The venerable Disgaea series has returned with its latest entry, subtitled Alliance of Vengeance. Disgaea 5 takes place in the Netherworlds, or essentially Hell, and features a cast of unlikely Demon Lords who bond together to overthrow the tyrannical Overlord Void Dark, who threatens to conquer, or possibly destroy, the entirety of the Netherworlds.
The game opens as the self-proclaimed ultimate temptress Seraphina is waging a war against Void Dark and his Lost army out of a desire to avoid being forced to marry him… she and her Prinny army are losing rapidly when a strange demon named Killia shows up and… sits down for a meal in the middle of the battlefield. After eating, he singlehandedly destroys the Lost battalion and Seraphina falls in lo… ahem, sorry… Seraphina decides to make him her servant.
And this is where our weird, wacky, and wonderful story begins. With Hell being not so bad a place… with Demons as varied as you could possibly imagine… and with a war on the horizon that threatens to destroy all.
The First and Second Circles: Punners and Cliches
Our first circle of Disgaea Hell is reserved for the game’s fantastic story. The characters are utter clichés in the best possible way. The game isn’t content to just let the characters be clichés… it takes them and pushes them to the SUPER EDGE. Sorry, Red Magnus got to me for a second. Every character has a few very extreme traits, an interesting backstory, and some ticks that make them memorable.
These aren’t the types of characters you’d see in something like The Last of Us or Persona… these aren’t meant to be even remotely close to believable people. They’re meant to be walking bundles of hilarity with just enough story to make them engaging. And as long as you recognize that is the intent, you’ll get along fine. The characters have this great dynamic, where they each kind all seem just a little bit like idiots but they play off each other to actually tell a pretty interesting story.
And this game features some of the strangest and most incredible sources of comedy and amusement I’ve ever seen. In between chapters, you get hilarious little fake ‘post-episode’ chatter that is designed to resemble the style of various anime. The abilities are also often ties to various anime… I noticed one archer ability that was a clear reference to Unlimited Blade Works, for example. The female lead’s abuse of her Prinny workers is utterly hilarious… But by far and away my favourite ‘comic moment’ in the game lies within recruiting new characters. This game’s random name generator is gloriously absurd. Whether you wish to recruit President Ronnie, Underwear Man, various school supplies, or just a monster named Bob… nothing is off-limits for this game’s random name generator.
The Third and Fourth Circles: Prinny Tossers and Wacky Monsters
Strategy RPGs tend to follow one of two combat archetypes… either the team turn style like the abysmal Fire Emblem: Awakening or the solo turn style like Final Fantasy Tactics. As a general rule, I’ve preferred the solo turn style where each character has their own turn defined by some stat such as speed. I’ve found it generally leads to a greater depth of strategy and less need to be extremely defensive. Which makes it very surprising to me to say that Disgaea 5 is among the best SRPGs I’ve ever played, despite using the team turn style.
Disgaea 5 bucks the curve by making the base difficulty a bit more reasonable and offering a lot of different strategic options that would only work in a team turn environment. Probably my favourite two mechanics are the throwing mechanics and the Geo Effect puzzles. When I say throwing I’m not referring to thrown weapons, although those are present too, but rather the ability for characters to pick up other characters and items and throw them around the map. This can be used to access high (or low) areas, to speed up traversal, or as part of the Geo Effect puzzles (which I’ll go into more depth regarding shortly). The funniest interaction though is that if you throw a Prinny, a monster that looks kind of like a strange bird, it explodes, dealing damage to other nearby Prinnies and also causing them to explode.
Alongside Prinnies are a veritable plethora of strange monsters and demon classes you can hire to your party, each with their own distinct abilities, stats, and equipment preferences. There are so many different types of weapons and abilities, that you’ll have a never-ending supply of options to build your party out of. Whether you’re looking for an eclectic army of gargoyles, zombies, and bunnies, or a more traditional army of sages, knights, and archers… Disgaea 5 has the right choice for you. My current main party features a battle bunny, a sage, a professor, a few of the main characters, an archer, a monk, a samurai, a mage knight, and more for example.
The Fifth Circle: Geosolvers
Arguably my favourite part of Disgaea 5 are the Geo Effect puzzles. In some battles there will be coloured panels on the ground of different colours along with prisms of similar colours. Each prism will have a marked effect, and if you place a prism onto a panel, all panels of that colour grant that effect to those standing on them. These effects can be anything from healing or damage to stat boosts or even random teleportation at the end of the turn. But there’s more to it than that… if you destroy a prism while it is on a tile, it will change the colour of all tiles of that colour to match the prism (for example, destroying a green prism on a blue tile changes all blue tiles to green) and damaging all characters or objects on any changed tile.
There is also a ‘null’ prism in most stages that have these Geo Effects, the null prism will, if destroyed on a tile, nullify all tiles of that colour and causing massive damage to all enemies on the entire map if you manage to nullify all of the coloured tiles on the map. Figuring out these Geo Puzzles is hugely beneficial as not only do you get a huge damage boost to all enemies, but you also increase the rewards you get for that stage. Optional challenges are always a good way to enhance gameplay, and these puzzles were a lot of fun to play around with.
The Sixth Circle: Grinding Min-Maxers!
If there’s one thing Disgaea does right, it’s replayability. The quantity – and quality – of post-game content and optional stuff to tackle is absurd. Not only does the level cap go to 9999, complete with challenge content aimed at catering to that level cap, but there’re also a plethora of other systems for making your characters and your team stronger. Now, I haven’t really scratched the surface on this stuff, but barring bug abuse you could easily spend hundreds of hours on it if you wanted to max things out.
Probably my favourite replayable aspect is the Infinite Grind of the Galactic Item World. Basically, you can enter a dungeon that represents one of your items, and as you explore the dungeon, the item becomes stronger. The dungeon is a series of levels like any others, with monsters, Geo Effects, rewards, loot, experience… but you also get a godly item at the end. How could you not love that? And there are also strange random rooms within the Item World dungeons, which can range from stores to secret treasure rooms to monsters that will kill you in one hit if you look at them wrong… oh right, that’s the one part I didn’t really like about it. I’m fine with the game punishing you for mistakes… but the punishments should be reasonable.
You see, in the Item World, you may stumble upon rooms with random NPCs in them. If you talk to the NPCs, sometimes even once, it’ll trigger you having to fight them. Usually this is just another fun, albeit slightly more challenging, stage of enemies… but once in a while the game will drop enemies like 1000 levels higher than you on your face and disable your ability to use items to escape. If not for that latter part, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Force me to use an escape, force me to give up on progressing further right now… but don’t make me have wasted the past 1-3 hours just because I talked to an NPC once.
The Final Circle – The Miscellaneous
I’ll be blunt with you here, this game’s graphics are not anything special. Which is really to be expected… but fortunately graphic quality isn’t everything. Art style is really the most important facet a lot of the time, and this game’s unique take combat animations and character models do a great job of making it feel lively. But what helps even more is the game’s music… which is a strange mix of genres but all fit the bill perfectly.
The problem with reviewing a game like this is that there’s simply too much to talk about. The game itself is an extremely solid SRPG and plays exactly like you’d expect an SRPG to, but it does have a bit of an eccentric artistic style that I could see turning some away. Additionally, the extremely punny characters and heavily nuanced humour – featuring references to over a dozen other works – may limit the appeal. But if you can get past that, and if you can handle a heavy dose of SRPG grinding, Disgaea 5 will be your go-to for months to come because it really is one of the best the genre has to offer.