I’m gonna do both of those things. Hopefully this will get it all out of my system so I stop talking about Magic: Legends over and over to my friends.

So yeah, Magic: Legends is dead. It lasted just about 4 months, and didn’t even make it out of open beta. Also, the studio behind it is apparently laying a bunch of people off, which sucks. But holy shit, 4 months, and not even out of beta? Misbits lasted longer then that. HEX lasted longer then that. This is a multi-system ARPG, licensed off an incredibly successful game for its world, lore and background, and they couldn’t even keep a beta alive?

What the fuck guys.

We could spend a lot of time speculating about why Magic: Legends failed so incredibly hard. I’m sure someone over at Cryptic is doing that right now, in-between shots of vodka and wondering how much they can pawn the office furniture for. It’s way too easy to construct a narrative that you want to believe, and there are so many things that could have caused the game to fail that it’s an exercise in futility. So let’s do it anyway! Here are a few of my favorite pet theories:

  1. If you make a F2P PC/Console ARPG, you are competing with Path of Exile, which is also free, has no P2W mechanics, and has 8 years of lead time on you. Maybe your game should do like… one thing better then them. Just one. And “Having a licensed property” doesn’t fucking count.
  2. Linking the PC release exclusively to Epic Game store for a GAAS release might be a bad idea. Epic has a lower overall player count, and Epic probably isn’t gonna subsidize a freemium game the same way they can for a game that players just buy once.
  3. MTG is a very successful game. It also has lore. Is that lore as important to its players as, say… the actual game mechanics? My guess would be “No.” Pornography also has a plot and lore. I’ve yet to see a successful non-porn offshoot of Lemon Stealing Whores. (SFW)

Of course, it could be all or none of these! So next, I’m just gonna make a list of things I personally thought were shit about the game:

  1. Graphics and performance. It takes a lot to make me care about graphics. Multiwinia is one of my favorite games. I hated how Magic: Legends looked. And ran.
  2. Awful Gameplay Loops. For real though, the core gameplay loop is an ARPG, a genre where getting cool loot is an important part of the feedback loop. The core feedback loop was “Getting more copies of cards you already own, to fuse them into cards you own, and make the cards slightly better” with incremental scaling a la Clash of Clans. It was garbage.
  3. Warp Points. Hey, what if we made it so each area is instanced with other players? And they showed on the map? And if another player was on top of a warp point you wanted to go to, you couldn’t warp to it, because you would click on their name instead? And what if players spawned into maps near the quest givers, and went AFK, every time you wanted to go back and turn in a quest, YOU HAD TO WALK THE ENTIRE FUCKING WAY THERE FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MAP, BECAUSE XX_PLAINWALKERX_XX69 WENT AFK ON THE SPAWN POINT? And before I hear any “It (was) a beta” whining, if they hadtime to release the game with a fully functional cash shop, then they had time to test it with 10 people, and see what happens when one of them disconnects at the starting zone.
  4. The Worst Kind of F2P. Randomized booster packs of what amounted to in-game loot, and extra classes/characters. In a genre of game about building cool characters and acquiring loot. It was as shitty as it sounded.
  5. Capping Farming. I’m running out of steam at this point, but I wanna get a few more jabs in, so what the fuck was with the capped mana system? “You can play this much, but then you have to come back tomorrow, and you can’t get anymore loot until then!” In a genre that often ends up about farming for loot. I’m sure some incredible business genius in the backroom went “Oh, lots of mobile games have daily check-ins or something, lets do something like that!” Well, shit for brains, this game ain’t on mobile. They could have gone the Blizzard route, and added a mana charged buff and then after the cap, drop it way down, but they chose to implement it in the worst way possible.
  6. Gameplay. The gameplay just wasn’t fun. It just wasn’t. The idea of an ARPG with cycling abilities is cool, but it only works if there’s some reason to think about what abilities you’re using. As it was, there was no reason to not just spam everything the moment it was off cooldown and you had mana for it.

    So yeah. RIP In Peace, Magic: Legends. This Frankenstein’s monster attempt of combining an existing genre with some of the shittiest freemium mechanics ever to crawl out of mobile games, and a core game mechanic crippled by the aforementioned freemium bullshit will not be missed.

It should lie in its grave and rot.

