The sixth entry to Nippon Ichi Software’s flagship series, and first foray on the PlayStation 4 – Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance boasts to be the biggest adventure yet. The Disgaea series first hit consoles twelve years ago and spans across three generations of home consoles, as well as three different handheld consoles, which only proves the success of the series – but does this new addition still have something worth offering?
Since the emergence of Demon Emperor Void Dark, many Netherworlds have been oppressed and leading an army known as the Lost that’s rumoured to number over 10 billion it seemed that no one could stand against them. However, the Netherworlds are vast and some of their Overlords have a grudge to bear and form an unlikely alliance in the hopes of exacting their vengeance. Enter our unlikely heroes, Princess Overlord Seraphina, the Overlord of Gorgeous, and Killia, forced into servitude by Seraphina, and begrudgingly accompanying her only to get his revenge on Void Dark, a goal they both share.
The main story campaign plays out in episodes, with around five or so battles per episode; each is preceded and succeeded by a rather well-timed piece of dialogue, rare in SRPG’s, that gives you a slight bit of story progression and a lot of action. Maps can look a little plain and simple at first but they really come together later on; with area damage, geo symbols and height advantages battles can become a fight against the map design as much as the enemies that are on it. After each battle, you can either continue with the story or return to your base of operations where a wealth of features are available to you, although these can leave you feeling a little overwhelmed if you have not previously experienced a Disgaea game.
D5 brings with it a host of new features to the series, the first being the Revenge feature which makes for some interesting battles. As your allies are attacked, each character’s revenge meter will fill, and when the meter is maxed out, that character’s stats increase and allows some to unleash powerful specials called ‘Overload’ which can really turn the tide of battle and help you out in some sticky situations.
The Squad feature allows you to add party members to a particular squad in order to gain bonuses unique to that squad. The Capture Squad gives the ability of capture to its members allowing them to capture enemy units on the battlefield. Giant Killer Squad allows its members to become giant-sized, much like Red Magus’s Overload ability ‘Super Olympia’, for their first three turns. Squads are varied and boast different bonuses; some are even focused on sharing EXP that the leader earns during battle with the other members, a great way to level up some new characters without the risk of them dying in battle.
The Quest feature, a must-have for any RPG these days, is a great way to unlock new character classes and earn those all-important rare items. Unfortunately, in D5’s case, there’s no way to check which quests you have undertaken outside of the Quest NPC; while it’s not the best implementation of a quest system it’s there nonetheless. Outside of the main story campaign, you can further customise your party by entering the Item World, which allows you to level up your gear in a nearly endless set of battles. The further you progress, the bigger the rewards, as is the difficulty, of course. The Item World is not unique to D5 and has appeared in previous iterations but you may just find a great deal of your time spent here.
D5’s biggest bonus is that given all the features available to players, you don’t necessarily have to use them all in order to progress within the game. Each feature is available to use as and how you see fit; customization is open to your own preference. Disgaea is all about how creative you can be, there’s not just one path to success; experiment and find your own key to victory.
Being the series’ first foray on the PlayStation 4, its clear that the game doesn’t push the system to its full potential but as an SPRG it doesn’t really need to. Disgaea boasts a classic SRPG look but still manages to meet modern-day visual standards. Sprite characters are crisp and clear but still retain an old-school charm – who doesn’t love seeing sprites and being reminded of the 16-bit glory days? Colours are bright and vibrant with each new episode focusing on a different colour pallet.
The game features both English and Japanese audio options, which are available to you from the outset, and can be switched from the menu outside of battles. I found Killia to have a very flat tone of voice in the English cast version, whether this was a conscious effort in portraying the character or not it comes off very lazy with the character sounding bored and lifeless not someone with a quest for revenge. Either audio option is a safe bet each bringing something different to the table and being able to change between the two so easily is a great move.
As a wrestling fan, I couldn’t help but notice the references to iconic wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan and The Rock. Red Magnus likes to work in a few of The Rock’s catchphrases here and there with “jabronies”, “just bring it” and “shut your mouth”. While a character called Logan talking about “lifting and throwing” and ending every sentence with ‘brotha’ it’s hard not to see where he’s inspired from. That being said, D5 has a great collection of wacky and insane characters that really boost the enjoyment of the game so be prepared to bear witness to some of the strangest conversations ever had in video games.
As a big fan of strategy RPG’s, I’m surprised at myself that this is my first foray into the Disgaea franchise. Often hearing of the series' brilliance, I’ve never found myself picking up one to play and I realise now what a great injustice that is.
I will say, however, that past knowledge of the series may be a good thing as the sheer amount of options available to you can be quite daunting. Outside of battles, I found my head spinning at all the possible ways of customising characters and the extra features available. Not to say this is a downside to the game rather a benefit that only adds to the game's long-term appeal.
It’s clear that Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance has so much to offer that you may never truly achieve 100% completion, but be ready to sink in many hours trying. Even after the main story campaign, there’s just so much to keep you coming back for more; D5 is easily worth the price of admission and then some.