Returning with a vengeance NIS's long running tactical JRPG series, "Disgaea" makes it's way once again to the forefront of the gaming scene in an attempt to impress a new generation of gamers. This time around the PS4 exclusive that is "Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance", and it's traditionally based, but vastly tweaked micro-management system aims to attract a broader audience with even more to do, and plenty more to discover! While those of you familiar with the series will find yourselves at home once again in the netherworld that coincides with the Disgaea series theme you will also find that new mechanics/features have been added as well as new characters, and an all encompassing plot that takes in account a multitude of different warring netherworlds. Even the enemy comes in various new forms with the main threat being that of Void Dark.
The rag tag group of vengeance seeking overlords which will be leading the episodic show-down against said baddies includes the mysterious wanderer "Killia", The mistress of men "Seraphina", The brute demon with a superiority complex "Red Magnus", and the supposed demon overlord with a hidden agenda "Christos", among others. As a team brought together for a single unified cause these denizens of the damned are all out for one purpose, and one purpose only. That purpose being to rid the netherworld of Void Dark! Each of them, for their own personal reasons want to conquer Void Dark, and his tyrannic army. This of course is where you, the gamer steps in. While there's not really one main character to take on as a personal role plot-wise you will find yourself seeing things from all of the main characters' perspectives. As I mentioned before this latest installment of Disgaea has a plot that is all encompassing. Through some serious grinding you might just be able help the anti-heroes, and heroines of this particular tale do what they've set out to do as you learn more about their deep seeded plight.
For those of you new to, or familiar with the Disgaea series you'll find that there are a handful of things to know about before committing to the usual grinding session that the game is all about. The game, though new in a decent amount of ways, remains mostly about the traditional micro-management system, and still only partially about the episodic story progression. Depending on how much time you want to spend with the game you'll either find yourself hurrying up to finish the story for the sake of completing it, or you will spend a ton of your time enjoying all the little extra tasks that will extend your time with the game well beyond such menial ends. You could literally pour months worth of time into this game if you dared to, or you could simply finish it just for the story, and move on. That's the good thing about Disgaea. It's something you can pick up any time you want, and put it down for some time later down the road. When you choose to end your epic journey is up to you ...
Initially when beginning your trek through Seraphina's pocket netherworld hub that is introduced through a chance meeting between Killia and Seraphina on the battlefield via a staged cutscene you'll find that there are a limited amount of features, and options made available to you from the start. This includes the accessible gateway to netherworlds for story progression purposes, and vendors like the returning "Rosen Queen, Co." equipment, and item shops where you can buy items to better prepare your party members for battle. You'll even find a data vendor that keeps track of everything you've done, or experienced, as well as a "Memories" gallery vendor which houses all of the event, skit, and cutscenes you've encountered in-game. The more you progress in the game's story the more features, and in-game options will be made available to you. Sometimes using these additional features will also serve to unlock even more things in the pocket netherworld's interior environment. At first though you will be introduced to the game's scenario, and main characters through the provided story mode tutorial stages, the accompanying dialogue panels there-in, and spoken voice-overs between the cast. The tutorials which will be shown to you in great detail via menu systems with sub-menu topics will explain things well enough without me going into it all too much. Each bit of learned information can also be referenced later via the appropriate pocket netherworld characters. As with the past Disgaea games the new pocket netherworld hub contains a diverse collection of characters roaming about, and numerous points of interest which you will revisit between plot progression, grinding, and micro-management. There's definitely a lot to do, and how you approach it is all up to you.
When it comes to the core story progression you'll find that things are made available in order. By playing through an available stage in a netherworld story listing you will unlock more stages in the list. This of course will advance the plot through character specific dialogue afterwards, both in the stages, and in Seraphina's pocket netherworld. When it comes to completing the story mode stages you will have to clear the stage of all the enemies, or bosses that you encounter. This is done through the signature grid based Disgaea combat system. Basically, your characters can be summoned onto the battlefield via a starting point portal, and can be moved across the tiled playing field according to said characters' available movement squares. Once positioned in front of an enemy, or target object your character/s will have character/class specific options made available through the menu system that you can access by pressing the "Triangle" button. Each character or class can perform basic functions such as 'Move', 'Attack', 'Skills', 'Defend', 'Lift/Mon-Toss', 'Throw', or 'Item'. Depending on the situation you'll need to choose the appropriate action from said options, and follow-up with the 'Execute', or 'End Turn' command to perform them. Most of said commands are self-explanatory, but you will need to pay attention to the character class details, battle function tutorials, and weapon tutorials that you'll encounter through certain netherworld characters early on in the game.
