Played on Windows and PlayStation 4.
Also Available on Nintendo Switch.
Disclosure (review copy) at the end of the review.
Disgaea is a long-running series of SRPG from Nippon Ichi that started on the PlayStation 2 and have had relatively constant releases. While it remained the PlayStation family of consoles for a long time, a couple of years ago Nippon Ichi ported the original game to the PC, along with the sequel the next year. This year, however, Nippon Ichi suddenly ported Disgaea 5 to the PC along with all it’s DLC, fresh for fans to check out. So is this the latest and greatest, or did they just skip a few games? Let’s find out.
I’ve personally been a fan of Disgaea since the original game was released on the PS2. It was a unique experience both giving the players a power fantasy of being able to dominate the enemy, but still trying to push tactics over just numeric superiority. In addition, it had a unique story that still brings a smile to my face.
As a game Disgaea hasn’t changed much of its gameplay. The same core gameplay system from the original has survived for over six Disgaea games as well as numerous offshoots (La Pucelle, Makai Kingdom, and Phantom Brave). One of the big reasons is that it’s worked for each game while getting minor and major enhancements.
The graphics in Disgaea have remained constant as well. The original sprite-based graphics are fantastic and worked well on the PlayStation 2. The recent games use similar character sprites and style though with increased graphical quality for higher resolution monitors and televisions.
However, most of the generic character designs have remained constant over the years. The Warrior or Prinny class still looks the same as it always has. However many attacks have been reanimated with new spells, combination attacks, and skills to use. In addition, all the story based characters and enemies are new for this game.
The game is based on a grid-based system where all the characters are standing around, and while it looks good, I did notice I had a small amount of problem identifying which direction some units were facing potentially due to the 2d nature of the character sprites. Overall though the game does look great, it has followed more of an artistic style than anything.
While the graphics (and gameplay) are somewhat similar between the series, the story of each of the games is unique. Each Disgaea release has different characters, themes, and gameplay, though their focus is always on the Netherworld and the overlords and demons who live within.
In Disgaea 5, we meet an overlord who rules her dimension named Seraphina who claims another wandering demon called Killia as her vassal. From there, we follow their story as they fight against an invading force named The Lost, lead by the evil Void Dark. Along the way, the team meets and recruits a number of Overlords to assist them each with their own backstory.
While this sounds like it could be dark or depressing, Disgaea is known for having a light-hearted story filled with humor. There are numerous jokes and running gags in Disgaea 5, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a couple of laughs out of every chapter. I’m particular to Seraphina and her short and violent temper when dealing with her vassals.
Oh Seraphina… at it again. Side note, much of the humor in this game is hard to photograph.
Disgaea 5 has the standard gameplay flow, with almost every story battle beginning with a small scene and then after each battle a second scene is played out. It’s a rather simple progression for the story and almost every chapter has 5 battles set up this way.
In between each chapter though there is an interesting “Coming up next” spoof and a story to set up what is happening in the chapter. These spoofs tend to be based on Japanese Anime references. They are off the wall and done for laughs, but since they spoof a specific genre or anime they are the most hit or miss humor in the game. If you know the reference they’re usually very funny, if not, they can be quite confusing. For instance, there’s a great reference to Great Teacher Onizuka, if you don’t know that anime though it will likely fly over your head,
I like the story in Disgaea 5, but while replaying it a second time, I really noticed how weak the beginning of the story of is. The first third of the game seems almost aimless. Seraphina and Killia want to fight Void Dark and put an end to the war, and that’s a good cause, but they spend five chapters wandering from world to world and mostly stumbling onto party members to recruit. Sadly, those worlds and the early story are mundane compared to what Disgaea has delivered in the past.
While those opening chapters are slow, the game gets better. The slow opening almost turned me off replaying the game. However, as the story goes on the main characters start to develop into better characters, and all of the main party have a lot of personality and backstory that is revealed and the game becomes one of my favorite stories in the series. It is just that Disgaea 5 is a long slow burn.
If you have played the series, I would place Disgaea 5’s story as one of my favorites, though I have to admit there is no way that it can compete with the first game, it is one of the better stories in the series once it takes off, and has very strong characters.
The one area that the Disgaea series shines the brightest is in the gameplay. Disgaea 5 especially shines in this area, not only due to the series style but also retaining most of the refinement of the formula that the series has produced over the number of games. It is the most complete Disgaea game and if you’re a fan of the series, it’s a must play. If you haven’t played the series, read on, I’ll go over the game’s style in more depth.
