Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is an excellent Japanese turn-based role playing game. The deep battle mechanics define it as one of the most original strategic role-playing games, rivalling the Fire Emblem franchise and Final Fantasy Tactics in content. The cast is entertaining as a parody of cliched character tropes of Japanese animation, even considering the cringeworthy dialogue and in-game sprites.
The game’s narrative feels ripped straight out of a Japanese Shounen animation. Players take control of a group of demons each with a vendetta against the supreme evil being, the Void Dark and his army. The Void Dark invades nearby netherworlds in his quest for world domination, with the demon overlord Seraphina and her world being one of the few surviving towns.
The Disgaea series has always been known for its self-reflective humour but there were moments in Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance that made me genuinely laugh. There’s a playful charm to everything in the game – from tutorials informing players of one of the game’s several mechanics, to an item description of a flower-decorated bow, poking fun at the idea that it was made by a group of middle-aged men.
This charm is further highlighted by the game’s diverse soundtrack. Songs can differ from sombre blues dictating the arrival of a character’s backstory; hyper-Japanese pop music visualising the tense adrenaline created by planning your characters’ actions; to the soothing sounds of the hub-world tune ballad. The game’s opening cinematic captures the tone of the game by merging the Japanese rock-inspired soundtrack with medium and long shots of the main party standing at the Void Dark’s castle gates, prepared to fight.
Each of the game’s cast is a caricature of the cliched character tropes of Japanese animation. Red Magnus is a colossal, brash fool desperately yearning for someone to test his strength; Seraphina is a lustful, gun-wielding succubi declaring that all men are her servants and the overlord of the game’s hub-world; and the main protagonist, Killia, is a broody, mysterious overlord set on defeating the Void Dark. These aren’t one-dimensional characters however, as each of the party of six develop in the main story which is fully voiced and text-based narrative shorts.
The game’s art style is visually appealing despite the outdated sprite animations. In-game, characters are visualised as sprite models, the likes that would be found on older consoles. Oddly enough, these sprites play into the game’s arcade tone, as characters fly across the screen with flashy animation, screaming ridiculous attack names almost as if the game is self-aware of how crazy it is. Seeing a character wielding their selected weapon instead of a default item in battle is also enjoyable, reinforcing the game’s large scaled customisation.
In cut-scenes, – if you could even call panels of a character standing there as a voice actor reads out their speech bubble – characters are hand-drawn in a Japanese animation style, adding a change in their facial expression as they talk. The character icons displayed in menus are also sharp and clean. Surprisingly the game’s menus are easy to manoeuvre considering the vast amount of depth in a character’s statistics.
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is an extraordinarily deep role-playing game, particularly when considering the game’s intricate combat system. In battle, players control a group of characters moving them around a grid-based map. The player then orders the selected unit to perform one of several actions, from simply attacking or defending to carrying a character on their shoulders and throwing them to a further panel on the map. Throwing ally soldiers across the map expands on a character’s range, as I found myself moving a character towards another before flinging them to the other side of the map shortly before using a special move on a nearby enemy and finishing the mission within a few turns. Monster classes such as Seraphim’s penguin servants, Prinnies, can transform into a human soldiers’ weapon, with some exploding if thrown.
Each character also has their own weaknesses and strengths. Armoured slime demons are weak to magic but are near impervious to physical weapons such as swords and fists; whereas imps are weak to spears and arrows. The player’s own units have their own weaknesses as well, so there is a great sense of strategic planning required before executing each turn, especially since staking character attacks in a single turn increases the chances of being rewarded with rare items at the end of the game and can allow for a team attack. These combinations are visually stunning at first as characters jump across the screen with flashy, bright animations, but eventually become tedious and time-consuming. Either way, much like everything else in Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance, these sequences aren’t mandatory and you can play the game without even using combined attacks bar the tutorial.
Players can also increase their units’ attack power or activate a special character’s trump card by the revenge gauge system. The revenge gauge is dictated by damage dealt to a chosen character or surrounding units, and builds as either takes more damage. Filling the bar significantly increases a character’s attack power and unlocks a main party character’s overlord mode, which can significantly change a battle. Red Magnus’ overlord mode has him grow into a titan, increasing his strength, defence and health by ten for three turns; Seraphina’s overlord mode charms all surrounding male enemies for a full turn; and
The game’s hub world is also expansive, giving the player the ability to re-create Seraphim’s netherworld as if it was their own. Initially, there are only a few inhabitants in the town, allowing the player to perform basic activities such as healing defeated and injured units; purchase new equipment, items and skills from merchants; take on or conclude quests; and access the world map to initiate a mission.
As the story progresses, more unique non-playable characters arrive, offering a variety of unique activities that affect the hub-world and the grid based battles. The player can eventually capture enemy soldiers on the battlefield and interrogate them in the hub world by assigning a unit as an interrogator, before accepting them as a citizen of Seraphina’s netherworld; hire soldiers by the recruiter; and host strategy assemblies with senators to reward the player with buffs for the upcoming mission. Initially the player is only able to recruit soldiers of standard classes such as mage, priest and warrior, but more classes are unlocked as the player completes specific quests and as these characters level up to unlock greater forms of the selected class.
Strategy assemblies are the most interesting and original of the many optional activities in the game, as the player bribes senators to vote towards a bill the player is passing. Bills can range from increasing the amount of experience points gained in an upcoming mission by threefold to introducing a whole new race of demons to the hub-world. Players can also explore worlds inside weapons and items by the item world non-playable character, ascending each item’s dungeon floors to level up the selected item. I found myself using these dungeons to both grind for new gear and level up my slightly under levelled units.
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is a great game, capitalising on the series’ strengths in being an intricate turn-based experience. Although the character sprites feel outdated for a PlayStation 4 game, I found myself focusing on the flashy character animations and rich soundtrack. The game’s narrative is surprisingly entertaining, offering a parody of the Japanese animation and role-playing game genres.
To say that Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance has an overwhelming amount of content would be an understatement. I have only scratched the surface of what is on offer at Seraphina’s netherworld, despite playing the game for over fifteen hours; and I could easily continue playing the game for another 20 or 30 hours and still have more to unlock and explore.