Disgaea 6 – Spoiler Free Pre-Review Preview Views

Ed Notes: Few quick notes at the bottom, but here’s the TLDR:
We got a pre-release code for this game.
This article is spoiler free.
This article is NOT a Disgaea 6 deep dive.
Oh, and all of this is based on the Switch release.

Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny comes out tomorrow (well the English release does), and I think it’s pretty fucking great.

From a purely abstract sense, it also has one of the most interesting twists on the series’ mechanics that I’ve seen before.

See, one thing I’ve heard said a lot about Disgaea is that “The Game Doesn’t Really Start Till You Reach Endgame.” But I’d disagree with that statement. I’d say it’s more that Disgaea games don’t usually give you access or incentivize using the series’ unique mechanics until endgame.

Elements like reincarnating characters to boost their base stats, entering the Item World to level up items, and abusing the cheat shop for grinding don’t usually come into play before you beat the story. This is a bit of a shame, since they’re some of the more unique and interesting systems in the series. Usually, you don’t need or want to do any of these to beat the game’s main story.

Disgaea 6 doesn’t do that, and instead opts to bring these systems in and make you want to use them far, far earlier than previously.

So, before I spend several paragraphs gushing over the rest of the game, I do want to quickly talk about the elephant (and some accompanying mice) in the room. The game’s performance isn’t great. Disgaea 6 was originally released for PS4, and it’s also the first game in the series with 3D graphics. The end result is, regardless of what I set the graphics quality to, it looked like garbage when using my Switch as a handheld. Strangely enough, the low quality is entirely constrained to the tactics map and overworld. Menus, combat animations, and cutscenes all run good.

If graphics are potentially a deal breaker for you, I heavily suggest you download the demo from the eShop, and give that a whirl. I’ve heard tell that there may be performance improvements, and I plan to reach out to NIS to ask, but I don’t expect an answer anytime soon. So yeah, consider playing the demo first. (Your save also transfers over to the full game, so no reason not to.)

Elephant gone, time to talk about mice. This is the first game in the series with 3D graphics for characters instead of sprites. They are fine. I would not say that I love them. The special attack combat animations are much shorter and less complex than in previous games. I liked how over the top they were in previous games, but that might have just been me. Whatever, mice dealt with.

Okay, so let’s go back to talking about why this game is great. Like I mentioned above, Disgaea 6 incentivizes using all of the game’s ridiculous systems.

Reincarnation, the process of resetting a character back to level 1, in exchange for making their base stats and stat growth higher is a central part of the game’s story, and you’re actively encouraged to use it from the moment you start.

Auto-battle and Demonic Intelligence turn grinding from a slog into a task to be automated and perfected, making early game grinding feasible.

The Item World loop has been updated so that once an instance of an item has been boosted, that boost applies to any versions of the item bought at the shop. Now, instead of leveling dozens of boots, you level one, then buy half a dozen copies, with the end result being it’s much easier to get cool equipment across all your characters.

The Story Is Good. Not gonna say anything else on that one just yet, but yeah. It’s fun. (Although I didn’t like the English voice acting personally)

There are a lot of interesting risks and design choices with Disgaea 6. I don’t necessarily love all of them, but the game does a lot to allow earlier access to many of its series-defining mechanics, and I think that’s to its credit.

Disgaea 6 comes out tomorrow, and if you like tactics games, I cannot recommend it enough. If you’re already a fan of the series, I’d say you should get a day one copy. If you’ve been interested in playing, but always thought it felt a little overwhelming, Disgaea 6 is the most new player friendly entry into the series.

See you in the Netherworld, dood!

Editor’s Notes Ultimate Plus Complete Edition

  1. We reached out to NIS America and requested a pre-release code for Disgaea 6, which we received. Was it because of our blatant pandering? No idea, honestly they sent us the code like immediately after we requested it, we hadn’t even really kicked our “Pretty Please NIS, let us play it” campaign into high gear.
  2. This article is spoiler free, for reasons. Please don’t assume that this policy will apply to things here in the future about Disgaea 6, but we’ll try to give it a month after release (so anytime after July, it’s open season) before we start discussing spoilery… stuff.
  3. This article is what it sounds like: It’s a general set of thoughts on the game, why you might want to pick it up when it comes out tomorrow, etc. It’s not an exhaustive deep dive on any level, to any system in the game.

