Disgaea is a series of strategy RPGS from the perspective of demons, monsters and general antiheroes in a dark realm known as the Netherworld. Generally speaking, there is a fairly tropic plot that is then flushed out by some memorable characters, hilarious moments and, of course, the series’ mascots, the Prinny. Disgaea 5 is certainly no exception: a demon princess by the name of Seraphina is not pleased that her husband-to-be is a.) conquering the whole of the Netherworld and b.) is an arranged marriage partner. She happens upon Killia, another demon with extraordinary fighting prowess and, after unsuccessfully trying to charm him, instead asks for help to assassinate her soon-to-be ex-fiancee. Along the way, other characters join the cause and we slowly learn more about our villian, Dark Void, and Killia’s past. I mean, it’s a fairly straightforward story of revenge (hence the game’s original title, Alliance of Vengeance).
Disgaea sets itself apart from other SRPGS, not only through characters, but also through mechanics. The death of characters in battle doesn’t mean they’re gone forever, though you have to consciously remember to revive them at the hospital. The number of characters on screen at one time can be utterly ridiculous, with a theoretical max of 100 deciding turns every battle. Disgaea 5, in particular, adds to the already amazing set of choices with the ability to have characters perform “fusion attacks,” which occur when certain characters are next to each other in combat. At the time of this article, there isn’t a handy guide listing all the potential fusions, so happy hunting to people looking to discover interesting approaches to fighting (such as one character picking up another and swinging them like a hammer). There is also the new revenge system, which is a bar that slowly fills as you take damage and watch your allies fall. The result is boosted stats and special Demon Arts for main characters, but it’s inherently risky. Disgaea is famous for its steep learning curve, so I would advise newer players to err on the side of caution, at least in your initial playthrough.
Storywise, Disgaea 5 may not be as memorable as the original, if only due to the iconic nature, but I still found everyone to be very engaging. The over-the-top acting that takes place between Killia and Seraphina is anime as hell, but you probably knew that getting into the game. What started off as pretty standard and almost cookie-cutter soon descended into a real buffet of interactions and character development. I think most people can tell that Seraphina has some insecurities, which only makes it better when she punctuates certain statements by drawing weapons and firing at people randomly. Usalia (who appears a bit ways into the game) is certainly an “anti-demon” by her own personality, but it helps to have someone distinctively sweet mixed in with all the darkness. And Killia’s story actually develops in a rather surprising way, and I was fairly moved by his history that is revealed later on. No spoilers, but it appears Killia’s quest for revenge is a bit more spot on than Seraphina’s.
Disgaea 5 has the potential to swallow weeks of your time. If you ignore all the side quests and focus strictly on the storyline, it’ll still take you about 20 hours, if not more. SRPGs aren’t known for being fast and easy: even with overpowered characters, the average battle will be a minimum of 5-10 minutes. And, calling back to Disgaea’s difficulty, it’s quite unreasonable to think you won’t be doing a fair amount of grinding and experimentation. You might have a fantastic team of brawlers, only to run into a battle that is entirely contingent on magic. At this point, you might need to start powering up your side team (if not needing to recruit a whole new team entirely) and spend a couple hours getting them up to snuff in order to complete the mission. You can make some MASSIVE teams, as well, but there needs to be a balance. Putting in only a couple people allows you to maximize their EXP and weapons mastery (getting proficient at weapons means more skills to use in battle!) but you also run the risk of getting your ass handed to you in the resulting onslaught. A larger character pool gives you better victory odds through numbers, but it’ll take a lot longer and, if you haven’t balanced the power of everyone, it could just mean a long trip to defeat. I highly recommend focusing on buffing mages and any/all ranged attackers, as a lot of the firepower in Disgaea can be hilariously unbalanced after a certain level. Trust me, the best way to get through some long battles quickly is to have distance on your side.
There is a common complaint that Disgaea games appear to be, graphically, under utilized and under powered compared to newer titles out on the market. I honestly don’t know if that’s true: the sprites and the scenes look great to me, and I never found myself bemoaning poor artwork or bland levels. Regardless, the game is a perfect fit onto the Switch (probably why Japan had it at launch). It runs superbly in docked or handheld mode, and I never experienced any slowdowns in the 40+ hours that I put into the game. Large scale magic attacks, tons of monsters…the only issue I experienced was a longer loading time when starting the game up, and I blame the memory card that I purchased. Text is crisp, colors pop and nothing looks low-effort or cut corner. Maybe that’s the beauty of letting a game launch on the PS4 a couple years ago and then getting it up to snuff before putting it out for Nintendo.
You have the option between English and Japanese audio. I highly, highly recommend Japanese, as the English felt campy in a bad way. Disgaea likes to push the zeal to 11 in both writing and reactions, but it feels almost mocking to hear the lines read in such a way. If you’re a fan of the English voice actors or English voicing in general, it’s certainly better than most anime dubs from the 1990s, but still far from where you’d be with Japanese voicing and just reading along in English.
Lastly, the DLC. Disgaea 5 Complete comes with all the DLC that was released for the PS4 version baked in and ready to go at launch. I certainly have mixed feelings about the presentation. On the one hand, it’s fantastic that they offered everything that the PS4 users got to the new Switch owners and we don’t have to pay microtransactions to catch up, especially as the season pass set PS4 owners back an extra 35 dollars or so. On the other hand, I’m sure Switch owners were hoping to get something new out of it, but NIS already confirmed there won’t be any additional DLC added to the game. The third hand on this is that new owners need to seriously consider what they’re doing before diving into the DLC. Many of the scenarios unlocked are bananas difficult and will outright destroy new players who are eager to unlock characters from La Pucelle or Makai Kingdom. By the same swing, some of the characters that you can just straight unlock are dramatically overpowered from the beginning. I added Girl Lahari to my party initially and found that I didn’t even need to have other people on my team for quite a few battles, as she just decimated anything that came near her. There’s a lot that NIS generously offers from the very beginning, but it could seriously hamstring a new players attempt to experience the game from the perspective of how Disgaea 5 organically appears.
Disgaea 5 Complete is a wonderful addition to the Switch library, and I’m not surprised to see that many people jumped the gun and imported from Japan when the Switch launched a couple months back. For SRPG fans, this is such an amazing game to have to bring with you wherever you go, finally knocking my PSP out of my backpack for long train rides. For newcomers to the genre who want to try and see what the fuss is about, Disgaea 5 is a great starting point, though you may find the older games to be pretty simple in comparison. If you’ve been resisting importing this long, your wait is almost over: Disgaea 5 Complete launches for North America on May 23rd and in Europe and Australia May 26th.
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