26th May2017

‘Disgaea 5 Complete’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Matthew Smail

D5C-Packshot

Beginning with Disgaea 2, I have a long history of acquiring Disgaea games early in the lifecycle of Sony consoles, and unfortunately I’ve never really been able to find a killer hook to keep me interested. You might ask why I keep buying them then, and the honest answer is that that they should appeal to me in every meaningful way. They are good looking, story driven tactical RPG’s with complex systems and hundreds of hours of potential gameplay, and as a result, they are loved by many.

Because of my indifference, when Disgaea 5 released on the PS4 in 2015, it was easy for me to skip straight past it. With the PS4 well established, I wasn’t looking for anything to fill my time, and to be honest I don’t even think I noticed Nippon Ichi’s critically acclaimed game sneaking onto shelves. With the benefit of hindsight, things couldn’t have worked out better, because for the past week or so I’ve been able to play the definitive Nintendo Switch edition of Disgaea 5 (known as Disgaea 5 Complete, or D5C for short) pretty much solidly.

The Switch edition features the original game, plus around eight DLC packs that were included in the Season Pass sold alongside the original release, and a number of other small features such as in-game achievements because Nintendo have no such system. When combined, this makes Disgaea 5 Complete an incredible package for the discerning mobile gamer. The game promises hundreds of hours of gameplay, and because of the portability of the Nintendo Switch, I can genuinely see how that is possible.

For anyone who hasn’t played a Disgaea game before, you might suffer from the same issues as I’ve always encountered in the series. Firstly, the world of Disgaea 5 is absolutely insane, and features a number of demon overlords, each of whom is master of their own netherworld. These overlords can visit (or invade) the netherworlds of others, and it is during just such an invasion that we meet our protagonists; Killia and Seraphina. As the overlord of the Gorgeous Netherworld, Seraphina is hopelessly outmatched in a battle with an army belonging to Void Dark, an overlord who has been systematically destroying other Netherworlds to claim his ultimate victory. Thankfully, Killia arrives at the critical moment to turn the tide of battle, and from there becomes entwined with Seraphina through a combination of her stubbornness and their common goal to defeat Void Dark.

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Although the first five or six hours of story content pass quite slowly, the characters are individual and well voiced, and despite a sluggish plot, the gameplay races forwards at a much faster pace than in most similar games. Players are quickly and cleanly introduced to the basic combat systems, and those that are unique to the Disgaea series. For total newcomers of the series, Disgaea 5 Complete’s nuances will include the ability to lift and throw teammates, the benefits of revenge attacks (fitting, considering revenge is the recurring plot theme) and how to use combos and relationships between characters to best effect. One particularly unique feature in Disgaea is the ability to move some of your team and then execute their actions, before moving the rest and executing theirs and ending the turn. I’m not aware of this approach in any other game, and it allows players to plan and perform strategic attacks in ways that other games do not.

One of the reasons that the story is a bit weak early on (mostly prior to the characters being fully developed) is because Disgaea 5 has a pretty loose structure. After the initial two tutorial fights, the game begins to open up a hefty number of different stages for the player to choose from. To my detriment (but really to the detriment of the game) there is a character handing out DLC in the starting hub world (aka the Gorgeous netherworld) that doesn’t help matters here. This character provides the player with several overpowered characters, several hard-as-nails side levels and a few other game spoiling features (including basically unlimited money) right from the outset. This is a shame, because as a first time player I wasn’t well equipped to tell the difference between core and extra content, so ultimately I decided to restart the game and avoid redeeming anything extra until later.

However you do consume the story in Disgaea 5 Complete, you’ll need to tackle some of your sensibilities head on if you want to stay the course. Firstly, if you’re sensitive about the sexualisation of women in computer games, then the Disgaea series as a whole is going to raise an eyebrow or two. Seraphina, for example, believes that all men should bow to her beauty, and she spends most of the game making unreasonable demands of Killia and others by ordering them to serve her. Now, one argument is that she is main character with alpha status within the game (which is good) but at the same time she is also depicted as stupid and churlish, and she is an abysmal combatant until she is instructed by Killia. Women are depicted poorly (or at best strangely) elsewhere in the game, with almost all of them being large-chested and semi naked, with options to change their attire from one kind of revealing to another. In the (very detailed) recruitment screen, one of the supplemental descriptions for female healers is “pregnant” which seems both irrelevant and inappropriate considering that she’ll be battling demons.

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I managed to overlook this slightly misguided approach because it is a feature in most anime themed games, but I will say that it presents quite the speedbump at the beginning of the game. The general weirdness in the Disgaea universe is actually something to cherish, and features like the Prinnies (walking, talking penguin foot soldiers) are part of what makes the game so interesting. The same can be said of the Netherworld concept, which completely enables the suspension of disbelief to occur because it never presents itself as anything besides a series of self-contained worlds ruled over by a specific demon.

When all is said and done, Disgaea 5 Complete is an excellent addition to the fledgling catalogue of Switch games that are demonstrating how the portability of Nintendo’s console can enhance existing IP. The lengthy and twisting tale of Killia, Seraphina and the other mad, mad characters of the Disgaea universe comes alive on the small, vibrant screen, and the voice acting (available in English or Japanese) enhances the proceedings considerably. The presentation is enhanced and complimented by deep, accessible and strategic gameplay that is presented in a series of stages that are easy to access and manage. All in all, if you can get past some of the strange (and occasionally unpalatable) nuances, Disgaea 5 Complete is an excellent proposition for Switch owners, especially those who missed the original PS4 release like I did.

**** 4/5

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