Disgaea 5 Complete

I like Disgaea 5. While I didn’t enjoy the story as much as Disgaea 4, there are a variety of improved mechanics, UI, and massive quality of life features that make it a massive upgrade over its predecessor.

Also, just for clarity here, I’m mostly going to be discussing my experience with the game pre-endgame. I’ve played about 40-45 hours, and while I plan on playing more, that may not happen for a little bit for secret reasons.

So, let’s start with the story, and some of the related mechanics. Across the Netherworlds, now rendered as planets, Demon Emperor Void Dark is trying to take over everything. You’re introduced to some of the main characters, Seraphina, and Killia, both who have a bone to pick with Void Dark. In Killia’s case, he’s a brooding loner. In Seraphina’s case, it’s an arranged marriage to Void Dark that she has no interest in. She’s decided the best way to deal with the problem is to kill Void Dark so she doesn’t have to marry him.

Adventure intensifies, and as the duo go on their merry way, we meet an increasing cast of other indivuals, including Red Magnus, Christo, Zeroken, and Usalia, who all also have their reasons for wanting to see Void Dark six feet under.

There’s not too much else to say. Our band of misfits proceeds from Netherworld to Netherworld, trying to push back Void Dark’s advance while not getting slaughtered. Each of them gets a mini-arc/story around their background and flaws, usually followed by a redemption or adjustment.

While I appreciate that these moments existed, most of them feel standard anime trope-esque. There are a few that are more interesting, but most end up feeling predictable. This annoyed me because 4 did (at least by my standards) a much better job of handling these sorts of changes. Here’s an entire mini-writeup on what I mean, but be warned, here there be story spoilers!

Oh, yeah, this whole thing was supposed to be about new game mechanics, wasn’t it?

Well, one of those new game mechanics is Revenge. Each character has a Revenge Bar that fills as they or their allies take damage. Once a character’s bar is filled, they enter Revenge Mode, where all of their attacks are critical hits, and all of their spells and specials have their costs reduced down to 1.

In addition, characters that are Overlords of a Netherworld, like our MC’s mentioned above, also get access to their Overload. Some bosses get them as well!

Overloads are one-time use per battle skills that have a variety of effects, many of which either play with tactic game tropes, or just utterly break them, and all of which are fun. While some are simple (Deal damage to everyone on the map, stat boost, heal all friendlies) there are also a few really neat ones. My personal favorite would have to be Zeroken’s “Superluminal Wolf” which creates 4 temporary copies of the character. And when I say copies, I mean full copies. Each copy can take any action the original can, up to and including casting all of his specials, throwing units, and lifting enemies. Another character has an ability that allows them to temporarily take full control of a few enemy units.

Overloads can turn fights that are going badly, and at the same time add an interesting element to some of the boss fights. You know your enemy has an Overload, and you have to try to manage their access to it. You can do this by chipping them slowly, trying to take them out in one hit, or just finding ways to avoid the Overload’s effect. Dealing with bosses’ Overloads is a fun and interesting change from how static boss fights were previously.

Pretty much every side system has also been improved, but going into detail on each them would be both a waste of time, and not something I’d be capable of doing. So instead, let’s take one system as an example: innocents.

If you haven’t played a Disgaea game before, it might be easiest to think of innocents as a sort of sub-item that can be socketed into other items. They have a type, and a value. The type determines their behavior, and the value determines the impact. For example, socketing a Gladiator gives the item it’s located in additional ATK, and the Dietician gives additional HP.

These are both fairly straightforward examples, but there are also innocents that give extra EXP, extra Mana, innocents that change the damage type of basic attacks, and innocents that give you chance to steal items from defeated enemies. There’s a lot of variety.

Acquiring innocents is a little more complex, though. One of Disgaea’s primary features is the Item World, a series of semi-random procedurally generated levels that exist inside an item. And inside items is where you get innocents. When you get an item, it will usually have a few innocents inside of it, but they’ll be in the hostile state. When you go into that item’s Item World levels, those innocents can show up as enemies, and if you defeat them, they go to the subdued state.

So how do Disgaea 4 and 5 handle innocents differently?

