Vampires, werewolves – and most importantly – sardines!
Welcome to the fourth iteration of the popular Disgaea series, brought to us by the always lovely Atlus. I’ve played the past 3 games, and they are all incredibly entertaining, turn-based tactics games. It’s like Final Fantasy Tactics without the depressing bits – Disgaea is all about having a good time and being silly. It knows that having 9999 at the max level is crazy, it has equippable items such as the “horse wiener” and it breaks the 4th wall whenever it can to poke fun at itself and even parody common anime or video game clichés. It’s like a gag anime became a game. You may even spot some familiar anime characters such as Horo and Index if you pay close enough attention (or just watch the trailer). Even if you haven’t played the past few games, you can still jump in now. This is a whole new cast of characters putting a new spin on the classic grindfest that is…Disgaea.
Disgaea’s take on the turn-based tactics genre is pretty straight-forward at its core. You move around on a grid and decide to attack, cast a spell, or use an item as the situation calls for it. There’s also combined attacks, geo tiles, item worlds, throwing, and monster fusing to add to your options. This means that the game is quick to pick up while still offering endless combat possibilities. Unless you go into a grinding frenzy, you WILL have to use your brain if you want to come out of a fight alive, let alone rack up bonus points. It’s the perfect mix of challenging and fun. It’s proudly self-described as a “hardcore grindfest” game, and you can choose to grind as much or as little as you want. The amazing thing is, you will WANT to grind because the battles are so fun. You know a game is good when you are willing to play the same map over and over just to form the ultimate party.
As a huge tactics fan, I felt right at home playing this game. It’s essentially the same as Disgaea 3 with a fresh coat of paint and a couple of new features. Think of it like a new Pokemon game – same addictive formula, new little tid-bits and characters. Admittedly, most of the new features aren’t that great, or simply aren’t big enough to note. One of the new tweaks is in the area of monster fusion, and I don’t even keep monsters with me in my party unless I’m forced to. Throwing a monster in your party onto another monster now results in a huge beast that takes up 5 spaces on the grid. You can also create your own maps and play multiplayer (and thankfully NOT be matched with players that have an ungodly level advantage). The option to arrange which characters are more likely to perform team attacks is still there, although it’s changed from a classroom into a map. The biggest change to how the game is played is the addition of 5 new classes: Onmyo monks, Professors, Bouncers, Androids and Power Suits. These bad boys are definitely worth trying out.
You have to start strategizing before the battle even starts.
Now, you may wonder what the story is behind all these fights. There isn’t one. It’s not so much of a story as a series of things that happen to the main character. Disgaea isn’t here to bring you a story that is deep or even makes sense. It’s here to be ridiculous. As per all Disgaea titles, it takes place in the Netherworld where all the inhabitants are bloodthirsty demons. Valvatorez, previously a tyrant, is reduced to being a Prinny instructor in Hades. He refuses to drink human blood, and every single dialogue with him mentions how amazing sardines are. All of the characters he meets along the way to overthrow the corrupternment for mistreating Prinnies and not doing their job of scaring humans properly are equally nutty. Every cutscene seems to be more about cracking jokes than advancing the plot, and Valvatorez’s character consists only of an obsession to keep promises and sardines. That’s about it. Only every now and then does it touch a genuinely serious issue, bringing us the token moral of the day that each game can’t seem to go without. The drama is always a little forced and feels a bit odd next to the humour, but it’s nice for a change-up every now and then. Without it, the game would fall flat, but it’s by no means getting a gold star for character development.
