Each Disgaea game consists of a number of missions that the player undertakes from a central hub. In the hub, the player can manage equipment and team members, heal their party, and other functions. When the player is prepared, they can then travel to the next available mission as well as replay any mission they have already completed. Missions are usually arranged in a number of chapters with cutscenes before and after to advance the plot.
Each mission requires the player to complete an objective, all missions can be completed by defeating all the enemy forces. The mission takes place on an isometric grid-based board with spaces at various heights. The player and the computer alternate turns. During the player's turn, they can summon members of their party from a starting point, up to ten. Each characters once on the board can move and then perform an action, including melee attacks and special abilities. Once a character has performed an action, they may no longer move that turn unless they attack before moving. The player can move as many characters as desired and plan their actions at a time, then issuing an "Execute" command to carry out those actions. If the player has characters that can still move and perform actions at this time, they can do so, otherwise, they will end their turn. The computer opponents then perform their actions. When the player successfully completes a mission, they are given bonus items based on their overall bonus score, which is earned through combo attacks, special attacks, and other features of the game.
The player can arrange to have allies next to each other to fight a foe with a chance to launch a combo attack, which can do more damage and boost the mission's scoring meter. Players can also have characters lift and throw other characters or objects on the level for various effects: for example, a character can throw another character to an empty space as to allow that second character to move farther than if on foot, or certain monsters called Prinnies can be thrown at others to cause explosive damage. It is possible for characters to pick up a character that is already carrying another character, and so forth, allowing for one character to move within a single turn to the far side of the map. However, any character that is still carrying another character at the end of the turn will take damage. While a character is holding others they can attack, when this is done each character adds to the damage.
Across some boards are glowing colored spaces which are either red, green, blue, yellow, purple, cyan, and special objects called "Geo Symbols" which are either null, red, green, blue, yellow, purple. When these are placed on a colored field, they impart a bonus or penalty to all battle participants on the same colored field; such bonuses can also stack if multiple Geo Symbols are on the same field. A character can destroy a Geo Symbol which will cause all the field spaces it affects to cause some damage to the characters on them as they turn to another color determined by the destroyed Geo Symbol. It is possible to arrange a chain of these effects, each chain increasing the amount of damaged earned and increasing the bonus score for the mission. As with characters, Geo Symbols can also be lifted and thrown as to affect the board's bonuses.
In addition to maintaining their party at the central hub, the player can create new characters to the party based on experience each character earned in battle, or, with enough experience, attempt to alter the features of the central hub, such as having better weapon or armor at the stores. This itself involves convincing the Dark Assembly to agree to such changes, and it is possible to initiate combat in the same manner as the missions to convince the creature to see otherwise. There is also an Item World gateway; here, the player can select any item in the party's inventory and enter it. The Item World for an item is randomly generated but depends on a number of factors based on the item itself such as its rarity or power. By descending through the Item World, each level similar to one of the main missions featuring a random map and a number of creatures as well as an exit portal to the next level, the player can improve the abilities of the item as well as free Guardians that live in the item. These Guardians impart certain benefits to the item, such as increased in attack or defense values, and once they are freed, they can be moved between items freely.
The game can be played through multiple times, as each game features multiple endings. However, each time, the player's party, with all characters, items, and abilities, are carried over. This New Game Plus allows the player to develop extremely powerful characters, approaching the maximum character level of 9999 and 186,000 combined levels in reincarnation through repeated playthroughs.
All Disgaea games take place mostly in the "Netherworld", a parallel universe inhabited by demons where moral values are reversed from those of humans. Multiple Netherworlds exist, each with their own Overlord. Other areas include the human world, shown to possess a futuristic level of technology in Hour of Darkness, and "Celestia", a heavenly realm inhabited by angels. Rather than being purely good or purely evil, inhabitants of the Netherworld and Celestia possess human-like qualities, but are swayed far more towards either moral extreme.
Most major characters from previous games make a cameo appearance, or lend their services to characters in later ones, due to the large number of different Netherworlds being magically connected. Characters from other Nippon Ichi games and series, such as La Pucelle: Tactics, Marl Kingdom, Makai Kingdom,Phantom Brave And Soul Nomad (as disgaea 3 EU DLC), have also appeared in Disgaea games.
