As far as Japanese tactical role-playing games go, the Disgaea series is the most bizarre; and for anyone who has ever played a game from Japan before, that’s saying a lot. Having carved its own niche in the busy market, Disgaea is widely loved by fans which worship these games and loathed by those who don’t understand their madcap design. The fourth game in the series and the second to appear on the PS3, Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten retains everything that made the previous titles such an amusing and addicting RPG.
Having never played a Disgaea game before, there be a mixture of both good and bad news awaiting you. The reason for this is because each new game in the series has new protagonists with fresh back-stories chalk full of heavy exposition. This means hopping into Disgaea 4 with no comprehension of what’s going on isn’t as much of an issue as it would be in other game series.
That being said, many traits from the past games are still prevalent. Prinnies return of course, being the mascots of the Disgaea series and they still act as useless servants who utter the line “dood” to hilarious effect. A Netherworld remains as the setting and doesn’t really alter the game experience in any defining way. Aside from older characters showing up in the post-game story after the initial campaign is completed, the plot is presented in a way that doesn’t detach new players to the Disgaea universe for the first time.
The main character of Disgaea 4 is Valvatorez, a former tyrant and vampire who no longer craves human flesh as much as he does the sweet taste of sardines. He’s introduced early on as a redeemed soul who has lost his supernatural powers after refusing to drink blood for the last 400 years. Therefore he acts as the perfect antihero; someone who has realized his past crimes and is looking to atone for them.
This, along with the affectionate (although it borders on wildly inappropriate at times) relationship between him and his loyal underling makes him the best protagonist the series has had to date. Valvatorez is similar to heroes of the former games; he’s silly and often times his personality becomes quite annoying, but his vampirism is a great characteristic which simultaneously acts as his blight and spiritual backbone.
Once events are set in motion, the story and gameplay unfold in normal Disgaea fashion. You meet new characters to join your party who all individually have separate skills and weapons to upgrade. There are creatures to create as well, all with their own set of stats to enhance too. Disgaea fans know that grinding is a big portion of the series and, if you aren’t into that type of dedication, then try another RPG. Leveling up your party is essential when it comes to the bigger battles that can frustrate frequent occasion, another example of how Disgaea 4 is not for the faint of heart.
The gameplay works similarly to other turn-based titles like Advance Wars or Final Fantasy Tactics but it does have its own exclusive qualities. Petitioning against the government within the Netherworld is a mandatory exercise that greatly benefits your party as does taking advantage of the Geo Panels in battles. These special blocks, when stood on by one of your characters, either grants positive or negative consequences which adds a nice random factor during encounters. For the first time in Disgaea, there’s the ability to merge two creatures into one mega-monster which is capable of performing some impressive special attacks. This new feature doesn’t really change up the gameplay beyond what it already was but it’s a welcome addition that fits in with the series manic tone.
Speaking of tone, Disgaea 4 is in its own class of Japanese storytelling. Aside from the high-pitched voice acting that can be incredibly grating, the dialogue can go on to extreme lengths. Not to mention that everything the characters are saying all sounds ludicrous. It goes without saying that Disgaea 4 is a game to play in privacy; otherwise you will get spectators listening to the in-game conversations in a befuddled state of disorientation. Japanese games of this style almost resemble an anime, where someone will talk forever about a certain subject and overdevelop the context of it. But the content is so zany and the humor is wildly fashionable that the story begins to grow on you despite any prior objections. This is another example of the divide in taste among the fans and non-fans of the Disgaea series; you must know what you are getting yourself into.
One massive alteration in Disgaea 4 is the overhauled graphics, with the anime-influenced character models and environments all nicely rendered and vibrant. Nothing is highly detailed or lifelike but that’s not the look the series has been striving for. Disgaea 4 is gorgeous in a clean and colorful sort of way that is like watching a cartoon in high definition. Special attacks unfold in a dizzying spectacle of flash and lighting that really add another dimension to the turn-based action onscreen. Lastly, it’s refreshing to see the characters actually animate now as sprites and during dialogue exchanges. It isn’t much but for those who have played through the series since the beginning, it’s an evolvement that has been greatly anticipated for some time.
Disgaea 4 is the hook, line and sinker of Japanese tactical role-playing games; nothing comes close to it in terms of replay value and additional content. The campaign and post story alone is enough to suck away weeks of your life, but it’s the leveling system that can really do damage to someone’s social life. Maxing out character stats, upgrading weapons, collecting all creatures – these are tasks that are originally daunting but compelling once you begin them. Disgaea 4 gives fans of the series everything they could ask for and more.
There’s even an ability to change the English voice-overs to a Japanese vocal track and a setting to turn the graphics back to old-school pixilated form. That is fan service; but in a way the whole game is a tribute to those that enjoy the distinctive series or worships Japanese RPGs as a whole. Just make sure you look before you leap. Disgaea 4 is a prime indication of that notion.
This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.
Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten is easily the best looking title in the series, and with a compelling main character and a zany cast of assorted personalities, it will keep you glued to the screen for months.