By Quentin H. / June 20th, 2023
Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless is a strategic RPG title that takes place in the world of Hinomoto, where the days of noble warriors are ending and two characters — Fuji and Pirilika — find themselves having to team up against the world around them. The latest entry in the Disgaea franchise also comes loaded with new features such as Jumbification, Item Reincarnation, and more character classes than ever before.
I caught up with Shunsuke Minowa, the director of Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless, after trying out a demo of the upcoming title that I will be sharing my impressions of later this week. During our interview, we talk about the game’s new features, where the story ideas come from, what he sees of himself in this title, and more.
Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless will be released for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, and on PC (Steam), on October 3, 2023.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Operation Rainfall: Hello, my name is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, and you are?
Shunsuke Minowa: My name is Minowa, and I am the director of Disgaea 7.
OR: Could you briefly tell us what Disgaea 7 is about?
SM: This series — the Disgaea series — has been around 20 years, and this is the newest installment in the series. And this one was really about getting back to the [series’] roots and creating a very Disgaea-like Disgaea game.
OR: You mentioned this in a few interviews you’ve done so far — about going back to the roots. Can you explain why you chose this approach versus like Disgaea 6, for example?
SM: Actually, Disgaea 6 was a big influence on this — because the goal of that one was to get new fans. As a result, for example, we had to curtail some features like the leveling feature or the number of characters. So we had to reduce some features, squeezed things down a bit to make them accessible for new fans. But as a result, our existing fans were missing some features that they’d seen in previous games. So we wanted to correct some of those things we did in Disgaea 6 and focus on the features that our fans expect.
“The fun of Disgaea is in leveling your characters, making them stronger, and the strategy that goes into that.”
OR: In Disgaea 7, you have two main characters — a first for the series: Fuji and Pirilika. Can you talk about these two characters a bit, and why you chose to have two main characters instead of just one, like in prior entries?
SM: Fuji was envisioned as a very classic ‘demons’ demon,’ who embodies all the characters up until now like a typical Disgaea protagonist, but with an interesting caveat of being in a bushido-themed world. So the interplay of his demonic nature with the bushido world is one interesting thing. But the contrast: Pirilika is very, very optimistic, [and] has a very rosy-tinted view of the world. So the idea was to have this strong contrast between the two characters and that’s why we had two [leads].
OR: Why have two characters that embodies these characteristics, instead of just one that embodies these characteristics or just bounces off of secondary characters?
SM: One point is that it did make for making scenes easier — writing the story. Also, by splitting it, you can further emphasize that difference: You can really say this character is all about the ‘good,’ this character is all about the ‘bad.’ So, it really emphasizes the dual nature of this game.
OR: Disgaea 7 has 45 different classes available for people to play with. You introduced four new classes in this game. How did you develop them to find their own niche to both stand on their own when there are so many options already out there, and yet also complement the already-existing gameplay and world?
SM: Starting with the 41 previous characters: these ones have been in previous games, so that was really a matter of revisiting them, right? So we had something to build on — we weren’t starting from scratch. For the new ones, for the development process, we can break it down into two categories: There’s the upper-level ones like the Big Eye and Maiko. They lend themselves to people who want to 100% the game and really get into it. And then there are the lower-level ones, the Zombie Maiden and Male Bandit.
A big thing here is the comparison and contrast: We like to contrast female and male characters. For example, we have a Male Zombie but now we have a Zombie Maiden. We have the Bandit versus Female Thief. So there’s a contrast and having a good array of different strengths of characters. So that’s how we make them ‘pop,’ so to speak, by going in a direction we haven’t before and by focusing on those contrasts.
OR: Can you explain what ‘Jumbification’ is, and what the development process [was] in balancing it into the gameplay?
SM: As you just saw in your playthrough — movement is sometimes a sticking point in SRPGs. So one big feature in how to address this in the Disgaea series is lifting and throwing. That’s a great way to deal with tricky movement, so we wanted to double down on it, essentially. We’re already adding new battle features, and we thought this was a great chance — maybe we can create a way to attack without moving at all, plus it just looks great, right?
So this really came from a discussion with the designers. We already had these 3D models, and so we said: ‘So even if we blow them up to huge proportions, they will still look great, right?’ So this lended itself to the exact game mechanics I was already envisioning. This time, it was really easy to combine the 3D with this vision I already had, and that’s where Jumbification came from. And adding onto that, we added these Jumbo abilities — so when you’re Jumbified, you can have these fun attacks, do more damage, to make battle even simpler and more fun and quicker and be more exciting.
OR: In a May 31, 2023 interview with Push Square, you said “[i]n Disgaea 6, unlimited use of auto-battle resulted in a loss of the series’ original replay value and enjoyment of raising characters” and so “[i]n this game, we have implemented a cost for using auto-battle and made it possible for players to save that cost by making smart choices.” In another interview with Siliconera, you also stated that upon reviewing fan feedback, we “came to the conclusion that we must address the following things” that included “remove or improve auto-battle.”
Can you please elaborate on that auto-battle cost and how players can save that cost? What other options did you evaluate in how to revamp the auto-battle system? Was actually removing auto-battle ever seriously evaluated?