Outside of being a battle of elimination you'll also find that there are other things to do on the battlefield that will help your efforts back at Seraphina's pocket netherworld. These extra tasks that go hand-in-hand with the character level/stat grinding (repeating stage battles for EXP) tie-in mainly with the new "Quests" vendor that stands stationed next to the two "Rosen Queen, Co." vendors. Through the "Quests" vendor you can take on quests that will have you doing certain things via the stages, and other netherworld outlets for bonus items that you'd normally have to pay "HL (in-game currency)" for. You'll also be able to unlock new vendors, or points/persons of interest as well as new recruitable characters if you are able to complete the tasks outlined on the quest pages. Quests vary in difficulty according to a star mark system. The more stars stamped on the quest page the more difficult it will be to complete. After completing a quest/s you can return to the designated vendor, and choose "Quest Completion" to either manually, or automatically fulfill your end of the deal.
Back to the battles ... The stage battles do become increasingly harder the more you progress the story. With each pocket netherworld task fulfillment, whether it be story driven, or vendor/outlet driven have new battle mechanics that will come into play. Things like the 'Geo Tile" elements, and environmental effects will change the way you approach the battle. The Geo system is not new to 'Disgaea 5' though. It is basically a returning feature that allows the player to alter color tile based effects (stat boosts/drops) than can either effect your party negatively, or help to boost your efforts in ridding the stage of enemy creatures. In order to take advantage of said feature you will need to move a Geo marker/stone of a different color via the 'Lift & Throw" command to a Geo tile of a different color, and have a character destroy it on the tile. This will alter the effects of the tiles, or nullify them by causing a chain reaction that will eventually destroy all tiles, and enemies/characters standing on them. Only if done correctly though. Standing on the tiles when the chains are taking place will definitely do damage to your characters, so be aware of that.
Along with the basics of battle also comes the rewards system, and MVP end-stage standings. Whether you know it, or not Disgaea has always been about maximizing the damage output through combos, and chains. The way you apply your attacks, whether it be through group effort or solo attacks will contribute to the nine stage level gauge system that houses item rewards for reaching each level you fill up through combat. The more damage you inflict upon your enemies, and the more chains/combos you are able to perform on a stage the more your level gauge will increase. The rewards for your efforts are usually randomly selected once you enter battle, but supposing you can reach that level nine marker you can earn yourself some of the better items. Items of course return in their 'Common', 'Rare (Green)', and 'Legendary (Yellow)' form. Each of which is colored accordingly via the text title. As far as the MVP standings go the top three contributing characters will gain an EXP bonus at the end of a stage's completion. This boosts the character leveling a good bit.
As returning Disgaea players you might guess that the "Item World" makes a return in "Disgaea 5" as a main point of grinding interest, and you'd be right in assuming so. If you want to make the most of your characters' equipment in this game you will definitely want to use this item world feature to build the equipment's "Innocent" stats. Building up the equipment's "Innocent" count will allow you to add bonus effects, or "Innocents" to the base stats that are given to each piece of equipment. You can also apply this to health items, throwing weapons, and SP refill items if you want. For those of you who don't have a clue in hell as to what the "Item World" is it's basically a world within an item that is setup like a story mode stage. The difference being that as you battle you'll have to progress through enemy clearing, or through a red portal so that you can increase the "Innocent" level of the item you are in. The mode that is "Item World" has it's own set of rules that aren't story driven though, and also contains elements that are not included in the story. Things like boss fights, mystery rooms, treasure chests, special enemy types, and innocents that can only be captured through battle therein are part of what you'll encounter. Along with the "Item World" vendor also comes a menu system that houses a couple of extra things that will allow you to further tweak the items you have amassed. Said menu contains an "Item Assembly" where you can use item points gained through item trading to vote for item bills to be passed. These bills will allow you to increase various stats of an item, or even rename an item if you so desire. Needless to say there's a lot you can do with your collected, and purchased items in the "Item World" menu. By the way "Innocents" can be managed via the "Innocents" vendor. Functions that apply to removing, and applying innocents to items, and equipment can be done in this menu system.
In a similar fashion as the 'Item Assembly' you'll find that the 'Strategy Assembly' makes a return with it's additional bill passing features. In this vendor accessed mode you will vote for bills that will change various elements within the pocket netherworld hub, and outside of it. Things like bills for increasing mana income, or HL income are a thing. There's even things like voting for Prinnies to populate the pocket netherworld. The more you play, and progress the story the more voting options will become available. Keep in mind though that you have to have enough mana to vote otherwise you won't be able to do so. Mana is gained through stage based gameplay. When it comes to voting in either the 'Item Assembly', or the 'Strategy Assembly' you will have to pay attention to which way the voters' votes are leaning. You can do this through the "Senator's List" in the menu, or you can take a chance according to the favor percentage shown in the menu, pay the man, and check out the stats of the senators in the assembly room. As usual the senators that are glowing blue are usually in favor of the character you sent in to have the bill passed. If they are red in color they are opposed, and if they are standard color they have the potential of voting either way. There's a few ways you can deal with a senator group that has more opposing voters than approving ones. You can bribe them with items they are interested in (it will show you their favoritism when going through your items listing), or you can try to pass the vote, and hope the majority says "Aye". Should more say "Nay" instead of "Aye" though you can pay them off a lump sum of HL currency, or you can fight them (which I do not recommend unless you are an extremely high level character-wise). Bill passing plays a huge role in improving your grinding efforts, and story mode progress. It also helps in the completion of certain quests.
