Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Release Date: 10/06/2015
Disgaea as a series is not easy to keep up with. I don’t mean that in such a way that the games are difficult to obtain or that they release at an unreasonable pace. But rather, the games themselves are so HUGE in terms of time investment that giving each one the fair amount of attention it deserves can be challenging. Despite all of that, I’ve managed to stick with it this far with each new entry improving upon the one that came before it. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s time to go another round.
After trying their hand with the direct sequel strategy of Disgaea D2, Nippon Ichi is back to developing an original story around brand new characters. Only this time, they’ve moved to a new console to do it. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is the first entry for the PlayStation 4 (and hopefully not the last) and a game I hope will pioneer future success of genre for the system. Let’s see how it turned out.
The plot revolves around the being Void Dark and the army of Lost at his command. He moves from one Netherworld to the next, spreading his influence like a plague, and each Overlord that stands in his way are quick to fall. During a battle with one Overlord, Seraphina, a lone young man steps onto the battlefield to… sit down with a bowl of ramen. After finishing his meal, Killia enters the fray and quickly disposes of the assailants, much to the delight of Seraphina. It’s at this point an uncertain alliance begins with the sole intent of bringing down Void dark and his followers.
As the game progresses, they are joined by a cast of eccentric personalities. There’s a meat head that inserts “super” into every one of his sentences while reciting quotes from The Rock, a little girl with rabbit ears that goes into a rage if she doesn’t eat curry, a tactician that’s deceptive of his origins, and a young loner whose outward disposition is the antithesis of Killia’s. And speaking of Killia, his personality is that of the straight man whose seriousness plays off his fellow cast, whereas Seraphina uses seduction to bend everyone to her will. Taken individually, they all fit into the Disgaea universe quite well. They just don’t work all that well as a group.
It’s a shame too, as the storyline is one of my biggest motivating factors for playing these games. I’ve loved the protagonists of all the previous games for the most part (especially Laharl and Valvatorez) because their quirks were capitalized on in all the proper ways and they could be utilized in serious story moments. Killia on the other hand, seems almost too serious given the universe he inhabits. Yes, his deadpan reactions are good for a laugh on occasion, but he’s just so dark. And his use of the straight man for humorous bits just isn’t executed as well as it could be.
In fact, the whole story seems way darker and serious that what I’m used to from not only Disgaea, but NIS games in general. I first noticed this with The Awakened Fate Ultimatum, whose predecessors were more on the lighthearted side, and thought it was an oddity. But now I wonder if this is just the direct the company is heading with their writing (or perhaps I’m overthinking it). Regardless, even though it’s just interesting enough to see what happens next, there just aren’t enough hooks in the narrative to motivate a person to play for that reason alone.
Fortunately, the gameplay more than makes up for all of the narrative shortcomings. If you’ve never played a game in the series before, the flow goes a little something like this. Each chapter opens with some story bits, proceeds to drop you off in a central hub area to prepare, and then the dimensional gate transports you to a map to do battle. Each map provides you with a base in which to spawn your party members and they can come and go as you please. The only caveat is that you defeat the enemy before they wipe out your party or ten members of your team, whichever is fulfilled first. A number of maps have geo panels that offer statistical benefits or hindrances based on the color and what’s on them. These are a key part of the strategy in Disgaea, with success often amounting to how well you can utilize them.
Each character has a vast selection of things they can do in battle, be it standard attacks, using items, executing skills, and so on. A number of actions by different characters can be queued up and then initiated all at once as a way to build up a combo (which in turn will translate into rewards at the conclusion of battle). Since each member of your party has a limited move range, they can pick each other up and form a massive tower, thus throwing each other one by one and covering a ton of ground, which is neat.
And there are a ton of more ways to enhance your strategy from there, as veterans will already well know. So what’s new? Well, as the game’s title alludes to, the biggest mechanic is the new Revenge system. Every character has a Revenge gauge that fills as you take damage and upon capping out will unlock Revenge mode. While in Revenge mode, stats are enhanced, and the Overlord characters will even have access to and Overload skill, which is unique to them. Seraphina, for example, can charm characters within a certain radius of her, whereas Red Magnus will grow into giant size for more destructive power. It seems like a minor addition, but if you stock throwaway characters like Prinnies, you can really game the system by getting them demolished in battle and powering up the rest of your group to make quick work of bosses.