Disgaea 5 is an SRPG or a Strategy Role Playing game. The idea is to combine the character development that role-playing games are known for, with a more strategic battle system similar to Final Fantasy Tactics did back on the original PlayStation, or how South Park: The Fractured But Whole plays.
The game is set up on a grid with enemies already deployed. The player moves the characters around the map and can attack, use skills, cast spells and more, after which the enemy gets a turn, to do the same and the game takes turns between to the two sides until one eliminates the other team completely. That’s how the majority of the game plays out and it works well. For the story mode, every level is hand designed and most have interesting features to use or overcome tactically, whether it be small pathways, geo blocks that change rules for certain squares, or height advantages.
At the same time, this game is more based on a larger scale. While I did enjoy Final Fantasy Tactics and South Park, Disgaea has a much larger scale for damage. Most players will reach at least level 100 by the end of the game. The max level is actually 9999, and additionally, just reaching that level, while an accomplishment, leaves a lot more to do, as the player can reincarnate to get higher base stats. That can make their characters even more powerful when they hit that max level, or any level in between.
Here’s one of their Anime Spoofs. Maybe a reference to Detective Conan?
By the end of the game, the player may be approaching dealing one hundred thousand damage (100,000) however that’s only a great number for the story mode, as post-game content will take a lot more. I personally love when my characters can break a million or more damage, but that’s just something I look forward to.
Of course, to get more of this power, the player will have to either grind levels or more likely “power level” which means abusing level setups, features of the game and just finding ways to not need to run a level as many times to get the most experience earned. The use of power leveling is helpful, but to be clear “power leveling” in a Disgaea game is just being more effective with grinding.
In the past, I’ve called out grinding in other games, and while it is a major part of fans of Disgaea’s post game, it still is a flaw of the game design that Disgaea requires it for so much of its gameplay. I did a bit just to make my run towards the end of the game smoother, and while I enjoy it, it quickly will become tedious. The story will not require anywhere near the level of grinding the post game does and there are so many areas, the game can allow the player to play through to get to those areas, it’s just a shame that grinding is a big piece of the end goal here.
Of course, while levels are good, strategy is still critical for the game. Where you stand, who is going to take the attack, who gets healed, even the ability to swap out damaged or useless units for others is a rather major part of the game. The Strategy in SRPG is well represented here and there’s a decent amount of tactical look at actions being performed that will assist the players.
In addition, there are different style of attacks. The player is able to “Execute” his attacks more than once a turn but having all your characters perform an attack and hit the same unit in one go will create combos that increase the damage dealt quite a bit. The player can also spread out his attacks but still attacking in one go will get you a higher bonus gauge, which equals better rewards from your victory. There are even positioning bonuses, attacks where you assist each other and more. The amount of strategy you can employ in this game is quite large and is a focus of the game, though not necessarily a requirement.
You can also use Overload features, for instance Red Magnus becomes Huge, and gets a massive stat boost… for four turns.
As you play through the game, a lot of features will unlock, though most will be diversions during the story or have limited use as you progress. You can safely focus on the story unless the game directly tells you to try a feature out, but players can safely ignore the bells and whistles over the course of the game if they wish.
At the end of the game though, the player has three choices, the player can restart the game to replay the story with their higher level characters, go play something else, or investigate the post game. However, the post-game content in Disgaea is where the series really shines. While the story can take about 50 hours, the post-game content can easily double or triple that time especially if players aren’t using guides or fully understand the systems involved in the game. This is where the power leveling really becomes a necessity, but there is also a great deal of challenge as well.
Disgaea 5 shines the brightest here. It is the culmination of the series so far, and almost every major feature that has appeared in other games will appear here as well as new ones.
Squads are a big upgrade and while not essential does change quite a few different features of the game.
A simple example is the ability to “Subclass”. In the past Disgaea games to get more powerful versions of your generic characters (the warriors, magic users and such), the player would have to level a character to twenty, reincarnate or create a new character of the higher class, and level them up again to 40, and repeat this process at least 3 more times with each level requirement rising. This is part of the grinding that was required. However, in Disgaea 5, characters can “Subclass” meaning your main characters can unlock the higher classes by choosing a specific subclass that generic characters use. In addition, your generic characters who level up their subclass immediately become the higher class without needing to go through the tedious process.
