Retrospective: Disgaea


I’m a big fan of Nippon Ichi Software. Their approach to the strategy RPG is unique, and their games have a light comedic quality that’s a real breath of fresh air in a genre that is choked with seriousness and end-of-the-world scenarios and angst-filled heroes (SRPGs as a whole aren’t as guilty of this sort of thing as more typical turn-based JRPG titles are, but they’ve got their fair share of DRAMA.)

NIS, a Japanese developer (if you couldn’t tell from their name – “Japan’s Best” I think it means?) started out getting notoriety with the release of Marl Kingdom for the Playstation. I’ve never played Marl Kingdom, but it is apparently an RPG about a teenage girl in a fairytale land with a puppet girl as her best friend and is full of Disneyesque musical numbers. For a reason that is totally impossible to understand, this game was stamped with the title Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure and imported to the US, where I’m pretty sure 98% of Playstation owners at the time were teenage boys who wouldn’t be caught dead with such a game in their Playstations (well, I know because I was one of them.) So the game flopped Stateside. NIS followed up with the SRPG La Pucelle Tactics for the PS2, which I have played, and it really tones down the pure unadulterated cheese of Marl Kingdom. You play as a tomboy nun-in-training who’s also a member of an elite demon-hunting team. So that’s different right there.

Prier, the protagonist of La Pucelle Tactics

Prier, the protagonist of La Pucelle Tactics

It’s still a pretty obscure game here, but La Pucelle must have been a relative success in the States, because big-time developer and publisher Atlus took a chance on 2003’s Disgaea and published it in the US. And Disgaea was definitely a hit – it would become the first title in a long line of sequels, spinoffs and ports to portable systems.

So what is Disgaea exactly? For the novice, imagine an SRPG – say a Fire Emblem or Shining Force game – with soldier and mage sort of characters moving around on a grid and attacking each other. Now replace these soldiers and mages with demons and monsters that have 500,000 HP, 300,000 MP and attacks that can bring down meteors and giant lasers upon their opponents. Every turn. Also, exploding penguins. That’s Disgaea.

Step 1: Become the Overlord of the Netherworld.  Step 2: Laugh menacingly inside your huge castle.

Step 1: Become the Overlord of the Netherworld. Step 2: Laugh menacingly inside your huge castle.

Disgaea tells the story of Laharl, the son of the king of the Netherworld, who unbeknownst to him has been dead for two years (because Laharl has been taking a two-year nap, you see.) Laharl, who now believes himself to have inherited the title of Overlord from his dead father, decides to show all his new vassals that he means business. Sadly for him, nobody seems to accept this kid as their new king, so he’ll have to use some force to get his subjects to obey him.

Laharl doesn't get much respect initially, no.

Laharl doesn’t get much respect initially, no.

Even worse, an angelic assassin has been sent from Celestia to kill him. Fortunately for Laharl, she’s new to the job and doesn’t really know what she’s doing (see top of page.) Together with his “loyal” vassal, Etna, the three of them end up having wacky Netherworld antics together. Or something. It’s definitely a nice story, and in 2003 Disgaea stood out for its humor where most other games in the genre were deadly serious. Juvenile jokes are mixed up with references to the Power Rangers (or old sentai shows if you’re from Japan) and 50s sci-fi serial Buck Rogers-type stuff. It’s a weird mix, to be sure, and it could be dismissed as a lot of pointless goofiness, but I think it works.

A pretty basic Disgaea battle

A pretty basic Disgaea battle

Gameplay-wise, as good for its time as La Pucelle was, Disgaea outdid it in every category. Disgaea is more or less divided into two parts: the initial game, which covers the main story, and the post-game, which is totally optional and can potentially go on forever if you let it. The core of the gameplay should be familiar to anyone who’s touched an SRPG before. You have your units and move them around on a map divided into squares on a big diagonal grid. The object of each map is usually to kill all the enemy units, though there are also maps where the goal is to reach a particular space on the map.

Disgaea has a lot more to offer than its regular missions, though – specifically two innovations that have become a staple of the series. The Dark Assembly (or the Dark Senate) is the first. Here, you can choose one of your characters to present a “bill” to an assembly of other demons who will vote on it. Subjects for debate include opening up new post-game areas, getting triple exp on the next map played, and even extorting money from the senators. If your bill fails, you even have the option of forcing it through – by beating up all the nay-voting senators in the assembly.