In Disgaea 4, innocents couldn’t be moved until after they were subdued. This meant that collecting an innocent you wanted required going into an item, clearing levels until it appeared, defeating it, and then repeating this process for each new copy of the innocent. Because of how innocents level up, getting an innocent to its level cap could be even more painful, requiring gathering lots of copies of a single innocent, and fusing them into each other.

In Disgaea 5, non-subdued innocents can be moved between items. So instead of going into 5-10 different items you might not be interested in leveling up to get a bunch of innocents you want, you can now move the innocents you’re farming into a single item, and do one run to gather them in a single fell swoop.

But these changes on their own wouldn’t solve the problem of needing to grind a silly amount of innocents. And that’s where the Innocent Farm comes in.

The Innocent Farm is a daycare center zone where you can leave innocents, and they passively gain levels as you do other things. In addition, if you leave two or more innocents in the Innocent Farm, they can breed, giving you even more innocents.

And these sorts of improvements are present across the rest of the game’s systems as well. Better capture mechanics and prisoner management. The Chara World is now its own unique Mario Party style world… thing, instead of being a sort of rip-off of the Item World.

Okay, so looking back at this whole writeup, I think I might have rambled enough. Here’s the five second version of my thoughts:

Disgaea 5 is a mechanical improvement over 4, both for its subsystems (and tweaks to make them more friendly), and also its improvements to the combat structure. While the story didn’t grab me the same way 4’s story did, it’s still solid. It just doesn’t surpass the usual JRPG tropes the same way some of it’s predecessors do. The end result is an incredibly solid game that I’d probably recommend over earlier games in the series, because as much as I like the story, this isn’t a series that I personally play for the writing.

Disgaea 5 Complete is available for Switch, PC, and Playstation 4. I played on PC with a controller, because, well, mouse and keyboard just doesn’t cut it for grid based tactics games.

Disgaea 4 Vs Disgaea 5 Character Growth – SPOILERS

Okay, so this was part of my Disgaea 5 writeup, but it ended up being several paragraphs long, and not quite fitting the flow, and also having story spoilers for both games. In the interest of not doing that, I’ve moved it over here. What I want to talk about here is the difference in story pacing between 4 and 5, a specific mechanical reason that they end up feeling different, and why it leads to me liking 4’s writing and story more.

Emizel is one of the primary side characters in Disgaea 4. He’s the son of the President of the Netherworld, and functions as an antagonist for the first few chapters of the story. After his father declares him dead for various political reasons, he joins the player’s party, still remaining fairly obstinate about the state of things, and often still taunted and mocked by the rest of the group.

However, by the time the group actually stages their coup, he’s firmly a member of the party. When an enemy general berates Emizel for betraying his father, other members of the party step up to defend him.

Compare this to Zeroken. Zeroken serves a somewhat similar role in Disgaea 5, in that he’s a minor NPC who joins the main party. His tragic backstory is that he was a member of the Lost, Void Dark’s evil army who got taught martial arts by another demon he admired, and then fled the Lost army. He serves a similar role to Emizel in that he’s one of the weakest members of the group, constantly gets dunked on, and is overall seen as kind of a dweeb.

His big moment is when he “Masters his own heart” allowing him to perform a purification ritual to try to save someone. And after this, he’s brave as opposed to cowardly. And that’s about it.

It’s pretty boring, but it does make sense when you look at how the Disgaea 5 character development often also includes a power-up or the character getting an Overload. Since Disgaea 4 doesn’t use the Overload system, there’s no point where any of the characters get a dramatic mechanical boost as a result of story progression in this manner.

So, here’s the thing: the Overload buffs that the characters get are cool. Zerokens’s Superluminal Wolf which creates fully functional copies of himself is one of my favorite things in Disgaea 5. It’s an ultimate that simultaneously breaks a bunch of standard tactics conventions, and gives massive amounts of utility.

But because of how it’s given to him, his character development feels cheapened. Instead of the slower change that Emizel gets, we just see Zeroken power up, and then his arc is more or less… done.

And I get it. Giving a character a brand new power at a clutch moment is cool. But for me it cheapened the arc of basically all of these characters. Emizel doesn’t ever become super Emizel, or anything. Instead, he has a much slower grind of changing. And I liked that more.

