So we recently got the opportunity to play a Strategy RPG on the Nintendo Switch. Disgaea 5 Complete is a re-release (enhanced port with DLC content) of Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance for the PS4. As you might guess, it’s been very different from anything else we’ve reviewed recently. That is, Disgaea 5 Complete isn’t a game that you binge for a week and move on. It’s more of a commitment and time sink than your average casual title.
The basics of the game are simple, although they can be a bit clunky for newcomers. However, Disgaea’s strategy gets deep early on, expecting a lot of players. On top of that, the story and presentation is a bit niche, appealing heavily to the anime crowd. As if that weren’t enough, the content can feel schizophrenic at times, as it expects players to do a little bit of everything to get the most out the game.
Originally, I wasn’t too sure I was going to enjoy Disgaea 5 Complete. I thought it was being unreasonable by expecting me to do busy work to make even the tiniest bit of progress. However, I eventually learned otherwise when the game finally clicked for me. Disgaea 5 is a very deep strategy game that will let you tackle things head on only so you can learn the hard way that this rarely works. So let’s dive into some of what this game has to offer.
Story and Presentation
Without a doubt, this game appeals mostly to the anime crowd. It’s full of the tropes that are well-known throughout the medium (genre?) and seems to revel in that fact. In particular, it shares a lot with many modern shonen action anime (think Naruto, Bleach, or One Piece). If you’re familiar with that subgenre of anime, then you likely know what to expect. Thankfully, this hardly works against the game’s presentation.
You see, this isn’t all that important to Disgaea 5 Complete. Instead, it actually sets a reasonably strong backdrop for the characters to travel from one netherworld to another. Each of the main characters shares one theme in common: revenge. They all have some reason to seek revenge against the Lost army. Their pursuit of the all-powerful demon emperor leads players through a great variety of locations, which are then used for a variety of gameplay quirks. More on that, later.
So if it isn’t that important, why would I bring this up first? Well, this will almost undoubtedly be the thing that drives you to keep playing, at first. The story and characters are just interesting enough to keep you going while you unlock some of the game’s depth.
Each of the characters is solidly fleshed out, as you might expect from an SRPG. Each one has a goal, personality quirks, different methods of tackling their problems, and different developments that will occur over the course of the game. They’re mostly likable enough to draw you in, despite their flaws being apparent right off the bat.
With that, however, comes one of the better points about Disgaea 5. The character relations are the driving force for most of the character development and humor. Particularly, many of the jokes are derived from their many personality quirks. For instance, it’s a running joke that Killia eats before every battle. This comes up fairly often, usually popping up at least once in a chapter. Later, this plays off of another character, Usalia, who needs to eat curry all the time to avoid going berserk and getting herself killed.
Seraphina: What are you doing? Killia: …Uh, eating, obviously.
Story progression is one of my biggest hang-ups with Disgaea 5 Complete. Depending on how quickly you advance through story missions, it can move reasonably fast or just stop entirely. With a game this deep, it’s very difficult to keep story progression at a regular pace. That’s because some players can rush through, skillfully handling every encounter. Meanwhile, others will need to stop and do the hub-world tango between every mission to make sure they can handle whatever comes next.
Thankfully, the Cheat Shop allows you to control how quickly your characters progress in certain ways. It’s possible to crank up the EXP flow to double, triple, or higher in order to keep your characters strong enough to rush ahead. Be careful, though, as this will cost you in other areas. Pacing is up to the player and to a lesser extent, their skill. However, this isn’t really spelled out for you. It’s actually locked behind a strategy assembly meeting, which just means you have to do even more ridiculous faffing about.
Now we get to the meat of this topic. This is where the game really expects players to dig their heels in and pay close attention. Everything starts off simple enough, with the game teaching you basic UI functions and how combat flows. It lets you make the first move and the enemy team will react to what you do. Next, the game will give you the general idea of how evilities (passive abilities each character has) can affect the battle. Then it’ll teach you that there can be benefits to arranging your characters a certain way.
Everything runs smoothly for the first few chapters. The game will teach you about hiring basic class characters to fill out your team and introduce new characters. You’ll learn about super moves and deal with neutral parties. You’ll learn about weapon-type weaknesses on enemy characters and how some netherworlds have certain effects that can cause some real trouble for you or even help dictate how you can deal with enemies.
