Review: Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance

Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance marks the third time the long running franchise has graced a console generation. The series made its debut in 2003 with Hour of Darkness, offering deep combat mechanics while maintaining a morbid sense of humor. It went on to produce multiple sequels, and while there were a handful of spinoffs, Nippon Ichi has been dedicated to continuously push the vast universe forward. The Japanese developer recognizes that the Netherworld has infinite possibilities for storytelling, with new characters that deserve time in the sun, even though the cast here is far less exuberant. Now that the PlayStation 4 has been out for nearly two years, it’s about time it has received a Strategy-RPG of the highest caliber, and what better game to fill that void than the fifth Disgaea? Introducing new modes, smartly redesigned systems and beautifully touched-up graphics, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is everything fans could have asked for, and then some.

As the title may suggest, the plot behind Alliance of Vengeance is one of revenge. A group of mischief overlords have found their way together to attempt to take down the overly powerful Void Dark who destroys netherworlds and demons on a whim. Each has their own reason for wanting Void in the ground, all of which is properly paced, at least until the end. In the last few chapters, it’s as if Nippon Ichi just wanted to move things along a bit too quickly. The conclusion with Void Dark and his battle is a bit anti-climactic, and the post-fight true final boss feels a bit rushed to the point. Unfortunately, that’s not the biggest issue with the story, it’s instead the main character, Killia. While the entire cast of characters have incredibly lively and affable personalities, something we’ve come to expect from the series, Killia doesn’t have much to speak of. He’s a very stoic individual, not saying much and not expressing himself until much later on in the plot, and even then, he’s still a demon of very few emotions. He seems to have a heart, but considering how overly dramatic the past protagonists were, he does very little to leave an impression on the player. If it weren’t for the strong cast of supporting characters, all of which don’t seem like demons at all, selflessly helping each other out in comical fashion, Killia would have dragged Disgaea 5 down.

Looking past the plot, Alliance of Vengeance is the most well iterated Disgaea yet. While the series has continuously pushed new mechanics and features, this is the generational leap fans have needed. It’s not going to blow anyone out of the water with ground breaking new additions, but what has been added and altered makes a huge difference. One of the biggest changes is the ability to move freely on the battlefield. Previous games had the problem where if an individual moved to one panel, they were stuck there unless the player presses circle to revert them back to their last position. Now, characters are given a radius in which they can maneuver, even after being placed. This especially comes in handy when, say, character 1 moves from one spot to another, and character 2 heads to character 1’s old location and executes an attack. At that point, character 1 would be stuck and unable to move, but now they can continuously go wherever they please within their respective radius. It’s the same situation when attacking and fleeing; characters won’t be stuck if you place them on the wrong panel, allowing a great deal of adjust to their location. While this doesn’t sound like a huge change, it makes the combat flow so much more smoothly.

A new feature to the series is the Revenge meter. This essentially fills up when a character attacks an enemy, or when someone witnesses a fellow comrade taking damage. This generates a stronger and more durable warrior, be it on your team or the enemy’s, giving them higher defense, more critical chances and better accuracy. This also ties straight into the new Overload mechanic. Essentially, all unique characters, be it the main cast or special recruitable individuals will have a special move they can unleash when they fill up the Revenge meter. These sometimes last a few of turns, such as Red Magnus’ Super Universe technique that transforms him into a giant with overwhelming power, or there’s some such as Seraphina’s ability that turns enemies against one another for a turn. Even the spunky Zeroken unleashes four shadow versions of himself, and while they’re slightly weaker than the real thing, they can still do immense damage, especially if he’s in giant form, be it from the Professor class’ ability, or the squad that’s associated with that trait.

One aspect that has been a bit of a bother ever since the series began is leveling character classes. Previously, in order to get an upgraded class, say going from a first to a second grade Martial Artist, the player would have to either create a new character or reincarnate an existing one. This added a lot of unnecessary grinding in order to unlock better classes, but thankfully that all changes in Disgaea 5. Each character class will now automatically be upgraded to the next grade. As they kill enemies, they will fill up a meter, and the more stars they fill, the better the character will become. This is one of the better streamlined aspects of the fifth iteration, and even adds the ability for story-related characters to take on sub-classes. Want Red Magnus to have similar traits to an Armored Knight? Well it’s as easy as going to the Strategy Assembly and assigning him that sub-class.

Speaking of classes, Nippon Ichi has added new characters to the overall roster, but at the same time removed various others. New are Wrestlers, Sages, Maids, Pirates, and Dark Knights. As one would expect, the Wrestler is more of a hand-to-hand combatant with an incredible amount of speed, but generally needs to get up in personal do damage. The Sage is a female demon (or angel – it wasn’t really explained) who is handy with both bows and magic. The undead Maid is best with a long ranged arsenal, enforcing unique specials with a three panel radius, not to mention being able to use items after a turn is complete. The Pirate is also mainly a long ranged class, although he can wield a sword or axe without much trouble. Dark Knights are arguably the best addition to the cast, being versatile in what he can use, while at the same time has the ability to hit enemies adjacent to his initial target.