Disgaea RPG

I have mixed feelings on Disgaea RPG. The reality of it is that when you strip away much of flavor and art, it’s a fairly bog-standard mobile phone game. On the other hand, it’s also Disgaea flavored which means I’ve been playing it every day more or less non-stop for a week.

Yes, I know. I’m weak.

So, Disgaea RPG. It’s a mobile unit-collection RPG. In practice, this means that you spend most of your time playing the levels you have access to, grinding out the highest content you can when you hit a wall, and waiting for your energy to recharge (or running the item world) when you run out. And saving up as much premium currency as you feasibly can to roll gacha.

In terms of actual gameplay, you build a team of five units, then select and play levels. Units have a basic attack and a few abilities that require SP, which recharges over time…. and that’s pretty much it. There’s no grid system, and you only have a maximum of these five characters in your party.

If it wasn’t for the Disgaea theming, I’m not sure I’d still be playing. But since it is Disgaea themed, the flavor and ability to get a bunch of characters from the other games that I like (such as Valvatorez and Desco) is actually pretty neat. The polish on the art and animations is very solid, and I’d be surprised if the assets weren’t taken directly from the other games. The same is true of the background music, the voice acting, and story elements.

Unfortunately, outside of that, Disgaea RPG doesn’t do too much that most other mobile collection games don’t do already, from what I’ve seen so far. While some elements of the combo system are interesting (such as the way tower attacks are ported over), they aren’t interesting enough to force you to really think about what you’re doing at any given point in time. There have only been 2-3 fights so far that have even made me do anything more complex then “Use best attack I have access to, then keep using it”.

Outside of this though, the aspect of the game I’d say I enjoy the most is the story and character interactions. None of it has quite hit the level of quality I’d expect from a mainline series game, but even if it feels like glorified fanfic, it’s good fanfic. Etna planning on murdering Laharl is still funny, Fuka and Desco’s questionable teamwork is amusing, and Mao cackling maniacally is still fun.

Overall, Disgaea RPG is… fine. I think it’s enjoyable if you’re already a fan of the series, but if you’re not, there isn’t much there for you. It’s definitely carried by the setting and art. But there simply isn’t much mechanically that hasn’t been done in a mobile game before.

Of course, if you’re curious, you can grab it yourself. It’s free on the app store and google play store with in-app purchases. (The ratio of real world money to in-game stuff is pretty garbage in my opinion though.)

Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero?

You can do it, dood!

Ed Note: Images are from theSwitch re-release press kit.

“Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?” was re-released for Switch back in 2020, after originally being released on PSP. It’s a game that I first played on a whim, but grew to love and play religiously. And what with this being Disgaea Week, I figured now is as good a time as any to talk about it.

I was still in high school when I heard about its release, and while I thought the animation looked good, and the gameplay seemed cool, I knew nothing about the Disgaea series. Still, I grabbed it anyway, and on a cold day after class while waiting for the bus, a friend passed me his PSP and I was off on a journey where I learned the most important lesson in life: “Gotta be smart, dood!” 

Starting the game, you’re introduced to our expandable super cool hero, the Prinny, a penguin-shaped husk that houses the spirit of a criminal sentenced to hell. After a quick meeting with your master, Demon Lord Eta, you’re told someone ate her Ultra Dessert and that unless you and your fellow Prinnies get her a new one, you’re all dead. With this promise of an asskicking should you fail, Etna gives you a magical scarf, and it’s off to the races.

Take three hits, and it’s the end of the line dood!

 Once the story begins your UI shows you the main helpful info: your scarves, combo bar, points, a timer, and the total number of Prinnies left. The UI’s not overwhelming when playing and all of the elements are spaced out nicely, so you never have a moment where the action is covered or blocked. The game has a very roguelike feel considering how your Prinny can take three hits, and then they’re gone.

1000 Prinnies might seem like a lot, but they disappear quickly and watching the life counter in the bottom left adds a very fun sense of impending doom. I’ve always been a fan of watching the counter go down as I struggle, getting closer and closer towards the end but also getting better and better, learning boss and enemy mechanics.

Overall, the game is a very snappy side scrolling platformer, and it feels great; there are only rare moments where I felt like a death was due to confusing level design or weird controls. One thing to note is that the game changes perspective when you do an air attack from 2d to a pseudo-3d. This can be awkward at first, but once you get used to the perspective shift it can be helpful for platforming or trying to find hidden areas. 

