Superb turn-based combat is only one of many extensive features found in this deep game.
Finding a good tactical-RPG on a modern console is extremely rare. Sure, it happens every once in a while, but you have to wade through a lot of worthless crap in the interim. Fortunately, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance is an extremely deep and fun-filled game, because the epitome of torture is having to invest over 60 hours into a crappy title. It's just too bad that the whole experience eventually turns into a grind that's reminiscent of the bad qualities of an MMO.
As soon as the game begins, players will be subjected to some of the most horrendous intro music I've ever heard and the in-game background music isn't any better. I would actually prefer to hear someone scrape their fingernails on a chalkboard with one hand while swinging a cat by its tail with the other [Sounds like an indie eShop game. ~Ed. Nick Tan], but I don't condone animal abuse. Anyway, the English voice acting isn't much better as it's so over-the-top that it quickly becomes annoying. I suggest that everyone turn off the music and change the voice acting to Japanese as soon as the game is fired up.
All players have to do is read the game title to figure out the plot, which follows the cliché “build an army of allies to fight the super evil guy” storyline. Fortunately, nearly every character has a quirky personality, and this makes the story more interesting and also adds a bit of oddball animé-style humor. The main character, Killia, is a brooding hero with a dark secret, while his main cohort Seraphina is the annoying and uber-materialistic Princess Overlord of Gorgeous. Another funny sidekick is the muscle-headed Red Magnus, who always wants to rush in and prove how strong he is, just like a high-school football player. Having said that, most of the storyboards go on entirely too long, and I think the game would benefit from less character interaction.
With most of my complaints out of the way, it's time to pile on the accolades. Disgaea 5 mostly follows the standard template of tactical RPGs in that it's a turn-based game filled with a huge roster of highly-customizable characters broken up into numerous classes. Since the early stages are filled with tutorials, the game is slow to start but it eventually takes off and becomes both interesting and exciting. In addition to turn-based combat, players have their own world hub where they can participate in an extremely wide variety of activities: making and/or purchasing Ramen noodle bowls to buff characters, accepting side missions to earn new items and unlock additional classes, interrogating prisoners to gain valuable info and even recruit them, addressing a strategy assembly to have them vote on numerous benefits, sending teammates off to explore other worlds, and much more.
That's just the beginning because there are also many ways to customize and improve characters. For starters, there are hundreds of items (weapons, armor, trinkets) that can be found or purchased, and every character can use them all. However, each class favors different types of weapons, and these favored weapons are not only more effective when used, but they also help each class open up new abilities faster than non-favored weapons. On top of that, every single item in the game can be enhanced with Innocents, which are basically enchantments. Innocents can be reused, so dedicated players will frequently have to spend time to extract them from items and place them into new ones.
Characters can also be upgraded in the Chara world, which is a mini-game reminiscent of a virtual board game. To do this, players select a character and enter the world where they “roll” the die and move that character around. Depending on where the character lands, there are positive benefits, like gaining extra money or improved stats, as well as negative benefits such as losing mana or moving only one space for several turns. These benefits become permanent only if the character makes it to the end of the path. Another way to upgrade characters is to increase the power and/or range of their attacks by trading mana points at an upgrade vendor.
On top of that, nearly every item in the world can be significantly improved by entering the Item World. This is basically a seemingly never-ending path of randomly-generated mini-levels filled with weak enemies that is different for every item. Delving further and further into each path will raise the level of each item and upgrade its power and stats as well as increase the stats of the characters in combat. I'm surprised by how much an item can be improved in the Item World, but the downside is that despite spending an hour or more improving an item, it will eventually have to be discarded for a better one. Still, it's a good place to grind XP and money if players are so inclined.
As for the combat itself, this game is anything but bare-bones. In addition to basic attacks, some of the abilities are just incredible to watch. One of my favorites is a mega suplex where my wrestling character grabs an enemy and launches high above the clouds only to drop them on their heads in an Earth-shattering explosion. I also like how adjacent characters will sometimes team up for mega-attacks that inflict massive damage. New to the series is Revenge, which is activated when teammates take enough damage. Each character enters Revenge separately, and Revenge lets them employ one unique temporary ability such as growing huge and increasing power or creating ghost images that can be manipulated like regular characters.
Perhaps my favorite feature is how characters have a movement range that is very forgiving. Instead of having every single step take away from the distance a character can move, each character can move freely within their movement range. As long as an attack hasn't been initiated, it's even possible to cancel a movement, return to the original position for that turn, and move again. This lets you experiment with moves before you commit, which is extremely useful.
It's also cool how my characters emerge from a portal on each battle map, which means I don't have to place each one on the map myself. This also lets me return damaged or useless characters to the portal and pull new ones out. Eventually, players obtain the ability to utilize the portal to activate items, which is a handy bonus. Another useful feature is the incorporation of colored tiles that offer various buffs. I like how these tiles can be transformed into different colors to help allies or hinder enemies, and they can even be destroyed altogether.
While I enjoy the numerous non-combat features, they eventually begin to overshadow the enjoyable combat. There are simply so many things to do that I'm reminded of an MMO where players have to spend an hour getting ready for a 30-minute fight. As a result, I find myself only playing for an hour or two at a time now whereas I was playing for several hours in a row during the first half. Perhaps I would play longer if the story was more interesting or if I had a way to streamline the non-combat features. Admittedly, it doesn't help that I'm a perfectionist who has to upgrade everything as much as possible before entering battle.
Despite a few gripes, I still really enjoy playing Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance, and I plan on playing the “post game” for quite a while. (Make sure to look out for my “tips guide,” which should come out in the next few days.)