9.5
Our overall verdict "gold"

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What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a sardine and an adorable demon in a penguin suit? Yes, Disgaea is back for round five and this time it has exploded like a bucket of flammable fish onto PS4. Bursting with its own unfathomable trademark humour and more colourful than ever, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is looking awfully good, dood.

The demon emperor Void Dark has been running about knocking seven shades of shite out of the Netherworlds, that scallyway. Obviously, a few people object, including Seraphina, the spoiled daughter of the demon king of the Gorgeous Underworld. Set to marry Void Dark himself, Seraphina runs away and creates her own Pocket Netherworld where she rules with an iron but glamorous fist. But there’s no way she can defeat the demon emperor and his army of The Lost by herself. Enter Sir Killia, a handsome and scantily dressed young demon with incredible powers and complete disinterest in Seraphina’s amorous and devious advances. It seems Sir Killia is not all that he seems…

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Disgaea 5 is a turn-based strategy RPG. The main gameplay is split into separate battles, each of which use a grid system. You’ll be able to move each character a set number of squares towards the enemy. Once placed you can choose to attack and then choose to execute the attack. But that would be silly. Like its predecessor, Disgaea 5 relies on combos and chains. You will be able to line up your characters next to each other to link attacks. You can lift characters, throw them or build a tower out of them. Once you feel that everyone is in an optimum spot, you can execute and wipe the gameboard clean of the emperor’s scum, earning yourself a crap load of bonuses along the way. Also like the previous game you can throw exploding Prinnies (they don’t mind as long as they get their sardine paycheck, dood).

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The tutorial will take you through everything you need to know at a nice gradual and easy pace. If all this old hat to you, you’ll be pleased to know the tutorials can be skipped. Personally, I thought it would be spiffing to have a little refresher as it’s been over a year since I’ve thrown an exploding penguin across a crowded battlefield. It’s hard to find the time, isn’t it?

Of course it’s all fun and games until someone loses a sardine. While the game does ease you in very nicely and is very kind to the newbie, that difficulty level will rise. Good old fashioned levelling up will be required, but Disgaea is so much fun you’ll barely register that you’ve spend the last two hours turning your weakling mage who can barely light up a birthday cake into a flame-throwing force of destruction. It’s not really grinding. It’s strategic repetition of excellent tactical scuffles to secure powerful attacks and level-smashing annihilation, with fish. Enjoy it.

When you’re not actively taking part in strategic repetition of excellent tactical scuffles to secure powerful attacks and level-smashing annihilation, with fish, you are free to wander around Seraphina’s Pocket Netherworld. This miniature territory is your hub. It’s where you go to buy helpful items, weapons and armour. It’s where you can pick up extra quests, view previous cut scenes and recruit new party members. Recruiting people to fight alongside you is a wonderful part of Disgaea culture. You can pick from healers, witches, brawlers, gunner, clerics and many more, and depending on if they are male or female this will affect the abilities of your choses class. Depending on how much cash you’ve got stuffed inside Killia’s skin tight trouser pockets you can also choose how powerful your new party member will be. Also choose a name from a fabulously weird selection or pick your own and to some extent select hair and clothes colour. My party now includes SJ the Healer, Lizard the Warrior, NelMaNo the Mage and Northlander the Gunner who has been blasted off in a rocket (more about that later). Lastly do not forget to arm your new recruit, so it’s off to the shop for a rusty sword and a pot lid. As you level up and become rich, powerful and infamous, you’ll be able to recruit new and more powerful classes and the shops will sell better gear to protect your unmentionables than a saucepan lid.

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Once you’ve found a weapon you like, it’s possible to level it up separately. Search out the entrance to the Item World within your hub and here every battle will make your chosen item more and more powerful. Yes that rusty sword could one day split the nostril hairs of Void Dark himself. Another wonderful little feature that is sure to please all the crazy statistic managers among us is the presence of Innocents. These little beauties are found in items all over the Netherwords and can be extracted and fitted to your weapons and armour to give them and you an extra boost. There’s a separate room for Innocent Management, and here you’ll lose countless hours extracting, fitting and swapping. Adding an extra layer of depth, it’s possible to visit the Item World and tame the Innocents in your chosen weapon, and once you’ve calmed them down, you can combine them. Go in with five Gladiator Innocents, all giving you various amounts of extra Attack points, subdue them, return, combine them into one slot, and now you have four free slots to fill up with more stat-boosting Innocents. It’s a long process, but if you’re in it for the long haul, it’s worth doing right. Yes, it’s fiddly, but once you’ve got into the swing of it, you’ll be managing those stats with your eyes shut and your upgrade slots wide open.

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The Pocket Netherworld also has its own Parliament where you can pay Mana to pass bills to make life easier or more interesting or profitable. Pay up to present your bill and then make sure to bribe the attending senators to get yourself an AYE rather than a NAY. As you progress, the Assembly process will also upgrade. Use it to get better items in the shop, start with your bonus meter partly filled on the next map or grab more EXP. There are any number of fun and functional bills you can try to pass if you’ve got the Mana to spare.

