Over the past decade, Nippon Ichi Software has made a name for itself by providing gamers with exceptional strategy RPGs; the most well known franchise from the company is the Disgaea series. It all started in 2003 when a demon named Laharl set out to become the Overlord with his demon vassal Etna by his side. Together, they stole hours of free time from gamers around the world with addictive gameplay, tongue-in-cheek writing, ridiculous post-game content and an absurdly high maximum level of 9999!
With Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten, NIS sets out to further improve upon its SRPG formula as gamers embark on another adventure in the Netherworld. This time, we are introduced to Valvatorez, a vampire who refuses to drink human blood and eats sardines instead. Without further ado, here’s what is HOT and what is NOT about Disgaea 4.
The story from all Disgaea games have never been serious. In fact, all of them are weird but at the same time, will provide gamers humor that they won’t find in any other game. Why? Because in Disgaea games, the cheesiness and the humor of the story works solely for the series – and this goes with Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten.
In the distant Netherworld, players will take the role of the Vampire Valvatorez, who somehow loves sardines and shows compassion to the poor human souls that turned into Prinnies. As a mentor and an instructor of all the Prinnies in the Netherworld, he must train these cute little penguins before they are shipped out to Hades for another challenge in their life. As Valvatorez trains these Prinnies, a black hole suddenly sucks them in and unfortunately, the government of the Netherworld wants to terminate all of them. With the principle and compassion that Valvatorez has for the Prinnies, he sets out in an adventure to free them where he will find interesting characters that players will find adorable.
Disgaea 4 utilizes sharp, vibrant anime aesthetics. Characters during gameplay are simplified and only look like fully detailed anime characters during cutscenes. As with all previous Disgaea games, the cutscenes are not animated like the game’s title screen opening. Instead, cutscenes play out with canned animations while the dialogue appears on the bottom of the screen. Sometimes emotions are emphasized with thought bubbles. Some people may have preferred every cutscene to be a fully animated video, but this presentation keeps the story flowing smoothly. The game has decent voice acting. Some of the characters tend to have verbal tics, but they become endearing like the trademark Prinny “Dood.” Special attacks and team attacks are dynamic and unique, but seeing the same animations time and time again can become tiresome. Luckily, there is an option to skip battle animations.
This is where Disgaea shines the most with strategy RPG gameplay at its finest. Players are given a number of main characters to control. Players can also create custom characters who are either humanoid or monster. There are a multitude of classes including healers, mages, warriors and even more unique classes. In battle, players try to eliminate the opposition by using attacks, team attacks, tower attacks, special skills, magic and by manipulating geo blocks (sort of like passive effects for certain areas of a map). Players can build people towers by having characters lift one another, but those characters will be unable to move normally. Unfortunately, monsters still cannot lift or throw people and objects, but can still magichange (become a weapon for a humanoid) or fuse together. The statisticians from Disgaea 1 and 3 return for experience increases. The club/class leader system from Disgaea 3 has been modified and is present as the Evil Symbol system. Players are provided a lot of opportunities for customization in the form of equipment, special abilities, and passive abilities known as “Evilities.” New special moves can be purchased from the Evility shop or learned by levelling up your characters.
You can expand your army by capturing enemy units. Enemies can be captured, both humanoid and monster, by being thrown into the player’s base node. Once captured, you can torture your foes until they are convinced to become your allies.
The Item World and the Dark Assembly (called the Senate in Disgaea 4) return as well. In the Item World, players can make their equipment stronger by fighting their way through as many battles as they can. The Senateis where players can pass bills like “make enemies stronger” and “embezzle money.” Some bills must be passed in the Dark Assembly to unlock certain features and bonus areas of the game.
The main story is 10 chapters long with several episodes contained within each chapter. Like previous entries, there are optional bonus dungeons to unlock. The item world provides a near infinite amount of random levels to challenge as well. Characters can be reincarnated and start again from level 1 with a stat boost and can take on apprentices. Of course, the ten chapters in the main story can be completed without using any of these features for those who want a speed run. Completing the story can take upwards of 100 hours depending on how much of the additional content you want to explore. This game will keep the hardcore and completionists busy for weeks. As with Disgaea 3, expect plenty of DLC to be available in the future.
The story is at times lacking, but the humor is present by the bucketful. The dialogue will have (most) players laughing out loud by the end of the first chapter. The dialogue exhibits dry wit, sarcasm, quirky and goofy comedy. Everyone will laugh out loud while playing this game.
Disgaea is full of cameos and references. Characters from previous games in the series will show up unexpectedly and one Dark Hero plays a big part in the story. Again, similar to previous games, many references are made to anime and manga series including Lucky Star, A Certain Magical Index, and Spice and Wolf.
Lack of quicksave
One of the advantages of playing Disgaea on a portable system is sleep mode. The home console versions lack a quicksave feature, so if anything interrupts your game in the middle of a battle, you have two choices: Quit and start again later or leave your console on until you can come back.
As stated earlier, grinding is not necessary to advance the story; however, a complete lack of level grinding will have the side effect of making the main story more difficult. For players who ignore grinding, battles will have to be fought very carefully and characters will die often. Luckily, there is no permanent death in Disgaea.
Online Mode’s shortfalls
There is a new mode that allows players to create their own pirate ship, fill it with characters and then send it off onto the internet to fight another player’s pirate party. Unfortunately, these battles will be A.I. guided and acts more like a demo. Matchmaking will keep opposing parties close in level so a level 1000 player isn’t going head to head against player who’s power level is over 9000. It is fun to watch, but still a let down that players have absolutely no input on how their characters will behave.
As the story develops, players will also unlock the ability to customize existing maps/battles. Unfortunately for those of us without a JP copy of the game, several options were removed from the Japanese version giving players fewer ways to customize their maps.
Disgaea 4 has wonderful gameplay. SRPG enthusiasts and those faithful to the series will especially appreciate NIS’s newest loveletter to their fans. There is more than enough content to keep the hardcore busy for hundreds of hours, and the central content is entertaining enough to keep the casual fans interested until the very end.