The long-running Disgaea series has finally come to a new generation of consoles, with the release of Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance. Its unique blend of strategy and RPG has already graced every Playstation platform since the PS2 (as well as the Nintendo DS), and now sees its first PS4 release. It’s a familiar sight to fans, yet welcoming enough to newcomers.
Disgaea is a remarkable series in that is holds a global appeal despite its Japanese roots – something that’s not necessarily always the case. A large part of this success is that at the heart of each Disgaea game there’s a solid turn-based strategy element that strikes a chord with fans of that genre everywhere – and it doesn’t matter if they’re used to playing Disgaea or if they’re XCOM veterans. The setting is distinct, but the strategy foundations are solid. Disgaea 5 is no different – as with previous games, you manage your squad from a central hub before going into battle on an isometric playing field. While in the hub, you can develop and customize your characters and buy new items, which really makes it more like a fancy in-game menu structure to help you navigate from battle to battle.
Or planet to planet, as is often the case here. Disgaea 5’s story unfolds amidst the rise of emperor Void Dark – like the name suggests, not the most pleasant of characters. The main protagonists on the player side are Seraphina and Killia, a princess leading the resistance and a warrior out for revenge. There are hints of romance, but they never amount to much more than Seraphina not wanting to be in an arranged marriage with Void Dark and mostly awkward interactions between her and Killia. Where previous Disgaea games excelled at storytelling as well as strategic gameplay, the story here is rather generic with sub-par voice acting and never really grabbed us like those games did.
Instead, the real heart of the game lies in its strategic combat, which is as refined as ever. The action on the battlefield is still turn-based and the game hasn’t switched to a full 3D perspective – staying true to its isometric pseudo-3D roots. The enhanced power of the PS4 means that the visuals are rendered at a higher resolution and with more detail than ever before – making sure this is easily the best-looking Disaea game so far but by no means a game you’ll use to show off your system. What it does allow you to do is show off your strategic and tactical planning skills, because this is an area where NIS definitely delivers.
Because of the fixed perspective, it’s always easy to see what’s happening and to keep a good overview of the battlefield. There are numerous battles to be fought, but hanging on to your characters is always a solid plan. As they fight more battles, they don’t just grow in terms of experience – they also grow their skills based on how they act on the battlefield. If a character prefers certain weapons, he’ll get better with that weapon. The same applies to frequent use of special attacks – so you don’t want to lose these characters and have to rebuild another from scratch. In addition to this, you also gain bonus ‘credits’ that you can spend in the in-game shop for extra items that you would otherwise not acquire, and you can use “alliance attacks” with your main characters as long as they are properly “aligned” with other characters. There is a wonderful amount of depth to the game, while at the same time staying surprisingly accessible.
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is a game that doesn’t disappoint fans of the long-running series. The story arch might be underwhelming, but it doesn’t tie into the Disgaea lore too much which makes it easy to understand and enjoy for newcomers as well. This is especially true for the core gameplay, because the strategic battles are rewarding, fun AND plentiful. This makes it a must-have for fans of the series, as well as compelling for those interested in finding out what the fuss is all about.