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Review: Disgaea 5 Complete (Switch)

Disgaea 5 Complete is an SRPG from Nippon Ichi Software. This port for the Nintendo Switch comes with all the original version’s DLC. Much like previous entries in NIS’s flagship series, it features a standalone story that anyone can enjoy.

*Game key provided by publisher.

Disgaea 5

Story

While most games in the series focus on a single Netherworld, Disgaea 5 Complete tells a story that spans multiple worlds right from the start. Not content with ruling just one, Overlord Void Dark and his Lost Army have been taking over every Netherworld he can. Of course, several former rulers and citizens are not too happy about this. Seeking revenge, an assortment of such individuals are banding together to fight back against Void Dark.

While this tale is grand in scale, it mostly focuses on just a few overlords in the rebel army. Each has their own reason for opposing Void Dark, though most prefer not to share. Still, they all must face their past eventually. Naturally, this means each of the protagonists receive some time in the spotlight once introductions are out of the way.

Disgaea 5 has the longest main story in the series. There are dialogue scenes before and after nearly every battle and chapter, and there are quite a few of each. However, it might not be using its time as well as it could. Many character arcs last for only a few battles, making their growth feel rather sudden. On the other hand, the scenes during these arcs are usually lacking in meaningful content. There are some nice moments in the game, but the rushed story lines and filler make the writing less enjoyable overall. Furthermore, there are only so many directions a story can go when it starts emphasizing someone’s flaws. Whenever the focus shifts to a particular character, it is immediately obvious where things will end up.

Disgaea 5

Previous games in the series had a rather lighthearted tone and featured quite a lot of over-the-top humour. This entry still has some jokes, but the overall tone is more serious. Unfortunately, these gags do not really live up to the series’ legacy. Where earlier titles took silly ideas to ridiculous extremes, this one mostly just has someone say something stupid and moves on. Many of the jokes in the game are running gags that feature common clich├ęs. The quality of the comedy does get better late in the game, but it is still not especially funny overall.

In addition to the main story, Disgaea 5 Complete has a few extra scenarios. During these stories, the protagonist Killia meets up with notable characters from past games. Even Disgaea predecessor La Pucelle Tactics and the Makai Kingdom spin-off have characters appear in this title. At only three battles, these chapters are a bit shorter than those in the main game, but it is still nice to see more of the fan favorites.

After spending over 95 hours with the game, I only ever noticed one possible typo. Whether the line contains a mistake or not, it works as-is and the context makes the intent perfectly clear. Considering the sheer size of the game, that level of quality feels somewhat impressive. Still, there is one spot where the translation feels awkward. One character refers to Seraphina as “Seraphina sis,” which sounds unnatural in English. This only pops up every now and then, so it does not feel like a major issue. Still, it is jarring when he does say it.

Disgaea 5

 

Graphics

The roster for Disgaea 5 Complete has a decent number of characters. It is hardly the most impressive out there, but it does not feel lacking either. Units within a class all have the same design while different ranks have different colors. This makes it easy to tell what you are up against with just a glance. Eventually, players can unlock the option to use alternate colors for their units to further distinguish them from enemies or just for personal preference. Still, characters only have one sprite facing toward the camera and one for looking away. This means everyone in the game is ambidextrous and changes hands when the camera rotates.

All weapons outside of three categories have unique designs that are visible during combat. Weapons of different rarities actually have alternate colours which helps to identify high value items to steal. However, accessories remain invisible and changing armour does not change the character’s appearance.

During story events, characters will blink. However, the rest of their bodies remain static until it is time to change poses. Since even the mouths do not move, the blinking seems kind of pointless and only adds the potential to ruin screenshots.

Disgaea 5

Backgrounds also feature some animation, both in and out of conversations. Ships drift by, lava flows, steam rises, and so on. The animations themselves are not especially impressive, but their inclusion seems rare for this style of game. I certainly appreciate when a team puts effort into trivial things as it shows they care about the project. Still, it seems like they could have put this effort to better use elsewhere.

The rebel army visits quite a few netherworlds in Disgaea 5 Complete. Most only have story significance for one chapter, though a very small number of them last for two. Each location has its own aesthetic and unique tilesets. Areas outside the main story may use additional types of terrain as well. All this visual variation may not be exciting, but it does help keep things from getting boring.