That explanation might go over new fans heads, but it means that the micromanaging that the series has required in the past has been vastly simplified. Much of Disgaea 5 seems to make the game more accessible while still having large goals for the player to chase down.
Some other major features in the game are the Assembly, where the characters can pass bills which will change the game, unlock new levels, change how the next battle works, and more. Included in the Assembly is a perfect representation of government where the player can bribe senators, intimidate, or just pay for their bills to be pushed through. Bureaucracy at its finest.
There is also the Item World which is a randomized list of levels that the player can dive into to power up their equipment. This has been a staple of the series and it returns in its best form, giving the player far more to do.
The Class World has become a board game where you can power up your character in ways that are not available anywhere else. It’s well designed and quite fun to play.
There is also the Land of Carnage which is ultra hard versions of every story stage, similar areas, but different layouts, enemies and all new challenges (as well as new Geo Symbols).
You can also do quests, including unlocking new characters through mastery. (subclassing)
Of course with this being called Disgaea 5 Complete, the game ships with every piece of DLC that was released on PlayStation 4 so there’s even more content, though much of that DLC will be for fans of the series, such as players who want to tackle Laharl from the first game and even add him to their team. Much of the DLC will just add more content for players to tackle.
On top of this there are even more systems in the game, cooking curry, sending units out to research, quests, creating objects through alchemy, squads, capturing enemies and more. There are even major systems that the player can constantly utilize such as Evilities and the Overlords Overloads (unique skills). The fact is, Disgaea 5 has a lot of content to play through and a ton of systems. While casual players will be able to tackle the story mode with only a cursory glance at many of these, players who want more will be able to dive deep into every one of these systems, can and usually find a clever idea throughout.
What’s important though is that the player who wants more from Disgaea 5 will easily find more to do. The Disgaea series has often taken the post-game of an RPG, injected it with steroids, and added so many things to do that fans of the series will often hit one hundred hours or more. While I did push through this review on PC, my PS4 save file is in the triple digits and I barely scratched the surface.
While I am a fan of the series, I do have to admit there are a few issues on Disgaea 5 that I do need to call out.
The most important one for players is that the thumbstick on Disgaea is weak. I played with this on my Steam Controller and found that the thumbstick made the game slightly harder to control. While everything is based on issuing commands to the units and there’s no quick response required, I did find myself frustrated often and had to switch to the d-pad which feels better for this game. This along with the UI issues where I can’t tell which direction some units face, and even having trouble seeing the entire battlefield using either view are my most constant complaints and they really mar what is an excellent game.
In addition, the game starts to use “always spawn titles”, which feel like an attempt to increase the difficulty or make players rush, but they are more frustrating than challenging, just adding a single character each turn. I just have to say Always Spawn titles suck. They don’t appear that often during the story but they are annoyances when they do.
Finally, the big criticism from the fanbase is the lack of online features in the PC version, and yes, they are missing. At the same time, I would be lying if I said I used those features often in the PlayStation 4 version of Disgaea 5. Most of them are quite minor, such as fighting an AI controlled opponent or sending an item each day to other players.
As I mentioned above though, I found so many features still in the game there was easily a hundred hours of play time I could experience. If you are basing your purchase on the network features, the PC version wouldn’t be the best, but I do honestly believe that these features don’t really change much of the game, and are quite minor in the scope of everything.
Ultimately, Disgaea 5 is the biggest and best version of Disgaea yet. While I believe the original still retains the best story of the series, playing it recently was difficult as it lacks many features I’ve come to rely on from its sequels. On the other hand, Disgaea 5 retains the light-hearted story, the excellent gameplay, and almost every feature and system I enjoy toying with while playing the game.
If you are interested in the series, either game will work, but for Disgaea 5 alone, it’s so approachable, deep and interesting both as a series and a standalone game, that I give it a
Disclosure: I reached out to Nippon Ichi America and asked for a copy of Disgaea 5 Complete, explaining my enjoyment of the series, the fact I played it on PlayStation 4 and my hope to cover it on PC. They gave me a free copy of the game, and I have played it for the review. I do not believe that their giving me a copy of the game affected my review, however, I feel it important to disclose this so you can best judge my review.
Final Thoughts: This is the most recent and largest Disgaea game released. This game takes SRPG to its limit and produces an amazing experience. There is a ton of content and players can easily hit one hundred hours played.
Stats: 66 hours played 29/41 achievements earned.