Nippon Ichi Software and the Disgaea series have made a name for themselves with deep gameplay and some of the craziest stories you can find anywhere. The series has been going strong since it originally appeared on store shelves back in 2003. Eight years and plenty of prinnies later, and the series is still kicking, with Disgaea 4 releasing on the PlayStation 3.
The story in Disgaea 4 centers around a former Tyrant and current Prinny instructor, Lord Valvatorez, who happens to also be a vampire. He is accompanied by his trusty sidekick Fenrich, who is a werewolf himself. Valvatorez has lost his power, thanks to a promise, but has started to regain his powers thanks to the wonderful sardines. Now, with his power restored, he is gathering an army of wacky characters to take on the corruptness and save all the Prinnies from mass genocide. Along the journey, he comes across a girl who thinks she is in a dream, one who wants to be the best final boss ever, and plenty of other oddball characters with their own agendas. The story is lighthearted and full of comedy, never taking itself too seriously, but at the same time still providing a solid story and likeable cast.
Disgaea 4 is a grid-based strategy RPG that has players moving their characters from a starting base and attacking enemies in their path. Movement is handled for each player by how much speed they have, with more speed giving the character more spaces to move. Move your characters into position and you are then given the option of a standard attack or special ability. Standard attacks are handled with weapons like swords and guns, while special attacks use a certain amount of SP to perform. Besides just these two attacks, if a character attacks with an ally next to him, that ally can sometimes do a team attack and help out. All of these attacks have pretty animations that follow, but you also have the option to skip the animations.
Attacking and defending with your characters is not all there is to this battle. On most of the maps in the game, you will come across panels that are a different color than the rest of the map. These are called Geo Panels and they carry special attributes like +50 ATK where, when any character good or bad stands on them, their attack power will increase by 50. These can also give you negative stats, like no ranged attacks or ally attack, where allies will attack and damage you if you end your turn on the panel. To get rid of these panels or change the effects, you will find Geo Blocks throughout the map. These blocks will have their own effect so, if you throw a blue block on the green panels and destroy it, the green panels will turn blue and take on the effect of that block. When this happens, any enemy or ally standing on the panels will be damaged and your combo bar will increase. The combo bar can gain 9 levels and, at the end of the battle, you will gain extra items and money based on your combo score. The whole Geo panel and block system provides a ton of depth to an already deep combat system, making players really think about how they want to proceed in a battle.
In battles you will find some enemies in hard to reach places, and you might be curious how to reach them. In Disgaea 4, you can pick up your characters and throw them across gaps or to higher ledges, allowing you to go anywhere in the map. The game will also allow two monster types to merge together and form one huge monster. This can be done by both computer and player, so be cautious of this when you’re playing against a lot of monster types. The advantage here is that you can attack farther away and when you move close to enemies you can push them aside. Monster types can also merge with human types, where they will transform into a weapon that the human type character can use. This is a great way to give a melee character some range, but this will only last a couple of turns and then the monster type will disappear. If your head is spinning don’t worry, Disgaea 4 has one of the best tutorial systems around, where the entire first chapter is basically one big tutorial, giving you every bit of information on battle you will ever need.
Players will spend a lot of time in battle but even more time at the home base, where you can buy weapons, learn new skills, heal and visit the item world. In this base you will be able to buy new weapons or armor, along with items to help you in battle. As you buy and sell items as the stores, you customer rank will increase, allowing you to get better supplies from the store. All of the stores share the same customer rank, so no worries about having to gain a high rank at each individual store. If the weapons and armor start to become too low-level for your party, you can always head to the Senate and propose a bill for more expensive items.
When you are done buying weapons and the like, you can head over to the evility store and stock up on new skills and evilities, while boosting current ones. Everything purchased at this store is done not with cash, but with mana that you collect in battles. Each character will be able to learn new skills based on their weapon type, with special character having their very own skills. Some skills will not become available until you reach a certain level with that class and after learning the skill, you can boost its level to be more effective. As you boost the level of the skill, the cost of mana to gain a new level in the skill increases. You can also buy evilities, which are buffs that you buy and assign to your character. These buffs do things such as 5% increase of your base speed to immunity of certain attacks. Once an evility is learned, you can exchange them between characters. It can be a tough balance between learning new skills/evilities, and boosting your current ones, as they all use the same mana to do.
