Developed by Nippon Ichi Software Published by NIS America Reviewed on Nintendo Switch (also available 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. Originally released on the PlayStation 4 in 2015 as Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance, Disgaea 5 Complete on the Nintendo Switch is the definitive version that includes all the DLC content.
While the previous portable versions of the mainline Disgaea games have appeared on the PlayStation Portable and Vita, Disgaea 5 Complete is the first entry since Disgaea DS to make an appearance on a Nintendo device. Nippon Ichi decided against another Vita port because they would have had to scale back elements; Disgaea 5 pushed more more units on bigger battlefields than prior iterations. While disappointing for Vita fans, this was the correct move as Disgaea 5 Complete is a perfect port performance-wise. It’s now the ideal version of the game thanks to the inclusion of all the DLC and the ability to play on the go. The grind heavy, episodic nature of the game is well suited for portable gaming.
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 or the super macho Red Magnus. Disgaea 5 Complete eclectic cast offers a diverse variety of charm and humor to sustain its core story. Much like the prior entries, the plot weaves comedy and tragedy in a compelling way. It does lean heavily on over the top, anime inspired humor and theatrics, so it may not appeal to everyone. For those concerned about jumping into the series for the first time, the story doesn’t reference the past games. The plot is broken up into 16 episodes, each containing a mix of cutscenes and battles, usually culminating in a boss fight. It’ll take about 40 hours to get through the main story, not accounting for the almost endless amounts of post-game content and DLC episodes.
What distinguishes the Disgaea series from other grid based strategy RPGs are the fast paced battles that can completed within minutes if you make use of multi-unit attack chains, the field altering Geo Panels, and other unconventional tactics. This includes the ability to lift, stack, and throw your units to cover more ground. 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. The addition of the Cheat Shop from Disagea D2 also allows you to customize elements such as the amount of EXP earned and increasing or decreasing enemy strength.
Aside from utilizing the dozen plus story characters, the core game play involves creating and developing units. As with the past games, your units can reach as high as level 9999. You can recruit from a variety of classes ranging from fighters, archers, mages, healers, thieves, and monsters. Additional classes can be acquired by mastering the initial ones as well as unlocking more through the new Quest system. An appreciated change is that units can level up by using their skills, so healers are no longer forced to fight in order to grow stronger. Monsters are now able to temporarily transform into weapons via their magichange ability. Units can finally equip secondary weapons and sub classes to enable use of two different skill sets. The biggest addition to the formula is the Revenge Mode gauge, which fills up as your units 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.
Disgaea 5 Complete is easily the most colorful RPG on the Switch. The character sprites are sharp and animated well. Takehito Harada’s new character designs are appealing while his iconic, standard unit designs remain largely intact. The series’ transition to the PlayStation 4 and Switch 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. Whether you’re playing in docked or handheld mode, the game performs smooth as its PlayStation 4 counterpart, albeit at a lower resolution: 720p on the Switch in both modes compared to 1080p on the PlayStation 4.
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 soundtrack accentuates the emotional highs and lows of the story while serving as a energetic compliment to the hectic battle sequences. 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 Japanese dub, an under-appreciated feature that NIS America has traditionally included in most of their releases.
The Switch version includes all the previously released DLC. This includes bonus characters and scenarios involving characters from the previous Disgaea games and other Nippon Ichi titles. Completing these scenarios enables these characters to join your party. Since some of these characters are overpowered, it’s not recommended to play through the story mode with them initially since some are able to take out most early enemies with one attack; it’s more gratifying to develop your own units from scratch. These scenarios serve as mostly fan service for long time fans of the company. It’s a little disappointing that Nippon Ichi didn’t add any new, Switch exclusive content, however.
With countless hours of customizable, strategy RPG fun, Disgaea 5 Complete is an amazing value for Switch owners looking for a new, addictive single player experience. Like its predecessors, it offers endless replay value for OCD gamers who love powering up their characters and weapons to absurd levels. It also fills in an overlooked niche, the strategy RPG, which has been largely absent in the current generation of consoles. It’s the best entry in one of the most consistent franchises in the past decade.