Like this, but with more swords and magic spells.

The second innovation in Disgaea is the Item World. The Item World is a truly devilish gameplay element. It allows you to level up any item in the game by playing through a succession of maps “inside” that item (it’s weird, I know.) Most items contain 30 levels, but some have 60 and some 100. Each level is designed to be beatable but is otherwise more or less randomly generated. The Item World is infuriatingly addictive and may well comprise the part of Disgaea you spend the most time playing.

An actual Item World level.  They're usually not this easy, believe me.

An actual Item World level. They’re usually not this easy, believe me.

Together with the ability to create new units from dozens of different character types and classes that can fight alongside the story characters, Disgaea offered an insane amount of customization and depth when it came out. I played the hell out of it and loved every minute, and that’s why I’m now an NIS fanboy. Not the proudest of badges to wear, but I will wear it all the same.

Disgaea has spawned three sequels featuring different casts and stories (Disgaea 2, 3 and 4), a direct sequel featuring the original cast (Disgaea D2), a bunch of SRPG spinoffs with different stories and different gameplay mechanics (Makai Kingdom, Phantom Brave, Soul Nomad and the World Eaters), a couple of stupidly difficult PSP platformers (Prinny 1 and 2), a weird visual novel sort of thing (Disgaea Infinite), a sort of crappy looking anime adaptation, and a truckload of portable system ports for the PSP, the Vita, and the DS (basically one for every Disgaea game and then some.) It also inspired this cross-stitch of one of its main characters, Etna:

To be honest, later Disgaea games have really improved on the old formula, especially the third one; Disgaea 3 is a great title that I like about as much as the original. Still, the original is the original and should get some respect. The original Disgaea is currently out in its PS2 original and as a port to the DS and the PSP. Of the two ports, the PSP one is definitely better, though the DS port has a couple of extras that fans might like (like the opportunity to get fan favorite silent girl Pleinair as a playable character.)

Pleinair doesn't talk.   That's her thing.  She has a sentient stuffed rabbit toy that sometimes talks for her.  No, I don't get it.

Pleinair doesn’t talk. That’s her thing. She has a sentient stuffed rabbit toy that sometimes talks for her. No, I don’t get it.

So if you’re unemployed and need something to do between searching for jobs, or you’re in solitary confinement for life and somehow get to have a PSP or Vita in your cell with you, I highly recommend Disgaea. I’d also recommend Disgaea 3, which is just as good cast-wise and has tons more content (and also looks prettier, being a PS3 game.) You can’t really go wrong with either one. The only danger involved is that you’ll become an NIS fanboy/girl, which is not really a fate I can recommend. Well, better than being a brony, I guess.

Misogyny in games?

Just yesterday, I received an email from Amazon informing me about the release of a game they thought I might enjoy. This game was Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus for the Vita.

This email deeply insulted me. If you haven’t heard of the Senran Kagura series, watch this (warning: this is technically SFW, but everyone you work with will think you’re a creep for watching it. So I guess it’s not really SFW after all.)

As you can tell, Senran Kagura is kind of a sexy Dynasty Warriors game, a beat-em-up with special moves and power meters and so on. Unlike any given Dynasty Warriors title, however, Senran Kagura features a cast of large-breasted warrior schoolgirls whose clothes are torn in very convenient patterns when hit. Understandably, the series has been accused of damaging the games industry and promoting sexism. Other imports have faced similar charges: here’s an article on Slate criticizing the weirdly sexual puzzle game Catherine upon the same premise. Should these kinds of titles really be fought against on the grounds that they degrade women?

Catherine is really more of a "Japan is weird" sort of title than a sexist one in my opinion.

Catherine is really more of a “Japan is weird” sort of title than a sexist one in my opinion.

