Capping off the week we have another fine product from our friends over at NIS America, today it’s Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten. This latest entry in the long running, well-loved, and rather off-beat line of strategy RPGs looks to deliver yet another experience made to make anime fans squeal while consuming alarmingly large chunks of their lives. The major additions here are significantly improved graphics (they’ve HDed up everything and made it all look incredibly sharp) and more gameplay systems than any reasonable human being can begin to comprehend. It’s that exact kind of crazy though that brings people to this series (and upon reflection to NIS stuff in general), so let’s see if this newest entry can continue to breed the exact kind of insanity that nerds crave.
The first thing you’ll notice about this game is its extreme anime-ness; this is in a lot of ways its greatest strength but also the biggest caveat when it comes to recommending this game. That said there is something special about this title’s particular brand of anime that might make it a little more palatable for those not of the otaku persuasion. The game seems to know that anime is absolutely fucking ridiculous and as a result it has a slightly sardonic undertone to it that I really enjoy. Disgaea 4 knows that literally anything can be made crazy with the magic of anime and as such it bases its entire premise and a lot of the external gameplay around the idea of running for president and participating in senate hearings in Hell. This concept is very odd but it works and the game uses it to play around with and explore some interesting themes like what Hell is and the idea of how evil humanity can be. Put simply the game is exaggeration incarnate and it find ways, from the weirdly long torsos of its characters to the big crazy weapons they all carry, to poke fun and highlight exactly what makes this niche so…well…niche.
Because we all know JRPG fans love convolution, this game has an absolute wealth of extraneous systems to fritter away endless hours on. As I said earlier, a lot of stuff here is based on the electoral/senatorial process and as a result both of those things are gameplay systems. The way you unlock the ability to have more units is by moving forward in the story and essentially swaying more territories to your cause, for each constituency you have you can add an extra unit. In addition to that, those constituencies (which come conveniently on a grid) can be used to apply passive boosts across groups of characters by putting special items on those squares. Then there’s the senate, which is for all intents and purposes a cheats/unlockables menu. What happens here is for the cost of some mana (an alternate form of XP rather than magic in this game) you can hold a vote on certain things like putting better items in the stores, making enemies stronger, or just straight up extorting cash out of some of the senators. The trick here though is that everyone might not agree with your wishes so you may have to grease a few palms before holding your vote, it’s another fun satire and a neat way to unlock stuff.
Aside from those specific systems there are still myriad other things you can/need to pay attention to if you want to succeed. The most important one is the concept of Item Worlds, which are massive sets of randomly generated levels contained within your items. From the item world you can level up and alter the properties of your items, as well as do some useful grinding. This is also the only place the game has any sort of multiplayer, which while I never got to see it (the item world takes up more time than I had to play this game), involves pirates and sounds uniquely weird like everything else in the game. Beyond the item world there are also systems for adding extra traits to your characters (called evilities, y’know like specialities but evil), using the monster type characters on your team as weapons or fusing them together, and a whole bunch of crazy business with coloured tiles, blocks, and the associated effects they add. Honestly it’s all a little overwhelming and for those not willing to really immerse themselves too deep, it can be downright intimidating. However that insane variety and depth is what will keep fans engaged for endless hours.
It’s actually kind of odd how elaborate the systems in this game are as the combat itself is actually refreshingly simple. It’s your basic “move, attack, special ability” kind of system we’ve seen a million times before, but that’s because it works. It’s simple but it’s also flexible and the way this game allows you to cancel moves, bring out characters whenever you need, and use them in any order you want, allows a degree of strategic depth that can really be appreciated. The only really non-standard system it adds, is the ability to pick up and throw characters (or anything that is classified as a “character” by the engine). This allows you to extend the range of certain characters by throwing them where they need to go or you can use it to put enemies in their place (preferably a less menacing one that isn’t directly adjacent to you). It’s also used to interact with those coloured blocks and tiles I mentioned earlier to propagate/dispel effects on the field.
Really the only major problem with this game is its grind to story ratio, which is a fancy way of saying that progressing in the story requires more fucking about in non/already completed story levels than I would prefer. I sadly didn’t mange to get that far in this game due to both a lack of time (end of Q2 means a 20 game pile-up on the video game release highway) and the fact that at a certain point, getting another hour forward in the story requires a good chunk more than an hour of grinding. I had kind of hoped that this was a phase we had grown out of for the most part in RPGs because spending that much time fighting cookie cutter enemies completely out of context just isn’t fun. I’ve spent my time in the trenches, I’ve put my 60, 70, sometimes even 80 hours into more epic quests to save various kingdoms than I can even remember. Those endless hours are good memories but honestly I’d be happy to not spend any more nights falling asleep on the couch with my thumb on the X button.
In the end I think this is a game that’s quality is entirely determined by its audience. If you have the time and the want to play one game for a very long time and in incredible depth, this game will deliver. If you like anime and can enjoy a slightly more off kilter bent to it than the standard fare offers, than this game will deliver. But if you need a briefer or a less intricate experience and hate (or like but way too seriously) anime and the things that come with it, than Disgaea 4 is not for you. From an outside viewpoint though this a good game with an interesting story, a lot of quirk, and solid-though overtly complex in spots-gameplay. So for a deep and secretly snide experience that I think a lot more people will like than they might first expect, Disgaea 4 gets a 4 out 5 stars. While this game certainly won’t be for everyone, there’s enough here that you should at least take a look before writing it off.