There are few genres I have more experience with than turn based strategy RPGs. From Fire Emblem to Advance Wars to Final Fantasy Tactics, I have spent years carefully considering my strategic positioning to best destroy my opponents. While some games have been more serious, like Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, the Disgaea franchise has gone in the opposite direction. Focusing on humour and bombastically over the top visuals, Disgaea has gone from strength to strength with each release. With the release of Disgaea 5 Complete on the Nintendo Switch, we have a new standard for the franchise to beat in the future.
If you haven’t played a Disgaea game before, let me tell you about what you can expect from a standard story in the franchise. Unlike other RPGs which try and use tropes to create a serious heartfelt story, Disgaea uses these same tropes to constantly turn itself into a joke and create laughs. It’s a method of storytelling that other Japanese RPG developers have largely tried and failed to replicate, but NIS have perfected their formula with Disgaea. Disgaea 5 Complete is no different, with the brooding anti-hero, self-absorbed princess and brain-dead hunk of muscle constantly playing off each other for laughs. While the story follows an attempted revolution against a tyrant who is intent on taking control of the entire Netherworld, this is never allowed to detract from the humour of the game. The story is largely light-hearted and the gags rarely miss their mark, and with the additional included DLC story content, there is heaps of content that never gets old. If you want a super serious experience, Disgaea 5 Complete won’t meet your needs, but if you’re in for a laugh you’ll enjoy the content here.
The real hook to the Disgaea series comes in the form of its gameplay mechanics, chiefly among these is the ability to reincarnate your characters. Think of it like prestiging in a shooter or mobile game, where each reincarnation resets a character to level 1 but includes a boost to the character’s base and maximum stats. It’s by no means a requirement to play through the game, but if you’re inclined to grind you’ll be able to get some massive boosts via reincarnation. There is also an inherent strategy to reincarnation and when you should do it. Should you wait until level 9999 (yes, the levels go that high) for the maximum benefit, knowing that you’ll now have a seriously under-levelled character or do you hit it earlier on for a lower gain but shorter lead time? It brings an additional strategy to unit management that you don’t see in many turn based RPGs.
The real meat of Disgaea 5 Complete comes with its combat, as you fight your way through a campaign made up of repeatable maps and battles. Each map is relatively small and hemmed in, ensuring that they don’t take an enormous amount of time to complete, but falling short of feeling too small and quick. This is perfect for the newly portable form of Disgaea 5, allowing for short bursts of gameplay on the go. Maps largely vary from each other, including different area effects such as poison water, and bonus tiles that alter the stats of units standing on them. Each map allows for a variety of approaches, such as using some demons to throw into the middle of the fray. This can be especially fun when throwing a Prinny directly into a group of enemies, as they explode on impact and deal damage to everyone around them. Some monsters are also able to transform into high powered weapons via the Magichange option, reducing the number of effective units you have on the field, but boosting the stats of the demon holding the newly created weapon. The mechanics are a little different to anything you’ll find in other turn based RPG franchises and they help to keep Disgaea 5 Complete fresh compared to the competition.
Beyond those unique mechanics, the remainder of Disgaea 5 Complete’s combat is relatively straight forward and familiar. Positioning is important, with side and back attacks having a higher chance to hit, and elemental and weapon weaknesses need to be considered when attacking. You have a mix of ranged and melee fighters, with every character also able to swap between two weapons on the fly, allowing for quick shifts in combat style. While these systems are perfectly standard and could be forgettable, NIS avoids this by taking them to a ridiculous nth degree. You may be used to counter attacks in RPGs, but how about counter-counter-counter-counter-counter attacks? You’re used to some bombastic attacks in RPGs, but when did you last see a giant meteor fall from the sky to crush your enemies as a regular spell? Disgaea 5 Complete laughs in the face of your puny thousands of damage, regularly hitting the millions or damage in the later parts of the game. It’s this audacious ridiculousness that truly elevates Disgaea 5 Complete above its competition and makes it a hilariously fun adventure to play.
While the gameplay and story are fantastic in Disgaea 5 Complete, the window dressing of the game isn’t always so wonderful. While the 2D graphics are well made and look great, they’re not exactly going to push any console to the brink. Some of the larger and more bombastic effects are also fairly low poly, looking blurry and weird at times. Worlds are generally fairly short campaigns, which is great because each map is made of the same tiles and they tend to look fairly samey after a while. The quality of voice acting is also somewhat inconsistent, with main character Killia sounding like he’s being voiced by someone that is half asleep and couldn’t care less about the role. This is tempered by the better voice acting of other characters, such as the over-the-top Serephina, but with so much screen time devoted to Killia his voice acting quickly begins to grate.
While I have some minor gripes with the voice acting and graphics, Disgaea 5 Complete is an excellent turn based strategy RPG filled with humour and unique mechanics. With all the DLC from the original PlayStation 4 release, there is plenty of content to play, with all of it being unique and interesting. Combine this content with a new and completely portable nature and Disgaea 5 Complete is the new standard for the Disgaea franchise and is well worth the cost of entry for any Switch owners.
- Story is hilariously over the top
- Battle mechanics are varied and interesting
- Attacks are incredibly bombastic and extravagant
- Heaps and heaps of content thanks to the included DLC
- Voice acting is inconsistent in quality
- Graphical effects and character models can sometimes be blurry during attacks