The Disgaea series has been scratching PlayStation fans’ itch for a Final Fantasy Tactics successor since 2003. In the 12 years that followed the original’s release, the series has grown a powerful cult following. Those fans that have been waiting will be very pleased: Disgaea 5 is the best entry the series has ever seen.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a new threat has emerged and the netherworld is in danger! Okay, so maybe Disgaea 5 doesn’t have the most original premise ever, but the beauty of it lies in how it’s told.
Unlike many RPGs—and even a few Disgaeas here and there,—Alliance of Vengeance isn’t all about the main character and his journey; the supporting cast also gets an equal amount of screen time, which is nice because it helps flesh out why so many people would end up on a journey to save the world together.
Disgaea 5 treats the Netherworld as a multiverse of sorts, with a seemingly infinite number of Netherworlds all ruled by their individual Overlords. All these Netherworlds are aware of one another and act as separate planets. Now, there’s one Demon Emperor trying to unite them, and a band of Overlords come together to help take down the Emperor for reasons all their own.
The more I uncovered about each character, who all, in true anime fashion, seem to be hiding secrets when you first meet them, the more I wanted to learn. In fact, the story, more than anything, was the main driving force to me to continue to push through episode after episode of the in-game plot.
Each episode focuses on peeling back a lair of each character’s persona, making them much less than the seemingly one-dimensional people they are when they join your ranks. They grow and evolve in more than strength as your quest winds on. It’s nice to see such care taken, even with secondary characters. Disgaea 5 does a great job at pointing out what its characters motivations are, instead of taking the easy route and settling on fixed personalities.
Disgaea 5’s characters are among my favorite in the series. I was a big fan of Disgaea 4’s lead, the vampire Valvatorez , but Killia feels much more likable. He’s got something of a bad-boy personality to him and a mysterious past that unravels as time goes on. Yeah, I know you’ve heard that before, but the interplay between Killia and the rest of the crew is really top notch. It might not replicate the original’s infamous horse wiener scene, but there’s lots to love among this group, and frankly they feel like the most approachable cast to date.
Red Magnus, the Overlord of Scorching Flame, is also an absolute standout. He starts out as a generic musclehead, but slowly morphs into something absolutely meme-worthy as you read more of his dialog. The rest of the cast, Seraphina, Christo, and others all have great moments during which they can shine, too.
Despite the fact that most of the cast strictly adheres to established anime character archetypes, they make a fun ensemble that I grew genuinely attached to during my time with the game.
The bad guys are interesting too: You have the Demon Generals, Bloodis and Majorita, along with the big bad: Void Dark. Though the bad guys seem much more flat, development-wise than our heroes, they each have origin stories that unfold the more you encounter them throughout the course of the game, which make it surprisingly difficult to want to beat the snot out of them.
As I played, I felt as though Disgaea 5 went to extraordinary lengths to have the player understand its characters in a way they could relate to. It’s one of the better written entries the series.
One of the biggest changes in Disgaea 5 is the newly redesigned Chara World. The new Chara World is more akin to a Mario Party game than previous implementations. The character you enter with is set atop a board game-like display with a set number of turns.
As you travel over panels, you can earn permanent stat boosts , along with items money and mana. If you make it to the goal, you’ll get to choose a stat boost at the end to add on to whatever you found during your travel across the board. The buy-in is an increasing amount of mana, but the payoffs can be well worth it.
At this point, the Item World is a Disgaea staple, but that doesn’t make it any less excellent. Basically, the Item World is a place you can go to strengthen any individual item you choose. It’s a fantastic tool for getting a boost of power when you need it most, without spending any HL.
Each floor consists of a miniature battlefield, dotted with random enemies and bonus items. The further you descend, the more powerful the item you’re delving inside of becomes.
If you’ve played any of the Disgaea games, it’s pretty much exactly the same thing, but it’s still one of the best, most original ideas Disgaea has brought to the table and I’m glad to see it return.
Disgaea 5 isn’t all just refined old tricks, it has a few of its own, namely overloads and combo moves. Overloads are unique moves that belong to Overlord-class demons. For instance, Red Magnus, pictured above, can become a giant using his Overload technique, Super Olympia.
In addition to Overloads, each Overlord has combo moves they can use in unison with other Overlords. Fortunately, using a combo move doesn’t use up a turn for both Overlords, so you can wreak havoc with both as long as they’re within range of one another.
Together, these moves make each Overlord feel that necessary little-bit different to make them useful in varying situations. Having to keep them together for your favorite combo moves also adds a layer of complexity I didn’t expect, and the combo moves are appropriately powerful, considering the sometimes difficult situations you need to put yourself in to use them.
