Disgaea 5 is once again set in the Netherworld and the game begins with a narration about how Overlord Void Dark is perpetrating the biggest ever Netherworld war with the help of his Lost army. Exactly what Void Dark wants remains unclear, but many Overlords resist him. In the opening scene we meet one such Overlord - Seraphina, the Overlord of Gorgeous. Her army of Prinnies are fighting a losing battle against the Lost, but luckily for Serpahina (and the few remaining Prinnies) it's at this point a mysterious Overlord joins the fight. Killia steps up and, after dispatching a bowl of food, wipes out the Lost forces with a single attack. After a short chat Seraphina decides to ally herself with Killia (whether he wants it or not) and the two of them return to her pocket Netherworld which serves as the hub in Disgaea 5.
The tutorial system is quite thorough so you'll learn the ropes quickly enough, but another of Disgaea's strength is adding more and more elements to fights that you need to understand. Stacking and throwing characters is a key way to get characters all over the map as fast as possible. It's easy to do simply walk one character on top of another (you can stack all ten characters if you want to) and then use the Throw command to toss your allies willy-nilly around the map. It's both fun and funny, though it's nothing new for series vets.
Geo-nodes coloured triangles that put specific effects on all squares of that colour are next up. Some effects are beneficial, like Exp +50% or Movement +1, but many others are not, such as Def -50% and Enemy Boost. Finding the relevant geo-nodes and either throwing them onto different colours, or destroying them to set off a crazy chain of destruction is another key aspect to come to grips with.
Innocent farming leads naturally into the Item World, another series staple, which allows you to enter an item (including weapons and gear), complete a series of fights, perhaps subdue some resident Innocents, in order to level the item up. I don't know for sure if there's an end to the Item World or if you can go on indefinitely, but suffice to say you can make almost any item extremely powerful by delving into its depths.
If all of that wasn't enough there are other things to explore in your pocket Netherworld. Quests are passive activities you complete through the story, things like defeating three Imps or finding a specific piece of treasure, for which you're rewarded with money and items, or maybe a new class of character at the Recruiter.
Before long you'll have a squad much larger than can be sent onto the battlefield at once, but rather than have them sit around doing nothing you can assign them to a research team that explores other Netherworlds. This is a great way for those characters to level up (though their skills and class proficiency won't improve this way) to keep them around your level, while also finding treasure and capturing enemies. Captured enemies can be interrogated and either coerced into joining your army, or broken down into magical essence to boost your characters.
The Dark Assembly remains intact, and here you propose bills to demon senators in the hopes of receiving certain boons. For example you can request better items at the store, triple experience on the next map, a boost to the end of battle rewards and a host of other things. Senators are notoriously difficult to deal with though, so you may need to bribe them to get your bill passed.
Interestingly the Dark Assembly's role has been greatly reduced by the inclusion of a so-called Cheat Shop. The Cheat Shop allows you to tinker with certain settings, so for example you can reduce the amount of money earned in battle and increase the amount of experience instead. It's also possible to boost the enemy level all the way up to twenty, which increases both the difficulty and XP rewards from a fight.
If all of the above wasn't enough there is now a map editor that allows you to create your own maps or play other users' creations. And a Netherworld editor that does the same thing for your pocket Netherworld hub if you're sick of the way it looks. Basically the only limit to how much you can do in Disgaea is you.
As you can tell from the surrounding screenshots Disgaea, while colourful and pretty, is not exactly a graphical powerhouse. In fact it's not a large step up from the other titles on previous gen systems. While that is a little disappointing, particularly when it comes to spell and ability animations, Disgaea is a game that thrives on gameplay rather than graphics so it's not too detrimental overall.
On the upside there is excellent diversity in terms of the environments you visit and the way maps are laid out. In each chapter of the story you visit a new Netherworld, and while Blood Parch is a barren wasteland full of thorny trees, Poisondise is a full of vast purple pools of poison admittedly, but it's still pretty to look at. There are a few standard looking places, like the ice world Icic-Hell, and the fire world of Scorching Flame, but from one world to the next there isn't a lot that looks the same.
The music is a different story and I found it got repetitive really fast. That's particularly true of the song that plays on a loop when you're in the pocket Netherworld. Considering how much time you spend there you'll hear it a ridiculous number of times. Suffice to say I have the game on mute whenever I'm in the Netherworld. Other tunes are standard RPG fare catchy little tunes that are fine in small doses, but that repeat a bit too often for comfort.
Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is a title that shows even video games can age gracefully. While it may not boast cutting edge visuals or excellent music, what it does have is gameplay and character in spades. If you enjoy strategy RPGs, and especially if you've not played a Disgaea title before, Disgaea 5 comes highly recommended.
Review By: Mike Allison