Every year, Game Informer distills things down to the absolute best of the best with its Top 50 list. The deliberation process often involves blood, sweat. and tears. and there's always the challenge portion where someone's hot pick gets shopped around to other editors to get a second opinion. My game this year is Disgaea 5, a tactical-RPG that may not have much in the way of compelling story, but has a lot going for it in terms of compelling features and systems that only get more interesting as you move from world to world. The unshakable Joe Juba tackles the task of diving in to this giant game for a fresh look.

Dan: Alright Joe, let’s get right down to business. What did you think of Disgaea 5?

Joe: My first impression was that it is a ridiculous game to attempt for this Top 50 challenge, given the number of different systems and the time it takes for the game’s intricacies to unfold. Even though I spent several hours playing, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. But! I’ve played plenty of SRPGs in my day, so I think I have a good grasp of the basics and how the progression continues. The bottom line, for me, is that it feels like a solid grid-based strategy RPG. I’m curious: What do you think sets this one apart from the sea of similar turn-based tactics games?

Dan: Is there really a sea of turn-based tactics games this days? I feel like Disgaea has been filling that niche ever since the glory days of Shining Force and Final Fantasy Tactics have largely fallen off the grid. Disgaea 5 stands out to me because it really provides an absurd amount of systems to explore for those that really want to get into the game, and is still accessible (for a turn-based strategy game, anyway) by largely making the campaign segment available to everyone through just the story characters. And yes, the story is an abomination, just stock JRPG blather, but I mean, who plays these games for story anymore?

Joe: I guess I meant the sea of existing SRPGs, including old ones. I played a lot of FF Tactics, Vandal Hearts, etc back in the PSone era. I haven’t really dug into this genre for several years,  and I was surprised at how the similar the combat feels in Disgaea today compared to my favorite SRPGs of old. I agree that the systems surrounding the battles have gotten more interesting and varied (and even a bit overwhelming), but I feel like I’m using the same tactics and mechanics on the battlefield. In comparison, I think back to when I played Valkyria Chronicles, which was a turn-based tactical RPG that put a compelling spin on conventions. Also, VC delivered a fantastic story, so it CAN be done in the genre. However, Disgaea 5’s characters and story are just awful; I had to start skipping the cutscenes (which I have never done in any game before, ever) because they were so unbearable. It seems a little strange to me that the best and most interesting parts of Disgaea 5 are taking place in various menus, and have little to do with actually playing the game.

Dan: I mean, I think that’s fair to some extent - a lot of the really interesting decisions happen during customization and crafting. Once you’re in combat, it’s more about seeing how your decisions play out. The maps later in the game do get more interesting, but yes, in the end it’s a Disgaea game so it’s all about becoming as broken as you can be at level 999 doing 9 billion damage, that sort of thing. I tend to enjoy job systems and games that let you play with your own setup of classes, so the variety available in Disgaea 5 was nice. And I mean, SPRGS always have to provide hundreds of hours of content, and while the campaign is very manageable, I’m sure there are still people getting lost in Item World and collecting the very best Innocents for enhancement. I actually really enjoyed the “frontloading” town system where you just get thrown right into the customization aspects and they sort of trickle things out over the course of the “tutorial” which is a good 5-8 hours long. Okay, I think you’re still kind of dodging the initial question as we’re getting sidetracked - Did you like it?

Joe: No more dodging: I liked it. I had fun with the battles (familiar as they might be), and even my small taste of the customization and quest systems left me hungry for more. But, as someone who hasn’t played Disgaea for a while, I’m still not totally clear about what makes this Top 50 material. You’ve said it’s the best Disgaea in a long time, but what is different from the last entry? Doesn’t every Disgaea provide tons of systems and customization? How does this one up the ante?

Dan: In many ways it just does take systems from other Disgaea games and enhance them, but there’s tons of new stuff too. The revenge system itself isn’t that interesting, but the Innocent Ranch (essentially a Pokemon Farm) is super fun to mess around with. It’s more of so many methods of customization coming together to make one bundle of SRPG goodness that has tons to do for both someone that just wants to blow through the game and for folks who want to sink hundreds of hours into it. But I do see your point - this is more of an evolution more than a revolution, bringing a lot of different aspects together. There are a ton of awesome games this year. Alright, so what’s your verdict?

Joe’s Verdict: Disgaea 5 is fun, and provides a wealth of content for players who want to invest dozens of hours. On the other hand, so much of it feels familiar and predictable. That isn’t to say that every good game needs to astonish and surprise with brand new concepts; sometimes a game full of traditional turn-based combat is exactly what you’re looking for. However, when it comes to our yearly Top 50, it’s hard for me to advocate for this one. It feels like it could be a remaster of an older Disgaea game rather than a brand new title, and I don’t like the idea of it preventing another fringe title from making the list.