For combat, your character has a ground slam attack and a sword slice that can be used at short range. The slash attack can be used on the ground or in the air which will cause your Prinny to float while the attack is active. 

Combat is simple and honestly that’s what I loved about the game. Prinnies are supposed to be a weak throw-away characters, and while they are (sorta) the hero of this story, you can tell they’re not traditional overpowered protagonists. 

Enemies and boss fights feel challenging but absolutely beatable. The level design is streamlined and makes it hard to get lost. Additionally, if there was ever a moment where I entered a boss room and didn’t immediately know how to complete the fight, a quick look around the room always guaranteed I knew what was needed to beat them. 

The music and voice acting is also a huge part of what makes the game great. The soundtrack has a very Nightmare Before Christmas/Disgaea vibe. It’s always very fitting for the level and really gets you bobbing with music. As for voice acting, the Prinnies have their go-to catchphrases that after 4 hours I found myself yelling as I beat enemies or made lots of progress: “Gotta be fast dood!” They all have an attitude and speech type that makes you want to help these doods.

Additionally, the supporting cast of demons and lords are hilarious and as an unassuming Prinny walking up to these powerhouses, you get amazing dialog as they ridicule you or even pay no attention. And when you end up interrupting, rest assured, it may end with you running for your un-life.

In short, the game is a great time. If you’re looking for something to pick up and play mindlessly for a few hours, or just laugh at all the crap the hero endures, only to see him finally succeed, it’s still worth it. It’s a simple joy to play and one that shouldn’t be overlooked. As I noted above, the game was released on PSP before, but your best bet at this point if you’re interested is to grab the Nintendo Switch re-release.

Disgaea 4 Complete+

God I love this game.

Ed Note: Images for this writeup are from a combo of the Disgaea 4 Complete press kit, and my own save file.

Disgaea 4 is, somewhat strangely enough, the first Disgaea game I played. Specifically, Disgaea 4 Complete+ for the Switch. As far as I can tell, the “Complete” part just means that they opted to include all of the additional DLC and scenarios that were added to the game after its initial release in… 2011.

10 years ago.

Okay, so we might be a teensy bit late on this one.

One of the best things about Disgaea is the ability to customize your hub world and move all the NPC’s you actually care about next to each other.

In any case, like the other games, Disgaea 4 primarily takes place in the Netherworld. The main focus of the story is Valvatorez, a previously incredibly powerful vampire and also arguably total idiot, who never breaks promises he makes. One of these promises involved an agreement to not consume human blood ever. Pretty much all the other side characters are great as well, including Fenrich, Valvatorez’s second in command, who feels like an inverse version of the traitorous vizier trope, and Fuka, a elementary school child who dies, goes to hell, and then proceeds to determinator her way through the Netherworld by refusing to accept her death.

Valvatorez, the vampire who doesn’t drink blood, and Fenrich, his loyal servant who would really like it if maybe he would again.

These games can be kinda weird.

The general arc of the game is Valvatorez’s staging of a coup against the current President of Hell, in an attempt to fix the problems the Netherworld is having, including lack of energy, an inability to handle the influx of guilty souls, and just general failure to… well, be hell.

Behold, the… grid that I don’t remember the name of.

Mechanically, this comes in with the Corrupternment and building placement map. As you advance through the game, you’ll unlock political titles, buildings, and other elements that give benefits to units placed within their area of effects on this grid. You can also pass bills and policies to boost yourself, your rate of EXP gain, unlock new units, make friends, and also just shake down senators for cash.

The general structure of the rest of the game is fairly straightforward, with both the Item World and Chara World in Disgaea 4 following a similar structure of being procedurally generated combat levels where you need to clear all enemies, with a few additional minor changes between them. The game also has Magichange, the ability to turn monster characters into weapons temporarily for your other characters to use (don’t worry, they get better), and monster fusion, which lets you fuse monsters into larger versions of themselves with better range and damage.

Is it really a Disgaea game if the stats aren’t measured in hundred thousands?

Overall, Disgaea 4 is currently my favorite of the games story-wise, if not mechanically. While the game’s art style and mechanics haven’t aged terribly, many of the UI elements and menus do feel a bit outdated at this point, and some of the connectivity features, like fights and pirate ship leaderboards, feel a bit dead. Despite all of this, though, the fights are still interesting, the grind is nice and grindy, and story and characters are still funny.

