The Fanatic IssueGrinding to Infinity
Disgaea makes no such concessions. For outsiders, the fog of war sits heavy over this one. Anime fans may find some entertainment in the characters and their miniature on-screen representations, but by and large this is a game about stat building. The stories that sustain, the graphics that entrance and the variety in gameplay that encourages us onward - all the things that define a good game - are gone. Fanatics don't need them anyway. They thrive on subtle changes that emerge over time, small rewards and curiosities that only someone deeply invested can appreciate. Loot and special attacks make for some mildly entertaining eye candy, and that along with the colorful cast of characters add a level of collectability to the game that's certainly appealing. For fanatics, though, these things are of secondary concern. After all, Disgaea YouTube videos aren't about drooling over a new and rare sword, but rather the enormous damage stats a player can inflict in a single turn.
Disgaea's most off-putting feature for outsiders is the game's endless repetition, present in both individual games and across the series as a whole. It's remarkably similar in appearance to its isometric predecessors Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre. In fact, screenshots between the three games are almost indistinguishable. Yet that's part of the beauty for the fanatic, and the ritual of diving into countless randomly generated dungeons, no matter how similar, cannot be discredited. Because more than the depth of gameplay, Disgaea's defining feature is its scale. If you've leveled up to 400, you probably understand the game. Why stop though? Go to 999. Disgaea never presents an end goal so much as a gaping and bottomless pit. Pokémon hints at an end by implying it's possible to catch them all. Disgaea merely provides as many opportunities as possible to grind away to the player's content. That's what fanatics crave: something to which they can endlessly and tirelessly devote themselves.
Gamers have found ways to be fanatical about any game. It could be through a deep attachment to a mascot or an extraordinary devotion towards a life created in a virtual world. But few games demand fanaticism from the get-go in order to be enjoyed. Rather, it tends to be a slow process of accumulated knowledge until one day you've realized you're on your 10th play-through. Disgaea asks this of its players from the outset. It demands multiple play-throughs to even reach the end game. This last piece of the game is the logical extreme of everything that came before it. By now the challenge of defeating the enemies is secondary to inflicting ever larger amounts of damage - the RPG equivalent of throwing dynamite in a pond just to see how many fish float to the surface. If you play Disgaea the way I imagine its creators intended, the characters, the whacky storyline and the challenging levels will vanish in the first 40 to 50 hours. All that will remain are the endless permutations and the slow march towards infinity.
Tom Endo is not really a fan of Disgaea, despite numerous attempts to be one.