The Netherworld can be a rather daunting place. Demons run amok, humans are forced into hard labor to make up for their sins, and the government is sometimes run by child figureheads. Well, at least that’s what it’s like in the Disgaea Netherworld. Get ready to be thrust into the politics of the afterlife in Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten.
The story revolves a vampire Prinny instructor named Lord Valvatorez and his werewolf assistant, Fenrich. Valvatorez has given up drinking blood and now eats sardines (since they have all the nutrients he needs for vampire powers.) He and Fenrich are trying to stop a government issued Prinny massacre that is taking place in the Netherworld, all because Valvatorez promised all Prinnies one sardine a piece and he can never break a promise. Along the way, they meet assassins, the president’s only son, a human girl who believes she’s really just in a dream, and a ton of other kooky characters. This is all in the first couple of hours.
The game is a grid-based strategy RPG Where you choose which party members to use and position them accordingly to the battle board. The combat itself is very simple yet very deep at the same time. You can do standard attacks, combo attacks, team attacks, and special attacks on your enemies. Your standard attacks are usually physical attacks with the weapons you have equipped. If a character attacks an enemy while they are standing next to an ally, sometimes this will trigger a team attack. Basically, you get a fancy physical attack with both characters that can deal double damage. Special attacks are the moves you gain that will use up some of your SP. This could be magic, powered up physical attacks, and other attacks. By doing a lot of damage to an enemy, your damage combo will increase. The higher, the better, because at the end of the battle, you will be graded on your performance. With each higher grade, you will receive new items, more EXP, more money, and many other things.
Battles are not just about attacking and defending. There are a ton of other elements to the battle board. Sometimes you will come across floor panels that have certain colors. These panels have a special attribute to them. It could be that if you stand on it, you gain 20% extra damage or -50% to defense. They can be buffs or debuffs, and your enemies will gain the effects if they are on the panels, too. To counteract these panels, there are color blocks around the map. If you pick one up, place it on a different color panel, and destroy it while it sits on the panel, it will automatically change all the panels of that color to the color of the block. When this happens, if there is an ally or enemy standing on a panel of that color, they will receive damage, and if there is another color block on a panel that has changed colors, that one will activate and it will begin again almost like a combo. This can be a key element to certain battles. You can even win an entire battle just by changing color panels.
Now, I know that is a lot to take in for the battle system, and if you’ve played a Disgaea game before, you’re more than likely used to most of these mechanics. The newcomers to this series shouldn’t be too wary. The game features a very extensive tutorial that eases the player into all the aspects of the game. You really can’t get lost in this game. It is very well done.
When you’re not in battles, you spend your time in the home base. Here you can heal your party members, buy items, weapons, and armor; go into the item world; learn new skills and evilites, and go to your senate headquarters.
As most people know, in any RPG, buying supplies and equipping your team is essential for survival. Buying from stores is actually really helpful not only for gaining supplies, but the more you buy from the stores, the higher your customer rank will go. The higher your rank, the better the available supplies in the store. So, every time you visit the store, there’s always something new and better than the last time.
You can learn new skills, magic, boost the effect of your skills, and gain evilites at a special shop that uses Mana instead of money. You will gain Mana through battles and leveling up. Evilites are a buff that will always be on a certain character. You can equip your party members with them and they always have one character specific evility to start off. Evilities can range from immunity to poison to 10% higher attack power. It’s always a good idea to place evilities on your party members.
The item world is something very nice. Here, you can choose a certain item, weapon, or piece of armor that you wish to enter. When you enter that item’s world, you are tasked with making it through random battles to an exit. Each time you reach a new level, you level up that item’s stats. The stats depend on “innocents” that reside inside that item. Some innocents represent attack power, hit points, intelligence, and other stats. Each time you level it up, these stats will increase. After reaching 5 levels in the item world, you can then choose to either continue leveling up the power of the item, or search for more innocents in the world. Finding more innocents may give your items all new buffs and powers. This aspect of Disgaea 4 is a game in and of itself. You can easily sink in hours of this mode just leveling up a single weapon, and when you’re done, you feel so satisfied when you equip that weapon and it adds 300 attack power and poison resistance to your stats.
The last part of the home base is the Senate HQ. Here is where you can create new party members, call senate sessions for votes of laws, and appoint figureheads for certain positions. I see all the senate aspects to be another place to power up your party. Here, you can place your party members on certain spots on a large board that represents chapters in the game. The more chapters you complete in the story, the more spaces you will unlock to place new party members and artifacts. The artifacts play a big part in the Senate HQ.
These markers are special activation “beacons” that will affect the party members around them. So let’s say you have a training artifact. This artifact will grant 10% shared EXP for all people that are around it. So if you have a party member gain EXP in a battle that is in the effect area of the training artifact, the others in the effect area will gain EXP from that party member. There are a ton of these artifacts and they all have advantages and disadvantages it adds yet another layer of depth to this already deep game.
When calling a senate session, you can create new party members, call a vote on certain topics, send off a representative to another senate, and set figurehead leaders. All of these things require Mana from a certain character. When calling a vote, you can vote on many different things that can range from allowing higher priced but better value equipment in the shops, to embezzling money from other senators. Doing this will initiate a mini game that has you bribing or threatening certain senators to vote your way.
Sending off representatives to other senates lets you gain things from other senates around the world. I’m not too sure if this is a PSN feature that will allow you to send your characters to other people’s games and vice versa. I had no way of telling since I didn’t have anyone to try it with. Lastly, you can appoint figureheads to certain positions. This is almost like the evilities except it is in a much larger scale and it can affect all your party members depending on who you set where. You set a character as a certain officer in the government, and they will gain stats that could help out that character as well as others under them.
OK, now that all the game play mechanics have been touched on; let me talk about the actual presentation. The characters, voice acting, writing, animations, and interactions are top notch. I can safely say that the voice actors in Disgaea 4 are just as good as the blockbuster games of Uncharted, Red Dead Redemption and Gears of War. It all comes off genuinely. Granted, the story is pretty goofy at times, and the entire premise is absolutely bonkers, but you can’t help but to love the characters, even the really annoying ones. I really like the interactions between the determined yet gullible Valvatorez and the rational Fenrich. They play off each other so well.
The animations are all well done in 2D fashion. The anime art style fits the game perfectly and the colorful environments are just as colorful as the characters themselves. Everything aesthetically is thought out and very well done.
NIS does a fantastic job of keeping the player entertained with their games. It’s like the game knows it is ridiculous, and makes fun of itself for it. You will even get made up endings if you lose in a battle that really poorly, yet hilariously, wrap up the story for you. The game is all about replayability. If you die in a battle, you can start from your last save, or start a new game. If you start a new game, you carry your level, abilities, and items over with you, so you’re that much stronger at the beginning. After all, the level cap in Disgaea 4 is 9,999.
I honestly can’t say enough good things about Disgaea 4. The game is a fantastic RPG that can be as deep as any other, yet as simple as the player wants it to be. You can easily sink 50 hours into the main story itself. It never gets too difficult, and with the visceral combat in place, there is always more than one way to take on a battle. The item world is just as deep and satisfying as the main game, and the Senate HQ is another touch that really makes the game shine. The story is really entertaining, and the voice actors and characters themselves make this a memorable tale that I believe every RPG player should check out.
Review copy provided by publisher.