Unwilling, surly hero? Check. Spoiled princess of everything? Check. Time for another Disgaea adventure then folks! This time the demon lord named Void Dark has come to power and, true to his title, has been devastating and ruling the various Netherworlds with the help of his million-man army called The Lost. That kind of makes me think of King Xerxes and his Immortals, but I digress. The theme of the game is vengeance, hence the name, so as Killia you will lead an uprising to take vengeance against Void Dark with the help of the leaders of the conquered Netherworlds.
I reviewed one of these a few years back and enjoyed it even though I’m more of a traditional JRPG man. Not surprising since Disaea, in my opinion at least, is the standard bearer of SJRPG games. So let’s see if it bears the standard still.
Visually it’s looking a lot like the PS3 games but perhaps a bit less pixelated up close. Since some pixelization is definitely a part of the whole shebang I think there’s a happy medium going on here. This is especially true with the character models on the field that sometimes get close to the screen. One of the great things about a Japanese strategy RPG has always been the visually (and otherwise) distinct characters both on your side and the enemy’s. They make it such a colorful and unique world that makes me wonder why the industry moved toward gritty, cloned NPCs for modern games.
Setting that aside, the animations are above standard but it would have been nice to see things a little slicker on this new hardware. Series fans will likely not notice or care though. The many, varied forms of special effects keep the battles interesting and sometimes when you get a new ability it’s all about the special effects show: see what it does and what looks cool to pair it up with in an attack sequence.
The visual novel character portraits are stellar, always managing to bring individuality to our standard anime personalities. It would be nice to see this series take a step up and sync the voices to the animations. The game world is its own and there are some fine universes to explore but it retains the been there done that feel. The battles and story may keep you from noticing but more on those later. There is imagination in these places for sure but the levels could have been more impressive on the screen for a consistent background of eye candy.
Early on, in your pocket universe, you get a taste of what the soundtrack is really capable of. It is capable of some very impressive and soul-grooving tunes. They have a very wide range, which makes some of them get lost in the shuffle. The extremes are the best. Total relaxation music at the homestead versus high tension boss encounters make the soundtrack pop nicely. The sounds all came through nice and crisp for me as well, no lag or balancing issues that I could detect. The same goes for the voices, they come across clear over speakers and headphones without skips. As usual I’m loving the Japanese voice cast, but we really need more of the dialogue and such spoken and not just bubbled for your reading. That breaks the mood.
As you may well know, Disgaea games have tons of preparing and sorting and learning before battle so the game has some boring, basic, but highly useful tutorials if common sense isn’t your thing. When you’ve got to break some heads you want a decent party so the recruitment agent in your pocket universe will help your hire on somebody who has the skills you want, the look you want, and the name you want them to have. Apparently there are a lot of dimensions to grab folks from… Luckily the first three hires are free. They are weak though, you will be able to hire better help when your level grows and if you have the money. In D5 you’ll choose from a male or female version of a warrior, mage, martial artist, and cleric. There are a lot more classes that can be opened up or downloaded as well.
When it’s time for battle you can summon who you need or think you need to win the encounter. Once out on the checkerboard battle ground everyone has basic and special moves, plus moves that combine strengths. Moving around, attacking, and casting spells are easily enough managed, but remember to press “execute” to make all your wonderful plans come to fruition. Then when you can do no more press “End Turn.” That sounds like obvious stuff but those buttons are real close together for an excited player. You can also pick up and throw your party members to clear distances or blockages or to reach platforms.
Note: Prinnys kind of blow up when you throw them. A better use for a prinny or other non-human character is to activate magichange and urn them into a mighty weapon for another character to use. Based on the animal that magichange sword comes from it will have variable strengths and effects. Since vengeance is in the name I should mention the revenge system. Once activated you are able to power up your allies as they take damage or are defeated. This comes to pass when a revenge meter is filled. There are also union attacks and overloads. Union attacks are what they sound like and overloads are when an Overlord class character goes into revenge mode. Big things happen then. Awesome things.
I would pick a favorite weapon set for each of your characters since using a certain type gains experience for that kind of weapon which results in learning special moves that will appear in the menu while setting up your turn, I really like this way to specialize your people. It’s modern, easy, and can be changed if you think someone’s skills are heading in the wrong direction. D5 also retains its character and item worlds while increasing the number of characters on screen from 10 to 100. Very cool for epic battles.
Though you are free to wander the dimensions you open up the story follows a particular direction. To earn experience and even gain standing in different groups you can do side quests which also offer great loot and the chance to sink even more hours into a game that will gladly eat dozens if not hundreds of hours.
The story of course deals with absurdities and bizarre plot points. Under those basic rules Disgaea 5 stands toe to toe, or more appropriately shoulder to shoulder with its siblings and cousins. It has an appropriate pace using the simple formula of Storyline – Prepare for coming event – Battle – Return to storyline. It’s easy to get off the story however by plunging into questing and leveling rooms. You can’t mention a game in this series without the humor. It’s in there and it offers up the kind of anime fare that will give you lots of those little laugh-smiles and a big Hah! Here and there. With the story being a suitable vehicle it is a disappointment that the male lead needs work, but I do understand his personality is also a stock one chosen by the creators. Still, the story isn’t what you’d recommend this game on when it comes to merits, and that speaks for itself.
If you want to replay this game you can pretty much do it forever. With endless combinations of ways to do things and customize both people and stuff the only thing makes it even more replayable for huge fans are the multiple endings.