The newest Disgaea game pulls you in for the long haul.
Disgaea is ultimately a victim of its own scope and ambition- the games are absolutely massive, easily offering a 100 hours of gameplay, stuffed to the brim with hidden secrets to find, secret areas to conquer, and a frankly obscene amount of treasure and items to collect. The tried and tested grid based battle system has a whole multitude of systems to get a handle on, and be able to manipulate its nuances to go your way. And now Disgaea 5 comes along and adds a larger, more epic story to the mix, that serves to provide some great contextual backdrop to your endless battles, and also provides for some highly entertaining and hilarious skits.
Not a whole lot has changed on the gameplay front with Disgaea 5, where the game seems to adopt a ‘more is better’ philosophy- if you have played any Disgaea game in the past, you’ll feel right at home with Disgaea 5. You still have your grid based battles, governed by all manner of arcane stats, in turn governed by your level and gear, all of which you have full control over should you be willing to learn the game’s systems. Disgaea 5 does add a new factor into the mix, via its squads system- unlocked automatically as you play through the campaign, Squads let you divide your characters into specialized groups, which leads to highly specialized abilities, in turn ensuring that each member has a role to play- so where one squad is good at obliterating your enemies, another squad can be great at capturing weakened enemy soldiers. Another squad can be good at interrogating those weakened soldiers that you capture, and so on.
Squads address a key point of weakness that a lot of SRPGs suffer from- having a balanced roster of characters in constant rotation. While that is the ideal way to play, most players usually pick favorites and stick with them. Having squads each with specialized abilities at least ensures you will rely upon each team member regularly, if only to call on the squad they are in when necessary.
"Not a whole lot has changed on the gameplay front with Disgaea 5, where the game seems to adopt a ‘more is better’ philosophy- if you have played any Disgaea game in the past, you’ll feel right at home with Disgaea 5."
Disgaea 5 also substantially alters how it handles the Item World, which I suppose I can best describe as a massive, multi part single player Raid. The Item World opens up a few hours into Disgaea 5, and can honestly completely sidetrack you from your campaign progress- you can get lost in trying to conquer the Item World, spend dozens of hours in it without actually going through all of it, and all the while make no actual discernible progress in the story.
The Item World has been overhauled pretty thoroughly this time around. You battle monsters in random generated dungeons, quite like in a roguelike, until you battle a boss ‘item general.’ Once you defeat the ‘item general,’ the process begins afresh. The grind is kept fresh via dynamic events- every few floors, you might get a random drop (via a Goddess who comes and drops it for you), you might get to level up, or you might be able to chase down a rare enemy and engage them in battle for the chance to learn high level moves.
This keeps the Item World compelling, which is great, because the Item World is the best way to actually level up your party, and get good loot. And while your initial reason to venture into it may be to master the game’s metagame by getting the best possible gear, it is compelling enough in its own right that you want to stick with it, sometimes at the expense of the story.
"The story is further let down by its staid presentation- we are now into 2015, and Disgaea 5 is a game developed exclusively for the PlayStation 4, and yet the storytelling still largely relies on textboxes, and static character art portraits."
A lot of that may have to do with the fact that the story really is nothing special- it’s standard anime fare, but in the Disgaea world. Lord Dark Void is trying to destroy the netherworld, and a band of unlikely companions must team together to stop him. That’s the gist of it, and a lot of it includes some cringe inducing interactions between tropey characters, or some highly predictable story developments. The dialog is generally sharply written, and displays a fair bit of wits, especially for the Prinnies, but on the whole, the story practically begs to be ignored, which makes it unfortunate that the game seems to emphasize it far more than previous games in the series.
The story is further let down by its staid presentation- we are now into 2015, and Disgaea 5 is a game developed exclusively for the PlayStation 4, and yet the storytelling still largely relies on textboxes, and static character art portraits. Yes, it’s charming to a degree, but it hinders the already stilted storytelling even further.
Failing to make full use of the PS4’s power seems to be a trend with the game, though. For instance, take its graphics- a true next generation Disgaea would be a sight to behold, especially given the series’ striking and colorful artstyle, but what we have here looks barely better than an extremely high resolution rendition of a PS2 game. Yes, I understand that it’s a niche Japanese game series, made on a budget. I get that. Still, I would have appreciated at least some effort gone in trying to make the game look more, well, modern.
None of this actually matters to the typical Disgaea player, of course- what matters to them is the staggeringly long campaign, the great Item World, the Character World, the online matches, the online sharing of custom levels… there is a staggering amount of content in Disgaea 5, all serving the central, compelling and nuanced gameplay system. It’s enough for Disgaea 5 to grip you, and then not let you go for the next several dozen hours.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
A stupidly large amount of things to do in the game, with a plethora of game modes, a long story, and a massive amount of loot and customization for your characters, improvements to the Disgaea gameplay conventions
Staid graphics, poor story, poor storytelling, the game can frankly feel a bit overwhelming
There is a staggering amount of content in Disgaea 5, all serving the central, compelling and nuanced gameplay system. It's enough for Disgaea 5 to grip you, and then not let you go for the next several dozen hours.