Myles Berrin ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is the second ‘5’ game to come out this year with the theme of Revenge. It is the second ‘5’ game to both be the story telling valley and the gameplay peak of its respective series. It is the second ‘5’ game to star a series of wacky characters all working toward a mutually destructive goal. But unlike the aforementioned ‘5’ game, Disgaea 5 is a comparably harder sell. It’s a spectacular game, of course, but its high skill wall, niche genre and weebtastic aesthetic means that a large chunk of gamers will just pass it up based on the box art. But, to anyone left still interested after all of that; have I got a game for you.
Disgaea 5 is, confusingly enough, the sixth main series entry in the wonderfully weird Disgaea strategy game series. The game tells the story of Sir Killia, a young demon with immense power who seeks revenge against Emperor Void Dark, the game’s generic Saturday-Morning-Cartoon Villain. While wandering the Netherworld, Sir Killia accidently crosses paths with a Netherworld Princess named Seraphina, who wishes to vanquish Void Dark to avoid a marriage of convenience set up by her family. After witnessing his prowess in combat, Seraphina tricks Killia into working for her, and the two set out on their shared goal to defeat Emperor Void Dark. It’s all very silly and cliché, which, in the grand tradition of Disgaea, is actually an attempt at disarming the player, so that the writers may assault them with a bevy of surprising twists and emotional turns.
This game’s story (much like Metal Gear Solid V, the other big ‘5’ game this year) is infinitely darker and more serious than its predecessors, though the game takes the phrase “serious” in stride. Between the monologues about the pointlessness of revenge and loss are casual conversations about women’s undergarments, and tons of slapstick comedy. Sir Killia, despite acting as your generic brooding anime protagonist, has a rather unusual habit of parking himself in the middle of battle and eating a number of luxury foodstuffs. A later party member, a muscle man who solves all of his problems with his fists, interjects the phrase “super” into nearly every sentence possible. But perhaps the star of the show is the Bunny Girl, Usalia, who, due to a curse, must consume copious amounts of curry or else she will fly into a murderous rage. If all of those things sound like shameless Weeb garbage, that is because they are, and if you can accept that or look past it, you’ll find these characters quickly making their way into your heart. With that in mind, it is hard to deny that this game just isn’t as strong in the humor and weirdness departments as its predecessors, and its more straightforward revenge plot is a lot shallower than Disgaea’s usual “deceptive depth.”
As for the gameplay, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Disgaea game. Players must use strategy to win battles taking place on a Semi-3D Isometric Plane. The player has access to a number of Units, ranging from generic Fighter and Mage classes to more unique Monster classes, who lack certain human attributes but gain monster-exclusive advantages to compensate. Players select their units, move them around the field, and command them to attack to defeat enemies. Additionally, units are able to pick up and toss other units, allowing them to transport one another across the field and close in on far away targets or get wounded units to safety. While many of these are rather standard aspects of the average strategy game, Disgaea stands on its own due to the uniqueness of its combat system on a mechanics level. Placement of units near one another allows them to perform Tandem Attacks, putting their skills together to really punish an enemy. There are also a number of hazards and stage elements the player can manipulate to their advantage, or must avoid entirely. While it may seem rather elementary to start, the game begins to mix, match and combined various different scenarios to create some truly mind-bending battles that will really test your strategic wits.
If this all sounds very familiar and same-y to you, than it’s sad to say that, yes, it really is. Disgaea, as a series, has never been great at innovating. Its first entry, Hour of Darkness, was so perfect it made it kind of difficult to really build and improve, meaning each Disgaea game feels more iterative than the last, and only newcomers or fans who have been playing since the very first game will spot the subtle improvements over its predecessor. The added Sub-weapon system is a neat little touch that allows you to level up two weapons at once, meaning you can either train up a weapon for later use, or simply grind much more efficiently. The Revenge System, which powers up units who either take damage or witness another unit die in battle, gives tactical depth to taking damage and losing units on the field. But it’s hard to deny that this game really isn’t much more than a slightly improved Disgaea 4. The added mechanics are a breath of fresh air and really allow for a number of new strategies, and the cast of characters, while undeniably weaker than previous games are as entertaining as ever; but at the end of the day, Disgaea 5 is hard to recommend to anyone who isn’t a series newcomer or a longtime fan.
Nevertheless, this game does come recommended. There’s enough in this package for you to consider recommending it over any previous installments. Its unique charm and engaging and deep gameplay, its deeper story, and its trademark brand of humor all make it just as endearing and fun as any other entry. After all, an iterative sequel isn’t an inherently bad sequel, nor is it an inherently bad game. This isn’t the most unique experience in the world, as you can play 5 other versions of this exact same game, potentially for less money, but its still a damn good strategy game that’s definitely worth your time… all 800 hours of your time.