The context of this release is also important. The “gaming community” (whatever that is) has recently been in an uproar over the Gamergate scandal (or the Gamergate non-story, depending on who you ask.) Several game industry journalists writing for big sites like Kotaku and Polygon have been charged with ethical failings after their sexual relationships with a certain female game developer were exposed. Violent threats were reportedly sent to the developer, and the industry sites in question followed with articles proclaiming that the gamer as an identity is “dead”, charging gamers with being misogynistic and increasingly irrelevant as a group. #gamergate proponents accused these writers of using misogyny accusations as a way to dodge questions about their own lack of ethical standards. Terms flung around by both sides have included loser, bitch, virgin, cunt, nerd, whore, manchild and attention whore.

Which brings me back to Senran Kagura, Catherine, and similar titles. Most of the argument over whether sexism is a problem in gaming and in the games industry seems to focus on the depiction of women in western games, but Japanese games are inevitably a part of the debate too, even if the debate itself is a purely western one.

A screenshot from Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus.  This one is actually pretty tame from what I've seen of the game on Youtube.

A screenshot from Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus. This one is actually pretty tame from what I’ve seen of the game on Youtube.

There may well be a misogyny problem in the gaming community. It’s been a boys’ club for a long time, and I think some backlash against changing standards of the depiction of women in the industry is only natural. There’s nothing wrong with having a change in these standards, and there’s nothing wrong with the backlash – it seems to me they’re all a natural part of the development of the industry (though it has to be said that violent threats are never called for and have to be condemned.)

However, I don’t believe that games like Senran Kagura or Catherine represent any kind of threat to the perception of women in society or in “gamer culture”. These titles are niche imports with small western bases of support. Moreover, some of them don’t purport to be realistic or meaningful at all. Senran Kagura, from what I can tell, is a celebration of creepy fanservice with a game tacked on. It’s about as far from serious art as you can get. The charges of misogyny might be more valid when leveled against more ambitious titles like Catherine, but those charges also tend to be less convincing. Moreover, these paternalistic, finger-wagging pieces posted on Kotaku, Polgon, and co., and similar output from Anita Sarkeesian and other feminist gaming critics accomplish nothing. They certainly aren’t going to shame fans into not buying these games. In fact, they may well net Xseed and Atlus a few more fans out of pure resentment.

In any case, I think the solution here is to let the free market sort everything out. If gamer culture really is changing, that change will soon be reflected in increased demand for games featuring strong female characters (in fact, I’d argue this is already happening.) At the same time, if some companies want to satisfy a separate demand for games featuring tons of mindless fanservice, there’s nothing wrong with that. If this really upsets you, take solace in the fact that a fair percentage of the guys who love those games also don’t go outside that often.

P.S. To Amazon, please stop insinuating that I’m a pervert. This isn’t the first time it’s happened. I mean, I did buy Akiba’s Trip, but it was purely for the gameplay, okay? I’m not that far gone, really.

An adjustment

I’m going to be taking down all my travel posts and dedicating the blog to game/other media stuff. Sorry to anyone following for my travel writing, but I’ve got some other plans as far as that material goes.

Some Undead Zombies appeared, and then I had to change my plans

Some Undead Zombies appeared, and then I had to change my plans

This blog was only ever about having fun, writing the kind of stuff I want to write without an eye to viewership or ad revenue or any of that bullshit. Right now, I’m trying to make actual cash money off of my writing, and I’ve done a lot of paid travel writing in the past, so I feel putting out my existing writing in the proper context would be a good way to show my style to potential clients hunting for reasonably priced copy that’s not riddled with speling erors or full of SEO terms CEILING TILE EXPERT ROOFS ST AUGUSTINE FL shoved haphazardly into SPECIALTY DOG FOOD STORES PHOENIX ARIZONA articles in a desperate attempt to get to page 1 of a Google search.

So that’s all. The blog isn’t over – I’ll still be reviewing games and probably some stuff, so if you follow this blog for that purpose, please don’t unbookmark me for that reason.

Retrospective: SimCopter

So I’m writing about SimCopter, a 1996 sort-of kind-of flight simulator that allowed you to fly around 3D models of your SimCity 2000 creations. Yes, you could fly around your own cities! As a kid who played the shit out of SimCity 2000, this was really exciting to me.


The box promised excitement and danger and all that stuff, but I didn’t need to be sold on the game: I got it almost as soon as it came out. And it was fun. But how has it held up?