The sprites are really making leaps and bounds from game to game. Instead of a pixel-look, all the sprite look like someone cut and pasted an anime character onto the map. They’re completely smooth, and move around fluidly. In terms of sprites, they are as awesome as it gets. The cutscenes in Disgaea, much like Persona, show an image of the character talking with whatever emotion they’re feeling on their face. That’s nothing new. But they’ve added in-between animations so the character will move from one expression or pose to the next in a smooth transition. Persona, please learn from this, as it creates a MAGNIFICENT illusion of effort. The attack animations also have the same dedication and care, and the damage done by the most vicious spells is matched eye for eye in terms of visuals. My only gripe is…the backgrounds. Seriously, the backgrounds look like crap. Just slapping a texture on something and hoping for the best is not the way to go. The lava should not have polygons jutting out either. I guess all the budget went to the sprites…
A game with sprites means a lot of dialogue and cutscenes involving text boxes popping up at every instance. That means voice acting is important. Which means that Disgaea having the option for Japanese audio is a godsend. WHICH MEANS I GET TO TALK ABOUT JAPANESE SEIYUU! (Which means…okay I’ll stop). The voices are all lively and hilarious in tandem with the whacky situations revolving around sardines that go on. Valvatorez always sounds serious, yet slightly hysterical. Fenrich has a husky voice, yet always curbs it with a cunning undertone. You can even choose the voice for the units you create to join your party! Each unit has a choice of 3 different personality types, with different voices to match. If you need name-dropping to convince you, how does Eri Kitamura (Kyuubey, Kagamin), Hiyama Nobuyuki (Viral, Kohta Hirano) and Asami Imai (MAKISE KURISU!) sound? Good, right? As for the dub, it’s not bad. Disgaea dubs tend to be a little off, but the localization is always hilarious. It’s like having troll subs for everything, and I love it. Dub lovers have Troy Baker on their side, and that man can do no wrong. As for the music, there are a couple of two insanely catchy songs (the two theme songs) and the rest are just stock background music that’s nice when you’re playing the game, but unlikely to make it to your iPod any time soon.
Sprites = good! Lava = bad!
Disgaea earns a lot of its infamy due to how much time this game can suck up. It is a veritable time vampire, draining precious hours of your life with just a little twirl of a (hypothetical) cape. The max level is 9999, and once you reach that you can choose to reincarnate your character to level 1 and start over again with a slightly stronger character. Not only that, but you won’t be able to unlock stronger characters of a certain class until you level up the crappier version of that class to a certain level. Say you start off with a thief. You’ll have to level her up to 15 before you can create a thief with slightly better stats, but it will be at level 1. You’ll have to level this improved thief to a new checkpoint level before you can create yet ANOTHER slightly stronger thief, which will again start at level 1. This means it takes a long time to get the strongest characters, and a hell of a long time to get them all to 9999.
I’m sure some of you are absolutely DISGUSTED by this. Fear not, because the beauty of Disgaea is that how much you grind, farm for items, and start again from scratch is all up to you. It is entirely possible to beat the game using the weakest tier of each class and coming short of level 100. You will only have to grind a little, and you’re good. However, the hardcore option is there for those who want it. It is never enforced, which leaves it to the player how much effort they want to put into creating the ultimate party. So in theory, the amount of playtime for Disgaea is almost limitless. You’d be surprised how easy it is to get sucked into it and start planning out your dream team.
Once you finish the game, there are still plenty of options. You can replay old maps, play multiplayer, play bonus maps, and enter the Item World. The Item World is essentially endless amounts of completely randomized levels. A near infinite amount of maps for you to play. If that isn’t replayability at its best, I don’t know what is.
This pretty much summarizes my current understanding of how the government works
Overall: Disgaea 4 is a great game. It has everything the fans love, and isn’t hard enough that a newcomer to the series wouldn’t understand it. Newcomers to the tactics genres might want to start somewhere simpler however to avoid sensory overload. The gameplay is as addictive as ever, and most of the changes are on the positive side rather than the negative side. I thoroughly enjoyed almost every moment playing Disgaea 4 in between the crazed ravings about sardines. I was so excited for this release I got the version with the sexy box, sexy artbook and sexy Fuka figure. Anyone claiming to be a fan of tactics or turn-based strategy games is committing a crime by not playing this.
THE FINAL VERDICT
-Gameplay is so addictive you will no longer have a social life
-Sprites look vibrant and natural
-Voiceacting is superb (Japanese audio track!)
-Carbon copy of Disgaea 3
-The face you will make when you realize you will never get to 9999
-The drama in the story is cheesier than Tiger & Bunny
Graphics and Sound: 8/10
Play Time and Replayability: 10/10