Despite what its sales figures might have you believe, it's fair to say things have been a little bit quiet on the Switch so far. With the next Nintendo game (in the form of the seemingly marmite punch 'em up Arms) still a few weeks away, and with little else in the way of exclusives to sink your teeth into, if you weren't a fan of Zelda (and it's fair to say, we weren't), it's been pretty slim pickings for the last few months to say the least. Luckily, though, you can always rely on the folks at NISA to deliver, and to help tide game-hungry Nintendo fans over, they've decided to bring their strategy heavyweight series, Disgaea, to the Switch - making it the first Disgaea game on a Nintendo home console (OK, it's a handheld, but Nintendo still think it's a home console)
Following the age old NISA tradition, Disgaea 5 Complete is a re-release of 2015's PS4 outing, only this time bundled with all the downloadable add-ons for free. As a "complete edition", this is actually exactly the same game as Disgaea 5, only with all the previous game's downloadable add-ons included for free. But while downloadable content can sometimes be a bit hit and miss, in the case of Disgaea 5, the bundled add-ons actually make the game a whole lot better, as while they may originally have been overpriced, they also make the game a lot easier. From individual bonus characters like Metallia from the Witch and the Hundred Knight to Nisa, the NISA mascot, or entirely new chapters that add a new mini-story, and take you through four or five stages of strategy fun, each of which ends with a host of characters from an early Disgaea game joining your team, it's well worth heading straight to the Special Content guy in the Netherworld shortly after you start playing, as it really smooths out the Disgaea learning curve.
The typically weird and wonderful story here tells the tale of Seraphina, the seductress ruler of the Gorgeous Netherworld, as she attempts to fight - and destroy - the evil Overlord Void Dark, to whom her hand has been offered in marriage. Not one to just go along quietly, Seraphina ran away from home when she heard news of the wedding arrangements - and with Void Dark currently smashing his way through every Netherworld in the universe, she teams up with the mysterious Killia (the player character), and a ragtag bunch of other misfit Overlords from other Netherworlds to take on Void Dark's forces.
But while that all may sound fairly serious and po-faced, Disgaea is anything but. This is a series that's always made a name for itself by being weird, wonderful, and more than a little bit wacky, with plenty of humour and banter between characters to keep everything going. With battles bookended by visual novel style story sections, whether it's the musclebound Red Magnus, who like Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, always seems to miss any jokes; Logan, a flexing wrestler who calls everyone "brotha" and asks "whatcha' gonna do"; or the many prinny penguins that always try to help, yet always seem to make everything so horribly wrong, there's plenty to raise a smile.
In terms of gameplay, Disgaea 5 is a grid-based, turn-based strategy game that seems to like to make out it's a lot harder than it really is. Just having a browse around the game's Netherworld hub will reveal a veritable smorgasbord of options and menus, where you can tweak, train and buff almost anything and everything, from buying new weapons, to spending experience to upgrade your skills, or even venturing inside your weapons to beat enemies, in order to make your weapons stronger (did we mention Disgaea was weird?). The reality though, is despite how complex things may look, you actually rarely have to venture too far into the game's many complex systems (especially with the complete edition's free add-ons taken into account) - so long as you upgrade your equipment on a fairly regular basis, you'll mostly be fine.
While it may have a lot in common with games like Fire Emblem, Disgaea is actually a little bit harder to pick up - at least initially. While Fire Emblem benefits from Nintendo's years of experience in streamlining complexities to make them user friendly, Disgaea simply throws stat after stat at you, which can leave you feeling pretty overwhelmed. In fact, for the first twenty or so stages, the game keeps introducing brand new ideas and strategies with each one, with a tutorial working its way into almost every battle - a testament to just how complex things can get.
But, much like the hub, the strategy battles are actually a lot easier to play than it'd have you believe. While you have plenty of options for getting creative if you want to, you'll actually be able to win most fights without having to delve into Disgaea's many systems - although the game will reward you if you do.
Like most grid-based strategy games, then, Disgaea follows a familiar formula. Each character has a certain number of squares they can move in each turn, and their attacks have a certain range (and area of effect). Keeping an eye on your opponent's positions, it's up to you to outflank, outmanoeuvre, and eventually overpower them, through sheer strategic nous. Adjacent units will often lend each other a hand in their attacks, teaming up for some spectacular combo moves (and we mean spectacular - if there's one thing Disgaea isn't, it's subtle about combos) - but there are plenty of other, unique-to-Disgaea bits and pieces here too.
For starters, your characters don't all attack at once when you tell them to attack. Instead, you can move them, and then issue a command, with the characters only performing said move when you choose either "execute" or "end turn". The whole idea here is this lets you build up combos - if you chain a string of four or five attacks together, you'll gain a small damage multiplier for each successive attack. It also has the added bonus of letting you position your characters so they can assist with others for certain attacks, before moving them away to attack from a distance when their assistance is no longer required. Perform enough combo moves, and you'll start to fill a metre at the side of the screen, which in turn will let you unlock a range of rewards at the end of each battle, depending on how many levels you've filled.
Lifting is another particularly weird Disgaea quirk. One of the things you'll often find frustrating in the battles is that your character just don't have the range you want them to - you'll often have to spend two or three turns just moving your characters into range so they can attack a distant foe. Lifting helps close that distance a lot more quickly, by letting you create towers of your characters - all you need to do then is have them throw each other, and you can usually cross the majority of the map (at least with one character) in a single turn. Just make sure you don't throw your Prinnies without thinking - as they'll simply explode when thrown (much like real penguins, right?).
That said, there's nothing phenomenally bad about losing characters mid-fight, either. Should you make any dire strategic moves, and end up getting almost half your team killed, there's no real consequence you'll suffer - it's not like Fire Emblem, where they may end up perma-dead, and never able to return. All it takes is a trip to the Netherworld's hospital, and the exchange of a few HL (the game's currency), and your army will be back to normal.
Despite how it might seem on the surface, then, Disgaea 5 Complete is actually a lot easier to play than it'd have you believe, and certainly plenty of fun. Still, with endless hours of gameplay, so much room for replay value (you'll find yourself going back to earlier stages a lot if you want to complete the quests you can pick up from the Netherworld hub), and some solid strategy fun, Disgaea 5 Complete is well worth picking up. With the game selling for roughly £45 at the time of writing, it's hard to argue with the value for money here - with the add-ons alone setting you back £29 on the Playstation Store on its own, if you want all the Disgaea 5 money can buy, the Switch outing is definitely the way to go. As the best game on the console at the time of writing, if you're looking for something to get stuck into after the Switch's disappointing launch line-up, this is the game that'll keep you going.