Review: Disgaea 5 Complete (Nintendo Switch)
Written by John Guida
Disgaea 5 Complete is many things - most of which I didn't expect. Having never played a Disgaea game before, I began this installment at quite the disadvantage concerning both the mechanics and the lore. Thanks to the game's surprisingly decent story, very lengthy tutorials and (dare I say) irresistible charm, I found myself coming back for more time and again. It's funny, over the top, absurd, grind-heavy, engrossing, tedious, rewarding, crazy, ridiculous, colorful and very keen on micromanagement. All of that equals a game that can be a little dangerous when it comes to eating up time if you're the sort of person that loves this sort of thing... like me.
The game's story begins simply enough. There are, as far as I can tell, three worlds in this universe. They are the heavenly realm of Celestia which is populated by angels, the human world populated by you and me and the Netherworlds populated by demons. The first two portions of reality don't get mentioned all that much during any part of the game. The Netherworlds are, literally, where it's at, and all is not well. The demon emperor, Lord Void Dark, has dispatched his army of Lost soldiers across the various realms that make up this particular space in an effort to conquer everything and anything. It's during one of these battles that the player is dropped into the fray. The Overlord of Gorgeous, Seraphina, is facing off against the Lost in a netherworld called Blood Parch, and the battle seems hopeless. With an army consisting of only Prinnies (demonic penguins that each house a soul of the damned) she seems outclassed in both quality and quantity. Just as things seemingly take a turn for the worst, a rogue demon named Killia shows up and saves the day. Intent on making Killia submit to her every will because she's a demonic temptress, she demands that Killia become her servant. He refuses, but the two become fast friends even though they don't realize it yet. Seraphina is out to destroy Void Dark, and Killia also seems to have a rather large beef with this big bad, and it is this mutual goal that sends the precarious pair off on their adventure across various worlds to fight the Lost and recruit other demons and zany, demonic Overlords before the ultimate confrontation with the demon emperor himself.
As you begin battling the minions of Void, you're slowly introduced to Disgaea's battle system. It's grid-based, not dissimilar to Final Fantasy Tactics, but ultimately more fluid. You move your characters around, select which action you'd like them to take on the next turn, and then execute those moves in battle. There isn't a time limit, so you can plan your next move at your leisure. Being very familiar with an active time battle system, like the older Final Fantasies, I found this to be a bit off-putting at first but later came to appreciate it. Battles are usually not long, drawn-out affairs and are very rewarding with the bonus system that's in place. Depending on how well you execute your battle strategy, you earn more bonuses on a scale of 1 to 9. Things that can increase your rank are the number of enemies you defeat on a given turn, how much you destroy on the battle field in a given turn, if you change the color of grid tiles during battle and if you pull off combo moves that become available later in the game.
The game has no problem educating you on how to use it's many features - all of which increase in number as the game unfolds over many hours of play. The tutorials given to you at the onset of your adventure kind of present like stereo instructions printed back in the 1980s, but fear not. If you're one of those gamers that learns by doing, this game follows up every tutorial with a battle that utilizes the feature that the tutorial pertains to. Once you acclimate, things never seem too overly complicated even if there's a ton of information to keep in mind at any given time.
The pacing of Disgaea 5 Complete is very forgiving and user friendly. You never have to worry about being forced to keep trudging onward. If you want to steal yourself away from the main story for a while, you can return to your pocket netherworld at just about any time to tinker with all of the features the game has to offer. You have basic shops that sell weapons, armor and items as well as a hospital where you can heal and revive characters. It's all very handy to be sure, but this netherworld is just as much a hub as it is your gateway to strategize. As more and more features become slowly available, typically after every chapter of the game, you can play around with various parts of the game's components to your heart's content. Tired of grinding endless battles in the Item World? Go the cheat shop and crank your experience up to five hundred percent! This may sound broken, but you have to take percentage based points out of mana, money, weapon mastery and special skill experience. In essence, this means that while earning all of that massive experience, you don't earn anything else unless you tinker with the settings again. It's a tradeoff that makes things more interesting than they otherwise would be.
You have access to so many things in your pocket netherworld, it's mind boggling. You have access to the above mentioned features, along with many others. Would you like to stock up on food for the next battle? Go down the Curry Shop and cook up basic dishes, or create your own. Have you captured any prisoners throughout your campaign to free the netherworlds from Void Dark's evil? Go down to the interrogation room and have your way with them. Starve them, beat them, ignore them, it doesn't matter. Decrease their SP points to zero, and then decide what you'd like to do with them. Would you like to release them and make them a citizen of your pocket netherworld, or would you rather receive an item from them to use in battle? The choice is yours. Though the game is good about giving you more characters as you play, you can go to the recruiter if you would like to hire more characters for your team. Your initial choices, while limited, are fairly impressive and grow as you take on quests that open up more classes that you can then hire. If you don't want to put in all of the extra effort of leveling a few dozen (or more) hirelings, that's perfectly fine as well. The characters you pick up along the way are strong and have a lot of potential. Have you accrued a ton of mana by defeating enemies? Take a stroll over to the Skill Shop and acquire new skills or enhance skills you already possess. Or maybe you have a surplus of mana? Go to the Character World and play a mini board game where, if you get to the goal posts, you can increase different aspects of the character you beat that specific round with. It's pay to play, and the cost goes up exponentially each time you want to take a character through. There's probably more that I've yet to discover, and it keeps me coming back for more, even if it's simply the acquisition of new characters from the game's epilogue or increasing a character's armor proficiency from B rank to A rank.