SimCopter did deliver on its primary promise: it lets you fly around the custom cities you build in SimCity 2000. And it does feature missions with disasters of the sort you might have run into in SimCity itself: you had fires to put out, riots to quell (with your loudspeaker), traffic jams to clear (again, with your loudspeaker, though it was never clear to me how yelling at traffic through a loudspeaker helped anything.) You could also take rescue missions, airlifting injured Sim citizens to the roof of a nearby hospital (if your city had no hospitals, that was your own damn fault.)

Despite all that, SimCopter has not aged well. This game was among the first generation of 3D games out there – back in the mid-90s, when having a 3D character model consisting of ten polygons counted as a great achievement. Even by those standards, though, SimCopter looks pretty miserable. The buildings are essentially giant shoeboxes, and the people are absolute monstrosities. It says a lot about the graphical advances of the period from 1995 to 2000 that Maxis went from this to The Sims at the end of that decade.

Yes, those are people.  The pixel blurs on the right are dogs.

Yes, those are people. The pixel blurs on the right are dogs.

It’s not fair to dump on a game just because it wasn’t ahead of its time, though, and SimCopter was a lot of fun in 1996, terrible graphics aside. For all I know, the designers couldn’t do much in that area because they had to put all their resources towards the whole customization deal that was the main selling point of SimCopter.

One nice thing about SimCopter was all the easter eggs it contained. You could totally ignore your moral and ethical duties as a rescue pilot and throw people out of your helicopter while you hovered hundreds of feet over your city. This game also lets you fly over to an air force base (assuming your SimCity 2000 city file had built one) and get into an Apache, which could shoot missiles with which you could destroy your entire city. And if your city had a nuclear power plant, you could have a lot of fun.

Or you could play the game normally, but where's the fun in that?

Or you could play the game normally, but where’s the fun in that?

So, is it worth it to bother digging up SimCopter? Unless you have a copy of SimCity 2000 installed, I’d say no, absolutely not. I certainly can’t recommend it to people who are purely into simulation games of the usual SimCity type, because this game, unlike those, is a pretty mindless action title, sharing only the franchise name. And as far as mindless action games go, both this title and Streets of SimCity (which I never owned but from what I have seen is pretty much the same idea, only with cars instead of helicopters) were outclassed in almost every way by urban sandbox games like GTA III, so the only remaining appeal to these games is their customizability (?) The point is, these games are garbage, but they’re good garbage. And that makes all the difference.

Semi-travel-related post: bizarre flags

We’ve looked at good flags and bad flags. Most flags, however, do not fit nicely into either of these categories. Most are just dull. But a few walk the line between amazingly awesome and ugly and stupid. These are the flags that make you wonder what the designers were thinking, exactly, and whether they were on strong medication during their working hours.

Saitama, Saitama, Japan


Japan’s many prefectural and municipal flags tend to be one symbol on one single-color field. The flag of Saitama, Saitama (the city of Saitama in the prefecture of Saitama, a part of metropolitan Tokyo) is no different. Except, in Saitama’s case, it’s hard to tell what the symbol in the center is meant to represent. It looks like a person, with the circle as the head, but what’s the curved line coming out of its body? Is this person kneeling? Does the light green curve represent that the man is vomiting, perhaps from drinking too much? Is Saitama known for its bars and binge drinking scene? Or perhaps there are two people depicted in Saitama’s flag and something obscene is occurring here.

It could also be a stylized さい, or sai in hiragana. Considering how many Japanese flags seem to follow this pattern that seems likely. But I like my interpretation better.

Lethbridge, Alberta


The flag of this Canadian town is one of the most confusing I’ve ever seen. It is a fucked up American flag. The stripes have been randomly divided lengthwise and jammed together in new arrangements and the stars have been compressed into squares and rectangles. I was really curious as to what the deal was with this flag, but I couldn’t find an explanation for it. If you’re from Lethbridge and have any idea what the hell your flag represents, please leave a comment.

Voronezh Oblast, Russia


Russian provincial flags have some interesting design choices. Voronezh takes this trend one step further by making their flag into a riddle. What exactly does this flag depict? I say it’s a pot full of milk being poured down a mountain, but that doesn’t make any sense. Does it? Is there a local legend in Voronezh about a magical waterfall of milk somewhere?

