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Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance (PlayStation 4) artwork

Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance (PlayStation 4) review

"The PlayStation 4 finally gets a taste of NIS America's signature series."

Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance marks a fresh start for the storied franchise, which previously was relegated to older Sony platforms (not counting a brief tryst with Nintendo's hardware in the form of a DS port of the debut title). This newest release updates the series for its debut on the considerably more powerful PlayStation 4 and doesn't lose its way in the process. It's no technical showpiece, but the resulting game is every bit as unique as its predecessors were and features a stand-alone narrative that welcomes veterans and newcomers alike.

As Killia, a martial artist with a personal vendetta against the main antagonist (a villainous fellow named Void Dark), the player joins forces with a motley bunch of Overlords who share the same motivation: to stop their foe from taking over the universe's Netherworlds. Together, they are the "Alliance of Vengeance."

The heroes' agenda initially requires them to do battle with Void Dark's minions, known as The Lost. It's a premise that could have easily followed an expected path, but the writers attack clichés head-on and constantly find ways to expand the narrative while telling a tale that is equal parts heart wrenching and comedic (particularly in the case of the cringe-inducing skits). New characters pop up at the rate of about one per chapter, bolstering the fighting forces while enjoying enough screen time that their particular tropes are properly fleshed out.

Battles employ the tried-and-true grid-based strategy featured in past Disgaea titles, in all of their four-directional glory. Usually, your goal is simply to clear out enemy troops. Occasional side objectives do spring up, though, such as when you're required to protect a particular character or--in the case of the Item World--to pick up and hold a Level Fish over your head before clearing the stage.

Character stats don't affect the order in which characters move in Disgaea 5. Rather than throwing characters from both sides into a complicated rotation, the game lets everyone on the player's team take a move either separately or all at once, and then it is the enemy's turn. This setup mostly works as it should, but I did come across one minor annoyance: since it's not possible to order a unit to attack an empty space using a special skill, I couldn't open with an ability that moved the enemy around (such as one of Killia's fist attacks that swaps places with his adversary), cast a fireball spell on the space where I knew the enemy would eventually be positioned, and then continue my assault in one fluid combo. Combos deal more damage as they extend, so it's disappointing to not be allowed to chain abilities in that manner.

Fortunately, there's plenty of character customization to make up for it, which has always been a strong suit for the series. The main Overlords and such are rigidly defined, but the character creation process for other party members is less restrictive than ever before. Each of more than two hundred classes (granted, some are just variations) can be taught new abilities and then reincarnated as another class while keeping some of what they've learned and retaining aptitude for particular stats and weapons. The Evility, first introduced in Absence of Justice, also awards new passive abilities that are unique to particular character classes, along with new abilities that can be learned after reading scrolls acquired through normal gameplay.

Say you want an Armor Knight who can effectively wield a pistol. His weapon mastery is weak enough, though, that such an outcome is unlikely. You can improve the situation by assigning him the Gun Tutor Evility, improving his proficiency with projectile weapons and the rate at which he will master related skills. For the most part, this approach means you're never prevented from customizing your party members in the manner you see fit, and Disgaea 5 also has plenty of nuanced subsystems in place that will help you to create the most efficient band of rogues the Netherworlds have ever seen.

New gameplay systems emerge one after another, like the nuanced flavors of a sweet yet savory curry, offering efficient new ways to level up and murder every demon in your path, right up to and including Void Dark. The Disgaea series has long been known for featuring a main story that is easily wrapped up even if your character levels have just barely broached the low 100s. To experience the full breadth of the experience, though, you'll have to build all the way to the level cap of 9,999 (perhaps then reincarnating as a level-1 character to enjoy it all once more, except now with increased stats).

Tackling the game's more advanced aspects can really test one's mettle. Item World exploration remains a critical part of the meta-game, particularly if you're aiming at 100% completion, but otherwise is purely optional except for a single event in one episode. Leveling up your gear is a simple way to get more efficiency from your party without having to grind away for a few extra levels. Who needs proper training when you can wield a shiny battle axe with an ATK rating in the high thousands, even when your character is stuck at level one?

On a technical note, Disgaea 5 does little more than its predecessors did. Sprites and larger character portraits look as colorful and animated as always, yet the game as a whole doesn't feel like an eighth-generation effort. Mostly, you'll see improvements in the number of characters that can fill a battle, with the count approaching the high dozens on some of the largest stages. Combat animations and spell effects also fill the screen with bright and garish particle effects that cause the frame rate to dip in particular situations. Since the genre doesn't require lightning-quick reflexes or perception, such performance dips are little more than minor annoyances, and certainly they don't hinder the process.

On the whole, there has never been a better Disgaea than Disgaea 5. It doesn't push the PlayStation 4 to its limits, but it certainly tests the limit of the series. The relative shortage of proper JRPGs available on the platform, particularly within the SRPG sub-genre, makes Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance a game that both veterans and newcomers should greet with open arms.


Gregarious's avatar
Freelance review by Kai Powell (September 22, 2015)

As an aspiring FGC contributor, Kai has earned enough tournament accolades to earn the title 'Eternally Second'. When not pouring his heart out over covering the games industry and running a corporate games store, he also spends his mornings at a ramen-ya

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