Okay, so maybe I’ve played a bit too much of this.

You can get Disgaea 4 Complete+ here for Switch, and here for PC if you’re interested.

Disgaea Franchise Week – Kickoff

Here we go dood!

This post inaugurates what I’m calling Disgaea week. Some of you may be wondering why we’re doing this. Is it blatant pandering? Is it because America NIS approved my press credentials? Is it because I love Disgaea and really want them to send me a review copy of Disgaea 6?

The answer has two parts. 1. How dare you question my journalistic integrity, and 2. Yes.

Yes to all of the above.

On the flip side, it also gives a good opportunity to talk about some of the things that are similar between the games, without having to rehash them each time I write about the series.

So lets talk about Disgaea. If I had to summarize the game series in one sentence, I would say: “Disgaea is a tactics game about unleashing your inner mechanics munchkin.” Of course, this ignore the great art, the really solid writing, and skips over all the actual mechanics. But I only had one sentence, so we’ll get to that in a bit.

If you’re not familiar with the series, the Disgaea games don’t necessarily have any continuity between them. Instead, it’s a franchise more in the form of something like Final Fantasy, where each game is a separate cast of characters and goals, but certain elements remain the same, such as the primary combat mechanics, character classes, and Prinnies. Prinnies are the souls of the damned, doomed to pay for their sins in the afterlife by being sewn into a penguin shaped costume and used as the servants/cannon fodder/meat shields/target practice dummies for everyone else in the netherworld.

I’m expandable, dood!

The mechanics of the games often consist of a few fairly nested systems, but the general core gameplay is pretty simple. You’re given a gridded map, a deploy point to move units out onto the map from, and a bunch of enemies you need to defeat to clear the map. The complexity of these maps ranges based on the game, and how you’re expected to beat the map. Some maps are effectively puzzles, requiring moving boxes/blocks around, or destroying various patterns. Some are just standard “Brawl your way across” fights. And some are a combination of the two, or exist to teach you to understand specific mechanics.

Of course, this is just for the standard levels included throughout the campaign. You can also go to the “item world,” which is a series of randomly generated challenge floors. Clearing each floor levels up the item that you’re currently inside, and you can also collect “Innocents” which are people that can be moved between your items, and equipped to your items. So, you can level up your items that you equip to your characters and also equip characters to your items that you equip and where are you going please come back.

And it’s this sort of systemic and mechanical orgy that defines what a Disgaea game is for me. Disgaea games are games where you can level up everything, and once you hit the level cap, you can reincarnate and do it again. They’re games that let you graft and move skills and Evilities (think passive Pokemon-style abilities) from character to character. They’re games where your skills gain experience separate from your character, where you can tweak every inch, and relevel a character over and over until the number on their stat bar is larger than the GDP of the entire planet.

Oh, and you can also go to the chara world, which is different depending on the game, but lets you adjust additional bonuses, and okay, I promise, I’ll stop talking about the systems for now.

Outside of this smorgasbord of interesting interactions, the other biggest thing I’d say the games have going for them are that they’re actually well-written and have voice acting that doesn’t make me cut the cables going to my headphones.

Most of the characters involved, especially the protagonists, are deeply flawed individuals in a variety of interesting ways. My personal favorite would have to be Valvatorez, the main character of Disgaea 4, who is a powerless vampire who could instantly become extremely powerful if he wished, except for the fact that he absolutely refuses to break his promises.

In either case, the key take away from this article is as follows:

  1. I really like Disgaea
  2. Disgaea is a tactics game about being a complete munchkin.
  3. NIS America please send me a review copy of Disgaea 6.
  4. This entire week is going to be me pandering to try to get that to happen.

So buckle up mother fuckers, because this entire week is about to a roller coaster ride of exploding penguins, exceedingly strange mechanics, vampires that don’t suck blood, and the other weirdness that makes up the Netherworld(s)!

Lets go Dood!

Assassin – 10 Years Later

One tradition my High School had was a game played by the seniors called Assassin. I’m sure this is a pretty common thing, but like most traditional games, I suspect it goes by a billion different names and variation, so here’s an what ours looked like.