Another point of interest in the pocket netherworld comes in the form of the "Recruiter". It is in this menu system that you can hire, or let free party members. While the main characters do play a major role in the story it is imperative that you build up an army for various other purposes in the game. Seeing as the enemy often times outnumbers the overlord count having supporting characters is a must. The available characters in the recruitment menu include the classic RPG stereotypes including magic users, hand-to-hand combatants, healers, weapon combatants, NIS's own Prinnies, and even monster types that each offer something different in the way of combat, and support. Each character class is shown on a wheel, and can be selected as is, or can be beefed up by applying some HL currency to gain additional stat points, and levels. You can even select a name (randomly/manually), and a color to help differentiate that character from other similar characters you might have. Each of the given characters have a class title that will change as they level up, and in turn will make new colors available for said character. It should also be noted that you can also change a main, or non-main characters' sub-classes to something other than their given one via another feature allowing them to learn skills of that particular class. In 'Disgaea 5' there are new character classes to obtain so you won't be stuck with that age old variety. Among then new ones are zombie maids, space pirates, nine-tails, and other things.
Beyond that you'll find yet another mode that ties-in to the character class functionality. This vendor of sorts is known as "Squads". By progressing to a certain point in the story you will unlock this feature. In it's menu system you can assign hired, interrogated, or gained party members to certain squads that each have in-game/on-stage bonus effects which will change the way the game is played in some form, or fashion. The squads vary by title, and some have to be unlocked in different ways later on. Pairing your characters up correctly will mean the difference between making the most of your time with the game's modes of play, or not reaching that full potential within.
As far as the "Interrogation" vendor goes you'll find that this devilish option goes along with the rise of the main characters' rebel army. In 'Disgaea 5' one of the main story elements involves a war against a faction known as the "Lost Army". To combat that growing threat, and weaken Void Dark's defenses Christos (a later joining party member) devises a plan to capture, and interrogate creatures/characters out on the battlefield. The capturing can be done via characters assigned to the "Capture Squad" using a special attack, or by simply winning a battle. Once back at the pocket netherworld you can go to the "Interrogation" vendor, and interrogate some characters through rather harsh stat reducing means that will eventually kill them off. Choosing one of five options, and five points to use said options (one point per interrogation method) you can whittle their life force away. Once done you can render the individual into a magic potions that can be used to enhance another characters' stats, or you can recruit them as an ally. Either way it helps boost your efforts in amassing an army strong enough to combat Void Dark, and his minions.
When it comes to optional activities outside of the main game features you will find a "Map Editor" which will allow the gamer to create their own stages, and have other gamers with the game battle them. Map editor elements are sparse to begin with, but by earning enough points/HL you can make a fully decked out map, and stage battle fit to impress. I made a basic one just to test it out, and I can honestly say that it's a feature worth investing in. Not only that, but it's one of the features that adds extended replay value to 'Disgaea 5'. By playing through friends' maps that you can download in-game you could also also earn extra HL, and continue leveling up your characters assuming you can come out victorious. For those of looking for cheaper ways to furnish your created maps with effects, and decorative items you'll find that the item world's route setting of "Invaders" will invite other netherworld residents in for a fight. Beating the invaders, or summoning your own netherworld for support can earn you map editor effects, and items supposing you win. I should probably also mention that the "Item World" routes that can be changed at stage intermissions contain other options that will make different things happen more frequently. Things like treasure routes with more chests, and innocent routes with more appearing innocents are among the options you'll be able to choose from.
Going back to a previous topic of discussion regarding the battle, or combat system you will find that NIS has added an "Overlord" revenge mechanic that comes into play as the characters become enraged from battle. Things like being attacked, and attacking will cause a revenge meter to build up. Once it builds up your character will have a black icon above their head with a red "R" inside of it. After a certain amount of follow-up actions the "Overlord" option will become available for selection. Once available this command which is character/class specific will have a different effect according to the character that is using it. Seraphina, for example has a "Balor's Gaze" which affects only male characters, and causes them to attack other enemies. Red Magnus's Overlord command, on the other hand is called "Super Olympia", and will increase his size and damage output. It varies according to the netherworld overlord in question. Speaking of netherworld overlords you can recruit new overlords to your party if you manage to meet the requirements in the story mode encounter. This sometimes entails not killing them off, or killing off all of the enemies before they have a chance of killing the overlord off. Overlords, and their "Overlord" commands are a vital part of creating the perfect rebel army.
