The Disgaea series has always had a special place in the hearts of tactical role-playing fans. Ever since NIS America’s franchise got its start on PlayStation 2, it has delivered a consistent dose of hilarious storytelling, and some of the most satisfying gameplay in the genre. Fans have seen a lot of the franchise in the past ten years, though, with remakes, sequels and spinoffs (starring the series’ mascot Prinny) all seeing release.
It’s totally understandable for fans to be feeling a little worn out by so many games bearing the Disgaea name, but they would be making a huge mistake if they didn’t give Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance a shot. Not only does the title manage to broaden the series’ appeal and overall accessibility with excellent tutorials, but it’s one of the best tactical RPGs to be released in years.
The one theme that constantly pops up in Disgaea 5 is revenge. Every aspect of the game, from the new gameplay mechanics to the story, revolves around the simple concept of revenge. Each of the main characters all have unique reasons for wanting to destroy the primary antagonist, Void Dark, who is a power hungry overlord set on ruling the entire netherworld. Players will have to use their rage to their advantage if they wish to extract their revenge.
The core gameplay has remained largely intact from previous instalments. As usual, you’ll be able to control different types of demons from an isometric perspective and command them to battle other demons. Any fans of tactical role-playing games such as Fire Emblem or Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner will feel right at home here. It isn’t all the same from past titles, though, as a few major changes were made for this outing.
The biggest change comes via the game’s revenge system. This new mechanic allows players to unleash a powerful ability once their characters (or their allies) have taken enough damage. These revenge skills are the most powerful abilities in the game, and can completely turn the tide of battle. For example, the main character, Seraphina, who is the overlord of one of the richest demon worlds, is able to control all male characters for a turn by using her Balor Gaze.
Revenge isn’t always on your side, though. It’s also in play for the enemies that players will face in the 15 chapter journey. Since wanting revenge causes characters to deal critical hits, you’ll want to eliminate all threats swiftly. Otherwise, the computer will be able to mount a comeback just like the player can.
This type of unpredictability in battles will keep players on their toes during the 20+ hours it takes to finish Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance. Thanks to the incredible depth of the series, you’re are always learning new skills and figuring out how each gameplay system interacts with one another.
While its mechanics may seem overwhelming to newcomers, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance manages to expertly introduce each new system to players. Throw in a way to control the game’s difficulty (you can sacrifice gaining mana or money to receive additional experience), and you have the most beginner friendly entry to date. That said, there definitely remains room for improvement for the series to become even more accessible in the future.
Levels often have a linear path that can be followed, which means players will spend a lot of time moving characters around. And, considering that Disgaea tasks players with controlling over 10 characters at once, it becomes a bit annoying to move every single one in the same direction. The ability to select multiple units and move them together would have made the gameplay flow much better.
Also bothersome is how much time players will have to spend in menus. Instead of automatically healing your teammates after a battle, you’ll have to travel to a medic in the hub world in order to heal your damaged comrades. This causes more downtime than there should be, as the game should just automatically heal your characters at the end of each chapter. Despite being the fifth installment, Disgaea 5 still feels a bit too old school with some of its design.
It’s worth digging through dozens and dozens of menus, though, as Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance features a fantastic story. The overarching theme of revenge has deep roots in the plot, and provides a great setup to put a diverse group of people together. Each character is likeable and flawed, and manages to show an impressive amount of development throughout the game’s 75+ levels.
The story also takes some dark turns and manages to tell a more mature story than previous Disgaea games. That isn’t to say that the series’ trademark sense of humor isn’t present — it definitely is, but it manages to tell a serious story while also providing plenty of laughs. It really is impressive how the game manages to jump from serious sequences to characters making pro wrestling jokes, but Disgaea never undermines its main story with frequent humor.
NIS America has delivered an incredible sequel to a series that already set a high bar in the past. Not only does it manage to add more depth, but it also makes the game much more accessible to new players. Whether this is your first Disgaea game or your fifth, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is an amazing RPG that needs to be played.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 exclusive, which we were provided with for review.
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance manages to be the best game in NIS America's beloved series. Not only does it add additional complexity, it's also the most newcomer friendly entry.