Review: Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance (PS4)

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Title: Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (6.1 GB)
Release Date: October 9, 2015
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: T
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is exclusive to PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

At this point, the Disgaea series is beginning to be a comfort food for me. I’ve played a few of the previous games, and greatly enjoyed them, and while the series doesn’t change much between iterations I still can’t help but get pulled into it again.

Disgaea 5 does have its differences and upgrades, and of course a new story, but the heart of the game is very much Disgaea and anyone who has played a previous Disgaea game has a good idea of what to expect when they boot up Disgaea 5 for the first time: a silly story, strategy RPG combat, and a healthy amount of content and possible grinding.

The story this time is that an overlord demon named Dark Void has slowly started taking over the various Netherworlds. His army of Lost is traveling from world to world, bending them and eventually breaking them into following him.

The protagonists of the game all have a bone to pick with Dark Void or his army and slowly begin to work together to take revenge. They include, among others: Killia, a demon with surprising strength who harbors a particularly strong desire to fight Dark Void; Seraphina, the daughter of the king of the demon world Gorgeous who is fighting to prevent a political marriage setup by her parents; and Red Magnus, a demon overlord who super woke up to find his world super destroyed by Dark Void and who super adds super to his sentences a lot.

Disgaea 5’s story is just as silly as Disgaea stories come. Previous games played up the differences between the demon world and ours, with the demon characters often being solely focused on self-gain. This game likes to play up the inconsistencies within the world the games have built up.

One character in particular makes it a point to periodically mention how uncharacteristic it is for demons to team up or fall in love, despite those being things that seem to happen frequently in the games. In many ways the game seems a wink away from saying to the player “yeah, these games are dumb and funny but just roll with it.”

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Gameplay:
The basics of the gameplay in Disgaea 5 should be very familiar to anyone who has played the previous games. Combat is a simple grid-based system which affects how characters are positioned and thus who they can attack. Characters have normal attacks but also a wide array of special attacks, determined by their class, and various types of team up attacks.

Many of the Disgaea mainstays are back here: such as the ability to stack units on top of each other to do a tower attack or to turn allied monster units into weapons for humanoid characters.

One of the biggest additions to the combat is the revenge mechanic as a tie-in to the story. When allied characters take damage, all allies gain a bit of revenge meter. Once maxed out, that character goes into revenge mode, gaining increased stats and decreased skill costs for a few turns.

Overlord characters (most of the story characters) can also use a special Overload ability while in revenge mode to really swing the battle. For example, Seraphina’s Overload ability charms all nearby male characters and makes them attack their own team next turn.

… combat is quick and snappy …
There are some other minor changes, but for the most part this section of Disgaea feels pretty similar and that’s a good thing in my mind. The battles have the player making meaningful choices when characters and enemies are similar levels and Disgaea 5 adds the occasional wrinkle, in the form of a field-wide effect, to battle.

Or if players want, they can boost up their characters to breeze through battles as the game is also accommodating to players who want to find hidden exploits or ways to gain advantage.

All of this is wrapped into battles that feel like just the right size as none of the missions outstay their welcome and the combat is quick and snappy, especially with the attack animations skipped.

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Outside of the main story missions, the game has a lot to offer. There are a ton of ways to customize the player’s squad of characters, to the point where it is almost paralyzing.

Item world is one way to customize; pick an item and jump into a series of small procedurally generated levels to strengthen it. Items can also be customized with “innocents,” small bonuses that appear at random on items that can be gathered and distributed between items.

Character world is back as well but this time it is a board-game-like mini-game that can be used to give characters unique boosts they can’t get from items as well as some incremental stat boosts.

Players can also recruit characters to use in the game by creating them and Disgaea 5 adds some new character classes to the stable of returning ones: wrestler, sage, maid, dark knight, and pirate.

… feel as though I’m just scratching the surface …
The new classes all have interesting abilities: the maid can use an item even when doing another action for the turn and the dark knight deals damage to enemies adjacent to the enemy he attacks, for example.

In conjunction with character world and the ability to reincarnate characters as new classes, the game offers a lot of customization in creating the player’s character roster.

One problem I had with some of the other Disgaea games was that I rarely felt the need to actually create characters. While the customization is interesting, only a certain number of characters can be deployed on any given map and trying to keep my whole party leveled properly made the game take a lot longer than it needed to take.

This time around, a new mechanic allows these spare characters to be sent off to explore other Netherworlds on their own. I didn’t feel as bad about having some characters I wasn’t using in the main missions because those characters were off on their own getting me items and bonuses.

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There is also a team mechanic in the game in the form of Squads. Playable characters can be formed into squads which offer unique and interesting boosts to those characters.

Unlike some of the previous team mechanics, such as the classroom in Disgaea 3, this time there’s no need to place characters on a grid as well, which actually makes the mechanic feel a little more approachable.

In addition to providing special bonuses based on the squad they are in, members of the same squad are more likely to help each other out in combat.

I still feel as though I’m just scratching the surface of the different systems in the game. One new system is the ability to capture enemies who can be interrogated and then used in a variety of ways from strengthening squads to recruiting them to fight on the player’s side.

A quest system encourages players to do certain things for rewards. Another system is a curry shop where custom curry can be made from extra items that give the player’s team a bonus for a set number of battles.

… never looked better than this …
The cheat shop is back, allowing the player to affect how they get bonuses at the end of a round or level up all enemies they fight. A final mechanic is the power to pass bills at a senate which affect many areas of the game from adding new squads to reincarnating a character as a new class.