Just when you think the Pocket Netherworld can’t possibly offer any more sardine-slapping goodness, there’s suddenly more. The Skills Shop will let you spend Mana to upgrade special skills and learn Evilities, and the Interrogation room will allow you to torture captured enemies. Once you’ve broken their spirit by whatever means necessary (starvation, violence, tickling) you can chose to extract their power, make them a citizen or, if you’ve unlocked that particular class, make them into an ally that you can bring into battle. Opening up later in the game is the Research Room where you can blast off your recruits in a rocket ship to lands unknown to recruit more people, discover lost Netherworlds and bring back goodies.

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Whether you are converting allies or hiring them from the Recruitment Room, it makes sense to level up as many different classes and skills as possible because you may now have a tough, hard-as-nails Fire Mage but what happens when you find yourself in need of a Mage with powerful wind? That’s a scenario nobody wants. Later on in the game you’ll gain the Squad Room where you can assign individual characters to specific squads to give them particular advantages than can help out characters who are struggling in battle or those you want to give an extra edge to. Squad Leaders will acquire the Squad Attack skill which, in a fraught battle, can seriously turn the tide. One of my favourite rooms that opens up roughly halfway through the game is the Chara World where you can pay Mana to play a board game with a chosen character. Spin the wheel and off you trot. Here you can earn lots of extra HL, items and upgrades. Make it to the Goal within so many turns and choose a very special upgrade. Don’t make it and there will be consequences. It’s a simplistic but addictive little subgame that, if you’ve got the Mana and a mild gambling habit, it will occupy you for many guilty hours.

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There’s an awful lot to do in the Pocket Netherworld, but everything is introduced at a pace that allows you to grasp it easily and move forward. Many of the facilities will not open up until you are at least a gazillion hours into the game. Disgaea’s beautifully charming and childish appearance is a facade that hides one of the most deep and complex SRPGs PlayStation has ever seen. And yet this complexity is extremely user friendly. Any RPG, if you’ve not played it before, takes a while to get the old noggin’ round, but considering the intricacies of Disgaea, it’s an amazing feat that it is so easy to get into. It’s all in the pacing and the way it’s presented.

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As Disgaea regulars will, I am sure, tell you, it’s the game’s distinctive charm that sets this SRPG apart from any other. Disgaea 5’s plot is outrageously bizarre. Prepare yourself for some very oddball characters, whacky and whimsical scenarios and the sort of logic only a Disgaea game can manage. I won’t spoil any part of the plot, but rest assured it’s strangely gripping. The Disgaea series has never been one to take itself too seriously and Disgaea 5 carries on that tradition. Ironic, overly dramatic, odd, hilarious and, on occasion, weirdly touching, this game ticks all the Japanese plot boxes. The main character, Sir Killia, is much more mysterious than his predecessor Lord Valvatorez. While our beloved vampire was marvellously eccentric, Killia is a quietly brooding shadow. The change at first feels like a bit of a shock until you twig that it’s Seraphina who provides the obligatory eccentricity. They are completely black and white. Or perhaps black and pink is more accurate. While Killia’s character supplies the story’s mystery and reason to keep moving forward, Seraphina is the central comedic character. Further balancing out Killia’s stoicism is a line-up of other humorous and intensely likable characters. I personally have spongy soft spot for a long-haired, horned and slightly delicate demon with an eye for tactics and manipulation.

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If you’re new to the series, don’t worry. You don’t need any previous knowledge or experience. Disgaea 5 takes care of its newcomers very well indeed. I guess it has to. This is the first in the series to be on the PS4 and, disappointingly and heart-crushingly, there is no Vita version. That announcement was a huge blow to Vita fans far and wide. The Vita is a tough little cookie but it just doesn’t have the chocolate chips to cope with this bigger and better Disgaea.

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So was the trade off worth it? Did we lose our precious Vita version for nothing or is the PS4 exactly what Disgaea was waiting for? The Vita is made for games like this. Strategic placement, stats, and hours in the item and equipment shops feel as though it belongs on a screen you can hold an inch in front of your nose. Reading text from across the room, despite owning a lovely 47-incher can be a pain in the cataracts. Luckily, Disgaea on the PS4 looks phenomenal. The graphics are bright, crystal clear and sharper than a tiger’s love tap. It’s almost as though I’ve been playing all my other games on a TV coated with a year’s worth of dust and skin particles, and suddenly someone spat on my screen and gave it a damn good polish. This game sparkles. It gleams. It’s absolutely dazzling. No, the Vita couldn’t have managed it and although I hate myself a little bit for saying it, yes, it was worth the trade off.

Conclusion

Sparking graphics, bizarre characters, witty dialogue and a hilarious plotline mean that Disgaea 5 is an SRPG that is leagues ahead of any other on the PS4. With gameplay that is fun, easy to pick up and satisfyingly complex, Disgaea 5 is very very addictive. Disgaea die-hards should be tickled pink by this release, and with its flawless mechanics and polished presentation, it should attract a tidal wave of new players to the series and perhaps to the SRPG genre. It’s a no-brainer and a compulsory purchase. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is a definite contender for Game of the Year.

S J Hollis Rating – 9.5/10

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S J Hollis

S J Hollis has been a keen gamer since the Atari 2600. She freely admits she thought E.T. was a good game but would like to stress her tastes have since dramatically improved. She is also an author, a morning person and thinks Elf ears are sexy. Follow her on twitter @SJHollis_