Disgaea is now on the Switch, Dood!
Nintendo Switch owners have been extremely busy as of late. From the surprising weekly releases of Neo Geo titles to the much more anticipated Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Switch owners, including myself, may be a bit shocked at the amount content that is already available on Nintendo’s still young console. The titles have been trickling out week by week, giving early adopters just the right amount of time to complete a game before it’s time to start a new one. I believe it’s the new hybrid way of playing these titles that is the most appealing to gamers. Personally, I’m constantly looking at what new games are on the horizon, and it’s mostly because I’m able to complete games faster now due to the fact that I can play whenever and wherever I want.
The reason why I bring this up in a Disgaea 5 Complete review is because I believe many Switch owners will be purchasing the game simply because it’s on Nintendo’s new console. This means thousands of players will be experiencing a Disgaea game for the very first time, and I’m excited to say that I count myself among them. I’m hoping that this review will help some of you who also have never played a Disgaea title make a decision on if the series is right for you. If you’re familiar to the series I’d like to point you in the direction of Francis DiPersio’s review of 2015’s Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengance for the PS4, which is the same as the Switch version minus all of the DLC. But in this review I’m hoping to share my experience with other newcomers to the series.
A whole new world
For the first timers who maybe a bit hesitant to jump into Disgaea without any prior knowledge of previous games, fret not, Disgaea 5 Complete is set in the same universe as the previous games, but begins with a new story. Characters from the past do make appearances, but their backstory is not needed to understand what is happening here. One tidbit of information that I wish I knew before beginning my journey is that there are several Netherworlds in the game, and each one is ruled by an Overlord. This eventually does get an explanation, but not right off the bat.
The story does not waste any time getting started and opens up smack-dab in the middle of a battle. Seraphina, the smokin’ hot overlord of the Gorgeous Netherworld, wants nothing more than to kill Void Dark, a power hungry Overlord that craves control and is seeking to destroy all of the Netherworlds. She’s having a hell of a time fighting Void Dark’s army, that is until a mysterious demon named Killia shows up and saves her. Seraphina falls in love with Killia and discovers that he too wants to kill Void Dark. The two of them go out to seek help from the other Overlords to form an army of their own and end the Overlord’s reign.
One thing that I’d like to gush about is the game’s characters. I loved every single last one of them, even the side characters who make minuscule appearances. The voice work here is top notch, and because of this the games humor is always on point. Looking at the box art I was expecting the typical Japanese RPG story about revenge and betrayal, and I got the revenge and betrayal part, but the lightheartedness and extreme humor took me off-guard. Between the larger than life Red Magnus constantly reminding me that he’s “super strong”, to the mysterious Killian taking a break mid-battle to eat some ramen, I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear the whole time I was playing. These characters are all written and voiced so well that they’ll stick with me long after I’ve completed the campaign.
Better to fight for something than live for nothing
Disgaea 5 Complete is a tactical role-playing game, which means you won’t be rushing into battles. You’ll have a set of characters with different abilities at the start of each fight, and it’s up to you to decide how to move and use each of these characters. Fights are turn based and require a hefty amount of planning, especially when fighting on large battlegrounds. If you haven’t previously experienced a tactical role playing game I consider Disgaea 5 Complete a fair starting point. Just be ready to learn, because it will not explain the ins and outs of a tactical rpg. It expects that you at least know the basics.
Besides knowing the fundamentals, what can be overwhelming to tactical RPG newcomers is the amount of information that is packed into every character’s status screen. With details such as battle attributes, main weapons, sub weapons, three different armor slots, resistances, weapon mastery, evilties, squad and unit info, classes, and revenge meters, there is a whole lot to take in when building a team to fight Void Dark. Not to mention that all the enemies have these status screens too, and the tutorial doesn’t explain what each and every stat means. I’m curious if this is because Nippon Ichi Software expects the player to have played the other Disgaea titles, or is this stuff basic knowledge that most strategy RPG veterans should already know about. I found it really confusing, and found it hard to keep track of it all. Thankfully, even though I found all this information hard to comprehend, I never felt like I was getting slaughtered on the battlefield. Overall, the game is fair.
