It’s 4AM in the middle of the night. Lying directly between midnight and morning, it’s a pretty ridiculous hour. You might even call this the Hour of Darkness. On any other night, I’d be fast asleep right now. However, tonight’s the night I play Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance, Nippon Ichi Software’s latest entry into this highly regarded strategy role-playing game franchise.
A battle over curry, exploding penguin demons (A ‘Prinny’, for those uninitiated) and hilariously petty overlords, Disgaea 5 plays out like a cheesy cartoon as you lead the Rebel Army to victory against the evil Void Dark. You’ll be venturing from world to world, taking on challenges in the form of strategic battles against Void Dark’s armies. With your combination between recruited units and the Overlords that make up the main cast, it’s your responsibility to level them up in ways that will play specific roles within your very own master plan.
Disgaea appears to have no limitations in its design as you’re presented with an insane amount of strategic options throughout these battles. With its variety in challenges, it steps up onto a whole new level everytime and never fails to present something interesting or unique. One moment, we’ll be trapped on an island, defending from all sides and the next, we’ll be adventuring over a poison lake to go and punch the guy on the other side. Combine this with Geo-Symbols that dramatically change the importance of unit placement, a new Revenge Meter system that encourages priority of certain units and a whole plethora of strategy mechanics and Disgaea 5 puts itself on a brand new stage in regards to its addictive strategy gameplay.
This all works in tandem with your work at the Pocket Netherworld, your hub of operations in-between missions. Ever since Disgaea: Hour of Darkness on the Playstation 2, these areas have expanded in each consecutive release and this game is no different. In many strategy RPGs, there is the issue of having essentially useless units within your party. Characters that will just die in any sort of advanced battle or characters that just won’t fit into your plans, despite how much you might want them to. Disgaea 5 doesn’t completely solve this problem, but it certainly negates it in many ways with new squad based features.
One particular squad you can now form is the “Supply Depot”, a group of members that you don’t need to deploy, but can use healing or stat boosting items whilst undeployed. With this feature, you’ve suddenly got your own little support team who can help out any units damaged in battle and send them right back out again the next turn. It’s features like these that give each and every character some sort of role within the game. Alternatively, if you just don’t want to deal with them at all, you can fire them into space to go and research a different Netherword for a while. All these features may appear to be confusing or overbearing but they all seem to connect together in various ways and you can select which ones you want to take advantage of, depending on how you intend to play the game.
However, if you’re planning on taking down Void Dark without having to spend all your money at the Hospital (The Nether has a rubbish health care system), you’re going to need to take advantage of as many of these mechanics as possible. Set up from the very start through brief cutscenes, it becomes very clear that the opponents we’re up against are incredibly strong and that the path towards them will be a long one. Despite the comical aesthetic and characteristics, Disgaea 5 does seem to take on a far more serious narrative than previous iterations within the franchise. There’s some genuinely interesting world exploration, darker backstories and motivation for revenge shown within the game, matched up to fairly silly ones. It’s inconsistent, but it’s inconsistent in a very ‘Disgaea’ way that presents both as separate entities.
Unfortunately, there is one particular backstory that works to just sour the mood and that just so happens to be Killia, our main character’s very own revenge story. Unlike other characters, Killia is a bit of a wet blanket at times, where he’ll just suddenly start reminiscing about his loss and talking to his vengeful self. It gets a bit weird and ultimately interrupts the pace of any conversation, immediately souring it as we plead, “We get it! He’s really sad and all, but can we blow up some Prinnies now?” Thankfully, as the game goes on, his backstory does start to elaborate itself and is presented more openly within conversation, rather than these odd out-of-place sequences.
The cutscenes and story moments are a reward for the player after a hard fought battle. These are opportunities to really get a grasp on the general style and aesthetic as the game repurposes battle animations into jokes within conversation. The whole art style is just generally ridiculous with bright colours, slim anime-inspired character designs and oversized weapons right out of Final Fantasy. It’s a unique style of fantasy that doesn’t concern itself with having a sensical world direction. Whether it’s demons, spaceships or zombie maids, Disgaea goes off the rails to great success.
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is, without a doubt, the best strategy RPG on new generation platforms. This exclusive game offers a brand new reason to pick up a Playstation 4 for a brand new audience. With compelling tactical gameplay that’ll keep you up for hours and a script that’s so genuinely funny that it provides a motivation to do so, Disgaea 5 is a great step for the franchise. It offers a hardcore strategy experience but not in a way that totally alienates newer players, as it slowly introduces new mechanics assuming no base knowledge of the series itself. It really is something not to be overlooked. Now, I should probably get some sleep. Right after one more mission…
This review was based on a digital review copy of Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance for the Playstation 4 provided by NIS America, dood!