For such a long-running franchise, Disgaea has surely had more hits than misses, with developer, Nippon Ichi Software, having a vast back catalogue of in-depth RPGs. While the previous entry — Defiance of Destiny — was one of the weaker entries in the series, I can say with confidence that Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless is not only better than its predecessor, but possibly one of the best tactical role-playing games in years.
Taking place in a group of Netherworlds known as Hinomoto, the story centres around Fuji; a demonic nomad samurai who cares little for the Bushido code and the loyalty and honour it encompasses. He’s accompanied by Pirilika — his polar opposite — a spoilt rich girl who is utterly obsessed with Bushido and aims to see the good in everyone (often to her detriment). After a chance encounter, in which Fuji bonds with one of the seven Founding Weapons Pirilika just happens to have in her possession, the duo team up to seek out the other six Founding Weapons.
Everything about the two leads contrast, resulting often in hilarious cutscenes. Pirilika wants the Founding Weapons in order to overthrow the corrupt Shogunate and restore honour to Hinomoto. As for Fuji? Well, he tags along in the hopes of clearing the massive amount of debt he’s racked up. Its consistently light-hearted tone makes it easy to like these characters, with some of my favourite scenes including Fuji’s allergic reaction to any form of compassion or empathy, and with the inclusion of other well-written and acted party members, it's one of the finest gang of misfits the franchise has ever seen!
Disgaea games have always looked great, with even the older titles still holding up visually. Unsurprisingly, then, Vows of the Virtueless is no different. From its quirky character and enemy designs to the environment of Hinomoto itself, this is a treat for the eyes. Those who weren’t fond of the shift from 2D sprites to 3D models in Disgaea 6 may be displeased to see them return, however, the improvements in the quality of the animations and additional details go a long way in making this the best-looking game in the series thus far.
Performance, at least on PlayStation 5, was practically flawless. I did notice a few frame drops when playing in Graphics mode, but the ultra-smooth 60 frames-per-second never so much as trembled when set to Performance mode. Sure, the trade-off is a slight drop in resolution, but with so much artistic flair, gorgeous 2D character art, and seizure-inducing special attacks, it’s nigh on impossible to tell the two modes apart.
Whilst the series has never massively strayed from the basis of the first entry, Vows of the Virtueless seems to take the best parts of each of the previous six mainline titles to create a strategy game that will appeal to long-time fans and those who have never touched the franchise before, even if things can get a tad overwhelming at times!
Vows of the Virtueless is fairly straightforward on the surface level. You’ll take turns on a grid-based battlefield, trying to outwit and outmanoeuvre the opposition. During each of your party member’s turns, you’ll select where you want them to position themselves, which offensive or defensive attack/ability to use, and just generally try to defeat the enemy before they take you out. It’s a standard SRPG at its core, but there is so, so much more to it than just this!
For one, you have 45 different character classes to choose from, which allows for immensely deep customisation of your team members. Each one has their own unique benefits, such as the Zombie Maiden who grows in strength as her companions die (although, not exactly a benefit for the dead party members) and the Big Eye which will affect enemy defence statuses at random. It’s also, funnily enough, a really big eye, so that’s pretty unique!
But wait, there’s more! Character classes aren’t exactly an exclusive Disgaea mechanic, however, I can honestly say I’ve never played a game with “Jumbification” in it before. As your team takes damage, a meter will increase, which, when filled, allows one of your battle party to transform into a giant lurching behemoth version of themselves. Become “jumbo”, if you will. These Godzilla-sized units can attack anywhere on the field, with additional abilities unique to the Jumbification status. It’s a very silly new addition — keeping in spirit with the franchise — but can be tremendously useful for turning the tide of battle. Be aware, however, that certain enemies also have this ability, which often very quickly leads to a game over. Certain characters are also granted the ability to trigger “Hell Mode”, which not only nets you more rewards but also temporarily adds some truly devastating special attacks. Think Super Saiyan (with less spiky blonde hair) and you’ll get the picture.
It felt like with each new story mission I successfully completed, a new gameplay mechanic or system was introduced until the amount of things to manage at once almost became overwhelming. It felt like I spent more time sifting through various menus to edit stats, equipment, and party members than I did actually engaging in battles. This becomes much more necessary when entering the post-story portion of Vows of the Virtueless; of which there is an absurd amount of content. The main plot almost felt like a simple tour of Hinomoto in comparison, and players wanting to grind out this endgame content will become overly familiar with the Demonic Intelligence. The auto-battle mode returns, which does alleviate some of the grinding process, but this means you’ll be spending an awful lot of time tinkering with the D.I. system.
Vows of the Virtueless isn’t all about taking out swarms of baddies in turn-based warfare, and the Neverworld Sightseeing is a prime example of that. Revisiting old locations will unlock new dialogue and mini-games that flesh out this fascinating Edo period Japan-styled world and its inhabitants.
Whether this is your first Disgaea experience, or have stuck around since Laharl first graced our screens, Vows of the Virtueless is an incredibly satisfying tactical RPG with a deeply customisable battle system. Even if there is an almost overabundance of mechanics to get to grips with, once you get into the swing of things, you’ll be the finest demon samurai Hinomoto has ever seen!
Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
With incredibly in-depth tactical gameplay, a gorgeous art style, and a cast of some of the finest characters in the series, Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless is one of the most enjoyable SRPGs I’ve played in years.