Review: Disgaea 5 Alliance of Vengeance (PS4)

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Nippon Ichi Software struck gold with the first Disgaea on PlayStation 2. The game served its brand of humor atop a great strategy RPG system, spawning a series that has served a loyal fanbase for thirteen years. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance seeks to expand that audience, and they’ve crafted one hell of a gateway drug, dood.

Like Dynasty Warriors and Monster Hunter, Disgaea doesn’t stray from its roots when it comes to sequels. Similarly, all three games focus on slowly building your hero through repeated playthroughs and a wealth of content – you could easily clock over a hundred hours if you wanted to. They very much appeal to the completionists and character builders out there, and is a key consideration should game length be a concern.

That being said, fans of strategy RPGs need to pick this up. Without question. Disgaea as a series joins the ranks of genre icons Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem for the amount of choice and depth it offers. Arguably, its greater strength is in its thematic difference: rather than period fantasy, Disgaea is set in the demon Netherworld, with incredibly colorful characters and great servings of comedy.

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Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance begins with our main characters Seraphina and Killia. Their character designs are distinctly Japanese, and while not as exaggerated or revealing as other games it’s definitely something that stood out, at least in those opening moments. That thought fades quickly, however, as units are mainly represented in cute sprite forms.

Unfortunately, any interest I had in these two also faded pretty quickly. They stick keenly to anime character tropes here, which isn’t necessarily bad, but they never break the mold or do much to court excitement. Seraphina is a spoiled princess whose literal power is to charm men, whereas Killia is the brooding, mysterious wanderer haunted by his past and a lust for revenge.

By comparison, supporting characters such as Red Magnus or the legion of Prinnies add far more life to the game. The latter are a race of penguin-like creatures easily associated with the series, and their life as disposable low-wage servants are delightfully captured in snippets of dialogue.

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The story revolves around our two protagonists joining up with others to form a rebel army, a last stand against the aggressive expansion of the villainous Void Dark. He shares a connection with our “heroes” in some way but is rarely more than a commanding presence on a throne.

It’s nice to see the narrative presented in an episodic format, complete with fun previews for the next, and the light-heart approach keeps things bouncing along smoothly. Honestly, you wouldn’t buy Disgaea 5 for the story but it’s certainly entertaining enough.

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Hearing the term “deep strategy RPG” can be pretty intimidating for someone new, and screenshots on the back cover don’t really tell much. With that in mind, Nippon Ichi did a fantastic job with the game’s pacing. Key mechanics such as stacking and throwing, team attacks, combos, and revenge are all broken into digestible segments, and it doesn’t take long before I’m confidently tossing people around the map.

This is where Disgea’s playful antics come out in force. Stacking is literally what it sounds like – units holding each other up in a vertical column – and I can either choose to attack like some dexterous circus act or toss other units in the stack, covering distances and heights I normally wouldn’t reach. Watch out though: a Prinny explodes when tossed, something shrewd players can use to their advantage.

Skills and special abilities are all suitably flashy, fitting for their modern hardware debut. Some of the sprites aren’t as sharp when the camera is close, though those didn’t bother me too much. What did catch my attention were the new team attacks and their animations, the corkscrews and flurries injecting a ton of energy into a seemingly static scene.

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Unlike tactical games such as XCOM, the challenge in Disgaea 5 isn’t in defeating overwhelming odds. A gauge to the right fills up whenever a combo is pulled off, the final score determining what bonuses you get at the end of battle. What makes it interesting is that each map has a unique grand prize, and getting a high enough combo meter to actually win it takes a deep understanding of the game’s mechanics and a lot of repeated attempts.

And that’s just one avenue for replayability since the series opens up at end-game. Heroes can reincarnate to start back at level 1 with a boost to base stats; an Item World allows players to upgrade items through combat, which can then be infused with varying spirits for bonuses; mana can be spent for skill upgrades or enacting bills through a senate-like Dark Assembly; and much, much more. Simply put, it gets overwhelming.

If all you want is to see how the campaign pans out then you’re in for a (mostly) breezy ride. Otherwise, expect to spend plenty on and off time with the game, especially if you have some grand goals in mind. The bite-sized nature of the combat helps a lot in that regard, and I sometimes wish there was a portable version too.

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The folks who love Disgaea already own Disgaea. It’s one of those games that can do little wrong, each iteration a refinement of the last. Outliers exist, of course, but Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance isn’t one of them. Veterans will have lots to sink their teeth into before calling it a day, and newcomers can expect a pleasantly guided descent down this deep, dark hole to the Netherworld. Just treat your Prinnies right, dood.

DISGAEA 5: ALLIANCE OF VENGEANCE

  • Excellent combat system
  • Absurd amount of replay value
  • Abundant humor

  • Fairly bland story

THE VERDICT: ★★★★½

Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is a strategy RPG developed by Nippon Ichi Software and published by NIS America. Available now for PlayStation 4.

A copy was provided for review.

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Ade Putra

Ade thinks there's nothing quite like a good game and a snug headcrab. He grew up with HIDEO KOJIMA's Metal Gear Solid, lives for RPGs, and is waiting for light guns to make their comeback.