Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed)
Release Date: September 6, 2011
Price: $49.96 Standard, $59.96 Premium, $119.99 Premium Figure Set
As a whole, the strategy RPG genre has always been one with quite a devoted following. However as the years passed after the first strategy RPG, many new RPG types were created and nowadays many RPGs don’t even involve turn based combat at all, instead focusing on more action oriented gameplay. Strategy RPGs are not gone however, and Nippon Ichi Software is here to remind us with one of the best series in SRPG history, Disgaea.
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was originally released back on the PlayStation 2 in 2003 and it was widely heralded as a revitalization to the genre. Now in 2011 NIS America has brought Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten to North American shores. The Disgaea series has always been known for its off the wall and hilarious humor as well as its long amount of game time and depth. Will Disgaea 4 live up to its pedigree and not only satisfy fans of SRPGs but maybe even tempt new players to enter the Netherworld?
As usual the plot of the story takes place in the Netherworld, but the main character that it focuses on happens to be a bit different than past Disgaea titles. Valvatorez is a vampire that used to be a former tyrant of the Netherworld, and at least in appearance, is a more mature hero than the younger looking heroes used in past games.
Valvatorez may have been a vampire tyrant in the past but he has a little quirk, he is absolutely obsessed with keeping his promises and one such promise has caused him to deteriorate from one of the most powerful beings in the entire Netherworld to a Prinny Instructor. Living in the bowels of the Netherworld, Hades, Valvatorez takes his job extremely seriously, as serious as he takes his love for Sardines.
Despite the insistence of Fenrich, his loyal werewolf servant that has stuck with him despite his fall from power, Valvatorez is content with his duty of training the prinnies to perform their duties well so they can one day reincarnate into humans again after paying off their sins. That is until someone decides to kidnap all of the prinnies that are under his command. It seems that the Corrupterment has decided that all prinnies should be exterminated, blaming their massive population growth for all of the troubles plaguing the Netherworld.
By kidnapping his current class of prinnies, the Corrupterment agents forced Valvatorez to break his promise to give each prinny a sardine for graduating. However after saving them and fulfilling his promise he realizes that the Corrupterment has become arrogant and is displeased with the way that they are handling things. Because of this he decides that he will no longer be content living under their rule and will instead take his fight all the way to the top, much to the pleasure of Fenrich.
Those looking for Disgaea’s famous off the wall humor should be more than content with everything that Disgaea 4 has to offer. While the story may sound serious and deep, it is quite hilarious and ready to poke fun at not only itself but other titles and real life events as well. Besides the dialogue that each character has with one another which is always hilarious, the character’s personalities are the best part.
Valvatorez has such a large obsession with sardines that it is bordering on crazy, praising sardines at every opportunity and providing plenty of information about them (including false info) throughout the game. Besides learning more about sardines than any human should know, we are also treated to Fenrich who is so loyal to Valvatorez that he will do anything to make his lord become powerful again. This can be anything from slipping human blood into sardines or putting words in someone’s mouth to benefit his lord.
This is only the tip of the iceberg however, as we also have Fuka, a prinny styled school uniform wearing girl that thinks the whole world is just a dream and not actually happening, a money loving angel named Vulcanus who steals from people, a failed final boss named DESCO and even the president’s son will join Valvatorez along his journey to disrupt the Corrupterment. Of course that only relates to characters in the story. Players can also create characters and each time they do so they will be treated to a small cutscene where the character will introduce themselves, usually in hilarious fashion that usually pokes fun at politicians in some way or form.
While the game is extremely hilarious and satirical, the political tones and theme are certainly a new step for Disgaea. This breathes a much needed breath of fresh air into the series as a whole, and most players should find it a step in the right direction. There is just the right mixture of plenty of hilarity, tragedy and serious issues that will keep gamers coming pushing from battle to battle.
As this is Disgaea, those familiar with the title should know what to expect. Characters will be in sprite format and will do battle on a 3D field. However what some may not expect is the fact that the sprites have received an HD upgrade and are some of the best looking and animated sprites you can probably find in any game this generation. The attacks are interesting to watch, especially those that are just too crazy to explain. Of course the retro look isn’t for everyone, but the presentation that Disgaea 4 gives off is unlike anything else.
Outside of standard combat, the character artwork is absolutely amazing. During most dialogue sections the speaking characters will have their pictures displayed usually from waist up and they are absolutely gorgous. The artwork has a definitive anime feeling to it and the characters will make motions with their bodies, such as Fuka pointing her baseball bat or Fenrich bowing. The battlefields are colorful and well varied, though occasionally they can become clustered with all of the sprites and environmental pieces together making things difficult to see. This is usually fixed however by rotating the camera or the zoom of the battlefield. Plus, a small treat to anime lovers out there, any spell that is of the Omega rank will feature a cameo picture of an anime character in the background, such as Index for Omega Heal and Holo for Omega Wind.
When a Japanese game is brought over to Western shores it is logical to think that some things may end up going unvoiced. This has been the case for many games in the past, some forgoing any type of actual English translation. However that is not the case in Disgaea 4, in fact it is quite the opposite. Disgaea 4 actually contains more voiced dialogue on the English voice track than the Japanese track and with the quality of the voice work, it is quite a treat. The performance by the English cast is absolutely amazing and extremely amusing. The actors all sell their roles extremely well and they fit their characters perfectly.
The music is just as audibly pleasing as the voice work, featuring an excellent score of musical tracks that do a great job to fit the battles and the normal scenes. The opening music and animation is also extremely catchy and works perfectly. Rarely do you find a game where you will want to watch the opening video each time when you pop the disc in, but Disgaea 4 was a game to make me do just that.
