A wonderful blast from the past

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By Alexander O. Cuaycong
and Anthony L. Cuaycong

WHEN producer Souhei Niikawa and principal programmer Yoshitsuna Kobayashi set out to make Disgaea: Hour of Darkness from scratch, they had no idea that it would stand the test of time. True, they were determined to meet the objectives set forth by publisher Nippon Ishi Software; they aimed to come up with a role-playing game that both adhered to popular mechanics and pushed the envelope in terms of execution. Even as they succeeded in doing so, however, they could not have envisioned an outcome that exceeded their highest expectations.

Fast forward 15 years, and Disgaea has become a household name to those into turn-based strategy games. The series’ heady mix of cute and over-the-top action makes a lasting imprint, and exhibits a level of energy that no other in the genre has come close to mimicking. Little wonder, then, that the progenitor of the franchise remains well loved, standing the test of time and continually expanding its reach. Originally released on the PlayStation 2 in 2003, it found its way to the PlayStation Portable in 2007, the Nintendo DS on 2008, and the Personal Computer in 2016, each time presenting visual and aural enhancements while keeping the gameplay and story intact.

Disgaea 1 Complete is no different. As the latest iteration of the title that spawned a juggernaut franchise, it promises the nostalgia of the original alongside all subsequent tweaks and additional content. Players follow the story of the dastardly Laharl, son of the demon overlord Krichevskoy. Awakened from his two-year slumber by his loyal vassal Etna, he is shocked to find that his father has passed away, and that other demons who were once subjects of his father have now taken up arms and declared themselves the true rulers of the Netherworld. Vowing to reclaim the throne, he is compelled to team up with a wide cast of player-created and non-playable characters in order to defeat enemies that stand in his way. Among them is Flonne, an angel trainee bent on proving that even demons are capable of feeling love.

Sound serious and sinister? Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, Disgaea 1 Complete is confidently lighthearted in tone, populated with quirky characters who never fail to inject humor in a narrative that presents supposedly hellish circumstances as anything but. And the whimsical treatment extends to the gameplay, which features stat lines that go way beyond the usual numbers in JRPG outings and manifest themselves in spectacular battle scenes replete with combos and special attacks.

Right off the bat, players won’t be hard-pressed to notice the colorful, cheerful tones of Disgaea 1 Complete. Its story, its animations, and its art exhibit an unrestrained energy and exuberance in its presentation, contributing to an aura of timelessness. Its overall look, while far from fancy, is rightly deemed an artistic choice rather than stemming from a programming limitation. Its seemingly simplistic spritework show a surprising amount of flair. And for all the evident blandness of the environments and backgrounds, it manages to convey a graphical elan that proves enticing even to a new generation of gamers.




Technically, Disgaea 1 Complete shines on both the PlayStation 4 and the Switch. It’s gorgeous eye candy in native resolution, putting enhanced sprites front and center with nary any frame drops on Sony’s machine and, impressively, even on Nintendo’s portable console. The vibrant soundtrack provides a perfect complement, feasting the ears with a score made even better by improvements in fidelity.

Significantly, visuals and sounds aren’t the only things that hold up for Disgaea 1 Complete. The game design still manages to entertain, in large measure because of its solid mechanics. At its heart, it’s a tactical Japanese RPG, emphasizing both the importance of proper strategizing and stat stuffing. Progress is turn-based, with players maneuvering their units around a battlefield and then defeating their opponents through the use of different attacks and skills. Some inherently do more damage, others drain life or inflict status effects, and still others shift character positions in battle.

Couple the variety of choices with the presence of Geo Panels, which emphasize tile manipulation and give players rewards based on the number of actions taken in sequence and combination, and Disgaea 1 Complete cannot but be considered deep and engaging. As with other releases in the franchise, it necessitates grinding, albeit in juxtaposition with proper strategy. In any case, it boasts of a lengthy story mode backstopped by all previously released content, including those hitherto available on the PSP and DS.

In sum, Disgaea 1 Complete is a wonderful blast from the past, with as many hours in store for those new to the series as for those who love it enough to play it anew. It may not be the best to carry the title, but it serves as a wonderful reminder of the series’ rich history and progress. Whether on the PS4 or the Switch, it shines as an outstanding remaster that proves its enduring appeal.

POSTSCRIPT:
Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker (PS4) — Considering that Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 has managed to sell north of three millions physical and digital copies to date, the release of a follow up title comes as no surprise. Even as the intent is to keep the gravy train going, however, Bandai Namco Entertainment evidently believes it can do so by taking a road the Naruto franchise hasn’t previously traversed. Instead of dipping into the same well by making a game with similar mechanics, it commissioned the development of one thoroughly made up of action real-time strategy elements.

Why Bandai Namco Entertainment chose to green light a dramatic shift in tone is subject to conjecture. Perhaps it didn’t want Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker to cannibalize continuing sales of Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. Perhaps it thought to see if it could create a spin-off for one more profit center. In any case, it wisely chose to distinguish the already existing from the new by marketing the latter as a Boruto title. It even emphasized the distinction by tapping little-known Soleil as the developer.

Creditably, the finished product proves competent in what it delivers. In a nutshell, Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker is a multiplayer online battle arena stalwart, getting players to employ characters as part of a team of four taking on any and all comers in a world tournament. There isn’t much by way of a narrative; as with all MOBA offerings, the meat is in the fighting, whether in straight-up encounters, in capture-the-flag scenarios, or in base battles.

Parenthetically, characters can be created or chosen from among a lineup of 20 familiar protagonists from the Naruto franchise. Starting from scratch is the ideal option; everything from appearances to attributes can be customized. Players can make their ninjas look as they please and wear what they want, and, most importantly, fight according to their preferences. The choice of specific skill sets yields four distinct orientations, although a team doesn’t necessarily have to be composed of one character each from the attack, defense, ranged, and heal types.

If anything, victory in Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker emanates from a willingness to experiment with style collaborations, and to do so on the fly. Meanwhile, the number of techniques at hand depends on abilities and experience, with characters able to add to it after level-ups and through focused training and assistance from masters they meet within the game. The key, of course, is to amass enough energy to unleash special and ultimate ninjutsus for maximum effect.

As a corollary, the emphasis on honing skills isn’t for fluff. Proficiency in the execution of basic and advanced attack and defensive maneuvers is required in multiplayer combat. With online matchmaking unable to group characters with others from similar levels, battles become exercises in frustration for those in the lower of 25 possible rungs. Thusly, continuous improvement away from tournament participation is crucial to progression.

Given the demands of Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker’s frenetic action, its no small feat to find the visuals rendered at 60 frames per second. The cel-shaded graphics and voice and music tracks pay homage to their source material, no doubt a plus for fans of the franchise. And while waiting times between online matches can vary, the actual battles proceed with relative smoothness.

In sum, Naruto to Boruto: Shinobi Striker is a competent offering that expands the franchise’s reach. With Bandai Namco Entertainment aiming to periodically put out more content for the title, it has planted its feet in MOBA territory with every intent to stay. And as Boruto’s presence in the source material becomes more pronounced, so does the promise of videogame licenses in his name. (7.5/10)