Something else I should mention is that later on into the story you'll unlock a "Research" vendor that will allow you to scout new netherworlds behind-the-scenes by assigning the appropriate party members to the tasks. Netherworlds come in two different varieties including "Famous", and "Stray". By sending out research teams you can farm for items, and can level up characters in said netherworlds supposing they don't get killed off in the process. Seeing as it's a "behind-the-scenes" ordeal you will not be able to provide healing, and will have to let the scenario play out till the end. Supposing a research outing is 100% successful you will gain items, and might even unlock new netherworlds to explore, and farm. It's a good way to get rare items without grinding away in the item world, and risking everything.
Luckily in battle characters can heal one another via skills, or items bought at the 'Rosen Queen, Co." item vendor. It also helps to have the best equipment possible for your party to avoid untimely deaths. The EXP, and character levels also matter a lot in Disgaea 5. One important detail I forgot to mention earlier on is that there's a 'Skills' vendor which allows characters to learn, and equip "Evilities" as well as convert said 'Evilities'. You can even enhance a skills power, and range supposing you have the mana to do so with. As far as the "Evilities" go they are a sort of perk that can be bought with mana points to boost character stats, and underlying abilities. There are weapon specific evilities, stat specific evilities, and even unique evilities which change how a character performs on the battlefield. This accompanied with equipment, and the leveling system can make for some super powerful allies.
Subtle features of Seraphina's pocket netherworld outside of the norm include a theme song with lyrics that repeatedly plays out as you stay for a long duration as well as character appearances from your party members. The game as a whole looks crisp, and clean. It's polished up to perfection for the Playstation 4 console without noticeable pixel edging. The soundtrack, and voice-over languages are also complimentary to the experience adding to that fun-loving, and hard to hate atmosphere that 'Disgaea' provides. Disgaea 5 is definitely a game you'll find hard to hate. For those looking to cheese your way to greatness, and afford the more expensive things in 'Disgaea' more quickly you'll also find that there's an unlockable "Cheats" vendor for Seraphina's pocket netherworld that can be obtained by passing a specific bill at the "Strategy Assembly". Once done you can access the "Cheat" vendor's menu which has three pages of optional tweaks, some of which are locked behind necessary requirements. Things such as AI difficulty can be changed as well as the percentages pertaining to mana income, EXP earning, and HL income among other things. The way this works is that you have to lessen another stat's percentage rating in order to use the gained percentage points to raise another percentage based stat. I personally raised the mana earning, and HL earning slightly as that helps speed up things in regards to party building/leveling. If you wish to reverse the cheats, and set things back to the way they were you simply have to press the "Touch Pad" on your DualShock4 controller within the "Cheats" menu. To say there's a ton to do in 'Disgaea 5' is almost an understatement ...
The Verdict ...
"Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance" on the Playstation 4 brings something new to the table while staying true to it's roots. The new story, which is the heart of the game feels more epic than ever before in that there's more main characters to learn about, and more things to do outside of the standard story completion, and item world grinding. Things like the new character class types, the overlord recruitment, the revenge mechanics, and the map editor makes it all the more interesting, and engaging. Even the interrogation makes for an interesting addition to gameplay. For once I even loved the English voice-overs. I'd say I actually prefer them over the Japanese voice-overs this time around. The fact that there's so much more to do, and invest in makes 'Disgaea 5' a proper investment for any gamer looking for more bang for their buck. Sure there's DLC scheduled for the future, but with all that you get in the main experience you'll find it satisfying even if you don't want to spend more on expanding you Disgaea adventure. The added fact that Gamestop has an exclusive edition with a 3-inch figure, artbook, 2-CD soundtrack, and other goodies for a small mark up of $79.99 makes it all the more worth buying. I cannot recommend this game enough! I think it's worth it, and I truly hope it sells well. I want to see more Disgaea games come to the PS4. Please don't let this be a last for NISA! Please support 'Disgaea 5'. I know you'll love it if you only give it a chance!
*NOTE!!!*: It has come to my attention that the Gamestop limited edition is the same as the one you can buy from the official NISA online store (http://store.nisamerica.com/disgaea-5-alliance-of-vengeance). The difference being that the Gamestop offer is only for United States residents. Either way I suggest you taking advantage of the Limited edition version while you can as supplies are usually limited (hence the words, "limited edition"). If you happen to miss that get the retail version anyways. It's an Awesome game even at the $59.99 mark!