Grinding and Achieving Big Numbers in Feudal Japan – Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless Review
Disgaea 7 is an SRPG, but with a huge emphasis on leveling (no permanent deaths) and making strong builds through copius amounts of customization. Like other Disgaea games, it has a humorous story with a few serious scenes. This game’s story is completely unrelated to the plot of other Disgaea games and the tutorials and gameplay is definitely on the easier side compared to its predecessors, so I’d say this is a good entry point into the series.
The amount of additions to this game, such as now having 45 generic classes of characters you can make as well as new mechanics such as Item Reincarnation means even if you’re returning to the series you’ll definitely be surprised in a good way. If I had to summarize it in a sentence, Disgaea 7 fixes most of the mistakes of Disgaea 6. This is definitely not a perfect game, but the developers did address the common complaints, and now Disgaea 6 looks like its the black sheep in the family.
I’ve played many SRPGs over the years, but most tend to play like Fire Emblem or very similarly to it (such as Tactics Ogre, Yggdra Union, etc). Disgaea has carved a niche within SRPGs that I really can’t find anywhere else. The focus is on grinding, but not in a bad way. When friends would tell me the original Disgaea on the PS2 had an emphasis on grinding your character levels and stats to astronomical levels, I thought it would be like grinding in a regular JRPG which is boring and repetitive. But it’s not like that at all.
Rather, in Disgaea you use customization to make grinding easier. You find stages that have groups of enemies together and you build equipment (Statisticians) that multiplies how much experience you get and you use large area of effect attacks so that you’d get to level 9999, then reincarnate the character back to level 1 and level up to level 9999 again. The game would then tracking of all the levels you gain, meaning if you level up to 9999 and reincarnated, say, 20 times you’d be monstrously more powerful than before. And this is one route, often there would be dozens of ways to “break” these games (and they’re definitely meant to be broken).
If grinding if not your forte, you really don’t need to do it to beat the story of the game. It’s only the final post-game boss in Disgaea games that make you utilize every game mechanic (and it’s usually only for a <2 minute cutscene for fun and bragging rights), otherwise the main campaigns of the games are just extended tutorials where you learn and unlock all of the game mechanics one step at a time. You’re supposed to use the game mechanics in a smart way, not just mindlessly grind. Though the games go crazy with many game mechanics, you don’t need to understand all of it if you just want to play the story from beginning to the credits.
It’s tricky to review this title because I have knowledge from reviewing previous Disgaea titles, so I know most of the gameplay mechanics that have been carried across the franchise. The tutorial is a bit frontloaded, there’s one tutorial that’s at least 17 pages you scroll through but it’s really not that bad and it’s integrated in the game better than reading a manual. I do like the tutorials in this title because they gave me a quick refresher of the mechanics. In old Disgaea games in the PS2 era you had to read through the manual or else you’d die to the “Mid-game Boss”, and there would be hundreds of posts asking for him with him on forums back in the day.
With Disgaea you can play intelligently and get rewared. You have colored geopanels that have geosymbols, and they basically apply an effect on a colored tile set and often it’s done on purpose to make you think (enemy gets 50% increased power for instance), but you can move the geosymbols so they’re not on the tiles occupied by enemies, you can destroy the geosymbol itself, or just grind until your characters are so powerful you can just brute-force your way through it.
There’s other challenges such as height and distance, you can choose to lift and throw objects and characters if the path is too high or blocked with a river for instance. One common trick is the developers would put a geosymbol to make the enemies on a map powerful, and the geosymbol would be located behind the enemy forces, so you’d need to find someone with long range, a flying unit, or just toss a unit there to remove the geosymbol and return enemy stats to normal. The maps in this game really aren’t hard though; the hardest maps were challenge maps in Disgaea 3 where you really had to know the the most niche game mechanics to succeed.
The story is handled extremely well in this game with a protagonist Pirilika, who is into Edo period Japan but is depressed when she finds out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be and that she had misconceptions of it. This reminded me of “Paris Syndrome”, where Japanese tourists to France become disappointed when they find out France is not what it is portrayed as in media.
She is joined by Fuji, a samurai who is in debt and looking for paid work from Pirilika. When I was playing through I was skeptical and I thought the plot had a bad premise, but the characters and the dubbed English voice acting is hilarious with really great voice acting. The characters play off of each other well and the dialogue was never a chore to sit through. This game had really good banter just like the characters in the Neptunia games. The games cutscenes also keep the same trend of having a parody at the end of each chapter which are extremely funny if you get the reference (or awkward and confusing if you don’t get the reference).
The cutscenes are all done with 2D character portraits talking on a screen with voice acting performed in English (or Japanese if you choose). Like many of Nippon Ichi’s games for over 15 years, this game has character artwork drawn by Takehito Harada, known for having a particular style. You’ll know it when you see it, it’s somewhat like a “chibi” anime style with exaggerated proportions.