Alberquerque, New Mexico


Alberquerque’s flag doesn’t look too strange at first. It’s only when you compare it to another flag that some questions start to crop up.


Very similar colors, same placement of a symbol in the upper left corner that seems to represent a crescent moon crossed by a fish but looks suspiciously like the hammer and sickle.

What could it mean? The answer is clear: Alberquerque is governed by members of a Communist Party cell. Too bad the House Un-American Activities Committee is no longer operative, or we could have held some fun anti-Commie show trials like we did back in the 50s.

Pensacola, Florida


Do you have five different ideas for flags but can’t decide between them? Why not stitch them all together, like Pensacola did? The five flags here represent the governments that have held power in Pensacola since its founding: France (upper left), Castile (lower left), the USA (obviously in the middle), Great Britain (upper right) and the Confederacy (lower right, wisely using the relatively unrecognized Stars and Bars over the separationist/racist “Confederate battle flag” design.)

This was a bold move on Pensacola’s part. To their credit, all the flags’ designs are accurate for the times they’re meant to depict. And if you’re going to make a city flag, you could do a lot worse than just jamming a bunch of old flags into your new one. The end result is still kind of a big mess, but at least it’s a unique one.

Orlando, Florida


Orlando took a decidedly different approach from its fellow Florida metropolis. Instead of being a shoutout to its old political masters, Orlando’s flag was simply taken straight out of a graphic designer’s portfolio from the 80s. I’m not sure whether this flag is amazing or just weird. Maybe it’s both?

Buckinghamshire, England


What? You don’t keep your swan tied up with a crown and gold chain?

The swan understandably doesn’t look happy in this picture. He’s also depicted on an anarchistic-looking red and black background. Maybe he’s an anarchist swan being oppressed by monarchy or corporatism or something.

United Kingdom (proposed)


In 2007, a poll was conducted online to recreate the UK flag to incorporate a Welsh device. As it turned out, the poll should not have been conducted online, because Japan (and also possibly 4chan) flooded the ballot boxes with a proposal featuring a Gurren Lagann-based design. The second-place finisher above, however, is the one I favor: Louise from the fanservice-tastic series Zero no Tsukaima riding the Welsh dragon and waving the Union Jack. It’s patriotic; nobody can argue with that.

Semi-travel-related post: ugly flags

As has been established, a good flag is an important thing for a state to have. Sadly, not everyone is a great flag designer, and sometimes the people in charge of putting together a flag have no idea what the fuck they are doing. Let’s look at some of the results of these lame ass efforts.

Disclaimer: If you are from one of the places listed below, please don’t take offense.  I’m not saying where you’re from is shitty, I’m saying the flag your government chose is shitty.  Maybe send an email to them about changing it.  You know, civic action at work.

Antwerp, Belgium


Props to Antwerp for not doing a tricolor with coat of arms thing like most other European cities and regions. Those props are immediately revoked, however, because what Antwerp has done here is far worse. This flag looks like a section of a checkers board that someone with too much free time modified to play a more complicated game. And then the Antwerp city council saw that game and decided it would make a good flag. They were wrong.

Central African Republic, Seychelles


The Central African Republic (in the center of Africa) and the Seychelles (Indian Ocean archipelago) both decided that two or three colors wasn’t enough. Not even four – even Antwerp stopped at four colors. No, these republics have used five colors for their flags. They also decided to be unorthodox with their designs. They both ended up with eyesores.

There’s a pretty good reason most flags stick with just a few colors, I think – it’s probably easier to manufacture such flags. Also, they don’t fuck with your eyes like the CAR and Seychelles’ banners do. “Don’t use five colors on your flag” is a pretty good flag design rule, but it is one that these countries have decided to disregard. The fact that the designs make no damn sense only add to their fuckedness. To be fair to the CAR, though, it currently has far more pressing matters to attend to, like its serious political instability and bouts of ethnic violence.

Cyprus; Kosovo; Sakhalin Oblast, Russia


There’s something inherently lame about putting a picture of your country on your flag – as though you weren’t creative enough to think of anything else. If these lazyass flag designers had had access to Google Earth when they were designing these, their flags would probably have just been screenshots, complete with the Google watermark in the background. The only flag that has some kind of excuse for itself is Sakhalin’s, because Russia and Japan have bickered over the southern Kuril Islands (depicted on the flag) and this is maybe Russia’s way of saying “they’re ours.” Still, it’s quite pathetic.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the islands represented here (Cyprus, left; Sakhalin, right) aren’t on blue ocean-looking backgrounds, while the landlocked country (Kosovo, center) is on a deep blue background. Why? That makes no fucking sense.