Arguably, the most unique feature found in your little hub world is the Senate. You have the ability to propose different bills that have beneficial effects on life in your pocket netherworld or the next battle that you'll partake in. Care to propose a bill that will increase the quality of items sold in your pocket netherworld's shops, or maybe you would like to earn triple the experience when you fight again? If you have the requisite mana, you can propose the bill from a preset list that expands over time. Along with the list of possible legislation, there's a success rate percentage indicating how likely you are to pass your new bill. If you're feeling punchy, you can go ahead and call for a vote on a bill that you know won't pass, and then take the fight to the senators themselves. If you defeat them, then your bill passes anyway, but don't get too carried away. Each time you do this, your success rate goes down a little because the senators don't appreciate you beating the literal hell out of them. However, the opposite side of that particular coin is that you can propose bills to increase your standing with various groups of senators in an effort to increase your chances of victory on the senate floor. Or, if you're very lucky, one of your other characters might just put in an appearance and bribe the senators. It's a fun and useful diversion.
Despite all of this, the game wouldn't work for me if it didn't have a neat style and characters I didn't care about. Thankfully it does. The characters all seem very "token-ish" to begin with, but as you play through the sixteen chapters of the main story, each character grows along with you. You have the brooding, more silent than the rest, protagonist Killia who wishes to get revenge on Void Dark for reasons he refuses to share with the rest of the group. Seraphina is the alpha female who thinks all men are born to serve her and only her. Red Magnus is a muscle-bound moron whose own netherworld, Scorching Flame, was destroyed by Void Dark's invading armies. All he thinks about is power and becoming stronger. Zeroken is a vagabond martial artist who talks big, but seems cowardly whenever the situation calls for bravery. Usalia, a cursed, little girl whose parents were murdered by one of Void's demon generals, wishes to put a stop to all the violence forever. Lastly, we have "little" Christo who professes to be an overlord of a certain, giant netherworld that he won't put a name to... and also may be more than he appears. These characters all interact with one another in typical, over the top JRPG fashion with absolutely insane dialogue. I have to give a nod to the voice actors on this one. They did a bang-up job delivering their various roles with gusto and feeling. It would be very easy for the dialogue to be cringe worthy if it weren't given with the professionalism displayed here. Yes, it's still bat-sh** crazy, but it works better than it has any right to.
Coupled with the loony characters, the game's visual style and music are definitely cool. All of the characters are hand-drawn, and the animation is good, if a bit janky. Where this really becomes apparent is during the animations for special moves you can perform during battle. You have characters moving about in a very clipped, quick manner amidst what would now be considered low resolution, low poly backgrounds. This may sound like a turnoff, but it keeps with this game's theme of being very over the top. Whether it's having one of your characters ride another through the air like Rush from Mega Man, or watching Seraphina use her overload skill to persuade Red Magnus to get into a cannon to be fired at the enemy, I wanted to learn new skills just to see what sort of crazy antics my characters would be able to unleash in the future. In short, the style is very much like japanese anime - replete with highly stylized characters (and overly buxom women). The soundtrack is an odd mishmash that lends itself well to the rest of the game. From the techno beats of the Item World, to the downright swanky melodies of the upcoming, in-game previews and battle themes, you won't be left wanting. My only real gripe here is that the song played in your pocket netherworld becomes very repetitive, but it's easily forgivable.
Disgaea 5 Complete is a great game that could have the strategy/JRPG gamer playing for hundreds of hours. With so much to do and unlock, the finish line won't be within sight for a long time, but the journey never really becomes tiring. This is a game that wants you to play it, and wants you to play it however you want. It's takes it's time, teaches you the ropes and arms you with a desire to approach it on your own terms. The characters are neat and have good chemistry with one another. The story may seem predictable, but it's fairly enjoyable and has a nifty twist at the end. I admittedly saw it coming, but it didn't lessen the impact once it hit. Even after you've done everything, there's all new content available which was previously DLC for original release of Disgaea 5. The amount of things that you can do and play with here is astronomical. For a game to be this absurd, yet succeed as well as it does takes a special touch, and it appears that Nippon Ichi Software has it. Now that I think about it, I need to get back to grinding so that I can continue with all of the extra content. Then I have to track down the other Disgaea games and play them. Good lord, just what have they done?