I really liked Pirilika’s expressions in the cutscenes, she conveys a wide variety of emotions, her tail will even stick out when she’s shocked. The still illustrations (CGs) are also well-drawn for important story cutscenes. The guest artwork during the joke sections at the end of chapters is downright hilarious if you’re familiar with anime culture and get the references.
The only thing I’ll really criticize is that I do wish they had a few anime cutscenes (like how Tales of games contracted animation work to animation studio Ufotable). There isn’t even an anime opening for the game. The lower budget of the visual novel style cutscenes does show through sometimes and can get repetitive after a while, and big plot events don’t feel as impactful. The game is frontloaded as well with exposition, but it really gets going when you recruit more major supporting characters who I won’t spoil.
Some Disgaea games have particular settings, such as Disgaea 3 being set in mostly a school. Disgaea 7 takes place in feudal era Japan and I really enjoyed the visuals. It’s different and feels very refreshing.
The beginning of the story is sad, taking place in a lawless and corrupt land, but the later parts of the story really do show traits such as honor and self-sacrifice. There is interesting political intrigue involving a corrupt government led by Opener as well as rare mystical weapons scattered in various Netherworlds.
I’m a sucker for the beautiful landscapes as well such as cherry blossom trees, mountains, and rivers. But there are other Netherworlds explored with vastly different environments as well from chapter to chapter. One hilarious chapter involved prinnies working in a warehouse shipping overpriced goods, who then become visibly irritated after you invade the warehouse and make them lose their jobs. It’s actually a nice touch that this Disgaea touches upon how real life has changed, and you see them making jokes about streaming for instance.
The developers learned not only from the faults of Disgaea 6, but also made many gameplay elements tighter as well. Right from the get-go in this title there are many more useable generic classes. Different character classes allows the player to build their team however they want and I felt a lot more free in this title to experiment. The developers brought back weapon skills. There’s only 4 weapon skills for each weapon unfortunately, but it is a start, and that’s in addition to the class skills each class gets. In the previous title skills were unlocked for certain character classes only, but in this title you can gain skills from using a certain weapon which is a nice return to form.
There’s a total of 45 character classes in this title. Most are returning classes from the old games and for brevity I’ll discuss the 4 new classes. There’s the Big Eye, a demon that actually looks like a demon that debuffs enemies’ defenses. The Bandit, a male thief who can find rare items and treasure, who was pretty similar to the regular female thief class. The Maiko, a woman who can charm enemies and deal more damage to male enemies. The Zombie Maiden, my favorite new class with many odd mechanics, she becomes stronger if her allies die and she can also come back to life after being defeated .
The developers also toned down the “big numbers” in the early-game that had been present in Disgaea 6. Disgaea was always about “big” numbers, but for some reason they went too crazy with Disgaea 6. Stats and damage numbers in the billions and trillions could be achieved near the end of post-game in old games, but Disgaea 6 just went nuts and allowed you to get damage numbers in the order of quintillions and sextillions and even more. It honestly gave me a headache in Disgaea 6 because the screen would be spamming giant trails of numbers at me. I know the developers probably wanted everyone to experience “big numbers” during the story mode rather than only in post-game but it was a tad too much.
Thankfully Disgaea 7 tones it back down to Disgaea 5 levels of damage, usually maxing at about billions and trillions at post-game. In the main story of this game I was generally doing hundreds to thousands of damage, par for the course in these games.
The 3D style for characters is used as before, but there’s more skills and animations. The protagonist’s and major story characters’ unique skills are animated extremely well and have very interesting combat animation ideas executed. Skill animations from generics can be hit or miss, depending on the skill used. I loved the Sorcerer’s animations in this game. Sometimes the 3D doesn’t convey expressions as well as the sprites did in older games, but the artists did appear more competent making skill animations in this title.
Autobattle has been toned down as well. It was a bit too powerful in Disgaea 6, allowing you to just grind up levels and then autobattle through every level in the game without having to even play the levels, it really made you think what the point was. In this game it takes you a while of story progression before you unlock the autobattle function and I believe you need to clear the stage normally before you can use it, meaning you’re only using it to grind on previously cleared stages.
I like this implementation better. It feels like the developers had to protect the players from themselves. A new resource called Poltergas is used when autobattling, and you typically gain it from completing stages manually, meaning there is a limit to how much you autobattle and you’ll have to clear stages manually eventually to obtain more of it. Once you progress the game enough the sky’s the limit. From what I saw, I was able to unlock a bill that let me skip the autobattling sequence and cut straight to the results. In fact, you can chain this multiple times, so you can autobattle on a cleared map 100 times in a row and skip to the results and there’s even a trophy for doing so (as long as you have the gas resource). That’s insane, but in a good way.