SM: So actually, it was sort of 50-50 on the total removal. Initially, some people wanted to leave it in a partial format, and some people wanted to do away with it. So there were three options: one was to cut it, one was to introduce the new cost mechanic, and one was to leave it as it is. So those were the three basic ways of addressing the feedback we received.
The fun of Disgaea is in leveling your characters, making them stronger, and the strategy that goes into that. We realized that AI battle came in conflict with that — so the idea to balance those two concepts was to introduce this cost. The basic structure was that at the end of battle, you gain one unit of ‘Poltergas,’ is what they call it in English. By spending that unit, you can run an auto battle. The way you use it effectively and economically is by getting your demonic intelligence involved. For example, you can cut three turns down to one turn. So you want to combine the auto-battle features with this new cost mechanic so you use your Poltergas wisely and get the most bang for your buck while also keeping that strategic leveling element.
OR: I want to follow up on that comment about how the fun of Disgaea is leveling your characters. Disgaea 6 shook up the EXP formula for the series by granting the characters shared EXP only after a map is completed, which allows a player to level their characters more evenly. Yet in Disgaea 7, the EXP system reverted back to granting individual EXP during battle. Can you talk about that formula reversion, and why you chose to go back to the prior method?
SM: It’s got to do with the same reason that we increased the generic character classes again. It’s the same thing with the leveling — we want you to have the same connection with the characters. We want you to feel like ‘I’m leveling this character!’ and you’ve got that fun, personal connection with all those individual characters.
“So, I actually am not very good at SRPGs. I think they can be a pain sometimes, with some of those mechanics. So for me, what was so great about the Disgaea series is that they make those mechanics fun and that there is a lot of depth to those mechanics.”
OR: Bonus Gauges are gone, and instead there are chests awarded based upon completing certain objectives, like completing the battle in a certain number of turns, taking damage only a certain number of times, etc. Can you talk about this gameplay mechanic, and how you developed it? How did you choose what conditions to set per map?
SM: The reason we focused on this rewards system format actually had to do with the auto battle. You’re not just trying to lower the cost — again, we’re trying to provide more challenges, more engagement for the player. So, while you’re focusing on clearing the stage, you also can focus on things to clear in the stage. Like it’s objectives within objectives. That also increases, I think, the play merit, and also — for example — if you’re playing normally, you check off maybe one or two. But if you’re really focusing, you can get everything. So it increases the play value and the depth of the play objectives.
OR: One of the things that has been ever-growing in the Disgaea franchise is the ‘power creep,’ for lack of a better phrase. For example, in Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny, the level cap is 99,999,999, and you can dump hundreds of thousands of points into different stats. Yet, in Disgaea 7, you move away from that to a much lesser 9,999 level cap — we saw all [this] in the demo. Can you talk a bit about that?
SM: This has been something for a lot of the games in the series — we like to always experiment with adding features or removing ones to change things up. That was just for Disgaea 6 that we did this 99 million [level cap], and so we thought ‘Okay, let’s go in a different direction’ because it was a little tricky to balance when it got that big — it was hard to manage those numbers. So we thought ‘this one, we will go in a different direction.’
OR: Now, this is the first time you’ve directed a game, correct?
OR: I believe you were a programmer previously on Disgaea 4 and 5?
OR: Can you talk a bit about what it is like stepping up from being a programmer, which handles one specific part of the game, to helming the entire project?
SM: The fun part, for example, as a programmer, is that you get to focus in on your area and speak with the director about it. But as the director, what is interesting is that you have the bigger picture in mind at all times, and you’re juggling things — for example, you’re balancing the gambling aspect or the leveling aspect. And you’re focusing on how we can pick the best of all these different areas, instead of just drilling down, you’re trying to raise everything at once and have that bigger image.
OR: Donald M. Murray once wrote: “All my writing — and yours — is autobiographical.” What of yourself do you see in Disgaea 7?
SM: Are you talking about more the mechanics or the story?
OR: It’s whatever — what of yourself do you see in Disgaea 7?
SM: So, I actually am not very good at SRPGs. I think they can be a pain sometimes, with some of those mechanics. So for me, what was so great about the Disgaea series is that they make those mechanics fun and that there is a lot of depth to those mechanics. And so, for me, that is something I really wanted to focus in on and make even better — making not-so-much-fun stuff, fun.
OR: You also mentioned something about story — do you see something about the story in yourself?
SM: I really like these ‘David and Goliath’ stories — the giant killers. I wanted a small but powerful character. So, I talked with the writers, and the result of that was Ao and Suisen.
OR: Can you talk a little bit about any DLC prospects for Disgaea 7?
SM: One kind of conceptual level where the DLC is a little bit different this time is that before, we would have the same DLC characters from the same game appearing as a set. But this time, we thought it would be interesting to combine different characters from different games into new combinations, and that provided some interesting new scenes as a result.
OR: To someone who has never picked up a Disgaea game before and is interested in trying out Disgaea 7, what do you have to say to them?
SM: As I’ve mentioned before, this game is so much about going back to the roots and rediscovering that Disgaea-ness of Disgaea. So if someone plays this game, they will be able to have a retrospective of the entire series, and in a sense, just by playing this game, they can experience the whole series up to now and see what makes it so great.
OR: Thank you.
Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless will be released for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, and on PC (Steam), on October 3, 2023.
Are you excited for Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless? What classes are you hoping to play as?
Let us know in the comments below!
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