Long after I’ve completed Disgaea 5, long after I’ve stopped partying in Toto Bunny with Usalia and the rest, I’ll still be humming Moving On. The tune that plays in Disgaea 5’s hub world along with all its accompanying tracks and battle themes fit every situation perfectly. They’re fun, dynamic and a pleasure to listen to.
I don’t typically enjoy soundtracks, but the tracks on offer here are a great match for this game’s silly-yet-serious vibe. Tenpei Sato’s tunes are a staple of NIS games, having appeared in every Disgaea title as well numerous other titles by the studio like Mugen Souls Z and The Witch and The Hundred Knight. He’s done some fantastic work here. Disgaea 5’s soundtrack has that familiar feeling while still managing to feel fresh and new. That YouTube link up there is a playlist. Listen!
Do you smell what Red Magnus is cookin’? No, seriously. Fans of Attitude era WWE are in for a treat when they play Disgaea 5. Red Magnus’ dialogue is plucked pretty much exlusively from Dwayne Johnson’s playbook. There’s references to layin’ the smackdown (though Magnus puts his own spin on that) and he even calls a foe or two a roody-poo candy ass.
I left the game in English the first time I heard Red Magnus deliver one of The Rock’s iconic insults and haven’t switched back to the original Japanese since.
As I mentioned before, Disgaea is no stranger to anime memes and archetypes. Nowhere are these more prevalent than in the game’s anime-themed epsiode previews.
Each chapter you complete in Disgaea 5’s story is treated as an episode of an anime series. As with many things in Disgaea 5, these episode previews were present in its predecessor, but they really nail them here.
Each preview relates to a different type of anime and has a believable title. It also helps that—if you’re an anime fan, at least—they’re pretty darn hilarious. Many of them center around Seraphina and her steadfast belief that every man in the world is in love with her. You’ll see the characters thrust into popular anime tropes, like the childhood friend in love, or two characters in a heated rivalry to become the best. Each of them has a cheesy-sounding English localized title that reeks of those you’d see in an episode of Ranma.
One additional note: NIS America’s localization team has done an amazing job making Disgaea games hilarious since the original release. If you appreciate comedy, Disgaea delivers it in spades.
In between major developments, character skits pop up in the Pocket Netherworld. These skits add little to the story, but they’re usually centered around comedic interactions between the characters.
They’re fun to watch, and sometimes funny, they’re very quick and there’s actually a trophy for watching them.
Evilities have gotten an overhaul in Disgaea 5, and it’s completely for the better. Evilities work very much the same as they did in Disgaea 4, with one key difference: you can now increase the amount of slots you have.
Characters will gain slots as they level up, but you can also add them easily in the Chara World, which I mentioned earlier, as a reward for completion. Evilities themselves are great as well, they range from changing how your character grows to making yourself immune to poison, sleep, paralysis or any number of ailments. There are far too many evilities to list here, but they add a layer of complexity to character customization that few can match.
One of my favorite features of Disgaea 5 is its squad functionality. You have to ability to add any of your units—main characters included—into squads, which then provide them with certain benefits, based on the type of squad. The squads’ effects vary widely from boosting stats to interrogating prisoners, to... cooking curry?
My personal favorite is the Giant Killer Squad, which lets its members start each battle as a giant, with equally boosted strength. While others are key as well, like the research squad, which you can use to send weaker characters away to level up while you fight the tough battles, I never used any nearly as much as I made use of the ability to be a badass giant.
Though, I fully suspect as you approach the upper levels, which max out at 9,999 in case you’re that incredibly hardcore, each squad will have its uses.
I said it during last year’s Disgaea 4 review, and I’ll come back to it again: Please, pretty please let us save mid-battle? Unfortunately, you still can’t, and while battles never take all that long, clocking in at 30 minutes each, under the worst of circumstances, it’d be nice to be able to bail out if, say, an emergency outside of the Netherworlds arises and you’ve gotta go. Maybe for the sequel, please?
Disgaea 5 is the series’ crowning jewel. It combines all the best elements of the previous titles and refines them to make something greater than the sum of its parts. Fun characters, a well-told story and the series’ signature ridiculous attacks make Disgaea 5 the RPG to beat on PS4 right now.
Even if you’re not a fan of the series, Disgaea 5 is a great standalone entry. You don’t need to know the series to get started, and it’s easily the best it has to offer. Disgaea 5 is a great addition to any PS4 owner’s library, as it has literally hundreds of hours of replay value. RPG fans everywhere should grab this one.
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Steve Bowling is an aspiring freelance games journalist and critic. He said “dood” approximately 2,397 times while writing this review. You can follow him on Twitter at@SteveBTAY , and you can read all of his articles here.