Review: Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited (PSV)

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Title: Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (2.9 GB)
Release Date: August 12, 2014
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: NIS
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: T
Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited is exclusive to PlayStation Vita.The PlayStation Network download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Continuing a long line of console to portable conversions, Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited is a port of the PS3 game Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten. This new port includes all of the DLC from the PS3 version as well as some new features such as the cheat shop from Disgaea D2 or some characters that were added in the Vita port of Disgaea 3.

The story of Disgaea 4 concerns one Valvatores, a vampire. We learn early in the story that Valvatores was once a feared and powerful vampire, but due to a promise he made with someone, he no longer drinks blood and has lost most of his powers as a result. Unable to keep his status without his powers, he has been relegated down to the bottom of the underworld’s social chain and now works as a Prinny Instructor, teaching newly created Prinnies (those are the penguin-like creatures that house the souls of sinful humans, dood). The plot gets set into motion when Valvatores is made to realize that the higher levels of the demon world have slowly corrupted in his absence and, thanks to some egging on by his werewolf adviser, Fenrich, he vows to overthrow the Corrupterment and re-educate the human and demon worlds.

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The Disgaea universe is set up to be wacky and silly and Disgaea 4 doesn’t shy away from this side of the series. The game loves to make fun of RPG conventions and play up the quirky sides of its characters. You’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about the topic of Japanese names for sardines thanks to Valvatores’ love of them, for example. However the game does know when to pull back and manages to combine it all with an interesting story that has some nice twists and serious moments in it as well. Some of the normal RPG misgivings abound here, such as a few occasions where the story feels a bit padded out but overall it advances at a nice clip and kept me very invested in finding out where things would go next.

However, the main thing that kept me hooked was the gameplay. Disgaea 4 is a strategy RPG by definition, having a grid based battle arena where the player moves units around to attack enemies. One particular aspect of Disgaea 4’s battle system that I liked was how much the terrain can affect fights. A few gaps in the terrain and ranged units become king, for example.

Where some strategy RPGs such as Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem feel like they require significant planning and strategy, Disgaea plays it a bit more fast and loose. Battles play out quickly (especially if the special attack animations are turned off) and the game seems designed to allow the player every opportunity to take advantage of its various systems. Systems like the ability to turn allied monsters into weapons or fusing two allied monsters into a single giant monster.

On top of that, most maps contain geo-panels which add an optional puzzle-like quality to the game. This gives the player several options while playing: removing geo-panel buffs (which on most maps are providing boosts to enemies), apply strategy to overcome foes, or just power through the game by grinding to get strong allies (this is still a JRPG after all, dood).

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Speaking of grinding, the Disgaea series is sometimes attributed as being an overly grindy series and it’s not entirely unwarranted. The maximum level for characters is a lofty level 9999 and even then characters can be reborn to level 1 to give them boosts to their base stats and allow them to learn skills from a different class.

Fortunately though, getting through the main story in Disgaea 4 actually doesn’t require much grinding as the enemy progression is laid out fairly well and level-ups come quickly to allies who see a lot of use. Combine that with the cheat shop, which allows the player to bump up the EXP gain rate a bit, and a few easy-to-level-on maps during the main campaign and getting through the story is a mostly grind-free affair. The grindiness in the game does exist, but it’s largely relegated to side or post-game content, of which there is a ton.

The original Disgaea 4 contained a bunch of side stories and Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited includes all of those and more. Many optional missions pit the player against the protagonists of past Disgaea games, and let them recruit those characters at the end.

Players can use Item World that lets them jump into their items for a series of procedurally generated levels, which will power up the item. Or grind through random levels in the Chara World. Or jump online for user-generated levels. Or probably a dozen other modes that I’m forgetting. Needless to say, this game’s got hundreds of hours of content for those willing to look for it.

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Visuals
Disgaea 4 on the PS3 was the series’ first move to HD sprites making it the best looking Disgaea game at the time. Those sprites transfer greatly to the Vita’s screen. Battle sprites animate well, both during run of the mill standing and attack animations but even more so during the over-the-top special attack animations.

The game’s crazy attacks, such as sucking foes into black holes or punching them into the moon, ooze with silliness and fit in well with the zany vibe set by the story and settings. The battlefields are all rendered in 3D and are full of personality, each of the chapters has a theme that ties together the individual maps, and mesh surprisingly well with the 2D character sprites.

My biggest complaint with the visuals is that I felt like I was occasionally fighting the camera to find a good view. The default view is isometric, looking at the characters and grid from an angle. However, if the stage has some verticality to it, pieces of it will sometimes block areas of the grid, making it difficult to judge where to move. Not a huge deal when moving, since the characters can be repositioned until they perform an action, but when trying to throw allies or geo-cubes it can be a detriment.

There is an overhead view (press square+L+R), however the overhead view loses all sense of verticality and led to moments where it took me a second to realize why I couldn’t attack an opponent. I don’t know that there’s a good solution NIS could have used to fix this but it did lead to occasional frustration on a few maps where I spent as much time rotating the camera as I did actually planning out moves.

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Audio
For such a niche game, Disgaea’s audio feels surprisingly high quality. Almost all cutscenes are fully voiced, both in Japanese and English, with the only exceptions I found being some optional content I unlocked near the end of the game.

Unfortunately though, Troy Baker, who provided the voice for Valvatorez in the PS3 version of the game, was apparently unable to work on the remake so any new lines for Valvatorez were voiced by Matthew Mercer. It probably wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the new and old content were mostly segregated but for random attack calls and battle voices, the character will switch between the two actors and the difference was just noticeable enough to be annoying when I had the English voices on.

The soundtrack in the game is also wonderful, doing a great job of setting the tone during cutscenes. Definitely one I’d listen to outside of the game, especially the extremely catchy music from the hub area in the game.

Online/Multiplayer:
Most of the game is single player, however there are a variety of ways that it takes advantage of the internet. There’s a level creator and levels can be shared online where anyone can play and rate the level. The game’s Senate feature, where the player must pass various measures to add features to the game, can include characters from other player’s games. A post-game mode that involves pirating allows you to invade other player’s uploaded pirate ships.

While none of the modes that I tested were a normal kind of multiplayer, they did add a lot of depth to the game and should provide a ton of replay value once there are more people online to provide some of the content for these modes.

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Conclusion
Disgaea 4 is a wonderful package of SRPG goodness. Battles are interesting and have a decent degree of depth while the story holds up well for the main section of the game.

For those coming from the PS3 version, the transition to the Vita hasn’t harmed the game in the least, and in fact the 10-20 minute long battles feel perfectly suited to the handheld platform. Those who didn’t play it on PS3 will find a trove of systems to explore (and exploit), a fun story to experience, and a huge plethora of content that could easily last for hundreds of hours.

My few qualms with the game are very small and don’t detract very much from the overall experience. I wouldn’t have any issue with recommending Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited to any fans of strategy or Japanese RPGs. So pop open a can of sardines and have at it; that item world isn’t going to complete itself, dood!

Score
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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