Since its inception on the PlayStation 2, the Disgaea series has been known for a few things: completely mental battles and using a truly astounding amount of your time, often into the hundreds of hours. Going into my first Disgaea experience was a little apprehensive, to say the least.
Thankfully, from what I’m aware, the Disgaea series of games each have their own unique story with very little in common with each other outside of a few characters. No prior knowledge of the series is needed to enjoy this. The story follows Killia, a mysterious wandering demon on his path for revenge against the evil, Netherworld conquering Void Dark. On his way he meets plentiful of Netherworld ruling Overlords full of character who will join him on his quest. While I personally feel that the plot is only mildly interesting as it plods along from stage to stage, it’s most definitely the characters and their personalities that keep it together to make it an enjoyable ride. Yes, the characters are entirely pigeonholed like a Saturday morning cartoon (with added expletives) but they are just so likeable and hilarious. Disgaea 5 is a funny game. Whether it be the cruelty to the poor penguin demon Prinnies, Killia’s mid-battle meal or Magnus’ fight first, ask questions later attitude, Disgaea 5 will keep you chuckling along the whole ride.
In a similar compliment the voice acting is surprisingly good. Yes, it does come off as slightly cartoon-ish but that just falls in line with their personalities. There’s a lot of it too. The game’s cutscenes are almost entirely voiced with professional standard acting.
For those in the dark, Disgaea is a series of over the top strategy RPG’s and also the flagship franchise of Nippon Ichi Software, also known as NIS. Over the top is the perfect phrase as Disgaea is mental on a borderline obtuse scale.
Choosing your fighters from your base panel, you move them out in order to eliminate all the enemy units on the map. The turn based nature is handled quite interestingly. The flow of battle is you move your fighters, perform all the actions you can with them, then it’s the enemy army’s turn. So in this regard you don’t need to worry about checking out the enemy’s speed or the unit order like you do in Final Fantasy Tactics or such.
That’s pretty straight forward, but in Disgaea’s case you set up attacks before actually executing them. You can set any amount of things up and execute them at any time you want, then set up more attacks and execute them too. Executing does not end your round. It may sound simple and not particularly interesting but it does add a tactical layer to proceedings. There are some bonkers team attacks between four adjoining units, depending on success rate. This means you can move units next to an attacking team mate, execute, move them elsewhere to another team mate to perform a team attack and so on. It always feels like you’re bending the rules even though it’s completely intentional.
Where things get weird is in the lifting of units to create giant towers. All human characters have the ability to lift allies above them to an almost infinite amount. You can stack, stack and stack units until you have no units left to stack. What use does this have? Well, at first I wasn’t entirely sure, indeed the tutorial for it doesn’t really explain the potential so well. Sure, you can use the stack as a giant powerful weapon but that didn’t seem like the most efficient use of battle time and resources. After a while though it does start to make a little bit of sense. Not only can you attack but you can throw your team mates pretty far, allowing you to reach far off places and avoid hazardous floors. You can get your team mates to high vantage points if you dismantle a huge tower next to them. If I was going to criticise it a little I would say that forming stacks can become a little more time consuming than it could be. If there was just a quick, insta-tower button/unit selection, I might have been inclined to use them more often.
Aside from the story characters there are plenty of units for hire with a bountiful amount of different classes available. From witches to monks, ninjas and archers, Disgaea 5 has classes by the bucketloads. You can even hire monsters.
The story is told in a healthy 16 chapters which are divided into a handful of battles. Each chapter has its own unique Netherworld to visit. To the game’s credit, the vistas do change a lot and they are all weird and wonderful in their own way. When not involved in completing the story, Killia and co spend time in the hub world. Here, you can walk around, interact with your allies, buy items, accept side quests, hire more muscle; and those are just the basics. Right from the beginning and onwards, your base rapidly expands to include more and more things on an almost overwhelming scale.
While the main game and story line is a meaty experience, it’s actually the end game that excites the series’ fans the most. While I’m still trying to get my head around it, it seems that the Disgaea series only really starts to open up after the end credits roll. For a start, there are post-game challenges to accomplish. The fact that you can level your characters up to level 9999, yet the enemies in the main story barely break 100 says it all really, even in the extra super special Carnage stages, enemies get up to level 9999. It’s something I would never consider doing but there’s a certain subset of gamers out there who live and breathe it. Personally the main story line was good enough for me.
It’s safe to say that Disgaea 5 is an exhaustively huge game with just so much to do. Whether levelling items, forming squads, passing bills, innocents… there are just massive amounts of things in this game and I can’t even begin to talk about them all. I can’t even comprehend the amount of time it would take for someone to say they’d fully experienced all the game has to offer. If you feel this review might be a little long, think again. If I tried to explain all the various aspects of Disgaea 5, you really would be here all day.
One of my main problems with Disgaea 5 is in the tutorials. There are plenty of them for the main game mechanics, although they often undersell some things, such as the previously mentioned towers. Explanations of the side-stuff is also lacking such as bills or research. You can read up on it in the menus, but that still doesn’t really get the point across. Without wanting to appear as though I’m a simpleton I really would have liked the side-stuff explanations to just spell it out to me clearly.
Graphically the game is on the simple side. Character art work looks great and they really pop off the screen. One the other hand, the environments and battlefields aren’t exactly lookers. They are quite under-detailed and slightly too blocky for my liking but it’s passable. It doesn’t cause a major issue with the game. The soundtrack, aside from a bit of dodgy singing in the hub world, is excellent. The battle beat really sticks with you and, even though it might have be a consequence of me hammering this game out over the week, I found myself humming it even when I wasn’t playing.
Disgaea 5 was originally released a couple of years ago on the PlayStation 4 so what makes this release so special, especially considering it’s available at a slightly cheaper price for the Sony system these days. Well the first reason is in the name – Complete. The original Disgaea 5 had plenty of paid-for downloadable content and all of that is included in the base Switch cartridge, entirely accessible from almost the very beginning. If you add up the going price for the original Disgaea 5, plus the DLC, then actually the Switch port isn’t looking quite as expensive. And with that, you have it forever. There’s no danger of the DLC disappearing into the ether when Sony shuts down its servers at some point in the future.
The second selling point is also the Switch’s selling point, its raison d’etre. Portability. This is the first time Disgaea is available on the go. Now you don’t have to spend your 200 hours sat in front of the TV. You can do it in the coffee shop, while your other half is getting her nails done, on the bus, and so on. It’s a tantalising prospect, especially for those on the fence about which version to go for. For me, it’s an easy decision, even if it’s just a little more expensive overall.
Overall, Disgaea 5 – Complete is an easy game to recommend. It may not win over those unenthused by turn based strategy games, but those who enjoy the genre are in for a treat. It has a full fat story and a potentially mind blowing amount of post game enjoyment if you’re really into that. Either spending just 40 hours on the story or a couple of hundred hours after it, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. For those in need of a good time sink after Zelda, Disgaea 5 is a great option. With so much stuff and depth, things to do, enjoyable combat, it’s just about got it all.
Game provided by NIS America.