Back again for another adventure of demonic proportions, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is here to satisfy tactical role-playing game desires. Developed by Nippon Ichi Software, the series makes its jump to current gen in this PS4 exclusive with a flawless transition. This sequel continues to prove Disgaea still consistently delivers the best titles in the genre.
The story takes place in the Netherworld, a parallel universe inhabited by demons who have reversed moral values from those of humans. There are many different Netherworlds, each with their overlord. The main protagonist, Killia, wants revenge against the evil Lord Void Dark. While defeating the minions of his evil legion, called the “Lost,” Killia stumbles across Saraphina, an Overlord from the Gorgeous Netherworld who immediately starts following Killia proclaiming him to be her slave in a very tongue and cheek manner. As the quest unfolds, the two meet many likeable allies such as Red Magnus, a macho man who wants to prove that he is stronger than Void Dark and can’t help but say super before all of his adjectives. There wasn’t a character I didn’t immediately enjoy and care for once they joined my party.
Disgaea 5 isn’t a game to take itself all too seriously. The plot is about defeating an evil world conqueror, but none of the heroes can be considered, well, heroes. All of the characters have a personal motif to be fighting, such as Ursalia who was cursed by Void Dark to eat curry consistently or be forced to go berserk. They all want certain things that represent their personalities that are all unique to one another. This makes dialogue hilarious as characters will often banter with each other or be lost in their thoughts and ignore everything the other was saying. I can’t tell you how many times I laughed out loud throughout my whole playthrough at the subtle cultural references and not so subtle slapstick humor.
Voice acting is masterly performed, capturing these inflated egos in a fitting manner. They are complemented by a beautifully crafted soundtrack. A favorite of mine is the theme “Moving On” that plays in the resting area between battles as it is fittingly calm with soothing vocals to boot. These two give energy to an otherwise flat dialogue interface. All conversations takes place with still character images talking on a still background image. The images for the characters will sometimes change depending on what they are doing, but it happens rarely and feels lazy. Making the lips on characters move in RPGs has been done for years now and Disgaea should be taking notes. It is a shame because the art is in the game is so delightful.
Color pops on the hellish landscape in accompaniment to diverse and creative character designs. Sprites have a nice personality to them, from a cape blowing in the wind to typical, but effective, anime style expressions. The design may seem simple, but it lends itself to practical application when the TRPG gameplay begins.
The game plays like turn based RPG on a grid. The player team and enemy team take turns moving characters around on a grid-based battlefield to defeat the opposing team. Attacks can be tackled in several different ways. Basic attacks won’t cost anything, but often don’t do much damage; while special attacks will cost SP for the character, but deal heavy damage.; or There are also satisfying team attacks, an assault by two to four teammates that takes place over a fun, and often over the top, cinematic that diversifies the game from the competition. After defeating enough enemies, certain characters will enter overlord mode allowing them to do a super powered move to turn the tide of battle. This is all in conjunction to the variety of typical RPG classes that you fill your team with: healer, fighter, spellcaster, etc. Disgaea 5 assumes you have a conscious mind. As you progress through the game and difficulty ramps up, you will find that the game is very liberating in letting you tackle each battle the way you want to. Will you rush up and attack with a bunch of heavy hitters? Or find a tactical vantage point to shoot at foes with spells, bows, and bullets? Each battle felt fresh thanks to the variety of enemy types and well-crafted battle locations.
Almost each Netherworld you visit on your journey will have a particular gimmick, like most of the ground is poisonous for example. The pacing is so well thought out that by the time you mastered the most recent gimmick you are thrown a new one. You are rewarded for using your brain making victory feel more accomplishing. Geo effects are also back, making certain ground tiles have status effects, enemy/ally attack up/down so on and so forth, that can be changed by breaking a different geo effect block on top of it. This mechanic plays into the recurring theme of getting out what you put into your battle strategy. You don’t need to change geo effects to win, but getting an effect that benefits you rather than your opponent will make things easier. If what I’m describing sounds reminiscent of previous Disgaea titles, it’s because it is.
The core of how this sequel plays compared to previous entries in the series is almost identical. After playing for a couple of hours, I noticed I was skipping all of the tutorials and was managing my team as if I never stopped playing Disgaea 4. When I thought as to why I didn’t notice I was back in my rhythm, it was because I was having so much fun. A good sequel does not change what fans of the games before it liked about the series. Nippon Ichi really gets this, and it shows that they care about giving the player the most authentic Disgaea experience possible. However, it is a little sad to see that not much was added on top of this aside from some additional classes and a revenge mechanic that boosts characters stats when allies are defeated. I liked all of this, but I never felt like it changed my gameplay experience. This isn’t bad, but feels a bit too safe.
Once things settle down after a battle, you return to your own pocket Netherworld, a haven to manage your team’s equipment, items, skills, and to heal them up. You can also recruit new allies to join your team or use the new capture and interrogation system that lets you convert enemies into allies. There is also a squad system that will allow you to assign team members to different squads to get bonus stats or abilities, and a curry stand that allows you to eat different types of curry to receive bonus statuses in the next battle. It is a nice calm before the inevitable storm that awaits you once you go into the next stage.
If you liked previous Disgaea games, you would be right at home with Disgaea 5. The gameplay works, and Nippon Ichi Software should be accommodated for not meddling with what was, and still is, solid. That said, I can see how the same experience could be tiresome for returning players. But if you are a newcomer to the series or still can’t get enough Prinnys, give Disgaea 5 a chance. An enjoyable adventure awaits you with gameplay that represents the best of the TRPG genre and characters you will remember, long after the credits role.
Note: The Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance review was written based on a digital PS4 version of the game, provided for review purposes.