Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance PS4 Review
The Disgaea series was an instant hit during its début on the Playstation 2, taking the familiar Strategy RPG concept popularized through games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre (same creator, different series) while adding an extra dose of hardcore gameplay revisions and quirky-yet-cute Anime slapstick. From then on, the series would continue to capitalize on its early success through numerous sequels and spinoffs on preceding Playstation platforms. As is usually the case with milked franchises, the Disgaea series waned a bit in popularity and sales due to its minimal revisions to both its presentation and gameplay: both were still as solid as ever, but with so many similar sequels, there was not much incentive to keep diving back in.
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance, the latest entry in the demon-infested RPG series, is the first game to make its début on the Playstation 4. On the surface, the game continues to keep the same aesthetic as its PS2 progenitor, an endearing use of SD sprites and Anime-heavy illustrations, but nothing that wouldn’t be technically feasible on Sony’s second platform, minus the shift to HD-quality sprites. However, what Disgaea 5 lacks in visual prowess, it overflows with a near-uncountable amount of gameplay mechanics, ranging from both character and gameplay customization. From a content standpoint, this is easily the biggest Disgaea yet, which alone could be enough to bring back in burnt-out fans.
The story of Disgaea 5 centers on a planetary war between Overlords, demonic leaders who rule over their own personal territories, called Netherworlds. Void Dark, a villainous Overlord, has amassed a massive army that seeks complete control of every Netherworld, and is steadily annihilating all who stand in his way. Seraphina, the self-proclaimed “Overlord of Gorgeous”, is one of several Overlords resisting Void Dark’s dominion, though her reasons for fighting back are more personal (in order to avoid the arranged marriage set up by her father, she vows to take down Void Dark). While attempting to fight off his army, known as The Lost, Seraphina comes across Killia, an enigmatic fighter of few words and a large appetite, who has his own self-kept reasons for taking down Void Dark. Despite choosing to fight alone, Killia is ultimately roped into helping Seraphina (while repeatedly shooting down her flirtatious advances…while also avoiding her own barrage of gunfire), which kicks off an alliance that expands with more quirky characters banning together for the common purpose of defeating Void Dark.
The story of Disgaea 5 is the usual variety of slapstick that should be intimately familiar to anyone who has played the series. The main cast is mostly likeable, but tend to follow the same pattern of characters preceding the original game, hardly measuring up to the strong cast of the original game. While hardly breaking any new ground, the story is endearing in its own way, but may prove a bit too cutesy despite its juvenile attempts at humor and sex appeal (jokes involving female busts, extensive property damage and the slave labor of Prinnies are on full display here). Fortunately, everything can be fast forwarded or skipped entirely, a feature that extends to the gameplay itself, which is always an appreciative addition for lengthy RPGs that it should be mandatory at this point.
As usual, the main draw with Disgaea is its jam-packed array of gameplay mechanics. On the surface, the game is simplistic with its familiar turn-based Strategy RPG premise; in each map, players position their squadron of demons to attack the opposing team, both sides taking turns to wipe each other out. Party members come in two flavors: class-based characters who share class-specific abilities, and story-based characters who possess class abilities as well as their own unique moves. Abilities include long-range attacks for Gunners, sword-based melee skills for Warriors, healing spells for Healers, destructive spells for Mages, and so on. Each character can learn additional class abilities based on the weapon they wield, their efficiency determines by their proficiency with each weapon (Killia, for example, starts off with Fighter-based abilities, but can also learn sword skills by equipping a sword).
In typical Strategy RPG fashion, positioning plays a big role in battle, and can make all the difference between victory and defeat. Knowing where to strategically place characters to avoid a potentially deadly counterattack is one invaluable strategy, as well as grabbing and tossing fellow allies in order to clear more ground (or to hinder enemies, who can also be tossed). The most familiar strategy is the series’ trademark team-up attacks, which can result in up to four characters banding together to unleash a hilariously over-the-top beatdown on a chosen enemy; with the right alignment, players can have multiple team-up attacks occur in a single turn, which can not only deal heavy casualties to the opposing side but also rack up a huge bonus score, which results in additional rewards at the end of the stage.
Sticking to the basic gameplay elements is enough to enjoy Disgaea 5 on its own, but going further down the rabbit hole of optional mechanics will not only prove rewarding, but also result in nearly endless hours of entertainment. Many of the trademark level-grinding mechanics are present here, including the ever popular Item World, which is an entire game in itself where players strengthen the abilities of a chosen item by navigating several floors with random rules and a potentially gigantic payout. The class recruitment system also makes a return, allowing players to create their own preferred group of adorable demonic denizens, but also requires extensive unlocking of additional classes. This is mainly accomplished through the game’s Quest system, which is an expanding list of requests that typically involve defeating a certain number of enemies, turning in a specific item, or leveling up a class to a certain point. Things only get more expansive from there, including a Cheat Room where individual values can be adjusted in order to get more rewards of a certain type in sacrifice of another (such as subtracting the amount of money earned by 10% in order to get 110% more experience points, for example), an Interrogation system where captured enemies can be slowly worked over to surrender items or added to the party, a Squad formation system where the party in each squad incurs bonus effects (such as one squad that shares a pool of exp, or another squad that gets a boost in healing, etc).
There simply is not enough space in this review to list the insane amount of gameplay features in Disgaea 5. While such a large variety of mechanics may appear daunting, the good news is that they are entirely optional. There is simply no wrong way to play the game: players can decide if they want to stick to the basics or go for broke. Many will probably skip the main campaign entirely and use the available tools to take their characters to absurdly high levels. The fact that character levels are written in values of 0000 isn’t just window-dressing; it is entirely possible to take party member levels into the thousands, which in turn unlock even more ludicrous Anime-style explosive abilities, and is necessary for tackling the usual inclusion of optional mega bosses.
In the end, Disgaea 5 may not have evolved much from its glory days, but the latest entry proves that the tried-and-true mechanics still hold up, even if the aesthetics and characters remain somewhat antiquated. There is no other RPG that features this many options, which will undoubtedly win over the hardcore RPG crowd with far too much time on their hands.