Central and South American flags tend to avoid the above mistakes. However, they do have their own special problem: a love of tiny coats of arms and symbols that are way too busy, so you can’t tell what the hell they’re trying to say. Nicaragua’s flag is a good example of such a design. You have to have this flag really close to your face to make out the rainbow-over-some-hills image inside the triangle in its center. And it’s still hard to tell what the red thing is supposed to be. I think it’s a phrygian cap, but it could just as easily be a cardinal’s head or a spot of ketchup.

Nagorno-Karabakh Republic


There’s only one thing wrong with Nagorno-Karabakh’s flag: the fact that it looks like a 20×10 thumbnail of the flag they actually intended to make. Maybe the guy who designed the flag was doing so on a computer and he badly screwed up somehow when he saved the jpg file and the Nagarno-Karabakh leaders were too busy fighting Azerbaijan to notice. I guess the blocky triangle thing on the right must have been an intentional design scheme, but I just can’t get that image out of my head.

Taipei; Reno, Nevada


While there are some inspired city flags flying, they tend to be especially crap, probably because nobody really cares about city flags. Some municipal flags just look like things that the city council commissioned from a marketing company. That would definitely explain Taipei’s flag, which weirdly looks like a corporate logo, with its blocky TAIPEI and fake paint strokes.

It doesn’t explain the piece of crap that Reno, Nevada turned out, however. That wasn’t made by a marketing company; it was made by a 15 year old on the living room computer in MS Paint, all with its Impact font and default shade of blue. Notice that Reno has also broken the no-maps rule by including a map of Nevada with its location therein on their flag. Reno clearly doesn’t give a shit.



For whatever reason, Ohio just had to be different from every other state in the Union. The US states have a few good flags, lots of meh ones and some outright lousy ones, but no other state has a non-rectangular flag. The designer was apparently going for the look of a cavalry flag, which would sometimes have a triangle cut out of the side. Whatever he intended to convey with this thing, though, it just ended up looking like someone cut a US flag into a bunch of pieces and strips and randomly glued them all back together.

The most unsettling thing about Ohio’s flag is that sort of looks like a bird’s face, a bird with huge eyes that constantly has its beak open. I hate looking at this thing, seriously. It almost scares me.

Tampa, Florida


Of all the flags I’ve seen, Tampa’s is the absolute worst. It breaks every rule and ignores every warning listed above, some of them several times over. Let’s try to measure its shittiness:

1) Like Antwerp, CAR and Seychelles, it has too many colors.
2) Like those countries’ flags, the too many colors are arranged in a fucked-up nonsensical way.
3) Like Nicaragua, it includes a tiny seal with details that are hard to distinguish.
4) Like Ohio, it’s cut into a weird, unwieldy shape.

All that Tampa has to do now is include a low-res map of Florida and they’ll have the worst flag ever award in the bag.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Actually, never mind. Tampa’s flag looks fine when it’s compared to this shit. The Milwaukee city council apparently wanted to represent everything about Milwaukee on its flag in picture form, much like the ancient Egyptians and their tomb paintings. Thus they’ve put on the city skyline on Lake Michigan, a ship, a gear representing the city’s industrial base, the head of an Indian who was probably kicked out of Milwaukee in the 19th century and forced to go west, a stalk of wheat, a year, a smaller flag inside the gear, and finally MILWAUKEE in the ugliest font they could find. Somehow they couldn’t find any space for a tall can of cheap beer, which is what Milwaukee is really known for.

The most disturbing thing about this flag is what happened when, in 2001, the city government held a flag design contest to replace this ridiculous mess. The result? “None met with the approval” of the Milwaukee Arts Board, meaning either that they were all worse than the current flag or that the Milwaukee Arts Board is composed entirely of lemurs.

Semi-travel-related post: cool-looking flags

Because I can’t think of anything else at the moment. But hey, this really is relevant. How will you know where you are ever if you don’t know your world flags?

