The Disgaea franchise is something that has always interested me, considering I’ve invested at least a few hundred hours into another tactical RPG, Final Fantasy Tactics, over the past two decades. It just seemed like the most obvious path of tactical RPG progression, but have always been a bit hesitant due to Disgaea’s clearly defined, anime-infused art style.In addition, the over-the-top silliness that I heard was iconic to the series was a huge departure from the dark, realistic tones portrayed by the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre.
Therefore, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by Disgaea 5 when I finally decided to give it a shot. While it isn’t entirely without faults, its positives easily outweigh the negatives in the long run. As a final note, keep in mind that I’m the furthest from an expert on the Disgaea series as a whole, with my experience primarily stemming from this entry and some minor toe-dipping into the first couple of games. That said, this review will primarily cater towards newcomers to the franchise rather than informing veterans of new content to be had in the latest entry into the series.
Let’s go ahead and get what I found to be the worst aspect of Disgaea 5 out of the way, but it’s only because everything else is superb in comparison. The story of Disgaea 5 spans across multiple Netherworlds, which are essentially Demon-infested planets that recur in every title in the series. These Netherworlds are generally governed by a single Overlord that rules with an iron fist. They are quite powerful in comparison to your average demon, whether that be with the help of brute strength, superior intellect, or undeniable charm.
In the case of Disgaea 5, a band of Overlords unite in hopes of defeating Void Dark, a being that has his sights on establishing dominion over all Netherworlds. While it may sound like a dire situation indeed, your cohorts often approach and react to most situations in a slapstick sort of way. Abuse by way of literally shooting up your companions or making underlings work for next to nothing (poor Prinnies) is not an uncommon sight to behold. Even though this style of delivery may not be for everyone, I found it quite refreshing seeing as overly serious tones are quite common in most JRPGs. But if that sounds like something that you would not enjoy, you might want to avoid entirely because comedic relief is pretty much around every single corner.
Again, I’m not a seasoned veteran of the franchise, but it seems that most people feel that Disgaea 5 has one of the weakest stories in the series. That said, I would never recommend that anyone play a Disgaea game for its story alone.
Graphics and Sound
As alluded to in my introduction, all of my personal tastes point to me despising the art style in Disgaea 5, but I’ve found it to grow on me the more I invested into it. Although the anime influence is obviously strong, everything is so crisp, colorful, and wonderfully animated that I find it hard to dislike at the same time. You’ll visit a lot of unique Netherworlds over the course of the game, from blood-caked wastelands to poison-infested beaches. All of the locales look and feel different from each other, and that’s not even factoring in the randomly generated Item World, which we will cover in detail later.
The combat animations alone are insane, and it never gets tiring to witness spell, weapon abilities, and combo attacks unfold before your very eyes. There is a surprisingly high level of distinction between the various combat abilities, making it nigh-impossible to get bored of seeing them. And if you do, you can easily cut short any attack animation with a simple button press. THAT is nice!
The sound effects are well done, with many of the combat abilities feeling quite meaty and impactful (as they should). The same cannot be said, however, for the soundtrack. Although most of the tracks are tolerable, none of them really stand out, in my opinion, as being memorable. In the game defense, I’ll at least admit that the tracks do fit the eccentric nature of the game fairly well, but that doesn’t necessarily convert to a similar level of enjoyment. As it stands, I could listen to the Item World track for hours on end, but everything else is “meh” at best, at least to my ears.
Combat is the meat AND potatoes of any Disgaea game. If you are unfamiliar with the series, take your typical level 99 cap in most JRPGs and multiply it by over 1000. That’s right, you can level up to 9999 in this game, so combat is going to take up the vast majority of your play time.
So, how does it work? Disgaea 5 is a grid-based tactical RPG. Both enemies and allies move around any given map and attack each other, with height differences and direction playing a huge role in how damage is ultimately calculated.
