Recently at the Tokyo Game Show Nippon Ichi Software was proud to announce Disgaea 4, the latest instalment in their popular franchise and another hopeful step for the company to get back on the financial track. It's been no secret that the company has seen some hard times lately, much of which was due to some poor planning on their part, and while the footage for Disgaea 4 is pretty convincing that doesn't mean that NIS doesn't have a lot of work on their hands to convince customers this game is something new.
The fact of the matter is, if a company is going to rely heavily on any one IP, that series needs to evolve over time, something that RPGs can have a very hard time doing. Final Fantasy is a great example as each title is quite different from the last. Storyline changes simply aren't enough to differentiate one game from another. After all, if fans just wanted a new story they could simply read a book or watch a movie. Mechanics must change as well; sometimes subtly, sometimes drastically, but always noticeable by the audience. If the changes you make to a game are trivial in nature, or too convoluted to even notice, how exactly is anyone supposed to think that it's a proper sequel?
This is the overall crippling nature to the Disgaea games, a massive amount of creativity met head-on with a long, drawn out endgame that has no real reward. A very select amount of people enjoy sitting around getting a maximum level Majin, yet at the same time NIS can't seem to figure out that it's possible to still offer that mind-numbing grind fest with a variety of other content. Disgaea 4 already seems to address this by having new moves, stacking mechanics, classes and weapons, but it's a personal hope that everything the trailer had to offer wasn't the end of the changes. It seems like there's been more than enough time to learn why things have gone wrong so far, if this game doesn't get it right then there's little hope at all for the future.
Another good sign of things to come is the graphics, which looked far better than 3's already. Sprites require a significant amount of work and effort to look good on a next-generation console, but there's most definitely a market for it. Audiences want to see improvements on every level, even if those changes are minimal, and releasing a game that looks and feels the same over and over again is simply bad form. While there are naturally many similarities between all four of the Disgaea games, the issue that NIS has so far is not refining those differences. The Disgaea series sits in a particularly difficult spot, since RPG's tend to be a little repetitive from the start, thus the strategy RPG gameplay is a little harder to keep fresh over and over.
It's understandable that one may take my perspective as that of a whiny fan; after all, who doesn't wish their favorite series isn't giving more options or extending gameplay? But Disgaea is an RPG series that hasn't really improved over time, simply added some minor tweaks. A few extra options here and there, catering to a very small portion of the RPG population isn't enough, and the changes in Disgaea 4 have been a long time coming. Perhaps they may not even be enough to make a difference for the series at this point, but I'd like to think that finally addressing many of the games technical issues will finally give it the spotlight it deserves. The writing in Disgaea has always been absolutely superb, it's about time the rest of the game caught up.