One new mechanic is Jumbility, which allows your characters to turn giant if a rage meter is filled. Your character will become giant with buffed up stats and other abilities, taking up one side of the map. There’s only 4 sides on a map to be used between you and the enemies. It’s fun because enemies can do it too, turning the fields into kaiju (giant monster) movies. and giant players/enemies have map-wide effects affecting all units you need to pay attention to. There’s still no Magichange mechanic though sadly, it seems that it was phased out.
There’s a new Hell Mode mechanic, it lets a character become powerful and use certain special skills but it’s only for the main (unique) characters and each character raises their hell meter differently (Pirilika has to heal allies to gain it).
The Item World has been changed. If you’re not familiar, the Item World is when you physically go into an Item to level it up, and it’s essentially a set of randomly generated stages with progressively more challenging enemies. But the difference is that a lot of bloat was removed from the Item World. The item will become stronger faster but the enemies become stronger extremely quickly (it’s compressed now). In old games the number of floors you’d travel to was 30, 60, and 100 floors for Common, Rare, and Legendary items, respectively. In Disgaea 7 this has now been changed to only 10, 20, and 30 floors.
Once you travel those floors the item will be maxed out. The Item World has a lot of shenanigans I won’t cover, but I liked how you can duplicate items in a mystery room in the Item World for a price. Players familiar with these games don’t need to use the old Puppy Paw Stick technique (an item that has a chance of giving you whatever an enemy has equipped, and you purposely stand on geo effects that duplicate your player characters as enemies and then you defeat them to get your own items back).
There’s another new mechanic, Item Reincarnation, allowing the player to actually turn a selected item into another item (or you can reincarnate the item into the same item allowing you to go back to floor 1) but while also keeping increased item stats and passives too. I still have to experiment with everything, but it basically makes making ultimate items a lot more easier and streamlined. For instance you can take shoes that increase your character movement and reincarnate it into a weapon, and then that weapon will have the passive of increased movement.
The Item World has “Item Points” as well now, so you can discard old equipment to get more of these points rather than selling it for HL currency and use these points to easily level up your favorite weapon/accessories. That’s amazing because currency would become useless in Disgaea post-games.
There’s also the addition of the Netherworld Gacha at the Netherworld Hospital. You get RP currency and use it on the gacha to randomly draw for powerful items. There’s no Chara World which used to be a painful board game, rather you can just go to the Assembly and do bills to increase your character stats (such as jumping distance, lifting/throwing distance, movement, etc) as well. The amount of money you have to pay for bills seems lower than older games too.
The amount of customization and gameplay mechanics in Disgaea 7 is really crazy. If you like SRPGs, this is definitely the game for you and this game has really carved out its own niche and has mastered it too.
It’s never repetitive and if you think carefully about all the mechanics you can use, you’ll get through the game easily. There’s so many classes and builds you can create and there’s never any punishment. I also really enjoy how many of the game’s mechanics have been streamlined to be less repetitive and grindy, such as changes to the Item World.
I also didn’t like how some story maps kept recycling same enemy types. There’s one storyline robotic enemy that the developers kept recycling into the maps and it became quite annoying. It really reminded me of the Axel clones in Disgaea 4, which was funny for a stage but became annoying over the course of multiple stages. The game does have a bad habit of recycling its stages and enemies, though the developers do try to mix up the formula with different arrangements and different geopanel and geosymbol effects.
The post-game content is a bit bland as well. You do get fully-voiced cutscenes for a few more stages even after the completion of the game and the plotline does continue, but I wish there was more content available post-game for the base game. I felt like Disgaea 5 had more post-game content.
The only downsides is that the 3D models on the map are pretty simple and although some skill animations are good, some are pretty bland too. The cutscene style is just talking portraits, which I don’t mind but might not be for everyone either. This game does do a lot of parody of Japanese culture such as anime and manga tropes, so if you’re not familiar you might not get as much enjoyment out of the game. This game’s story is definitely one of the better storylines in Disgaea, being a good balance between humor and serious scenes. But if you’re even remotely interested in SRPGs, Disgaea is probably the frontrunner of this genre alongside Fire Emblem and it’s clear the developers tried hard to fix mistakes from the previous game.
Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless
- Very addicting gameplay, especially if you’re into SRPGs.
- Dozens of game mechanics with 45 generic character classes, allowing players to play however they’d like and allowing for a lot of customization.
- English dub is performed well. A lot of humor in this game, but it also has a serious overarching storyline.
- The soundtrack is also amazing and combines old instruments with new ones, such as a shamisen and then transitioning to a modern guitar.
- Complex game mechanics be a little overwhelming for newcomers and the game is front-loaded with tutorials.
- Story can be slow until more major characters are recruited.
- The presentation can be minimalistic at times, with no 3D cutscenes for story events (there’s only 2D portraits talking for cutscenes). Big plot events in the end-game suffer.
– Brandon Harris
Reviewed on the PC