Disgaea 4 brings a much needed facelift to the series, as well as expanded online capabilities and even more ways to build stats and annihilate foes.
What They Say
Bigger, funnier, and more tactical than ever before, the grandfather of the strategy RPG genre returns with its best HD entry yet in Disgaea 4! A hilarious fantasy world full of vampires, werewolves, and the like combines with deep strategy roleplaying gameplay, including series mainstays like the ability to lift and throw your allies and Geoblocks, exciting stat modifying spaces on the battlefield that can completely turn the tide of a conflict. The ultimate HD Disgaea game has arrived!
Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
This review covers only the first 25 hours of the game, up to episode 6. Well, my first 25 hours… speedy expert players have already completed the main story in this amount of time.
Back in the Playstation 2 days I would frantically purchases every NIS game that was released after having played their original breakout hit Disgaea. The cute cartoony sprites, humorous story, and simple combat with it’s over-the-top special attack animations was a nice change of pace. In that respect, not much has changed with the Disgaea series over time. What made it stand apart from it’s peers back then remains true now. It’s just matter of how burned out you might be to the NIS game formula.
I took a break and skipped Disgaea 3, only to return to the Netherworld for Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten. Each Disgaea is a standalone story, which is great for new players and old, as it keeps things interesting. The protagonist of this tale is a vampire and former tyrant Valvatorez, now back in the Netherworld working as a prinny instructor, much to the exasperation of his cunning werewolf valet Fenrich. Valvatorez is a pleasant change from the previous stars of the series, being more mature (although no less naive) than the youngsters of the last three games. What starts as a simple promise to a bunch of prinnies snowballs into a declaration of war against the current Corrupternment. He finds himself leading a group of disgruntled rejects, from a failed prinny who doesn’t believe she’s dead to an adorable final boss in training. The dialog is sharp and witty, sometimes groan inducing, with the humor being slightly dryer than previous games. The story is solid and does a decent job of driving the action forward and giving players a reason to progress. Some familiar faces return from previous games during the course of the story, and so do their voice actors. All do a great job, in English and in Japanese. Players have the choice to switch languages on the fly from the options menu.
The game launches you into the story straight off, and then leads you through the gameplay systems. Apart from the animated opening movie the story is presented in voice over with text accompanied by posturing gameplay sprites and large portraits. The full screen portraits are animated simply, with a few stock gestures and blinking eyes, which is why the voice acting is so important. The sprites themselves have finally received a much needed visual upgrade. Gone are the pixilated and blurry sprites of the former titles, in their place are clean and detailed HD versions. (If for some reason you find yourself feeling nostalgic there’s an option to switch to the old low resolution sprites.) The environments also look cleaner, brighter, and smoother as well. The only place were the graphics break down are during some special attacks where the sprites are blown up to fill the screen. Also, because the series is still using 2D sprites the camera control is still locked to fixed positions, which sometimes leads to scenery blocking views. Limited animations also lead to the strangest jump animation, or lack thereof, _that I’ve ever seen. Some of the cutscenes are quite verbose, but can be skipped at anytime, which is handy since failing and repeating stages is a common occurrence.
Backing up the art is a solid and mostly unobtrusive soundtrack with a pop-spooky atmosphere. There’s a wide range of battle songs to keep the player from getting bored, and some vocal tracks mixed in for a good variety. Some of the songs sounded familiar from previous titles, such as the base theme, so if your lucky your favorite song from a previous game might be included.
Disgaea prides itself on the players ability to manipulate the playing field to the players advantage. It’s easy enough to simply attack your enemies, but it’s far more rewarding to beat them into a cascading pile of rising hit points. There are several returning and new ways to carry out such attacks.
The gameplay takes place on different maps of stacked square tiles. Each character you control can move a set amount of spaces in a turn, getting into position to assist your other characters or attack. Maps are usually set to a certain number of allowed battle participants and once you’ve deployed that number you’d better take good care of them, because once they’re knocked out you’re on your own. Characters can attack traditionally with equipped weapons or magic, taking turns and carrying out actions once you hit the execute command, or they can attack in various other ways. Characters can pick each other up and stack themselves up to the sky. Attacking in that stack will have each person in it land a blow of the helpless monster below. These stacks are often the only way to reach certain areas of the map, with each character tossing the next across the map. The monsters on your team can team up with monsters of the same species to form a giant version which is stronger. Or, they can team up with your demon/humanoid characters and become their weapons for a set of turns, bringing with them their level statistics and unique special attacks. Your teammates can team up in other ways to help each other out, and there are many different team attacks and group bonuses to make combat go smoother.
Geo-blocks and panels make their return. Geo-blocks add a color overlay to the gameplay map and bestow bonuses or penalties to the characters on those colored squares. Destroying a geo-block results in a chain effect of color changing, getting rid of unwanted effects and adding a smack to whoever was standing on that color of square at that moment. Elaborate chains of exploding blocks add to a bonus meter for that map that provides items, money, or experience and mana boosts once the level is completed.
