Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten has been a long time coming. A ridiculously over-the-top strategy RPG experience with a quirky cast of anime characters and plenty of nerdy tropes accompanied with some of the finest genre mechanics and plenty of replay value for all of you grinders out there. Fans of the cult series know exactly what to expect out of this sequel and will most definitely get plenty of enjoyment out of it. The curious, on the other hand, are thoroughly encouraged to take a peep into the Netherworld and see what it has to offer.
Disgaea 4's tale is just as outrageous as any other Disgaea outing. Players never really step into the shoes of the stereotypical anime hero out to save the world. Nay, this is Disgaea and therefore players will find themselves playing as the villain instead "“ although the word is said in the most liberal way possible. This time around, the demon vampire tyrant Valvotorez fills the shoes of the story's main character. Well, former demon vampire tyrant. The dood's fallen down the Netherworld ladder to the very bottom and is now a mere Prinny Instructor, apparently the lowest of the lows in all of the Netherworld. Regardless, he takes his position in stride and with pride I might add. See, his philosophy of never breaking a promise is the cause to how he ended up at the bottom of the pit.
As the story unfolds, players will discover just exactly the kind of promises he made to end up in his current predicament. No details here as that's the fun part, but the premise puts Valvatorez in a rescue mission to save his newly graduated Prinnies in order to fulfill a promise he made to them (he promised to give them each a sardine if you must know), this inevitably leads him to his quest to remind the Netherworld President of how proud and feared the Netherworld once was, and to clean up the corruption in the Corrupternment, the game's equivalent of a government "“ ironic, isn't it?
So how does the game work? Think of Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre as the foundation, then add seemingly random mechanics like tower stacking and multi-character combo attacks. That's Disgaea in a nutshell. Battles take place on an isometric grid that players can rotate and zoom in or out on. Players have an entire turn to issue orders to each unit which can then be executed in succession of each other. If a character has other allied characters adjacent to his position, they'll perform a combo attack that deals more damage. These combos are just plain fun to watch as they vary depending on how many characters are part of the combo. Some are quite epic while others are outright ridiculous and random. On top of that, there's the aforementioned tower stacking where a character can lift another and then be lifted himself by another and so on and so forth. The abilities and skills associated with tower stacks add even more to the already absurd reserve of eccentric abilities.
In addition to the grid-based strategic gameplay, players have to take into consideration Geo Panels and Geo Blocks that add buffs or de-buffs to the levels. These can be exploited by either side and can turn the tide of battle. More importantly, the rarity and value of rewards and loot depend on how these are exploited alongside combos and specials. Dumping a Geo Block on top of a panel will add its buffs to the corresponding coloured panels, while destroying one on top of a panel will change that colour to the colour of the block. Throwing a blue Geo Block next to another blue Geo Block will disintegrate all adjacent blocks of the same colour. Regardless of what a player does, if a block is destroyed and the panels change, damage is indiscriminately dealt to both enemy units and allies.Aside from the turn-based battles players will meet both new and familiar faces to recruit to their cause, take part in senate hearings to pass bills that will actually aid in battle, grind over 9000, and dive deep into dungeons to upgrade weapons and items. On top of the core mechanics, each Disgaea has seen even more new features added and Disgaea 4 is no different, introducing things like Fusion and Magichange, which allows monster type characters to fuse into one huge one or combine with a human character to equip a variety of unique weaponry. Seriously, who doesn't want to see a giant Prinny stomping around the level?
The Senate seen in the original game has since been moved to the Cam-Pain arena, where players can conquer dungeons and place ambassadors to increase the rate of team attacks and other bonuses on the respective maps. Players will be able to pass bills like increasing or decreasing the levels of enemies, increasing the value of rewards, and the like. Of course, not every hearing will be unanimously in your favour and sometimes a little force needs to be used. Other players can invade your senate and if they don't get what they won't, crap might hit the fan. Vice versa, you can invade another player's senate and do the same.
The Item World is, of course, back and this is where players will dive into to upgrade their weapons and items. The deeper a dive, the more experience and rewards you'll get. Of course, each dive gets progressively harder. The Item World is randomly generated, bringing a lot of replay value to the game. Saving an item's denizens yields statistical upgrades, such as attack strength or intelligence. If you're a fan of grinding, this is where the real meat of Disgaea lies and you can expect to invest many, many unhealthy hours into the Item World.
Players can also expect to spend as much time at their home base as they do in battle. Further to finding the Item World and the Cam-Pain stage, weapons, equipment and general items can be bought at the respective stores while new skills can be bought with Mana, as well as passive abilities "“ which are called Evilities "“ two of which can be equipped to any one character. Each skill can be upgraded with more mana, which is earned in battle. Together, all of these features amalgamate into an intricately well-designed strategy experience with a whole lot of depth and plenty of replay value.Despite the new additions, there isn't a lot that can be described as groundbreaking. What is new is the game's online multiplayer, which is a lot more obscure than what most people would expect from the term "online multiplayer." Players can create their own maps, although free-reign has been held back due to regional restrictions. Regardless, it's still a surprisingly intuitive system where players can create their own levels complete with Geo Panels, Blocks and a variety of other objects. These maps can then be uploaded and shared with other players, challenging them to your dastardly concoctions. More amusingly, you can create your own pirate ship that can be used to invade another player's game, and vice versa. Unfortunately, players don't have control over these battles as they play out automatically. Think of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker's Outer Ops battles.
Disgaea 4 finally takes the series into high definition, with beautifully drawn and animated sprites. Even character portraits in the visual novel styled events are animated, giving the game that much more charm. Visual effects in battles are over-the-top and it has a soundtrack to match. Players can also opt for either the English dub or the original Japanese voice track, the latter of which I prefer, not to the detriment of the localization team, who do a commendable job with the English dubs "“ it's just a matter of personal preference.
Disgaea 4 brings plenty of improvements across the board, polishing already established mechanics while adding some new ones to the mix. It's an overall enjoyable experience and one that I can easily recommend to anyone looking for a fun strategy RPG to dive into. The story is full of fun and nerdy tropes. It offers a deep battle system complimented with a number of other features like the Item World, Cam-Pain and Evilities. Let's not forget about the new online mode and map editor, although those really could've been so much more and it's quite disappointing that they aren't. All in all, while Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten doesn't really break the mold, it is easily the best Disgaea game since the original. It must be the sardines.
|Silly, fun story provides plenty of laughs.|
|Deep and rewarding gameplay mechanics, plus infinite replay value.|
|It's finally in high definition!|
|The online mode plays out automatically.|
|The map editor is a little bit limited due to regional restrictions.|
|Does little to break the mold, with online being the only ground-breaking feature.|