However, alongside this, the game expects you to be experimenting on your own. Sure you can tower one character on another and have a stronger attack ready. But why not tower even MORE characters and deal an insane amount of damage on top of that? Then you find out that this limits you to attacking only one opponent at a time and focuses enemy attacks on just one fighter at a time. Disgaea does a lot of this risk-reward setup. Most moves work in your favor and against you at the same time. So with that in mind, let me share with you the moment my opinion on this game drastically improved:
So while I was playing the game, as I said, I was having trouble. Even with the 1 million Hel gift packaged in the special content section, I found myself running short on funds, dealing with enemies only a few of my characters could handle because no one was properly equipped and grinding was starting to become a serious chore. This was just past the halfway mark in the story mode, and I really just wanted to push to the end. That’s when everything suddenly clicked.
I realized that my troops were underequipped, but the enemy troops had some very nice weapons, and one item in the game happens to allow you to steal stuff from enemy fighters. So with that in mind, I began pilfering weapons and armor as I went and stocked up my team properly with no more need to go shopping for better gear.
This would allow me to save money for other things, like consumables and the Strategic Assembly (which I’ll explain later). From there, with help from the Cheat Shop, I began to progress much, much faster. I even began to notice enemy patterns and learned some ways to keep them at bay while my team skirted around problems and lead enemies into disadvantageous positions.
Disgaea 5 Complete truly expects a lot of players on a strategic front. You CAN brute force missions with higher levels than those of your enemies. However, you’d be best off weighing your options. Bunching up in a group can help you travel around more safely and gives you more attacking power, at times. However, doing so also leaves you open for powerful skills that can hit multiple characters at once. If you aren’t careful about this, your team could get wiped out fast.
Maps also vary greatly, forcing you to look around and assess advantages and disadvantages. This could be areas enemies can’t easily reach, natural choke points, effects on the battlefield itself, or even the way enemies are placed. Sometimes a good strategy can overcome even immense level gaps. This is when Disgaea truly shines. The game almost feels like a big puzzle book, at times. That seems to be one of the game’s strongest points of appeal.
In this sense, Disgaea 5 Complete is at least solid. However, this is far from accessible, and you’ll see that’s a theme with this game. The game really does expect players to understand intricately how it plays.
Disgaea 5 Complete’s Seemingly Endless Content
So as I’ve mentioned, this game has a great variety of content. This is because, in addition to the SRPG-style story missions and the JRPG-style quest board, stores, and skill progressions, there’s a myriad of extra things to pay attention to. Near the halfway point, you can also call an assembly to afford more services or affect future missions, capture and interrogate prisoners to help you gain evilities and new recruits, set up squads to help you run the home base and give you neat bonuses in combat, redesign and build the entire hub world as you sink more time into it than you might sink into rearranging your house in Animal Crossing. You can cook curry, alter basic game attributes, set everything, even background music, to your liking. You can even send crew members out to explore other worlds and bring back goodies for you later. There’s an endless dungeon to help you upgrade items. A Mario-Party-style minigame to help you improve your characters, and even that really feels like just the beginning.
Honestly, it really starts to feel like a lot to swallow, and at some points, it almost feels like Disgaea 5 Complete wants you to try absolutely everything between every mission.
Disgaea 5 Complete also comes with a slew of bonus content that mostly represents the DLC from the PS4 version. There are new characters like Metallia, Leharl, and even NIS’s mascot, Nisa. Also, there are bonus scenarios involving characters from past games. Even then, some things are just there to help like the helper Prinnies and the 1mil Hel gift.
Of course, the bonus scenarios are the highlight, here. Fan favorite characters will fight against and alongside you in various situations before you can unlock them as playable allies in the main campaign. The levels seem to scale based on your own levels, or at least the bonuses for these missions do. Though there seem to be some tricky situations in play. It may be best to avoid this until you have a hang of the core mechanics.
Disgaea 5 Complete is a deep game with a lot of content for those looking for something they need to sink time into. This game really isn’t for everyone, especially pushing out newer players, but it also seems like an effort has been made to help ease this with some of the special content. Don’t get into this game unless you want to solve countless combat scenarios and spend weeks building up your army. This game definitely favors those with the time to kill.
With that said, the game is enjoyable, if you can get sucked into the narrative or the deeper gameplay mechanics. I’d definitely recommend this game to anyone that’s already a fan of SRPGs. Otherwise, this may not be the most enticing title of the year.
With all that being said, Disgaea 5 Complete comes out on Tuesday, May 23rd. However, there is already a demo up on the eShop. You can read more about that, right here.
–Special thanks to Nippon Ichi Software America for supplying us with a review copy of the game in advance.