Baal, the most powerful enemy in the Disgaea series, is a legendary overlord that appears as a recurring boss throughout the different games. Known as the Lord of Terror, he is a collection of evil souls that can transfer into other bodies when defeated. He often appears in a towering, monstrous form, though he is forced into more diminutive ones after being defeated.
The Prism Rangers are a troupe of gag characters heavily inspired by the protagonists of the Super Sentai/Power Rangers universes. Each of the members are named after the colors of the rainbow with the word Prism preceding it, with their leader being "Prism Red." The Prism Rangers tend to be portrayed as weak, having been taken down in one shot or being unable to do the slightest bit of damage to their opponent.
Asagi is a character meant to be the main character in a development hell Nippon Ichi title, Makai Wars. She constantly attempts to become the star of other games. She is voiced by different voice actresses in different games, each of whom also voices at least one other character in the respective game (Mamiko Noto in Makai Kingdom, Kana Ueda in Disgaea 2, Maria Yamamoto in Soul Nomad, Chiwa Saitō in Disgaea 3, and Kaori Mizuhashi in Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?).
Pleinair ( プレネール, Purenēru?) is a mascot character for the artist and character designer of the series, Takehito Harada. She makes various appearances throughout the series. She is typically portrayed as a petite, blue-haired girl with red eyes, wearing a red ribbon, a white dress, white stockings, and sometimes glasses. She is often accompanied by a stuffed rabbit named "Usagi-san" and a stuffed shark named "Same-san."
Prinnies (プリニー, Purini?) are common servants and enemies in the series. They resemble small pouch-wearing penguins with disproportionately small bat wings and two peg legs for feet. Their personalities are upbeat, and they frequently use the word "dood" (as an interjection - they constantly end their sentences with "-ssu" in the Japanese dialogue). While Prinnies use machetes as their primary weapons, they are also able to use "Prinny Bombs" from their pouch and fire a laser called the "Pringer Beam". They are created when a human who has led a worthless life or committed a mortal sin in life dies, leading to the soul being sewn into the body of a Prinny. After being reborn, they serve as maids and domestic servants in Celestia, where their good deeds lead to their reincarnation, or as servants and slaves (and sometimes cannon fodder) in the Netherworld, where they obtain money towards their reincarnation, often under lords who treat them horribly for little pay. Prinnies explode when thrown due to the human soul being unstable, and thus, a jostling, such as being tossed, will cause them to do as such. Prinnies are also mass produced with demon souls, which leaves them stable. During a certain time of the year a red moon appears in the sky of the Underworld; when this happens, all the Prinnies meet together and Prinnies who have earned enough money are allowed to reincarnate.
Makai Senki Disgaea is an anime series based on the video game Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. Makai Senki Disgaea follows the same general plot as the game, but with several alterations to character roles and the chronology of events.
The first two Disgaea installments were released for the PlayStation 2. The series debuted in Japan with Disgaea: Hour of Darkness in 2003 on the PlayStation 2 and has since been re-released on the PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS with new content. It was known for many uncommon elements previously unseen in the strategy RPG genre, such as complex gameplay, extremely high maximum stats and a maximum level of 9999, and humorous dialogue. Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, released for the PlayStation 2 in 2006 in Japan, has been re-released on the PlayStation Portable under the title Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days with new content. The series then moved on to the PlayStation 3 for Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, released in Japan in 2008, and is scheduled to be re-released on the PlayStation Vita as Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention in 2012. The latest installment in the main series, Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten, was released in Japan in 2011.
Re-released Disgaea titles have the tradition of featuring an alternate story-line to freshen up gameplay. In the first two re-releases, Etna Mode in Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness and Axel Mode in Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days, feature alternate story-lines with new main characters.
