A few years ago, Nippon Ichi produced Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny, a new entry in the long-running series that aimed to shake up series conventions by introducing auto-battling and transitioning to a 3D art style. Not all the changes it brought were positively received, but fortunately, the game sold well enough to not only keep the lights on at the company but to also justify the development of a proper successor to address those criticisms.
Director Shunsuke Minowa said that one of the team's main goals with Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless was to go with a “back to basics” approach, and that was absolutely the right call. Disgaea 7 feels like the ultimate distillation of the Disgaea experience, successfully merging the innovations of 6 with many of the traditions of earlier games, all while throwing in some worthwhile new ideas of its own. It’s an incredibly compelling new entry, and we can’t recommend it enough to any strategy RPG fans out there.
Disgaea 7 is set around the same time as Disgaea 4 and takes place in a cluster of Netherworlds called Hinomoto that’s inspired by Edo period Japan . The story kicks off with Pirilika, a rich, spoiled otaku who comes to Hinomoto to experience its culture, notably its famed Bushido code. To her dismay, Hinomoto has since lost its Bushido due to being taken over by the evil shogun Demmodore Opener and his magistrates. She’s quickly joined by a lazy, miserly samurai named Fuji, who bonds with a magical sword she had in her bag that just so happens to be one of the legendary Seven Founding Weapon, and the two set out to collect the other Founding Weapons, kill the magistrates, unseat the shogun, and restore Bushido to Hinomoto.
In keeping with series tradition, the story is about as silly as it gets, packed with all kinds of jokes and goofiness to keep a generally lighthearted atmosphere. Fuji, for example, is allergic to any kind of friendship or empathy, which causes him to cough up blood every time someone thanks him for helping or expresses any kind of affection. He also has a daughter (or, at least a girl who thinks she’s his daughter…) who chronically blows up buildings because he won’t tell her that he loves her. As our leading duo tours the worlds of Hinomoto, they cross swords with all manner of larger-than-life personalities and while some of the jokes get played out a bit, it’s hard not to be enamored with the tone of Disgaea 7. Stuff like hearing a Prinny (an idiot penguin that explodes when it trips) cheerfully exclaims “your life is mine, dood!” as it charges into battle is simply charming in a way that only Disgaea can capture.
While Disgaea is ostensibly a traditional turn-based SRPG, there are really two interrelated levels to how you play Disgaea 7—the gameplay and the meta gameplay—so we’ll start by describing the gameplay. Here, things are simple to grasp and you’re focused on directing a handful of units through turn-based battles focused on routing the enemy team while trying not to get outplayed yourself. You have to take typical elemental and stat strengths or weaknesses into account while deciding matchups, terrain also plays a big role in the sense that stages are built with varied elevation and will often have special Geo Panel floors that alter the stats of any unit that acts while standing on them. It can be a little tedious to direct a team of a dozen characters—individually selecting everyone’s movements and actions to take—but battles are satisfying to engage in and offer ample rewards.
There are over forty classes to experiment with in Disgaea 7, giving you near-bottomless depth to the teams you can build. Old standbys like the Gunner and Cleric are back once again, while new ones like the Maiko and the Zombie Maiden bring some interesting new ideas to the table. The Maiko, for example, is especially effective against male enemies, while the Zombie Maiden powers up every time another team member dies in battle. You’ll have no trouble finding interesting applications for each class’s nuances, while the relatively low difficulty of the story missions ensures that you’re given plenty of leeway in the first few dozen hours to test out compositions and see what playstyles click with you.
It wouldn’t be a proper Disgaea entry without some goofy new idea to change things up, so it doesn’t take long before your team is introduced to the concept of Jumbification. As your team takes damage a power gauge will gradually fill, and once it hits a certain threshold, you can have any character Jumbify themselves to turn into a 200-foot-tall monstrosity that can't even fit on the battlefield. Jumbified characters can attack any units on the field with area-of-effect attacks that hit about as hard as you’d expect from a Kaiju, and each character brings with them a unique Jumbility that casts a passive effect which affects all units on the field, such as giving everyone an HP regen effect or causing everyone to explode when thrown.
Enemies can Jumbify, too, which adds an interesting additional layer to the underlying strategy and timing for when you want to use the mechanic. Characters can only stay big for three turns, and if you’re caught without your own nuclear deterrent to retaliate against a newly Jumbified enemy, your entire team can be annihilated in one turn. On the other hand, Jumbifying can be a ridiculously easy “I win” button if you manage to catch the enemy off guard with it, leading to a very delicate balance of power that always looms in the background over all the usual skirmishes taking place in battles.
