Nippon Ichi’s eccentric turn-based strategy RPG series, Disgaea, has now made its Nintendo Switch debut with the definitive edition of Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance: now known as Disgaea 5 Complete. As a fan of the series when it first started out back on PlayStation 2 and was being published by Atlus, I could not be any happier. For those of you who have never touched a Disgaea game before (you know who you are, scumbags) there are a couple of hallmarks that really make it stand out from its competitors. First of all forget about the typical good vs. evil tropes that you encounter in most videogames. In Disgaea, you play as demons from the netherworld. Most of these demons aren’t as evil as you would expect them to be (I prefer the term ‘morally ambiguous’), but they’re generally looking out for their own interests. Second is the large dose of offbeat humor that goes hand in hand beautifully with being in control of said demons. Last and most important is the satisfying gameplay, chock full of insane moves, combos, and massive amounts of damage not usually seen in your typical RPG. What it all amounts to is a whole lot of insane moments and crazy humor injected into a genre that is typically devoid of such frivolities. Now let’s get down to business, dood.
I’m going to talk about the story a bit now, so if you want to avoid very minor spoilers, you should skip this paragraph NOW. An incredibly powerful demon overlord that goes by the name of Void Dark and his army of the Lost are on a quest to either take over or destroy every netherworld that opposes him in a bid to rule over a united demon front. The beautiful (and trigger-happy) Seraphina, the Overlord of Gorgeous, is engaging a battalion of the Lost when the lone warrior Killia wanders into the middle of the battlefield. After annihilating the entire group of Lost by himself, Seraphina decides to rope him into her schemes. Killia wants to exact revenge on Void Dark so he grudgingly agrees to help out her cause. This leads them to meeting overlords of other troubled netherworlds and sets them off on the path to forming a rebel army to take down Void Dark and the Lost.
Quirky and unique are the first words that come to mind when I think about the characters in Disgaea 5. I always loved the art direction the Disgaea series has taken with its characters and this time around is no different. Each main character has his/her own goofy traits and idiosyncrasies. Killia, no matter what kind of dangerous situation he is in, will sit down and stuff his face with high-quality food in order to prep him for intense combat. Seraphina has one of the most adorable laughs I’ve ever heard in a videogame, and she is always going on about subjugating men to her will. And for wrestling fans, there is a masked overlord named Logan who is – I’m not exaggerating here- basically the anime version of Hulk Hogan. His specialty is throwing characters around, some of his abilities have names like ‘Heroic Backbreaker’, and when he says “Whatcha gonna do when my Lift and Throw technique runs wild on you!?” I knew that there must have been a closet WWE fan working on the game. Not to mention Red Magnus and his frequent use of the word ‘jabroni’. Watching the interactions between a cast of characters like this makes for an entertaining adventure.
Disgaea follows an episodic structure. Each episode is made up of a certain amount of maps that must be cleared to open up the next one. The majority of the story plays out at the beginning and end of the episodes, with some talking in between some maps. There is also a new feature that is much like the skits found in the Tales series (another long-running series of excellent RPGs). Occasionally when in the pocket netherworld that serves as your main hub, characters will have an exclamation mark over their heads. Talking to them opens up a special conversation that helps to either flesh out the story a little more or just to show off how crazy Killia and co. are.
On the gameplay side of things, Disgaea is very much the same game it was many years ago: a turn-based strategy RPG where there is no limit to how strong you can get and how much damage you can dish out. As long as you’re willing to grind, that is. On top of all the staples returning from previous entries (The Assembly, the Item World, Reincarnation, Evilities) there are even more additions such as Interrogation and Squads. Interrogating people can net you a couple of benefits. The most important one is being able to get magical extracts from prisoners you have interrogated. A magical extract is a consumable that provides a permanent increase to a character’s stats and is fantastic for powering up weaker allies. Squads work a bit like the Homeroom from Disgaea 3. You have a variety of squad options to assign your characters to, each option providing unique benefits. For example, you can assign members to the capture squad. This gives members of the squad the ability to capture weakened enemies in battle to be interrogated back at base. The curry squad allows you to make special curries that provide various enhancements to all allies in the next battle. Speaking of battles, this is the perfect time to segue into our next topic!
Battles are still turn-based affairs in which you can deploy up to ten members of your party from your base panel. There is still a heavy emphasis on getting your characters into position in order to knock out some devastating combo attacks on your poor enemies. Doing combos fill up a bonus meter, rewarding you with extra items and experience once the battle is over. Other than leveling up, there are plenty of ways to power up your characters. When a character kills an enemy, they are rewarded with mana. Mana is used on all sorts of things that can make them stronger. Skills and spells level up from repeated use. There is a vendor at the hub that can increase the power level of spells and abilities by spending mana, but this also increases the cost of using them in battle. Evilities are special traits that offer various bonuses to a character, with effects like poison immunity, increased stats, or more aptitude towards a certain weapon class. Each class has an affinity for certain weapons. These are portrayed as lettered grades, like a report card. The letter A implies that the class is great at using that particular weapon, an F would mean not proficient at all. Weapon proficiency can be improved by using the weapon repeatedly. It seems like there are way more progression mechanics than any standard RPG would need. I have mixed feelings about it. It gives players a lot more things to do, should they want to try and master the game. On the other hand, it feels like too much grinding for people who don’t want to spend much time with the game beyond completing the main story.
Although Disgaea’s overall aesthetic has remained very much the same as it was back on PS2, its graphics have been updated in order to keep up with the times. The gorgeously hand-drawn anime-style characters are nice to look at. The fact that the character design is fantastic also goes a long way in my book: you can have the best graphics but it doesn’t matter if the characters look boring. The soundtrack is much like the graphics: longtime fans will recognize the familiar style of the eclectic-sounding instrumental tracks that fit in quite well with the quirky nature of the series.
If I had to sum up Disgaea 5 in one sentence, it would be “more of the same, and then some more.” Every main Disgaea entry is more of the same over and over again, with a few new additions and tweaks added to each new entry. As a result, the series is still very much the same as it ever was which can feel either familiar and nostalgic to some or boring and stale to others. For me personally, it’s the former. Even though the gameplay is more or less the same, the characters and story are brand new and a good time all around. It is essentially videogame comfort food. The fact that it is on Switch -and therefore portable- is a huge boon as it’s a solid game to play on the go. Disgaea 5 Complete is a great addition to any RPG junkie’s burgeoning Switch collection.
The DLC Down-Low
Time for the DLC roundup! There is a lot of DLC added in with this version, so it would be a shame if I didn’t at least give it a quick mention. Disgaea 5 Complete, as the name implies, comes with all the DLC released on the original PlayStation 4 version. This makes an already awesome game even more awesome, not to mention even more time-consuming. There are 8 extra scenario packs from previous entries in the Disgaea series and two other Nippon Ichi series: La Pucelle and Makai Kingdom. Completing these content packs allows you to add characters from those games into your party. There are quite a few other DLC characters available for you to add to your party right away; Metallia from The Witch and The Hundred Knight; Girl Laharl from D2: A Brighter Darkness; Nisa (a character representation of the company NIS America); and finally, a whole stack of unique Prinnies. There are also three extra classes to be recruited at the Character Recruiter: Kunoichi, Celestial Hostess, and the Sorcerer. Last but not least are a pack of starting weapons and one million HL (the game's form of currency). The money is especially useful as it allows you to comfortably arm your party with the best equipment for most of the game.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 8.5/10
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