Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance, the sixth title in the popular tactical RPG series, successfully expands on an already rich universe which began over 10 years ago on PlayStation 2. In this PS4 exclusive from developer Nippon Ichi, there’s brand new characters, enhanced combat mechanics and mini-games, alongside about 100 hours of content. With only a few minor flaws, the Japanese studio has developed a huge world, stuffed to the brim with humor, including raging penguins, gun-toting temptresses, and wacky curry recipes!
Disgaea 5 follows the story of a wandering demon, Killia, as he strives to destroy the Demon Emperor Void Dark and his army of Lost soldiers. Of course, he can’t fight a war on his own, so he reluctantly joins forces with several other powerful demon Overlords, who each have their own reasons to hate Void Dark.
His first ally, Seraphina, was promised to Void Dark as a bride, but has absolutely no interest in tying the knot. while Red Magnus is a fiery meat-head who seeks to overthrow the emperor in order to be the strongest Overlord around. Christo, a typical anime “glasses character,” is a brilliant tactician looking for revenge on a group of powerful demons (including the emperor) who betrayed him. The rabbit-girl Usalia saw a general of the Lost army destroy her family and Netherworld, and is now cursed to go berserk whenever she doesn’t eat enough curry. The last to join is Zeroken, the child ninjitsu prodigy (whose character class is “Stupid Punk Kid”) who is on a mission to wreck as many of the Lost as he can get his hands on. Killia’s own tragic back-story is revealed piece by piece as the campaign progresses and he gradually lowers his guard around his new allies.
Void Dark is trying to conquer all of the demonic Netherworlds, so it is up to Killia, his five Overlord allies, and the rest of the rebel army to stop him. The remainder of the player’s force is filled with unique lesser Overlords from areas that the player has saved from the Lost, as well as custom characters who can be recruited.
While recruiting, players can select the class, name, stat allotment, skill level, magical affinity, and appearance of their new companions. Hiring talented fighters isn’t cheap. Getting the best will bankrupt you, but you’ll be glad you did when they’re wiping out your enemies! Leveling your current classes, progressing through the campaign, and completing quests can unlock even stronger (and more expensive) specialties.
One of the first impressions from the game is definitely its great sense of humor. In one of the early scenes, Seraphina, the “Overlord of Gorgeous,” is ordering her army of “Prinnies” about. The talking penguins are basically slaves. However, Seraphina pays them a sardine for every 20 hours of labor, so apparently she thinks it’s a living wage. Five minutes later, one of the penguins whips out a pair of giant swords from his fanny pack and starts hacking away at an enemy. I’m sold.
Many of the humorous moments tend to be a bit dark, as you could expect in a game about demons. The first couple of times you see Void Dark, he is killing his way through a roster of personal assistants as fast as he can. When a group of ten warriors attacks him, he obliterates the leader and forces the others to fight for a single spot in his army (reminiscent of a favorite scene from The Dark Knight, when the Joker tells a couple of rival thugs that he’s going to have “tryouts” for his squad).
In terms of visuals, 2D has rarely looked so good. The anime style is similar to many Japanese RPGs, though Vengeance is a bit brighter and more cartoonish than most. In the “pocket Netherworld” (your base) and in combat, the characters resemble the “chibis” from MapleStory. In most of the dialogue scenes, the artistic style is closer to that of the later Persona titles. The style lends itself quite well to the overall feel of the game. It’s a story of unlikely friendships, forged through the common fires of hatred and a common love of zany foods.
The voice acting is superb too with all of the characters sounding exactly as you would imagine. Most of the personalities are charming, if a bit stereotypical, and their interactions tend to be pretty funny. There were no obvious translation issues. However, the dialogue does get a bit repetitive: Seraphina spends most of her time insulting Red Magnus, hitting on Killia, and trying to shoot all of the men who disobey her. Red Magnus is a meat-head who super wants everyone to super know how super tough he is. Also, he says super a lot. Killia is cool, as are the rest of the group, but the whole thing still feels like a bad soap opera at times. I take it back, Seraphina is cool too. I just hate Red Magnus.
The stagnant dialogue and predictable behaviors prevent any serious character development from pretty much everyone but the main character. Though these aren’t huge issues, they could be symptoms of a larger problem: NIS seems a bit unsure about its target audience. Dumbing down the dialogue leans toward a younger group, but some mature language and frequent sexual innuendo push the game back into the adult zone. But the story as a whole works well enough and, besides, the combat mechanics are the real gem in Vengeance. Let’s move on!
If you’re new to Disgaea or tactical RPGs in general, don’t worry. Vengeance provides in-depth tutorials for each new mechanic. If you’re already a fan, you’ll have a blast seeing staples from previous Disgaea titles, as well as picking up all the new techniques!