Important characters that are central to the story have the added benefit of building camaraderie with one another, gaining them access to Alliance Skills. These skills are unique to each pair, and are as over the top and their individual abilities. Squads are available to organize your crew in, with each Squad yielding some sort of benefit like the ability to capture or heal up while in home base. During your various battles, you may take prisoners by having enemies surrender or by capturing them with a member of your capture squad. These prisoners in turn can then be used to power up the squads, making them better and allowing room for more members. Prisoners can also be interrogated if you’d rather torment some items out of them or add civilians to your pocket Netherworld.
Of course, a number of game mechanics introduced in previous games make a return. Magichange is still possible, though now you can execute a Dual Magichange, which combines weapons and makes them even bigger. The Dark Assembly will allow you to exchange mana for the possibility at passing a bill, such as bonus experience or giving you a trophy (no, really). Item World is back, transporting you within your equipment to power them up based on your progress. And one of my favorite features, the cheat shop, is back again to allow you an easier time grinding out things like experience at the expense of money or mana. And the list goes on and on. If it existed in a prior game, it probably made the list here too.
Despite the risk of feature bloat, the various mechanics all play off of each other well and are introduced at such a pace that they don’t feel overwhelming. Almost every chapter will unveil something new and give you a brief rundown on how to utilize it. In fact, I’d say even though this entry is the most loaded in terms of features, it’s also the most newcomer friendly. The difficulty can be tweaked using the cheat shop, and when new characters are created, they can start out at higher levels and stats based on the money spent. There’s less grinding in general needed to get through the main story while still managing to be a lengthy game overall. Created characters can rank up in their respected classes just by gaining levels rather than having to be reincarnated from scratch, plus new classes are unlocked by doing side quests.
Probably the worst thing I can say about the game is the same criticism I level with other long-running franchises with high play times. If you’ve kept up with the series over the last decade or so, franchise fatigue might be starting to set in. Especially if you’ve squeezed every ounce of gameplay out of each entry. I’ve had this same issue with Pokemon, as much as I enjoy those titles. On the other hand, not every franchise lends itself well to complete reinvention, so what do you do in that situation? At least the experience continuously gets better, so that’s one thing going for it.
Disgaea 5 can pack a ton of sprites on screen at once, such that it likely wasn’t possible to do on the PlayStation 3. In addition, they all look really good and have a wide range of animations without bogging down the performance. The attack animations also look spectacular, which is why I kept them turned on for the duration of my playthrough. The environments are really sharp too.
I’m normally really impressed by the English dub of this franchise, but I wasn’t nearly as amused by the line delivery as I have been in games past. It’s tough to pinpoint why exactly. Killia’s delivery is very monotone and deadpan, but it also fits with his brooding personality. Seraphina has a really obnoxious laugh that accompanies most of her dialogue, but again, it matches up with her lines. Fortunately, you can switch over to the Japanese dialect if you prefer. The soundtrack is pretty solid, with a mix of the old and new. The familiar shop theme plays as it always does while purchasing new equipment, while vocal themes echo throughout the pocket Netherworld. Some of the battle themes are really catchy as well.
Being one of Nippon Ichi’s flagship franchises, I expected a lot out of Disgaea 5. And for the most part it delivered. I was hoping for a more memorable band of characters than what I got, not to mention a plot that was more humorously written. There are flashes of brilliance throughout, but it never quite reaches the level of greatness I know the series is capable of. On the other hand, the new game mechanics fit in well and improve upon an already very polished experience. There’s a lot of freedom in the character creation, as well as customization, and things like the cheat shop allows the player to spend their time building up assets that are needed, rather than stockpiling things that they don’t. It’s the best gameplay they’ve done so far, and what I’m hoping will pioneer an SRPG renaissance on the Playstation 4.
Short Attention Span Summary
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance marks the franchise’s first appearance on the PlayStation 4, and takes full advantage of the hardware by offering better looking sprites and as many of them as they can cram on screen without crashing the system. The audio is a nice treat too, despite the English dialogue being very hit or miss. The new Revenge system works well, giving players a new way to turn the tide when teammates are taking damage or getting KO’d. This, coupled with things like the Squad system and the more lenient party customization options means an experience that both veterans and newcomers will enjoy. The gameplay and mechanics are some of the best the series has seen so far, so if you’ve kept up this long, you’re in for a treat. Just keep in mind that it came at a price, as the plot falls into one of the bottom tiers as far as the series goes. Though if you were looking for a slightly more serious interpretation of this game’s version of the underworld, it may be just what you were looking for.
Tags: disgaea, Disgaea 5, Nippon Ichi, Nippon Ichi Software, NIS America