Those who have never played a Disgaea game in the past will have a lot to tackle but it is not an insurmountable task. The game is a Strategy RPG, meaning battles will take place on a grid-styled battlefield and take turns with their enemies in attacking. Players can use up to ten characters at any given time and fight with their enemies, with hurt allies able to return to the base and free up a spot for a fully healed unit.
Players will fight by either performing standard attacks, special attacks or even combining their attacks into chain attacks by standing next to other allies. Players will also be able to lift and throw various things, including allies and enemies around the battlefield. Enemies can be thrown into your base for a special piece of treatment I will mention later, allies can be thrown for advantageous positions or to help them move further, and you can even throw something called Geo-Blocks that will change the effects of certain tiles on the board or destroy those of the same color.
Players will queue up their attacks in a list and then choose to execute their attacks whenever they please. When they are done they can end their turn and enemies will return your attacks, though they do not throw things or use geo-blocks, instead usually focusing on wiping out the weakest character in range. Plus there is an often funny counter system which had me laughing when the counter readout literally said Counter-Counter-Counter-Counter-Counter-Counter!
If all of this sounds complicated, it is. However the game takes and welcomes new players by giving them a rundown of every single piece of the game in an easy to understand tutorial. Players will be shown what they can and should do, and be asked to repeat that task and even take mini-quiz like battles to prove they know what they are doing. Even more complicated, out of combat sections are given detailed explanation which makes the game more new player friendly than any past Disgaea game.
Besides normal combat, there is also a magi-change system where players can have their monster type characters turn into weapons and equip themselves to human character. Every monster will become a different weapon, like the Prinny becoming a bow, and it will increase the stats of the human player. While both characters can gain experience points, the magichange is usually a bad decision. The reason for this is because although the monster turns into a weapon, they still count as two units and also if they die then both units are knocked out of the fight. Also the combination only lasts three rounds and once that round is up then the monster will still end up being knocked out.
There is also the fusion system which is actually extremely useful. The fusion takes two monster type units and allows the player to fuse them together and create one giant monster. The fused creatures can be of different species and will also have combined stats, extended range and grow quite large. This is a very fun feature to use and when used correctly can be a powerful asset to your team.
There is more to Disgaea 4 than combat however, there are also a home base area which will allow you to do any different number of things. This includes a weapon, armor and item shop, a place to learn and upgrade skills and abilities, a place to revive and heal your characters as well as random characters that you can talk to for the hell of it. But there is also a place called the Cam-Pain HQ where you will spend the majority of your time. In this place you can assign senators (read characters) to certain spots on the map and if they are standing next to each other they can have a higher chance to do a chain attack.
Players can also put down evil symbols which will provide special bonuses to characters nearby. In the Cam-Pain HQ players will also be able to create or reincarnate new characters to fill in spots of the map. However players are rewarded with a new map spot every time they complete a story battle, which is useful because it helps the player focus more on certain characters rather than make plenty and forget about the ones you have already been focusing on.
One of the most important pieces of the game, is the Mana system. Players will earn Mana by defeating enemies with characters, and each character is given mana depending on the level of the enemy they defeat. The mana is used for many things, such as learning and buffing skills as well as the passive ability titles. Players will also use mana to propose bills in the senate, and although some bills don’t require much mana or any to pass, some grinding is certainly necessary to obtain things early or even keep your skills well upgraded and bills passing through the senate.
One thing I mentioned earlier was that enemies can be thrown into your base. This can be done once you have earned enough mana to pass a bill in the senate that will establish the Discipline Room. In this room you will be able to take captured humans and monsters and “discipline” them in any matter of ways. This can make the player receive money, items or even convince them to join your team if you have an open spot.
There is little wrong with Disgaea 4, but there still is a little problem with the title. There is occasionally a rather large spike in difficulty between battles and especially between chapters. While you may have been able to win your last fight easily, the next one could be potentially devastating for your forces and cause a game over. Therefore it is extremely recommended, practically mandatory, that players save often, as difficulty levels are not shown before a fight.
Of course the best way to counter this difficulty curve is to grind levels. This is another complaint towards the game; the amount of level grinding you will have to do for not only your characters but even your items in the Item World. Many people will find this to be a major setback, though some people will actually find the grinding in Disgaea 4 to be pleasurable. I found myself enjoying it for the most part, but did find it to grow tedious after long grinding sessions and had to step away to do something different.
Disgaea 4 does have some multiplayer aspects, though they are a bit limited. There is a map editor that is enjoyable to use but due to restrictions in the North American version isn’t as customizable as some would hope. There is also a pirate ship editor that players can have fun with and also can use their own characters as crew members. They can send their pirate team to steal items from other player’s worlds and this is an enjoyable little side bit, and players can be bribed by other players by attending their senate meetings. While not very interactive, it is still a great way to pace yourself and break up the story advancement and grinding.
Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten is a stellar example of what a RPG that features grid-based combat should be. Despite a style that some may see as archaic in this day and age, the game’s combat is absolutely terrific to play. Learning how to perform actions has been streamlined so it is easier than ever for a player to jump into the series here without worrying too much about being hit with a lot of information too quickly.
While Disgaea 4 may have difficulty spikes and plenty of grinding to level up, (the level cap is 9999) the stellar storyline and oddball humor will have them going through each battle simply to see how the characters will interact next time around. NIS America has put a lot of love into this title, so much so that even the voice track surpasses that of the original Japanese release. With easily over 50 hours of playtime, any RPG lover would do themselves a disservice to pass up this title. For everyone else, as long as they are okay with turn based combat, the title is certainly worth an extensive look.
I give Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten