Nippon Ichi Software’s Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is the first offering from the developer for Sony’s PlayStation 4. The long running tactical role playing game series is the company’s flagship property and the origin of the company’s penguin-like Prinny mascot. With only a six month wait since the Japanese release, Disgaea 5’s North American release is a relatively quick one. As with most imports, there is some room for improvement with the localization, but Disgaea 5 is surprisingly accessible and is likely to find a wider acceptance than recent Disgaea releases.
Having reviewed a great number of NIS America’s offerings, both first party and third, I’ve seen both the hits and the forgettable obscurities. While I have occasionally enjoyed a smaller title or two, their limited appeal is painfully obvious. Many of the NIS games are fairly low-budget and present as a generation or two behind triple A releases on current consoles. Though Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance still utilizes 2D sprites and doesn’t initially appear to be a significant technological leap ahead for the series, it does seem perfectly at home on the PlayStation 4.
Since the iconic Shining Force game on Sega’s early consoles, tactical RPGs haven’t changed all that much. The Disgaea series has added new wrinkles like stacking, throwing, and geo-tiles to the turn-based formula, but for the most part, the gameplay consists of choosing your team, and executing a strategy to defeat your enemy. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance doesn’t add much to the already deep combat system, but in line with the game’s title “revenge” does now factor in to the team statistics. The PlayStation 4’s hardware does also allow for more screen information, in addition to the new 100 character onscreen limit.
Unlike many RPG series, Disgaea has always preferred the tongue-in-cheek, absurdist approach to storytelling. The demonic theme continues with Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance though, at least for this reviewer, the plot is fairly well executed. NIS has a lot of experience with entitled, female sexpot main characters, but they seem to have found just the right balance with Seraphina. She is just the right mix of bratty and sweet, to feel authentic, and actually serve as a sympathetic character, in her own crazy way, of course. She is also the perfect counterbalance to the mysterious object of her affection, Killia.
With the pair serving as the plot anchor, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance’s other characters are free to explore the extremes, and are even somewhat humanized by their connection. For an NIS game, this kind of character depth is almost unheard of. Even the minor characters have more varied interactions in Disgaea 5. Though not essential in any type of gameplay, by adding value to each character, the better plot execution does help keep players more involved in the somewhat repetitive battle mechanics.
Longtime Disgaea fans will feel right at home with Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance. Serving as NIS’s first foray onto the current console generation, expectations a rightfully high for their flagship franchise. Playing through and completing some of NIS America’s imports has occasionally been challenging, but Disgaea 5 has actually been a surprising treat. With well executed plot, varied characters, a familiar presentation, diverse environments, some new playable classes, and handful of new combat dynamics, there’s not much more you could ask for in a new Disgaea game.