In the senate HQ you can use mana to create new party members, reincarnate current members, appoint a new cabinet position, and unlock new artifacts. All of this is used on your cam-pain board, where as you beat chapters in the game, more squares on this board are unlocked. On the squares you can place artifacts, which give boosts to members of your party that you place beside them. One of your original artifacts is a training one, which grants all characters around it to gain 10% shared EXP. It is crucial to gain artifacts and place them on your board, then place your character near the one that benefits them the most. On top of all this, you can unlock cabinet positions in your party, such as defense minister, and select characters to serve at these positions. The benefit here is that each spot has a perk to it, like STAT boost for that player when anyone around him levels up. When you do decide to call a vote for any of the things mentioned above, it will cost you a specific amount of mana to vote and you will be given an approval rating. Once inside the senate, you can look for the senators that are opposed to you and bribe them with items to gain their loyalty. If your vote is not approved, you can either accept the verdict or use force, which will place you in a battle. Added to Disgaea 4 from previous games of the series, is the ability to now have a player from someone else’s game appear in your senate or to have your selected character appear in other people’s games. When the player’s senator appears, he will usually demand an item and when he does not get it, will proceed to shoot up the place and cause a huge hit to your Aye! vote. This is a nice little bonus to the senate and usually frustrates you when a senator from another game makes an appearance.
Lastly we will touch base on the item world, that will have some of you players for DAYS to go through. You visit the item world at your main base and here you can select an item, weapon, or piece of armor and “enter” it. Once inside, you will go through random level after random level, clearing out all the enemies or making it to the exit. Each time you clear a level, your weapon or item will level up depending on the “innocents” that live in that item. These innocents represent things such as attack power and intelligence. Each time you level up, these stats will increase. At level 5 of the item, you can select to continue leveling up the item with its current innocents, or searching for new ones. If you choose to find new ones, you may find yourself some new buffs or powers for your item/weapon. For some people I know, the item world is the reason they play Disgaea 4, as you can easily sink days, weeks, or months trying to level up the weapons and armor for your cast of characters. If you really think about it, the item world is almost like a separate game, giving you so much to do inside this retail package.
Online is finally introduced in Disgaea 4 and it is interesting but still not where we would like it to be. In the online you can create maps with your characters, geo panels, and various objects, which will challenge fellow players. In the online, your players take the role of pirates and you can create your own ship and crew, from the head and rear of the boats, to the crew members and their AI settings. Upload these online and other players can fight your crew, or you can go online and duke it out with other people’s rigs. The big problem is, there is no manual control in this mode, meaning you are left to watch two AI sides duke it out, which isn’t as fun as it sounds.
Now what would a role-playing game be without the presentation? As usual, NIS has provided us with an extremely inviting story and cast of characters, that will have you laughing out loud at some parts. The voice work is also solid, though, as with any RPG, there are a few characters who can really get annoying, such as the president’s son. What really makes the voice actors so great is that, for the most part, their voice fits with the character that it’s attached to. The animations are well done and the environments are very colorful. Disgaea 4 isn’t going to wow anyone with graphics and that might put off some people but it really shouldn’t, as the game has some great 2D animations in place.
It’s good to know that through all the console changes and focus on graphics, some things never change — like no matter how many combinations they try, Brown Sugar & Cinnamon is the only good flavor of pop tart, and, with all the serious RPGs floating around, there will always be a Disgaea game to lighten the mood. Disgaea 4 brings a kid-like excitement to the table, with its energetic presentation to go along with extremely deep gameplay. From the item world and a 10 chapter campaign, to level 9,999, there will be plenty to keep Strategy RPG fans busy. Not everyone will leave happy, as people who disliked the anime style graphics and lighthearted story won’t find this game much better. The game could also use the ability to save mid-battle, for those times you get pulled away right in the heat of things. In the end though, I stand by my statement that the Disgaea series is like Final Fantasy Tactics, but after it has injected steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. However, PlayStation LifeStyle does not condone steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, only sardines, which will help you regain your lost power and doesn’t show up on tests.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+Energetic and Carefree Story/Characters Keep Things Light.
+/-Online is nice, but could really use some fleshing out.