Tactical RPGs are usually about moving your pieces around a grid, but the Disgaea franchise has sought to break the genre in as many ways as possible since its inception, dood! It’s a formula that works, providing a bucket load of content and mechanics coupled with hours of grinding, dood! With Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance, there’s even more content and mechanics to seek your teeth into, dood!
As the Netherworlds are being taken over by the Lost – an army that serve under the vicious Void Dark – the plot follows the rise of a rebel army reluctantly led by a group of Overlords bound by circumstance. It’s a relatively straightforward story, with a few twists here and there and multiple endings, but as a whole it’s fairly unremarkable.
Unfortunately that’s because the characters are a mixed bag, sporting the usual anime tropes. Killia is the anti-hero protagonist with deep-rooted personal issues, while Seraphina is the cocky succubus with an obnoxious laugh. The narrative spends a lot of time trying to get us to care about them, but they’re so instantly unlikeable that it’s impossible to do so.
Those two together are cringe-worthy, so it’s refreshing when the better written characters turn up. Red Magnus in particular, despite his rather simple exterior, is a highlight of every scene he’s in as he usually has the best dialogue. There are also the Prinnies, who shine in a particularly amusing moment involving curry.
Despite Nippon Ichi’s best efforts, Disgaea 5 isn’t the most accessible tactical RPG around, though it does make it easier to understand the benefits with its various tutorials and guides. By opting to drip feed mechanics to you as you complete chapters, allowing you time to get used to some of the more intricate elements and then exploit them. You certainly need an idea of how and where you want to develop your party and this thankfully allows you to try and work this out.
Rather than list every single feature of Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance, as that would take a lifetime to read and longer to type, it’s probably best just to limit to the more essential mechanics used throughout. It fundamentally plays just like every other Disgaea game, throwing in some great set pieces and Geo Panel nonsense that the franchise is known for. The new stuff nicely incorporates the old though, which given how much the series has contained over the dozen years it’s been around is a miracle in itself.
While the franchise staples of Team Attacks and Towers are still present, the big new mechanic in Disgaea 5 is the Revenge Mode. As your team takes damage, a gauge will increase for each character. Once it hits the threshold, that character will be able to use any special move for 1SP, regardless of range or level. Trouble is; the enemy also has this ability, making it another thing to keep an eye on – though they do drop permanent stat boosts upon defeat.
As Overlords seem to be a running theme, the Revenge gauge also enables the use of once-per-map Overlord abilities. These are usually game changers, such as seducing the male enemies for one turn or growing to a gargantuan size for three turns. These trump cards are incredibly useful throughout, turning some precarious situations into advantageous ones in an instant.
Squads are the other significant new ability. By assigning your team into squads, they can mutually benefit in some way, shape or form such as taking a share of Mana the Leader of the squad obtains. This is combined with Capture and Interrogation, which enable you to upgrade your Squads to increase capacity and benefits, but also gain new allies or permanent stat bonuses. While not as well explained as the others initially, it’s a mechanic worth abusing.
While nothing too drastically bad, the visuals don’t exactly push the PS4 in any way with the polygon environments. Character sprites are vividly detailed, but oddly static compared with the likes of Disgaea 4, though they look amazing during the special attacks. The English dub is mostly on point, except for Seraphina’s laugh which instantly grates, but there is always the option for Japanese dub should you want it.
Enhancements to reduce the amount of grinding have also expanded, including the likes of a Cheat Shop where you can slide the amount of EXP, Mana, and HL obtained per battle. Others are more bizarre such as the board-game like Chara World that increases a unit’s effectiveness in some way should you win the game, and researching other Netherworlds for loot and potentially boss fights.
Returning mechanics and features now have upgrades. Magichange for example, introduced in Disgaea 3 as a way of making monster classes more useful, can now be expanded to Double Magichange to create giant weapons with multiple combinations. The Item World on the other hand has been expanded to include, among other things, Level Fish to pick up – yes, really – to enhance your items faster.
I could go on about the new content within Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance, but you’re probably wondering if they’ve toned down the grinding to make the end-game a little more accessible. Frankly, there isn’t anything for diehard fans to worry about as there’s more content here than ever before for the post-game experience. Grinding just becomes part of the territory, but the effort to try to reduce the amount of it is appreciated as it doesn’t compromise too much. Newcomers however may be intimidated by just how much there is.
By making some smart efficiency decisions, it’s easy to recommend Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance to newcomers and veterans of the franchise, with some excellent new mechanics and tweaks to old favourites. You can literally sink hundreds of hours into this should you feel the urge. While I didn’t really engage with the characters and narrative as much this time around, the action and sheer wealth of content more than made up for it, dood!