Disclosure: the author was provided with a copy of this game by NIS America for the purpose of this review
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Platform: PlayStation 4
In a time where Japanese RPG releases on the PlayStation 4 are few and far between, what better way to reenter the fray than with a game that will take you hundreds, if not thousands of hours to finish? That’s what Nippon Ichi Software has provided to us when it comes to their newest title, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, Disgaea is a long running Strategy RPG franchise that has been seeing regular releases since its PlayStation 2 debut in 2003. In this series, players are tasked with commanding an army of quirky demons as they attempt to take command of the Netherworld, and Disgaea 5 doesn’t stray far away from that path. Except this time, you and your rebel band of friends are battling to wrestle control of every Netherworld from the hands of an evil tyrant who goes by the name of Void Dark; a villain so cruel that every time you see him, he’s accompanied by a new adviser after the previous one is annihilated at the hands of their cruel leader (By the time I started writing this, he was up to his 84th adviser by the way).
The greatest strength of the Disgaea franchise is the large cast of lovable, hilarious characters the series has brought us. Whether it’s Laharl attempting to prove that even a short demon can aspire to greatness, or Lord Valvatorez; the Vampiric Tyrant who swore off human blood and sated his thirst with sardines. The franchise is brimming with characters that you will remember long after you’re done playing. Disgaea 5 continues this tradition with another cast of zany characters, however…I found myself having a lot of trouble caring about most of them. The worst of the lot in this case was the main hero of the game, Kilia. Maybe it’s because it’s just me, but I’ve grown tired of the quiet, brooding character with a mysterious past. Kilia is just a checklist of edgy teenage “Cool guy” traits, and I could never bring myself to truly care about his struggles with his identity or past. While I’m not in the market of spoiling the game’s story, I will say that the segments where Kilia speaks to his dark inner self may seem cool to others, but every time I saw them I was laughing and cringing all at once. While Kilia may have been boring, I would have been able to overlook that if he at least had several characters that surrounded him who I found enjoyable, but unfortunately the game couldn’t even provide me with that.
In fact, the only cast member I really enjoyed at all was one who I wished was the main character: this ripped, red behemoth named Red Magnus. His only motivation, is to beat up Void Dark and prove himself as the strongest Overlord. Red Magnus’s lines about men having a secret or two, or making all of his verbs be prefaced with the word SUPER in front of it was, well…SUPER amazing. Alas, I was stuck with the struggles of Kilia, and to be honest, the main characters did a better job of putting me to sleep than actually keeping me interested in the game. In fact, I found myself more interested in the trials and adventures of the Throwing Overlord Lord Logan, who just so happens to sound like Hulk Hogan when he speaks.
Luckily, the storytelling of Disgaea titles is one of the smallest parts of the experience. Instead of an in-depth story that would take you hundreds of hours to finish, the real Disgaea doesn’t begin until you reach the post game. Here is where players will be spending the rest of their lives grinding away, playing the same levels hundreds of times, until their characters are a billion levels higher and are doing damage numbers higher than the Earth’s population with a single swing. If the Disgaea games are known for one thing, it’s the grind: a whole lot of grinding. Whether you’re trying to get up to the 200th level of the Item World to level up a single item, or you’re replaying that same mission with harder enemies for the 139th time. You will be spending a vast majority of your time running between your preferred grinding method and your local healer. If RPG grinding is something you’d like to avoid in your video games, I recommend you just shut this off right now, because the dictionary definition of grinding really should just read: Disgaea.
The grind becomes such a large part of your experience that I, as well as many others would recommend you have another TV screen or monitor to watch something else while you grind away. Disgaea is one of the few games that I’d say almost plays itself in a lot of places. But at the same time, IF you like the grind, as I do. It’s not such a bad thing.
Disgaea as a franchise has seen a horde of improvements over the course of its history, and Alliance of Vengeance thankfully continues to smooth out the edges of the games with the addition of a few new key features, as well as an entire laundry list of new content that I frankly found unnecessary and actually really confusing. But that maybe has to do with the fact that I haven’t had the chance to slow down and fully experience this game for everything it has to offer. Remember, I said hundreds, if not thousands of hours of gameplay is on offer here.
Outside of combat, you may find yourself overwhelmed with all the options you have available to you within the hub world, and I can really tell you is that you need to read the tutorial on every facility very carefully. If I was to write out a full explanation of every department you have use of in game, this review would end up being a series of 15 articles.
When it comes to the combat, the changes are much more straightforward. Each enemy now has a Revenge meter; this meter will build if the mob or its allies take damage or fall in combat. When the Revenge meter is full, all special attacks only cost 1SP and are a guaranteed critical hit. This meter can be built across multiple levels, so when you are at a near full Revenge bar, that won’t go to waste by finishing a mission. Also, due to the PlayStation 4’s increased memory over previous generations, Disgaea 5 can now handle up to 100 HD sprites on screen at once without the game’s performance suffering. This can lead to some pretty lengthy battles, especially when the monsters you’re trying to defeat are rocking HP bars of 400 BILLION! Another addition to Alliance of Vengeance is the ability for every character to have two weapons equipped at the same time. This means if your demon has abilities that require a wand and abilities that require a bow, they can have both equipped at once.
Alongside these more major changes to combat, there are several smaller tweaks as well, but for the most part, Disgaea’s core gameplay remains here intact. Disgaea 5’s design may seem larger and more imposing than you remember, but you’ll recall the gameplay flow within a few hours, and then you’ll fall right back into the rhythm of dealing out massive damage in hopes of getting some sweet loot.
While the characters aren’t the best, the gameplay that the franchise is known for does more than enough to make up for their shortcomings. This game is a must have for any JRPG fan looking to get their fix, as long as you can handle the grind. Disgaea’s style is tried and true; it’s one of those few niche series that has found great success with the Western market with its unique gameplay and focus on character and humor. There is no series quite like it, and if you’re like me and have been desperately awaiting more JRPGs to arrive on the current gen, look no further than Disgaea 5, a game that you will be grinding your way through the rest of 2015, and maybe if you’re lucky, will properly finish up by the end of next year.