All this is well and good, but now let’s get into that meta-gameplay. Much like its predecessors, Disgaea 7 gradually reveals to you that it’s not all about grid-based battles. Hour after hour, the game continues to dole out dizzying amounts of additional mechanics and systems that all give you more tools for building your team, giving you absurdly fine-grained levels of control over every imaginable facet of a character’s stats. All this is in service of the endgame—which the developers claim takes about 400 hours to clear—as you work to build an insanely optimized team that can take on the immense challenges that lie in waiting for you.
To give you an idea of the depth here, not only can characters each be equipped with a vast array of equipment that alters their stats and builds, but each individual piece can be min-maxed through something called the Item World. Here, you can send your team into the item itself to explore dozens of floors of randomized enemy encounters, each one being harder than the last and raising the item’s level more if you can manage to prevail. Eventually, you come across Innocents, small creatures that live inside of every item and affect its stats in myriad ways. You can breed, fuse, and fight these Innocents, all to get their stats even higher. This can further boost the stats on the items they come on, which then boosts the stats of the characters you equip them on. Then, once you finally max out an item, you can choose to reincarnate it to start the whole process over again, but with better stats to begin with this time.
Suffice it to say, the story of Disgaea 7—which takes about thirty or so hours to clear—feels like the tutorial for the substantially longer and richer endgame grind. And while this endgame will always still have you engaging in combat in the same way you did when you started the story, more of your time will increasingly be dedicated to comparing stats and abilities between items, balancing your team's skill load-outs, and testing different class and sub-class compositions on different team members. If you’re not the kind of person who really enjoys getting into the weeds like this, then we can comfortably say that Disgaea 7 is not for you; this is the epitome of an SRPG that encourages (and eventually requires) min-maxing at virtually every imaginable turn.
To help make the grind a little more manageable, Demonic Intelligence has returned from Disgaea 6 to allow auto-battling to take the wheel, though it’s been reined in a bit. You now need to spend a consumable resource called Poltergas to have your team run itself, and this can only be done on stages that you have already managed to clear manually. Some may be a bit miffed that you can’t just set it and forget it like in Disgaea 6, but the flipside is that auto-battling feels like a useful tool and not a crutch. With it being relegated to a more optional design, the endgame grind isn’t built to be nearly as monotonous and repetitive as it was in Disgaea 6, because the developers are assuming that an actual player will be at the controls for most of it.
Auto-battling isn’t just used for grinding anymore—it’s a critical component of Disgaea’s first competitive online multiplayer mode. Here, you carefully construct a self-sufficient auto team and then can choose to test its might against other players’ teams that are at a close rank to you. Rankings reset each season and with each refresh come new stages with new rules, necessitating that you tweak your team and create whole new ones to adapt to the changes. Though it does feel kind of weird that you can’t just directly play head-to-head with others in live games, this mode nonetheless feels like a good first step for online multiplayer for Disgaea, particularly in how it rounds out the endgame offering. If you’re part of the small, incredibly dedicated group that will manage to completely clear the endgame, this ranked mode will offer a virtually limitless series of challenges as you engage in the meta and struggle to the top of the leaderboards.
Visually, Disgaea 7 sticks to the 3D art style that saw its debut in Disgaea 6, and while this will no doubt still bother some fans that were fonder of the rich spritework of the earlier games, its application here feels more confident than before. Character models have been improved and animations for the more bombastic attacks are more over the top than ever before, but most importantly, performance is at an entirely acceptable level this time around. If you play on the Graphics mode, there are some frame drops here and there, but nothing like its messy equivalent in Disgaea 6, while Performance mode sticks to a smooth 60 FPS with a slightly softer resolution. It’s really a night and day difference from before, and we’re glad to see that the new art style is given a proper chance to shine here.
Disgaea 7 offers up yet another enjoyable entry in the long-running series, offering up a more refined take on the famously in-depth gameplay systems. New mechanics such as Jumbification add some interesting wrinkles to the SRPG battles, while new modes like competitive ranked online bring even more playability to a game that’ll take you hundreds of hours to see to completion. Perhaps best of all, Disgaea 7 is very newcomer-friendly, though we will add that the very deliberate and measured approach to min-maxing isn’t for everyone. Whether you’re looking for an excellent new RPG to sink a lot of time into or you’ve been a fan of Disgaea since the PS2 days, Disgaea 7 is a worthwhile entry that we’d recommend you pick up when you can.