Furthermore, each unit on a field has their own set of resistances to consider, but it doesn’t stop at your basic elemental and singular melee categories. Instead, every weapon and elemental type is to play a factor in damage calculations. Luckily, most units are capable of excelling in multiple offensive and defensive categories, allowing you the flexibility to approach any given combat situation how you see fit.
For every class and unique character in Disgaea 5, there are tons of different abilities that will eventually be at your disposal. What can easily feel like clutter or ability bloat in some games feels just right here, and that is because of two things. First, every ability and its purpose is clearly explained in detail. Whereas you might have to guess if an attack is STR or INT based in some other game, Disgaea 5 gives you all of the tools necessary to decipher each ability and more. Also, you’ll quickly realize that almost every ability has a use, making your skillset feel large, but entirely meaningful at the same time.
In regards to difficulty, Disgaea 5 is all about what you make of it. There’s always an incentive to grind, whether it be character levels, item levels, or skill levels. So, chances are you won’t run into too many issues, during the main campaign at least, unless you avoid grinding entirely.
On the flipside, Disgaea 5 encourages challenge seekers as well. You might choose to play through the game as a single character, or avoid the above-average unique characters entirely (I recommend ignoring the included DLC content if you are a new player for this reason alone). A “cheat shop” becomes available early on too that allows you to drastically scale up enemy levels, giving you complete control of the difficulty of the game. To me, the level of choice present in regards to difficulty makes Disgaea 5 an experience that can easily engage any level of gamer out there.
There are roughly 50 classes in Disgaea 5 and that’s not even counting character-specific ones. Roughly half of these are monster-exclusive while the other half are reserved for humanoids. While there are some of that outright dominate in comparison to other classes in many situations, I’ve found that all of them have a purpose and can absolutely be viable should you want to use them.
Amidst the already staggering amount of customization lies the transmigration (or reincarnation) system, which essentially serves as a soft reset or a “new game plus” of sorts for an individual character. They start back at level one but retain many of the traits and abilities learned previously, while throwing in bonus stat points in the process. It is even possible for some characters to change into a new class, allowing the possibility of building your very own hybrid class that truly suits your playstyle. Both min/maxers and casual players alike will come to appreciate this feature, as it is key in tackling some of the more challenging content after the main story is over while simultaneously giving you free reign on how to build out your army.
The randomly generated Item World is iconic to the Disgaea franchise, and is easily my most favorite feature of the entire game. In short, the Item World allows you to enter virtually any item in the game and level up its stats by delving into randomly generated dungeons. Every floor you complete grants an additional item level to the that specific item, though there are ways to achieve multiple item levels per floor. The item level increase, of course, amplifies the potency of the item, making the incentive to run these over and over again quite high. The great thing is that you’ll also naturally get boatloads of experience, items, and money in the process. Just keep in mind that enemies scale with the quality and level of the item, so be sure not to bite off more than you can chew.
There are a lot (and I mean A LOT) of mechanics and systems that I did not cover here, but we’d be here all day if that was the case. If you’re brand new to the series and are concerned about the depth and complexity of the game, worry not. I would argue that, despite being the latest game in the series, Disgaea 5 is the most approachable to a new player. While it could possibly have the most amount of options and systems in any game in the series to date, I’ve found it much more forgiving than earlier titles in the franchise. It takes some work to understand the ins and outs completely, and even I still have much to learn, but the payoff is well worth it. Between your own intuition, the in-game tutorials/guides and the occasional glance at resources across the web, you’ll be on your feet in no time.
But most importantly, have fun with it. Disgaea 5 Complete is the type of game that can easily provide hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of playtime, so there’s no reason to rush it. There is a near infinite amount of freedom in customization and gameplay tweaks that should satisfy RPG fans of any caliber. While I still prefer the thematical grittiness that Final Fantasy Tactics offers, there is simply no comparison to Disgaea 5 from a mechanics perspective. Seriously, if you find yourself enjoying the first few hours of the game, don’t be surprised when those single digit playtimes roll into double and triple digits before you know it.