Developed by: Nippon Ichi Software Published by: NIS America Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
The Disgaea series is best known for its over the top humor, Halloween inspired character designs, and hardcore strategy RPG game play. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance, the latest entry in Nippon Ichi’s flagship franchise, doesn’t disappoint, offering the largest amount of content to date. Thanks to the additional processing power of the PlayStation 4, the battlefields are even bigger and more chaotic than before.
The story follows the demon Killia and his motley alliance of demon overlords in their quest to stop the evil Void Dark, who has been systematically conquering netherworlds. Killia is more of a straight laced protagonist compared to some of the more colorful leads in the series. This is balanced out with the overlords who have a variety of personalities, such as the spoiled, deranged Seraphina, the super macho Red Magnus, the conniving Christo, the unpredictable Zeroken, and the curry addicted Usalia. The scattershot storytelling and zany humor isn’t for everyone, but all the dialogue is skippable. There are more dramatic and serious turns involving Killia, but for the most part the main appeal comes from the characters’ eccentricities. There are also optional skits, similar to the Tales of franchise, where the characters banter in light hearted and comical ways.
Longtime fans of the franchise will feel right at home. For newcomers to the series, what distinguishes the Disgaea series from other strategy RPGs is the irreverent humor, being able to level up your characters to absurd levels, and a variety of unconventional tactics. These include the ability to lift, stack, and throw your units, the field altering Geo Panels, monster fusion, and more. Other unique series mainstays return like the Item World, where you can improve your weapons by fighting monsters within them, and the Dark Assembly, where you can pass bills via bribery or violence to modify battlefield conditions.
Aside from the dozen plus story characters, the core game play involves creating and developing units. You can recruit from a variety of classes ranging from fighters, archers, magic users, healers, thief and more along with monster classes. Monsters aren’t able to freely lift like their human counterparts, but they are able to transform into weapons via their magichange ability.
The newest wrinkle to the formula is the Revenge Mode gauge, which fills up as your units and their allies take damage. Once activated, it improves their stats, ups their critical hit rate up to 100% and allows the Overlord characters to perform an Overload skill. For example, Seraphina’s skill charms all the male units within her proximity. Also new is the ability to equip secondary weapons and sub classes to enables units to use two different skill sets. The addition of the Cheat Shop from Disagea D2 also allows you to customize elements such as the amount of EXP earned and increase or decrease enemy strength.
The battles are fast paced and can usually be completed within minutes if you make use of the various subsystems, attack chains, and Geo Panels. An appreciated feature is the ability to level up your characters by using their skills, so healers can gain levels by healing instead of forcing them to kill weaker enemies like in other strategy RPGs. Additional classes can be unlocked by mastering the initial ones as well as unlocking through the new Quest system. This makes it a lot easier to unlock hidden classes compared to the previous games.
Disgaea 5 is easily the most colorful RPG on the console in terms of design. The HD character sprites are sharp and animated well, although they look a little jagged when zoomed in. Takehito Harada new character designs are appealing while his iconic, generic units remain largely intact. The story is primarily told through a visual novel style presentation with character cutouts. While the game looks like it could have very well been a PlayStation 3 title, the jump to the PlayStation 4 enables the game to display 100 characters on screen at once. It’s also the first game in the series to allow more than 10 playable units to be on the field.
Long time series composer Tenpei Sato returns to deliver his signature sound, which includes a mix of choral vocals, acoustic instruments, and high energy synth. The most notable track is the song used in the main hub, which may or may not drive players crazy with its rather distinct vocals. Much like the prior games, the English dub is over the top and full of zany localization touches like Red Magnus speaking like The Rock. For purists, there’s also the option to use the original dub, an under-appreciated feature that NIS America has traditionally included in most of their releases.
Despite its complexity, Disgaea 5 is a solid entry point for newcomers. The game offers a generous amount of tutorials that explains the mechanics in detail without being overwhelming. The plot doesn’t reference the past games, although there are fan service callbacks in the form of DLC characters. While the numerous techniques and subsystems can be overwhelming, most of them are not required to finish the game. Mastery of those elements are essential for what happens after the story is complete; true to the series’ legacy, the postgame content is expansive and will have hardcore fans reveling in its fun challenges.
Like its predecessors, Disgaea 5 offers endless replay value for OCD gamers who love powering up their characters to absurd levels. It also fills in an overlooked niche, the strategy RPG, which has been largely absent in the current generation of consoles. For the fans, it’s an outstanding entry in one of the most consistent franchises in the past decade. The series has always been about reaching seemingly impossible heights and Disgaea 5 takes it higher than ever before.