As I mentioned in my review of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness yesterday, Disgaea is one of my favorite series to play. Going into Disgaea 5 I was excited to see what new mechanics it had in store for me, and also how it took advantage of the PS4’s hardware. I’m happy to say that I was not disappointed.
At the center of Disgaea 5 is Killia, a demon who classifies himself as a wanderer on a one-man journey to take down the (even more) villainous Overlord Void Dark. He is joined by a handful of other demon Overlords who share the same objective, thus giving rise to the title: Alliance of Vengeance. Killia and his allies form a rebel army and take the fight to Void Dark, engaging in some hilarious banter and comedic miscommunications along the way.
As far as Disgaea games go, Alliance of Vengeance has a stronger, and longer, story than previous installments. Killia’s mission of vengeance is revealed slowly and purposefully, the inter-character relationships develop naturally and there is a more noticeable effort to draw players back to the main storyline so that they aren’t distracted by the overwhelming options that they have before them. The fact that the main storyline is intriguing enough to come back to is achievement enough, but it does succeed in delivering an entertaining and engaging storyline of a rag-tag alliance of demons on a road to redemption. This entertaining storyline is of course supplemented by some of the most addictive gameplay you’ll find in a strategy RPG.
Most games would be criticized for sticking with a formula as closely as Disgaea has for the last 12 years. Disgaea, however, breaks this mold by making just enough tweaks and changes to keep players interested in something fresh. You can refer back to my review yesterday for some of the basics, as I will mainly be focusing on some changes from the previous Disgaea installments.
In battle the biggest change is the incorporation of a power-up mechanic called “Revenge”. This status grants characters a temporary 100% critical rate, all skills only cost 1 SP, and for certain characters it unlocks a powerful skill called an “Overload” ability. This meter fills up when you or an ally takes damage, but also applies to enemies as well. It can often give you the extra damage or flexibility you need to be victorious in battle, but can also turn the tables on you quickly if you aren’t conscious of it.
A new mechanic that wasn’t as successful was the new “Quests” vendor. Perhaps there’s a demon out there looking for you to buy them a coffee, or maybe another overlord is tasking you with killing 10 rival martial artists; the challenge and substance of these quests can vary wildly, as can your rewards. This seems to be another avenue by which you can gain powerful weapons, skill scrolls and other essential items, or even just make some extra money. While the concept is simple enough, with everything else going on in Disgaea it felt like it was almost too much to manage. Instead of being excited about collecting and completing quests, I often felt pulled in 5 different directions, and this ultimately dampens the excitement of this new mechanic.
The same goes for another interesting new feature known as “Interrogations”. Like in previous Disgaea games, you can capture enemy forces by assigning your characters to the proper “Squad” (a feature I’ll discuss in a moment). A departure from previous games is what you do with these captured enemies once they’re back at your base. Depending on the enemy, certain tactics may be more effective than others. If you’re successful, you can extract information from them or add them to your ranks. Once again, while it’s refreshing to see a new mechanic, I have yet to see what this does to help deepen the gameplay besides giving players just another thing to do.
The previously mentioned “Squad” feature is probably one of the more exciting and successful new mechanics. Once a squad has been unlocked, you can assign a leader and members to it and those members can enjoy specific benefits. For example, one of the squads you can assign early on is the “Capture Squad”, which gives characters the ability to capture enemy characters, or the one-man Interrogation squad, which takes the lead on any captured enemies in the interrogation room. In addition to giving its members additional skills, it also grants the squad leader a unique “Squad Attack” special, only usable if they are in “Revenge” mode. This launches the whole squad against an entire enemy squad, effectively allowing you to wage a battle among multiple units very quickly. Squads effectively add more depth and functionality to your heroes, and is a successful new feature in Disgaea 5.
Another substantial addition to Disgaea 5 is the incorporation of “Evilities”. These skills can improve certain characters growth in HP, attack, speed or other stats, or may open the door for acquiring skills that would typically be outside of that character’s class or ability. By spending mana, currency your characters acquire by killing enemies, you can purchase additional evilities to optimize your heroes.
On top of all of these additions, there is the return of an old standby: The Item World. The game itself admits it’s “an infinite grind”, and fans of Disgaea will anxiously wait for its doors to open. Some changes have come to our beloved item world, however. There are now level fish scattered around certain floors of the item world. If you clear the stage while one of your heroes is holding it up, you will gain bonus levels from it. Yes, its absurdity is only matched by its awesomeness. There are also bonus gauge statues that make it a bit easier to fill the bonus gauge in the item world when you destroy them. Finally, because no Disgaea game would be complete without a sense of spontaneity, there is a mystical goddess that randomly drops an egg that may feature a level up fish, or a bottle with an evility that runs around, or maybe a Boss that’s ridiculously strong. These changes breathe new life into a feature that will be the single biggest time-sink as you play Disgaea 5.
If you are looking for a strategy RPG that combines clean animation, a strong storyline and an expansive and detailed world of gameplay, look no further than Disgaea 5. One of the definitive franchises of the genre has finally come to the PS4, and those who are unfamiliar with the series should introduce themselves to Disgaea 5.