I remember playing the first Disgaea on PS2 what seems like a billion years ago. Usually the JRPG cutesy staples with undertones of darkness and lots of offhand perversion puts me off, but something about Disgaea’s legion of lovable misfits and rewarding strategy stuck with me despite my initial misgivings. I haven’t really paid the series much attention since – my brief affair with the weird and wide world of Eastern RPGs ended after Kingdom Hearts dried up – but now number five has rolled around I figure it’s a good enough time to revisit it.
The good news is the series’ signature zaniness is still front and center. Stupid, puerile humour in most every line of dialogue. It’s charming, and the wide variety of characters go from on the nose – the main character is literally called Sir Killia – to nuanced. They’re all over the top in one way or another but the fact that it’s just so bloody daft is both attractive and repellent all at once – like a midget in a bikini.
Every JRPG trope is here in full force but don’t let the literal army of stereotypes put you off. This is a solid tactical experience if you can get past a few stinking flaws. Combat plays out on a grid-based map, pitting you and your gang of misfits against increasingly complex and numerous encounters. You move your characters, pick an action, and then execute the action string to deal damage, cast spells, and put together combos. At first you’ve just got the brooding Sir Killia, the perennially infuriating Seraphina and a handful of loyal Prinnies (a series staple, exploding undead penguins). But as you progress through the game’s first hours you’re introduced to the recruitment mechanic which allows you to custom tailor your demonic legion with varying grades of quality. There’s a surprising amount of modifiers involved, and it’s possible to end up with entirely unique characters every time.
You can choose to stick with these underlings as they level up and rise through the ranks or just spend the cash to hire better ones. Alongside the usual mage and warrior classes there’s a few weird surprises, and you’re always picking up other demon lords as you travel. Think of Demon Lords as the hero class – super powerful, with unique special abilities and quirks. They add an extra twist to the combat and can be tweaked and equipped for specific roles.
There’s a huge amount of depth here and the game actually does a pretty swell job of explaining all of it. There’s a lot of text to read through but it’s palatable and doled out in little chunks. Veterans will know everything there is to know already but newcomers won’t feel daunted – and that’s a hard line to walk with a series as convoluted as Disgaea.
I have one major criticism, and it’s a subjective one. But it’s a criticism nonetheless and one that is probably echoed by a few of you. Games have come a hell of a long way since the first Disgaea. Hell, even the PS2 had games like Final Fantasy X knocking out some kind of innovation. Disgaea doesn’t make the effort to freshen things up. Hell, the game I’ve been playing in 2015 on the same console that plays The Witcher 3 is pretty much identical to the game I played for months on my PS2 because it was the only one I had. It’s always going to be a niche title, a genre unto itself, but retreading the same formula – wacky and rewarding as it may be – is eventually going to start hitting some diminishing returns. The gaming world has grown up, so why won’t Disgaea? Won’t some lesson we have learnt from the last decade of game design seep into the series, or is it going to stick to its guns as a weird little curiosity and never really evolve as most every other series has? What’s the point in releasing new entries if it’s all going to be identical – why not just release them all as DLC, in that case? There’s so much insane potential here and it seems like a crying shame to lock it behind practically ancient game design.
That being said the majority of you will probably enjoy the steadfast dedication to the old school visuals, and series diehards might not want anything to change. For me though, it’s a sore spot, and it makes it less likely that I’ll return for Disgaea 6 for more of the same. The only difference is the characters and various nefarious plots going on.
So in summary, Disgaea 5 is a rich, full featured JRPG on one hand, but a slightly sickly rehash of old ground on the other. A contradictory experience that is both fun and intensely irritating. It’s hard for me to place a number on it but your enjoyment will be down to your enjoyment of JRPG tropes versus your tolerance for text heavy old fashioned games. Doesn’t fix what isn’t broken – but it doesn’t bring anything new to the formula either.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.