It doesn’t matter how badly you are beaten, as long as one of your party is still standing at the end of battle you’ll advance. At the end of each map you can return to your home base and heal up your party for a small fee. You can use the mana you accumulate from battle to buy and upgrade special attacks, including support abilities called evilities. (Ha ha, get it? It’s like abilities… but… ah…. never mind.) The base is also home to all of your support systems, from the Rosen Queen store for buying weapons, armor and items, to your Cam-Pain headquarters and the gateway to the item world. That is where you create new characters to add to your roster, from a long list of classes and monsters. It’s also where the exploitation truly begins.
The Cam-pain headquarters is your access to the senate, which functions similar to the system from the earlier games. To open up new character classes and better equipment you have to call a vote for it. Sometimes you get lucky and the bills are passed without hassle. Other times you must bribe the monster senators into voting your way, and if that fails you can always beat them into submission. Sometimes other player’s characters will end up sitting in on your voting sessions, and likewise you can set up one of your own characters to attend other player’s senate hearings with the hope that you can take home the items that you receive as bribes. It’s a great addition to the game, adding a cool multiplayer element that isn’t direct combat. If combat is what you’re looking for, a new system has been added where you can use preset building blocks to design your own challenging maps for other players to battle through. The controls for building your own challenges are intuitive and easy to use, and probably very similar to what the creators use to layout the story missions. While these extra battles won’t earn you much experience and only limited items, it does add potentially endless gameplay to an already lengthy experience. It’s also completely optional.
Also on the Cam-pain board is a map on which you can lay out all your teammates. This is where some of the problems of level advancement and mana accumulation that have carried over from earlier games can be alleviated, to a degree. By setting up symbols on the map you can share some experience or mana that your heavy hitters gain with the slowpokes on your team. You can also set other extra bonus abilities from there. You’ll still probably find yourself using the unique characters more than the extensive generic classes and monsters, but any small chance to level the playing field for your team is welcome.
While it’s perfectly easy to complete the game without diving into some of the deeper gameplay systems, anyone hoping to really do a lot of damage on the battlefield would have to take advantage of the item world. Just as characters have levels, so does every item in the game. All items contain their own maps with branching paths and monsters to beat to a pulp. By diving into an item you can level it up for every map you complete, raising it’s stats and earning even more items to use in battle. During item world adventures you can run into pirates, and even send your own team of pirates (on a customizable pirate ship of your own design) out to plunder. There are character worlds as well, where you can add further upgrades to your teammates. While battling on maps you can capture enemy units and toss them into your own base, where they sent to a torture chamber. From there you can extort money and items, and even recruit them to your side. This barely even begins to cover all of the little bits of gameplay hidden for the player to unlock and exploit. It all makes advancing the main plot easier, but it’s really there for the post-game challenges that open up once you complete the main story. In Japan they’ve already released downloadable characters and scenarios which will most certainly find their way over here in the future, adding even more hours to an already exhaustively large game. That’s great news for the hardcore who are seeking to unlock all of the trophies (all of which are hidden) and see all the endings, bosses, and secret characters the game has to offer.
As you can guess, all of these battle systems can become confusing and one of the major hang-ups I’ve had while playing is when encountering something completely new and unexplained at random in the item world. Once I met with a monster in an empty room and talked with him one too many times and he proceeded to crush my team. My best advice? Save often and always remember to heal up between stages.
I’m far from finished with my time in Disgaea 4. Players and prospects are welcome to join us in the forums to share your secrets for success and cam-pain strategies!
Disgaea 4 continues to build on the foundation established by it’s predecessors. With more characters, more classes, and more ways to beat enemies senseless fans should be pleased. The number of systems can be daunting for a new player, but with ample tutorials and in game help to introduce the gameplay systems it’s a fine starting point for those who are new to the series. The story missions are trickier than previous games, but it only takes patience to complete the story mode, rather than extensive grinding. The new additions to the game add even more ways for the determined to exploit the system, while players new to the series can safely tackle the deeper systems at their own pace. The added online components are clever and are surprisingly restrained to make sure the core game stays balanced, which is oddly amusing considering the series penchant for power-leveling exploits. The new cast, and some familiar returning faces, keep the story colorful and absurd, and I think it’s the best Disgaea cast since the original game. The improved graphics should help alleviate the complaints players had against Disgaea 3, even if they still aren’t exactly cutting edge. Fans of the series will find more here to love, though there aren’t enough gameplay updates to make the dissidents change their opinions either.
Content Grade: B +
Graphics C +
Sound: A –
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: NIS America
Released Date:September 6th, 2011
MSRP: $59.98 (Premium) / $49.99 (Regular)
Approximate Play Time: 50+ Hours
Replay Value: Extremely High
Review Equipment: Playstation 3, Sharp Aquos 1080p 42”