NIS has retained “Team Attacks,” group combos which allow up to four adjacent party members to combine their strength with basic attacks. Similarly, the new “Alliance Attack” system allows the main characters of Vengeance to team up in specific pairs for unique and devastating techniques.
Two other new mechanics, “Revenge Mode” and “Overload,” function as a linked pair. Dealing and receiving damage, as well as seeing allies fall, fills your characters’ revenge meters. Once full, characters will enter Revenge Mode, raising their critical strike chance, dropping attack costs, and making them tougher to kill. Each Overlord has a unique Overload skill, only usable while in Revenge Mode. These skills are generally large area attacks and represent their caster’s combat style. For example, Seraphina’s “Balor Gaze” charms all male characters within five spaces of her. Because she desperately needs more slaves.
Mastering the various combos and special attacks is not only necessary for survival in the later stages (some of those last boss fights are tough), it is critical for raising your combat score to obtain the gear, gold, and item bonuses each round. Even some of your strongest characters won’t be able to compete if they’re not fully decked out with updated equipment. Each character has a weapon aptitude, so everybody has a particular fighting style or two that they’re best suited to initially. Repeated use of a weapon raises the character’s “Weapon Mastery” and unlocks more powerful abilities with that combat style. Make sure to use your skills often, as leveling your abilities reduces their SP costs, and can even boost their range (primarily for spell-casters). In addition to active skills, every character has an “evility,” a passive enhancement that handicaps an enemy or provides boosts to the character or the entire allied team.
Another key to combat is utilizing the “Geo Effect” system. Players will start to see colored pyramids scattered around the later maps, which provide boosts and handicaps to characters standing on certain marked tiles. Some areas boost or reduce damage, defense, or experience gain, for example. It’s a fun strategic element, pushing players to hold beneficial areas while forcing their opponents onto detrimental tiles.
Throwing allies and enemies is another strategic necessity. Launching your tough guys behind enemy lines can be the best way to deal heavy area damage, and tossing weak back-line fighters to safety may be the only way to survive the enemy turn. Throwing an enemy into the middle of your forces can be a quick way to finish them off. Tossing them straight into your portal for the rest of your team to deal with is even quicker (and funnier).
Players can take up to 10 characters into combat on each stage. Switching is permitted, if a character returns to the portal. However, if a character dies, they cannot be replaced, so don’t let your weaklings wander too far from home! Allies you aren’t using anymore can still serve in a support role through the “Squad” system (similar to the clubs in earlier titles). They can help to build up your headquarters, unlock and explore other worlds, and even convert prisoners of war into allies. Team members can be assigned from the squad shop in your base.
Mechanics are pretty easy to pick up but do require a bit of application in order to fully understand the combo interactions (I was a couple of hours and several battles into the game before I got the hang of chaining attacks and seeing high scores and bonus rewards). In between battles, you’ll want to make full use of your base!
Much less grim than it sounds, the pocket Netherworld serves as a command center for Killia and his team of misfit demons. The base houses item and gear shops, a skill trainer, a quest giver, and a recruiter for additional teammates. Players can also rewatch previous events and access the game’s DLC when it arrives. More features are added as the campaign progresses.
One of those features is the “Item World,” which can be used to upgrade items and weapons by defeating assorted enemies on smaller, easier stages. This feature is best used to augment your best weapons and armor, providing significant stat boosts proportional to the number of stages you complete for the item. Also, with a wide variety of enemies, chest items, and level bonuses, the Item World is a great place to complete certain quests quickly.
The “Character World” is similar, but raises the stats of your teammates rather than your equipment. Instead of progressing through combat levels, the Character World plays more like a board game or Mario Party style mini-games.
Yet another feature packed into the pocket Netherworld is the “Strategy Assembly.” The assembly brings back the political aspect of Disgaea 4, allowing players to call meetings between the various demon factions to vote on bills to help their campaign. You can establish new squads, get temporary combat boosts, or change your character’s’ stats and appearances. One bill even allows players to create their own maps! If your bill has a low chance of passing, you can give items to Senators, but it’s definitely not a bribe.
You can probably beat the game in 20 hours, but that’s only if you put your head down and ignore most of the fun stuff. To really get the full experience, you’re going to need a lot more. Unlocking all of the character classes, building your dream team, going after the high-score bonuses on each level: Disgaea 5 has A LOT of content. We’ve got DLC to look forward to… and of course, you’ll want to pick up as many trophies as you can. But be forewarned, some of the trophy descriptions caution players that they will “take a lot of gaming” to earn. You know you’re in for a long one!