For each team who wanted to play, they had to pay an entry fee of $20. Teams could have up to four people on them. The game itself was a water gun fight, where if you got hit with water, you were out. At the start of each week, each team was given another team to be their opponents. Your goal was to take out more folks on the opposing side than they took out on your side. There were also a series of rules based around when and where you were allowed to shoot people with your water guns (you couldn’t enter buildings without permission, couldn’t do stuff during school hours, and couldn’t do it on school grounds). In general though, the game should have been pretty simple.

The emphasis here is of course, on the word, “Should.”

In practice, the game tended to turn rapidly into a complete clusterfuck, in part because of the rules, and in part because of how the game was judged. Notable moments over the years included a player purchasing and using a ghillie suit, a car chase (no, really), the use of what I think was converted fire-fighting equipment as water dispersing item, and the head judge acting like a dumbass. I also heard a truck mounted pressure washer was involved one year, but I don’t know how true that was.

Let’s talk about the problems with judging for a moment, though. So, who was the judge? Which absolute fucking idiot decided that it was both a good idea to help run this thing, and to put them themself in a position where they would have to make calls about rules and behavior to a bunch of their peers competing for several hundred dollars?

Oh right. That was me.

To say the game of Assassin I ran went poorly would be an understatement. It would be like saying that there was a fire-related event at Notre Dame, or that people might currently be taking trading cards a bit too seriously.

The phrase “Unmitigated Fucking Disaster” comes to mind.

But it’s been almost 10 years (Jesus Christ it’s been almost 10 years, what the fuck), which strikes me as a good time to revisit this tradition, examine it, and try to figure out what I would do differently if I was to run it again, now that I’m 10 years older. And theoretically wiser. But mostly just older.

So if I could run the game again, what would I do differently?

  1. Take out the entry fee and prize.
    If I could only make one change to the game, this would be it. I’m not going to say that money is the root of all evil or any hippie bullshit like that, but it absolutely corrupts this game in particular. The entry fee means that pretty much however you make your ruling, someone is going to hate you, and it screws good sportsmanship over in a massive way. Talking of sportsmanship, this brings up the second problem…
  2. Remove the elimination aspect of the game.
    The bracket-based elimination is something that I look back on and die a little bit inside, purely from a game design standpoint. It’s one of the worst aspects of the ruleset. If you get eliminated early, you no longer get to play the game, which feels bad, and again, leads to folks wanting to argue hits and knockouts. Removing players is almost always bad design. Instead, it would make more sense to give each team a weekly score based on the number of members of the enemy team that they eliminated. That way the game could run for a series of weeks, and everyone would get to… y’know. Actually play the game. Which brings us to…
  3. Move combat exclusively to the weekend.
    Among all of the clusterfucks and problems in the game, the biggest one was the issue of legal knockouts. Is the parking lot school ground? What about the pavement? If you get shot coming into the school, but it’s before 8:00, does that count? If you’re at a “protected” school event, and you leave to kill somebody, is your kill legitimate? These are all questions that are up for debate based on your interpretation of the rules, and frankly, they’re not worth it.

    Instead, I’d want to move the game to remove all those restrictions, but played exclusively on the weekend, from 6:00 PM Friday, to 6:00 PM Sunday. If nothing else, it would probably make the teachers hate the game a bit less.

So, if all these changes were made, would the game be perfect? Would peace reign supreme? Well, not really. There were a lot of other problems, too, like rampant kingmaking, shooting people in cars, and how the game itself encouraged hiding in your house and waiting for the week to end.

And this brings me to the real problem: how the game was formed. The rules were cruddy because they were a stew of rules invented by a variety of people, including the people running and playing the game, the teachers who hated it, the parents who wanted kids to stop hiding outside their house at 4:00 AM, and the coaches who would have liked it if their student athletes brought water bottles instead Super Soakers to practice. The end result was a system where a variety of people had input, but no one actually had complete power over the rules, and as a result, they kind of sucked.

Especially if your judge is an idiot.

So instead of making minor rules changes, what if we tore the whole thing down? What if we started from scratch, and tried to design an event that would capture the fun tension, but without the actual occasional risk of physical harm, and complete disruption to everyday life? What would that look like?

Well, I have an idea. It’s called Secret Agent. And it’ll be in a post that goes up later next week.