Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: Oct. 6, 2015 (US), Oct. 16, 2015 (EU)


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PS4 Review - 'Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 6, 2015 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance brings together a completely new cast of characters to tell a tale of rebellion and revenge.

The Disgaea franchise is probably one of the densest RPG franchises on the market. Each one begins with a simple concept and introduces more mechanics and concepts until it is almost overwhelming. Unfortunately, the polish doesn't always live up to the content, and some of the recent Disgaea games haven't lived up to their potential. Fortunately, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is a welcome deviation from that. It is possibly the most refined entry in the franchise to date.

Disgaea 5 begins in the middle of a gigantic war. A powerful demonic Overlord known as Void Dark has declared war on the entire multiverse and is conquering other Overlords and their Netherworlds. The game opens with him attacking the Overlord of Gorgeous, Seraphina. Just before she can be overwhelmed, a warrior called Kilia shows up and destroys the demons attacking her. Seraphina, Kilia and a group of other Overlords form a rebel army to fight against Void Dark. Of course, an eccentric band of would-be heroes like this has its own share of drama and secrets, and they'll need to overcome them if they want to succeed.

The plot covers some well-worn territory, but I feel that it's better than any of the recent Disgaea titles. The characters fall into familiar stereotypes that the franchise has used, but the core writing is better. I really appreciate that it's less guilty of the "one joke" syndrome. While each character has a running joke, they deviate from them more often, leading to more natural character interaction. The game is guilty of repeating the same joke in multiple consecutive scenes, but by and large, the characters are some of my favorite in the sub-franchise. Alas, the trend toward Disgaea themes of "demonic overlords" and "the power of friendship" make things feel kind of similar after a while.

Disgaea 5 looks very similar to the previous games in the series, and many of the core mechanics are untouched. Numbers have gotten bigger than ever, but that won't matter until very late in the game. At first blush, there isn't much that makes this title look or feel like a PS4 exclusive. Rather than change for change's sake, Disgaea 5 seems more interested in refining the existing mechanics, so Geo Blocks, the Item World, and other classic Disgaea mechanics are present and more refined. Most of the improvements found in Disgaea D2 and Disgaea 4 have been retained, along with a bevy of new ones.

The biggest change to combat in Disgaea 5 is the addition of the Revenge Meter for all characters. The meter fills up as they or their allies take damage. When it's full, they gain a number of bonuses. They take reduced damage, always score a critical hit on their attacks, and all SP costs are reduced to one. This lasts for about three turns. In addition, certain characters gain access to new special moves, including character-specific abilities. For example, Seraphina can use Balor's Gaze to temporarily charm all enemies in a huge radius, and Red Magnus can turn into his giant Super Olympia form for a huge stat boost. This also applies to enemies, so many bosses can go into a Revege state and access deadly abilities.

While enemies in Revenge state are significantly more powerful, they drop special items if they're defeated. These items grant a character permanent stat boosts, so there's a new risk/reward element to combat. It also gives tank characters a new benefit. While previous Disgaea games were incredibly offensive-focused, tank characters can now find a comfortable niche by quickly building up their Revenge Meters.

The other major feature is the squad system, which are similar to Evil Symbols from Disgaea 4. You set up squads, attach party members to them and designate a leader. Characters who are part of a squad grant special bonuses ranging from everyone getting a portion of the squad leader's EXP to allowing you to begin the stage as a giant. While in Revenge mode, you can use squad attack to perform a special move that uses every member of your squad to attack — but enemies also have squads. A squad attack doesn't just hit one enemy but every single member of the enemy squad on the map, so it's a fantastic way to clear large stages. Squads can be leveled up, and captured enemies become prisoners, who can be recruited or assigned to labor duty on a squad. Assign enough enemies, and your squad gains new powers and abilities.

The core mechanics haven't changed much from previous games, but they've been polished. Many minor changes have been made that quickly add up to a more user-friendly experience. Creating new characters is significantly less painful and time-consuming than in previous games. New character classes are unlocked by performing quests, some of which involve collecting simple items. Sub-classing characters causes them to gain levels as if it were their primary class. This unlocks evilities for the character as well as higher-tier classes and new classes. Recruiting characters only costs money instead of mana, and you can also pay to start at a higher level. Getting new higher-level characters in top-tier classes now takes a fraction of the time.

In general, grinding is way less of a process. Almost everything that was significantly time-consuming in previous games has been trimmed down. Some of these features were in previous Disgaea titles, such as the Cheat Shop. Others, such as a more robust and far more abusable Innocent system, are new to Disgaea 5.

One of the small changes that is a big deal is the new Item bag, which lets you carry around 2,000 items in your bag at once. This makes it far easier to take advantage of items and gimmicks you couldn't in earlier games. It certainly makes the Dark Assembly much easier to manipulate and modify. There are a lot more 3x3 special moves than in previous games; this might not sound like much to casual players, but those who grinded tons of levels in previous games will know how significant that setup is.

One of the coolest new changes is how the Chara World is handled. It's been replaced by a board game of sorts. You move your character around a map filled with various squares that have positive and negative effects, and your aim is to reach the goal. You can use items exclusive to the Chara World to manipulate your rolls to make this easier. Each square has the potential to boost your character in a variety of ways, such as improved stats, better character growth, or new evilities. If you reach the end of the board before you run out of turns, you unlock the ability to get more permanent buffs and bonuses. It's an interesting change because you want to spend as many of your turns on the board as possible to maximum your profit, but misjudging your time can lead to a penalty for going over your turn limit. It's also simple and enjoyable to play, which is a big benefit.

Disgaea 5 is a game of small changes, so don't expect radical revamps to the gameplay, style or tone. It's more focused on refinement and polish than on changing the game. For those who've burned out on the previous games, there may not be enough changes to respark their interest. It also doesn't take advantage of the PS4, so visually and performance-wise, it's only a small step up. There are a few places that take advantage of the much larger unit numbers the game can support, such as a mystery room packed to the gills with Prinnies, but otherwise, you're not going to see much difference from the last-gen versions. There are a ton of new classes, weapons and abilities, but it's just a case of not rocking the boat. The die-hard Disgaea faithful may be looking for something more.

Unfortunately, the small changes also apply to the graphics. The sprite work and animations in Disgaea 5 are mostly great. The characters are large and well-animated, and some of the attack animations are top-notch. They're just not much better than what was in Disgaea 4, or they may have just been recycled. More disappointing is that the frame rate sometimes drops for no clear reason; it's odd considering that it can't be a very taxing game. Both Japanese and English voice acting are available. The English voice acting does the job well, but the Japanese actors absolutely steal the show. Mamoru Miyano does a top-notch job as Kilia, which helps sell a character who could feel a little flat.

In terms of game mechanics, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is possibly the strongest entry in the franchise. Almost every change it makes is for the better, and the core gameplay has been polished and refined in countless ways. While it lacks big changes, it's an excellent example of the Disgaea gameplay and one of the most accessible entries in the series. Whether you're a long-time fan or a newcomer, there's a lot to like here. Aside from a few weak story beats, it's an improvement in almost every way. If you're a fan of SRPGs, anime-style humor, or seeing large numbers get improbably larger, Disgaea 5 is the game for you.

Score: 9.0/10

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