The game’s UI has a few nifty features. When preparing an attack or skill, a portion of the target’s health display changes colour to give a visual estimate of the result. Still, this estimate does not include factors such as additional attacks and combo modifiers, so there is some guesswork involved. The player can also check the direction a unit is facing as well as their movement range by pressing a button. Even simply hovering the cursor over a character will display their stats, passive skills, or equipment depending on the player’s choice.

There are a lot of skills available in the game and each one has a unique animation. If players get tired of seeing them, they can skip them with the press of a button or by choosing an option in the settings menu. When using the settings option, animations will still play for new techniques, ensuring that players do not accidentally miss out on seeing them.

During my time with the game, I only ever experienced technical problems when booting up the game. The initial loading screen has a few variations, each of which feature unique animations. The frame rate during these loading screens was noticeably unstable. Aside from that very minor issue, the game seemed to run just fine.

Disgaea 5

Audio

As with past games, Disgaea 5 Complete features music from Tenpei Sato. Quite a few memorable tracks from previous titles return as well. Most of Tenpei Sato’s music has a distinct sound characterized by energetic orchestral tracks with lots of brass. He makes frequent use of backing choir vocals as well. While not as prominent, there are also a few slower, more sentimental songs in the game. “Moving On,” the default hub track, is a melancholic tune in which the lead vocals stand out above the accompaniment.

This game only features English voice acting. For the most part, the cast does a decent enough job with their roles. However, there are a couple of performances that were not especially pleasant to listen to. Red Magnus is an annoying character in general, so I would say that the voice does fit. Still, even as the story drew to a close, I never stopped getting irritated whenever he spoke. I was not fond of Killia either. He does not normally show much emotion and his voice actor sounds appropriately unenthusiastic. However, during scenes that call for a hint of emotion, he usually sounds too uninterested. This is still far from the worst dub I have heard and it feels adequate overall, but it could have been better.

Every character has a set of phrases they use during battle. When recruiting generic units, players can pick from three sets of voice files. Each set has quite a few lines and every character has unique sets. After enlisting a character, player’s can change their voices at the Dark Assembly for no charge.

Disgaea 5

Gameplay

As with other SRPGs, the core gameplay in Disgaea 5 Complete revolves around moving troops on a grid with the objective of eliminating the enemy team. In this series, teams take turns rather than individual units. Since every unit is available for action at the same time, players can create big strategies that involve their entire force.

During their turn, players can pick the order in which commands take place. Stacking many actions in the queue before activating them helps fill up the bonus gauge, granting additional loot at the end of battle. Each successive attack in a single execution also adds to a damage multiplier, providing further incentive for players to carefully plan big plays. If units have not performed an action during a turn, they can continue to move about until they do. This allows players to position their units for automatic support attacks, then re-position them to engage additional enemies.

Continuing the trend of adding new core features in new titles, Disgaea 5 introduces a “revenge” system. As units deal damage, take hits, and witness their allies’ demise, a meter builds. Once it fills up, their critical rate jumps to 100% and the cost of skills drops to 0. Overlords also gain access to “overload” abilities in this state while squad leaders can use squad attacks. Even if the meter reaches its maximum multiple times, units can only use these techniques once. There are quite a few unique overload skills in the game and some have the potential to completely turn the tide of battle, assuming the owner survives long enough to use it.

Outside of ordinary battles, players can visit item worlds. While inside these worlds, players will face a series of battles on maps that feature random generation. As they clear these trials, the item that houses the world will level up and gain higher stats. Enemies in the item world are weaker than their normal counterparts, but they grow in strength along with the item. If a player does not feel like fighting, they can simply head for the exit that spawns on each map. Doing so will avoid increasing item’s level and keep the enemy’s threat level the same. It is only after advancing through a certain number of floors that players can freely leave the world, though there is a rare item for escape that works anytime.

Just as item worlds strengthen items, the character worlds strengthen characters. While these worlds still feature random generation, they have less of a focus on combat. Instead, players move their character around a board. Most panels have a colour that shows whether the effect is beneficial or detrimental, though the events themselves are random. Movement and battles inside character worlds consist of stopping spinning reels. There are many items in the game that add reels or turns as well as some that replace all values on the reels, though players can only use one per turn. Journeys into a character world only last for a certain number of turns. If they player manages to navigate to the end before reaching the limit, they get an extra bonus for the character.