Disgaea has also spawned several spin-off titles. The first such spin-off, Mugen Keitai Disgaea was released in 2004 as a Japanese mobile game. Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome in 2005, released on the PlayStation 2, starred Lord Zetta as an overlord of an alternate Netherworld with gameplay similar to the original Disgaea series. The much-maligned Prinnies were then featured in the side-scrolling adventure game, Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? in 2008 and Prinny 2: Dawn of Operation Panties, Dood! in 2010, for the PlayStation Portable. The first Android based game, Disgaea: Netherworld Unbound, is scheduled to be released in 2011 as a free-to-play game with optional paid-content available.
The PlayStation Portable title, Disgaea Infinite, is a visual novel in the same setting as Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. Following the story-line of a Prinny being ordered to investigate the attempted assassination of Laharl. Gameplay is very simple compared to other Disgaea titles, with the primary interactive element being the ability to switch characters in order to solve a mystery.
While not necessarily canon, a Disgaea manga Makai Senki Disgaea illustrated by Arashi Shindo follows the basic storyline. Many events in the manga, while similar, have been altered completely and the humor is a more random (i.e. Laharl, Etna, and Flonne believe that Mid Boss may be a pedophile due to his recurring presence among the three). Many characters also appear to have different personalities (i.e. on occasion, Lamington will be seen baking a cake). The art style is also very different as many of the characters appear somewhat more mature and the art is very shōjo-like. Broccoli Books released the manga in September 2006. Makai Senki Disgaea 2 ran from 2006-07 in Japan, and Makai Senki Disgaea 3: School of Devils has been ongoing in Japan since 2009.
Nippon Ichi Software's online store sells various merchandise such as several different Prinny plushies, and in Japan Nippon Ichi has released several pieces of Prinny merchandise and has used kigurumi of the characters to promote the release of Prinny: Can I Really be the Hero? in Akihabara. Additionally four Prinny avatars for the PlayStation 3's PlayStation Home were also released for sale, modeled after the different unique Prinnies in the original Disgaea.
A set of novels written by Sow Kanimiso and illustrated by Chou Niku (although they were aided by Takehito Harada in the beginning) These novels begin with a novelization of the first game and then continues the story ten years later. The novels introduce many new characters including Laharl's relatives, Flonne's family, and Gordon and Jennifer's daughter. While it is unknown if the novels are considered canon, it can fit alongside Disgaea and Disgaea 2 in the canon due to the placement of the novel's plot (Disgaea 2 takes place only three years after the game, whereas the Disgaea novels are placed ten years after the first game.) Currently, there are six novels: Enter the Maoh, Revelation, Returned, On Love part 1 and part 2, and Battle of the Maoh (which also feature appearances by Zetta, Pram, Salome, and King Drake from Makai Kingdom) Laharl, Etna, and Flonne also appear in all other Nippon Ichi novels. This includes the Phantom Brave and Makai Kingdom novels. Recently, a novel for Disgaea 2 has been released.
The gameplay mechanic of throwing characters was developed as a "strong and unique" aspect of gameplay that would attract players. New gameplay ideas were added to each game until the "majority of staffers" were "not sure" whether they were necessary, hence its complexity.
The Disgaea series has been received positively by reviewers, particularly praising the amount of content, solid battle system and humor while criticizing the large learning curve and dated graphics. The highest score was received by Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness for PSP, at a score of 87% at Gamerankings and Metacritic. Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice for PlayStation 3 received the lowest average score of the series, at around 80% at Gamerankings and Metacritic, with reviewers citing its dated PlayStation 2-quality graphics, despite praise for improved gameplay and story over its predecessors.
Prinnies have been described as one of the most notable characters in the Disgaea series, and the mascots of the series. In a preview of the upcoming game starting the character in PlayStation: The Official Magazine, Chris Hudak asked "What better sign that you've warmed the cold hearts of videogamers worldwide than to have your own beloved, signature character?", additionally comparing in great detail the Prinny to fellow video game mascots Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Dragon Quest's Slime. PSX Extreme described them as "one of the most recognizable – and curiously lovable – characters" in the Disgaea series. They are featured strongly in Nippon Ichi's marketing, such as the annual Tipsy Prinny press events. The third event, held in the Zebulon Bar San Francisco on June 5, 2008, featured green prinnies suspended from every banister and light fitting.