Since the release of the first game back in 2003, the Disgaea series has long been one of NIS America’s most iconic. With five main entries in the strategy RPG franchise and multiple spinoffs, the quirky and surprisingly complex franchise has developed a sizable fanbase amid its generally well-received entries. One other tradition the publisher has adopted is eventually bringing each home console game from the PS2 or PS3 to Sony’s handhelds, with the first two PS2 entries coming to the PSP and the third entry on the PS3 being ported to the Vita.
This tradition continues with the release of Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited for the Vita, which is itself an enhanced port of the 2011 PS3 game Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten. I’ll openly admit that I never got around to playing the original, with my personal Disgaea history being limited to the first two entries and one of the side-scrolling Prinny spinoffs on the PSP. As a result, I looked into the specific new features added to this port, and my final takeaway is that, if you played the PS3 version to death, whether or not this new version is worth your time may be up in the air depending on what you’re looking for. If you’re new to the Disgaea series, however, this is a fine place to start. As for someone with prior exposure like myself, while there’s plenty to like about this game, for a later entry, I couldn’t help but wish for some more dramatic additions to shake up the series’ foundations a bit.
Keeping with the tradition of previous entries, the game’s setting remains in the supernatural-themed Netherworld, but also centers around a completely new protagonist instead of chronicling the further adventures of previous ones, with the star this time around being a vampire named Valvatorez. While we gradually get more hints and information about his glory days, at the start of the game, he’s stuck as a low-level instructor of Prinnies, the iconic penguin-like drones who show up in every Disgaea game. When his latest batch of trainees are abruptly kidnapped by the omnipresent Corrupternment, Valvatorez begins his own personal crusade against his higher-ups, and while he starts out with only his longtime werewolf servant Fenrich fighting alongside him, in true Disgaea fashion, he’ll gradually build up a party of colorful allies in the process.
While A Promise Revisited generally sticks to the graphical style of other Disgaea games, with 2D character sprites in isometric 3D environments, I definitely noticed a leap in overall quality compared to earlier titles. Even on the Vita’s small screen, the character sprites look noticeably sharper and more detailed, and while the environments never blew me away, there’s enough variety and effort put into them that I never found them off-putting. The numerous cutscenes before and after each battle also occasionally sport much bigger and more detailed drawings for each character, though I couldn’t help but yo yearn for more movement overall with them, or at least some mouth movement to go along with their dialog.
The conversations that drive the story forward are fully voiced, and thankfully well-acted to boot, with recognizable names like Troy Baker from The Last of Us and Infamous: Second Son, who puts in an appropriately eccentric performance as Valvatorez. I will say that I found the voices of the numerous Prinnies who pop up to be more grating than I remember compared to previous entries, though. As for the story and overall writing, it works fine, with some clever dialog exchanges and situations, but I do have to complain about one of the more prominent running jokes, that being Valvatorez’s obsession with sardines. The concept of a vampire choosing to ignore the blood of mortals in favor of a fish is funny on its own, but the joke gets driven into the ground ad nauseum, to the point where it feels like every other joke involving the character revolves around sardines. A running joke only works if you know the right points to use it, and I don’t think whoever wrote this was aware of that.
The actual gameplay is classic Disgaea through and through, with a few tweaks and additions made both inside and outside of the battles that make up the majority of the game. The core battles remain turn-based encounters on levels made up of grids of squares that you and the computer can move your characters around, with trademark features from past games like the stat-altering Geo Blocks and characters being able to team up for flashy attacks returning. Your individual characters can be levelled up by defeating foes and equipped with various types of weapons and armor to best suit your gameplay style, as well.
Everything within battle is easy to grasp and polished, but I personally couldn’t help but wish that after this many entries into the series, there were some more dramatic shakeups in the base gameplay to keep things feeling fresh. There are certainly some neat new abilities, such as the “Magichange” mechanic that allows allies to use one another as weapons, but overall, the core game feels a bit like a retread of past titles.
This may be more of a personal gripe, though, as for a lot of people, the core gameplay of Disgaea probably never gets old, and the fact that you can now play a lengthy game like this on the go is a definite plus no matter how you look at it. There’s also the added bonus of all of the original PS3 versions’s DLC add-ons being built into the game from the start and some new levels and refinements as well, so if you’re a fan of the series but never got around to picking up the original version, this is definitely the way to go.
One of the more notable features introduced in Disgaea 4 is the Cam-Pain HQ, a separate map accessible from the main hub that you can access between battles, where you can place your ally units on parts of a map that you gradually unlock for various unlockables and in-game perks. It’s a neat addition, but I initially found it a bit hard to grasp its various mechanics, especially with the tutorial for it delivering info at a rapid pace.
While I made it clear that I feel the Disgaea series is suffering from a bit of stagnation in its core mechanics at this point, I still had a good time with A Promise Revisited. For fans of the franchise, it’s another meaty and well-constructed adventure with plenty to do, and even those who enjoy strategy RPGs but have never played Disgaea before will find the story accessible, due to it mainly being comprised of newcomers (Though longtime fans will still definitely find nods to past entries as well). Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited is a Disgaea game through and through, with the added perks of included DLC and portability, which will likely be the deciding factor for a lot of people as to whether or not they should look into it.
This review is based on the PS Vita of the version of the game, which was provided to us.
Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited offers a polished, lengthy, and deep strategy experience for the Vita, even if its core mechanics don't feel as fresh as they once were.