For those that are familiar with tactical RPG’s, Disgaea 5 Complete does introduce new elements to the series. One new element the game introduces is Revenge Mode, which grants players new abilities when a member of their party has fallen. Additionally, there’s a new attack called Maougi that lets certain characters pair up and perform fusion attacks. The tutorial for these new modes does go into greater detail than the basic combat tutorial, and I had no trouble understanding these features and when/how to use them. Of course, old staples return as well, such as panels that change battlefield attributes, and Stacking, in which characters can pile on top of one another. Once stacked, you can toss them to access different parts of the battlefield. It seems simple, but it does add a wealth of strategy to every battle, and had me thinking twice before ending my turn.
Between battles you’ll find yourself in a hub world that is chock full of content to get lost in. It’s here that you can put together different squads, heal up at the hospital, purchase materials, form a strategy, take on side quests, and several more functions. You’ll notice right away that there is a special content shop that you can pay a visit to. It’s here that previous characters from the series can be added to your party, but if you’re new to Disgaea I’d advise you to hold off on acquiring them. They come heavily overpowered and I felt like having them in my party was almost cheating. Additionally, the way you unlock some of these characters is by completing a battle that contains a back story as to who they are. The backstories were welcoming, but the battles required some previous knowledge of Disgaea’s battle system, and I had a tough time with them considering I didn’t start off my playthrough with the main story, and these battles get seemingly woven in. Since I was trying to complete some of these battles before I started the story I hadn’t yet completed tutorials that would have been beneficial to someone who is new to the series. I feel that there should have been a warning to newer players who entered the special content shop at least telling them that they should play some of the game before unlocking this content.
All of these features in the hub world aren’t fully accessible at the start of the game and will unlock piece by piece the deeper you get into the story. The Item World, for instance, unlocks fairly deep in, but when it finally does you’ll be amazed at the amount of content that has been opened up to you. It’s here that you’ll be able to level up your items, sometimes completely changing the way they perform. I’ve spent several hours in the item world just getting lost in battles and desperately trying to clear a stage.
There is no real beauty without some slight imperfection
Visually, Disgaea 5 Complete is pleasing on the eyes. The battlefield is displayed in 2.5D, similar to Fire Emblem’s perspective, but due to the vastly different environments of each Netherworld, each battlefield felt fresh. The sprites each animated beautifully, and were full of charming details to take in, although I did encountered some issues while using the map screen during times when several sprites where in close proximity. Even though there is an option to rotate and zoom in and out on the map, I sometimes wouldn’t get an angle that allowed me to clearly see what character was where. There is an overhead viewing option, but even this gave me issues. On occasion the sprites would be too bulky and get in the way of one another.
Disgaea’s cutscenes look straight out of an anime, full of beautifully drawn environments and extremely detailed characters. I did notice that some special attacks that featured cutscenes would look pixelated when using the Switch in handheld mode, but didn’t look as bad when playing docked. The framerate never gave me any issues in both handheld mode and docked, even when hundreds of sprites were filling up the screen, but I did notice that the resolution seemed lower on handheld mode when the screen was busy. Even with the visual degradation in handheld mode, I can’t say that it was to the point where I constantly noticed it.
I’d be doing a great disservice if I didn’t mention how amazing the music is throughout the game. I’ve been humming the hub word music throughout my day ever since I started playing, and I can’t get it out of my head no matter how hard I try. The battle music is also epic, making every fight seem like a boss battle. Not to be outdone, the cutscenes are oftentimes filled with a jazzy mix that seemed to fit perfectly in the world of Disgaea. It’s disappointing that the soundtrack didn’t get a physical release and I’m optimistic that it’ll get included in a special edition later down the line.
I’m hoping I’m right in assuming that many gamers will be picking up Disgaea 5 Complete just because they want a new game for their Switch. It’s a really rewarding experience that offers plenty of strategic gameplay alongside a gigantic dose of humor. I can say that I’m now a fan of the Disgaea franchise, and I’m kind of embarrassed that I’ve waited this long to give the series a try. Even though I often felt lost due to the overload of information that never seemed to get an explanation, I never felt that I was performing badly or being punished. If you do decide to pick up Disgaea 5 Complete, be prepared to sink a major amount of time into it, as it takes dozens of hours to even scratch this densely-packed SRPG’s surface.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch ; Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software ; Developer: Nippon Ichi Software; Players: 1 ; Released: May 23rd, 2017 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Nintendo Switch review copy of Disgaea 5: Complete given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.