Disgaea 5

The Dark Assembly also has some special rules. Players can use this system to propose bills that modify the game in various ways, from temporary buffs to adding more content. Every bill has a chance to fail, but players can bribe the participating politicians to swing things in their favor. If a bill still fails to pass, players can give up, pay up, or beat up the opposition. There is a throwing mechanic in the game that normally allows teams to quickly send their units into hostile territory. However, senators in the Dark Assembly fuse when thrown onto each other with the stronger unit taking control. This allows players to turn dissenters into supporters and avoid conflict with particularly powerful political rivals. It also makes the game feel even more puzzle-like.

There are many other systems in the game for gaining power in Disgaea 5 Complete. As characters use weapons, they begin more proficient with them and learn new skills. Skills also level up with continuous use which leads to cheaper SP costs and greater range for spells. Units can spend mana at the evility shop to gain new passive buffs or to further strengthen a skill’s power. Some items also come with passive buffs and these can be swapped over to other items. Players can also assign their units to squads which provide them with additional benefits. With all these systems and more, it is easy to spend just as much time micromanaging your army as you do fighting. Thankfully, the difficulty curve is just gentle enough to allow players to get away with only making occasional adjustments.

As with the rest of the main series, this entry allows players to recruit generic units into their army. However, they will also unlock a number of unique characters over the course of the story. Since only ten units can be deployed in a single engagement, this may lead to having spare forces lying around. These excess units are perfect for the research system. Players can send characters out on research missions in which they will gain experience and bring back various items. This is a great way to increase the stats of a character whose level is lagging behind and make a profit as well.

This game also allows players to capture generic enemy units. Just like other games with such systems, weakening an opponent makes it easier to capture them. However, this game features a unique twist on the concept with its interrogation system. Until their will is broken, captured units are only good for converting into points for leveling up squad functions. After sufficiently threatening the captives, more options are available. If their class is available at the recruiter, players can force them to enlist in their army. They can also convert these units into items that give permanent stat boosts to a character. Interrogated foes also give plenty of extra experience when leveling up squads.

Disgaea 5

Unlike many other SRPGs, characters do not heal automatically at the end of battle in Disgaea 5 Complete. Instead, players need to visit the hospital between missions if they want to restore their units to peak performance. This means that players may accidentally head into battle while their team is half dead. Fortunately, there is an auto-save option for those who fear their forgetfulness. The game also offers a retry option after the player’s team falls in battle. There is a reward system tied to how much the player heals, but it still seems like an unnecessary inconvenience. Upon clearing the game, players unlock an option for automatic healing after battles. Since the feature is in the game anyway, it would have been nice to have it from the start.

Eventually, a map editor becomes available. Not only can players design their own maps, they can share their creations and battle those others have made as well. Since the AI controls the map maker’s units, this content is not quite proper PVP. Every item and tile in the game is available when creating maps. Players can even add various stage effects. However, most things require some unlocking first. Some of the controls seem less intuitive than they should be during the editing process, but it is still a neat feature to have overall.

After clearing the main story, players gain access to a plethora of post-game content. In addition to tackling new game+, players can take on additional missions and fight powerful bosses new and old. The game also includes the option to turn up the power of enemies, helping to keep things interesting as the team’s stats climb higher and higher.

Since this is the Complete edition of Disgaea 5, it comes with all DLC from the previous release. Among this free content are extra characters. They all come with equipment that is fairly powerful for when they become available at the beginning of the game. There are also a few short scenarios that each feature three fights with characters from previous games. The opponents in these missions scale their levels to match the player’s progress, so they can take them on anytime. After clearing a scenario, the bosses will join the player’s ranks. These characters also have relatively strong gear for when they are available. This can make the game fairly easier for players who might be struggling. Still, if they do not fight, other units can easily surpass their power after a few chapters.

Disgaea 5

Verdict

Disgaea 5 Complete has the best gameplay in an already impressive series. I definitely enjoyed my time with the game overall, and as it is the longest in the series, I put a lot of time into it. However, other aspects of the game were less praiseworthy. It is nowhere near as funny as previous titles and the more serious story is not all that gripping. The audio and visuals are pretty much on par with other entries which is still adequate but not as exciting in today’s market. I still feel the game is still a safe recommendation for any fans of SRPGs. Just do not go into it expecting a great story or fantastic presentation.

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