Suffice it to say there are a ton of things to do in Disgaea 5. I do think the game does a good job of juggling all of the different systems it has to play around with, although it can still seem overwhelming to remember and care about all of them at once.

There’s almost an underlying design philosophy within the series that wants players to exploit the game and find little ways to eke out advantages in battle and most of these different systems play into that design philosophy.

The game never really forces the player to use every system though. Even the overwhelmed can run through the campaign without worrying too much about the frills, and the combat systems are great enough that even that alone is satisfying.

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Visuals:
I’ll admit I was worried about Disgaea 5. In the jump from PS2 to PS3, it took NIS a couple games to really bring the visuals up to snuff. Fortunately, this time the jump doesn’t seem to have bothered them.

The new character sprites are sharp and gorgeous and the new system really gives Takehito Harada’s crazy designs a chance to shine. Sadly, a lot of the class designs are repeated from previous games but at least they’ve never looked better than this.

The series’ crazy attack animations are back as well. Even something as simple as a team-up attack can feature silly animations like one character riding the other like a surfboard or a character using their friend to bludgeon the enemy.

… both English and Japanese voice tracks …
As fun as they are to watch though, even the game’s designers realized how excruciating it can be to watch the same thing over and over again. A simple button press skips any animation and there’s even a setting that skips all attack animations except the first time they are encountered.

The 3D levels have never been a strong suit of the series though and while they’re the best they’ve ever been they’re still just passable. 3D assets for the cutout animations of special attacks are the worst offenders, if looked at too closely.

The rest of the 3D worlds make up for mediocre technical aspects with some solid and varied designs though. From crazy mushroom worlds to snow covered ice lands, there are a lot of places to fight in Disgaea 5.

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One minor complaint is back though – it can still be tough to see certain things sometimes. Every once in awhile, it seemed like there would be one part of a map that I just couldn’t find the right angle to view.

Fortunately the game has both a quarter view and a straight on view, the latter of which can be zoomed out to a nearly overhead angle. Plus the grid based system means it isn’t difficult to find targets, so the complaint is just a minor nitpick.

Audio:
Disgaea 5 is a typical NIS America release, with both English and Japanese voice tracks. Most of the story missions are voiced but the occasional silly sketches in base are not.

The music is the normal set of Disgaea music, which means a few repeated tracks from previous games. One cool feature though, is that each overlord character has their own theme song which plays whenever they use their overload ability. The soundtrack, even with the repeated songs, is still pretty good overall.

… a lot to do and many systems to explore …
Online/Multiplayer:
There are a few online features to enjoy, although Disgaea remains a primarily single-player game. Players can create levels (wow, another system I forgot to mention…) which can be shared online.

Sadly, it would seem that a player can only have two levels at a time, although there could be a way to change that which I haven’t unlocked yet. Players do need to do a test run of their level before uploading, so at least there won’t be incomplete junk to wade through.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to search levels besides knowing the creator’s username and there isn’t much in the way of curated content. It’s just a tacked on addition I suppose, but feel free to search up my level to fight against my custom created characters… who happen to be inspired by the girls of μ’s (Love Live). 🙂

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Some of the other systems in the game can apparently be used online as well. One of the bills in the senate is to “give an item to a friend” and supposedly there is some way to visit Netherworlds created by other players (oh, you can customize Seraphina’s pocket dimension. Guess I forgot that one too).

The data log also shows some combined stats of all players, if anyone really wants to know the total damage done by every single Disgaea 5 player. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to really dig into most of these due to the relatively few players online right now but the game seems to be mostly focused on single-player anyway.

Conclusion:
Disgaea 5 is big. Bigger than super Red Magnus. Bigger than Usalia’s hunger for curry, plip. Bigger than Killia’s quest for revenge. There’s a lot to do and many systems to explore, to the point where the game can feel overwhelming.

Fortunately, the base gameplay is solid and fun and the other stuff is all ancillary; just a way to dig into the nitty gritty of the game and find some new way to mess with stuff. There’s a lot of meat and potatoes too, as my twenty-five hours of gameplay still has me at the halfway point in the story.

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but Disgaea 5 is a piping hot recommendation to any players who enjoy strategy RPGs. Whether they like digging into the minutia of all of the things the game has to offer or not, this is a solid experience. So get out there and start blowing up prinnies, dood.

Side note for Vita owners: this game runs beautifully in Remote Play. The turn based nature means any lag is relatively meaningless, and the game looks great on the Vita’s screen.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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  • Cyberjin

    Wait you can send other players items!?
    Can you send me a good weapon then?

    • andyscout

      I’m not 100% on how it works but I think it just sends them a random item.

      • Makai Ookami

        In another game you COULD send items, but if your item was too good it would get downgraded. I know because I tried to send a level 300 item with thousands in all stats, and they got a crappy useless item instead.

        Though that was a long time ago. Maybe Disgaea 3, when I bribed one of his characters or something. Like 3-4 years ago.

        Moral is don’t get your hopes up.

  • Jahonius

    As a Tactics Ogre / FF: Tactics fan, I decided to give Disgaea a try, and while I was enjoying Disgaea 3 on Vita, it kept popping the message: “Your country / Region does not support location based services” Every, freaking minute… So I deleted the game out of spite.

    Recently, I bought Disgaea 5 for PS4, and I am patiently waiting for the right moment to jump into some serious grinding action.

    Thanks for the nice review!

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