Yes, flags are important things. The flag of a sovereign state is its most prominent symbol – its face to the rest of the world. The flags of provinces and other subnational units have a little more leeway to be derivative or boring, but they’re important too, at least if you live in the regional capital and have to see it flying above government buildings every day. A good flag is something to be proud of – think of the sheer recognizability of the Union Jack, the Stars and Stripes, or the Red Banner of the former USSR. A lame flag is something to be ashamed of and to be rectified immediately through legislative action.

Most flags are just kind of okayish, but some are amazing, and others are horrific. These latter two categories are the really interesting ones. So if you’re deciding where to travel next based on how cool the place’s flag is (I wouldn’t recommend this method, but all power to you) consider these destinations:



I’ve always liked Qatar’s spiky white-on-maroon banner. It’s different from the traditional Arab black-white-green-red color scheme. It’s also the longest national flag in existence (longest in length, not in time. That would be the Dannebrog.) Bahrain has a similar flag, but with a more typical red instead of maroon, and it’s not as pointy as Qatar’s (so it’s less cool.)



Somalia is undoubtedly a place you should not visit (assuming you even can.) It’s a wartorn failed state plagued by fanatical terrorist groups. It is so failed that a part of it has declared independence from Mogadishu, perhaps in the hope that it could do better on its own.

Despite their terrible political problems, Somali citizens can at least be proud of their flag. I really like flags with simple patterns and good color schemes and Somalia’s white star on a light blue background is nice and simple enough, without getting into all the stripes and triangles and other crap that most other countries mess around with. Japan and Turkey are also good examples of this sort of flag.



If you’re going to run a country as an oppressive single-party state, you should at least try to have a cool flag, and Angola does. I like the black-red-gold scheme, and the design isn’t too busy.

Bonus points go to the Angolan flag for its honesty. The country was involved in a disastrous civil war for over 25 years and is currently considered very unfree. Its flag depicts what looks like black scorched earth against a bloody sky, and on top of all that is a machete. So if you go to Angola, don’t complain if you get your arm cut off by a machete-wielding dude, because the flag gave you fair warning.

Damietta, Egypt


Most of the governorates of Egypt have pretty lame flags. Damietta’s, however, is simple, modern (in a good way) and historically significant. Damietta stands at one of the mouths of the Nile into the Mediterranean and has been an important port for ages. Its flag appropriately depicts a sailboat of the type the ancient Egyptians used to carry stuff up and down their great river. At least I think that’s what it is.

Damietta’s flag also reminds me of tangrams, which brings back childhood memories of trying to make obscene shapes with triangular puzzle pieces. Thanks, Damietta.

Nagasaki, Japan


Japanese flags seem to take after their national flag: most of them consist of a single symbol against a single-color background. Sometimes these can look good; other times they look like shitty corporate logos that were designed in the 90s.

Nagasaki is the one I’m mentioning here because not only is it one of the good flags – it has a pentagram on it! I’m sure this has some kind of significant meaning in Japan, or maybe in Nagasaki specifically. But I also know that if the background were black instead of white, Nagasaki’s flag would make for a great death metal band logo.

Brandenburg, Germany


Brandenburg is the state surrounding the city-state of Berlin in the former East Germany, and it has a pretty cool flag, a classic shield on striped field thing. I should say, though, that the use of the old eagle coat of arms in the center is what makes this flag good.  Otherwise it would look just like Poland’s flag only upside-down, and there’s no excuse for that sort of laziness.



No good flag list is complete without the banner of Wales. The Welsh dragon is an ancient symbol and just looks really cool; it’s definitely one of the best non-sovereign-state flags around. In fact, it’s the flag I would most seriously consider stealing if I were starting my own country.

Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia


The final flag on this list might be a little obscure, but it is also amazing. The banner of Yaroslavl Oblast, a province in Russia, depicts a bear carrying an axe. This is the flag you use when you want to get across the message “don’t fuck with us.” Nobody with any sense is going to attack a place that flies a flag featuring a bear with an axe. Very smart move on the part of the people of Yaroslavl. On the other hand, this flag might also cut down on their tourism dollars. Would you visit a region with axe-carrying-bears roaming around? Maybe not.