Unfortunately, those that have left the roster are Beastmaster, Onmyo, Shaman, Kunoichi, and although the female Celestial Host is no longer to be found, there’s a male version in her place. The humanoid classes are what most will be using, but there are a number of new monsters to speak of, too. For example, there’s the brutish Grizzly, supportive Phantom, ever-so-elegant Nine Tailed Fox, two-headed Chimera, light-footed Rabbit, enforceable Imp, magical Fairy, and defense heavy Cavalier. As for who has left the monster crew, Ghost, Gargoyle, Cockatrice, Chernobog, Cu Sith, Skeletal Dragon, Wood Giant, Dragon and Baciel are now missing, just to name a few. The Japanese developer has also removed mounting from monsters that was introduced in Disgaea D2, substituting it with the allowance for multiple monsters are able to transform into weapons for one character, strengthening their abilities even further during battle.

The Nether Research Squad is a new addition to the franchise, giving players the ability to send off unused characters to other worlds to research them. This actually helps encourage players to create every class available as, while they won’t rank up their weapon mastery or special abilities on missions, it does net them a great deal of experience and class leveling. Better yet, depending on the level and type of netherworld characters are sent to, teams can bring back rare weapons, equipment and even prisoners that would be beneficial to Killia’s cause. This is an astonishingly easy way to level up individuals, almost a little too much. Near the end of the game, I found myself in a predicament where almost every character I didn’t use was over double the level of those I did use. It does begin to equal itself out further into the post-game, but it’s easy to unbalance the main campaign this way.

The Chara World also make a resurgent, making it actually enjoyable to level up stats and trains certain attributes of characters. It’s now implemented as a board game where players need to roll a die in order to move forward. Depending where the die takes you, it may be to the character’s benefit or loss. For example, HL or Mana can be stolen by a Thief or Succubus, while at the same time there are panels that will grant higher attack percentages or dish out an item. This is one of the few modes that use Mana now that HL is required to create new characters, and the more times you enter this world, the more costly it becomes, at least until that character is reincarnated. It’s actually an interesting world that can be fun to use depending if you know how to play. Stocking up on items that add additional moves or specific values will ensure characters get the most out of their time in this world. Best yet, if you make it to the end of the map, not only will all the values that were collected be added, but you will be granted a special treat, such as the ability to move an extra step on in the field, a new Evility, throw farther, better weapon master, and various other to choose from.

Other than that, this is more or less the same Disgaea we’ve come to love. Nippon Ichi has streamlined a number of other smaller features, such as the equipment store stocking armor, accessories and weapons instead of being distributed among multiple merchants, along with having a more accessible and diverse squad system. Innocents located in items can be taken out and raised on a farm, growing their attributes steadily so they can be placed in other more powerful weapons or armor. The post-game content is also a bit dry in comparison to the main story. While there’s still a decent amount of content to do, and a number of unique characters to recruit, it feels more of a grind than anything else, trying to get from level 100-9999. At the very least they give a great deal of ways to climb the ladder, such the cheat shop which will allow player to substitute percentages for EXP, Mana, Money, Weapon Mastery and Special Skill EXP.

From a visual standpoint, it’s easy to mistake Disgaea 5 with older games in the franchise. Nippon Ichi has a knack for reusing assets, mainly character designs and animations, and while Disgaea 5 isn’t void of this, there are new graphics to be found. All of your favorite classes look more or less the same as their older models, but some of them now come with new animations (specifically idle) and a sharper, more vibrant look that, in an odd way, feels like a generation leap for Disgaea. There’s finer detail that will easily go unnoticed, along with brand new character stills, but it’s pretty inconsistent who has received an upgrade. For example, most of the monster classes such as Slime, Zombie and Prinny maintain the same art as the past couple of games. Oddly enough, almost every single demon-humanoid class has been reworked with new art with the exception of Professor, Fight Mistress and Martial Artist. While almost every character has been touched up in some way, it’s strange to see maybe only half the cast receiving a full on remodel.

Outside of the characters, all of the menus have also been redone, creating a more user friendly and visually potent atmosphere. A brilliant touch is also the reworking of Geo Panels. Originally, they were a generic, slightly transparent colored section of the map, but now they are individually designed. That’s not to say they’re all handcrafted as each panel uses the same tile, but having its own design overlaid with a color actually adds more to the flair than it should. Most importantly, though, is the various new animations that have been added. While there’s still a great deal of previously existing abilities to be found, there are a handful of new ones that have their own distinct scene. My personal favorite has to be the skill the Zombie class uses, putting its enemy in a House of the Dead first-person shooter scenario where they eventually get swarmed and torn apart. The new multi-character skills are also comically done, adding even more flavor to the already silly style Disgaea is known for.

Closing Comments:

Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is a step in the right direction for the series, adding various new mechanics that help streamline the experience. Having the ability to move freely after an initial action is something the series desperately needed, as accidentally placing characters in the wrong location has been a common frustration. That’s not to mention the smartly redesigned class leveling system, no longer requiring players to reincarnate characters to reap their success. There’s just so much crammed into this one package, with the infinitely addictive Item World that’s better than ever and a Nether Research Squad that helps give those who weren’t able to make it into battle a little bit of purpose. It’s not without its faults, though, as the story somewhat falls apart at the end and the protagonist is a bit of a drag, but at least the supporting cast makes up for him. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance implements some of the smartest choices the series has seen since its debut in 2003, making this not only the best Disgaea game to date, but one of the best Strategy-RPGs available.