Review: Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten (PS3)

Title: Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: September 6, 2011
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: T

This year will be known as the year of 3’s and 4’s, with sequels of sequels, or in some cases, sequels of sequels of sequels – hey there Ezio, overwhelming us with familiar gaming options. While most action and shooter titles have a fairly easy time reengaging their audience just by moving the proceedings to more exotic locales and adding some additional melee and/or gun play mechanics, RPG’s have to walk a finer line. With each iteration, a role-playing game needs to add more mechanics, but at the same time remain accessible so that a new player isn’t put off by the myriad of seemingly incomprehensible systems. Luckily for strategy RPG and NIS fans Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten doesn’t just walk that fine line, but gleefully dances down it making odd sardine jokes along the way.

The Disgaea series has never shied away from throwing a variety of gameplay systems at you and letting you choose which you want to engage with. In fact, Disgaea has been doing that since the beginning by combining the standard move and attack gameplay of strategy RPG’s with the tile-based effects of the GeoPanel system, spelunking through Item Worlds to build up weapons, and playing cutthroat politics with a demonic Senate. Thankfully with each Disgaea sequel NIS has been able to add subtle tweaks to their successful formula that introduce depth without creating confusion.

Having not played a Disgaea title since the original I was pleasantly surprised to be introduced to the tower, Evility and MagiChange systems from Disgaea 3 as well as Disgaea 4’s new features – Demon Fusing and the Cam-Pain system. Demon Fuse is an ability that allows two monsters to combine to create a giant version, like Voltron, only more adorable. The results, aside from twenty-foot tall Prinnies, are increased stats for your now larger than life party member. For even more fun, feel free to MagiChange a Demon Fused monster into a giant weapon. While Demon Fuse is for use on the field of battle the Cam-Pain system is about setting up your characters for success. As you progress through the campaign each new level you unlock adds a grid space to your kingdom, place your party members adjacent to each other and their chances for combos will increase, or add in various buildings you can buy to boost abilities or your spoils from battle. Who doesn’t love their main characters getting an experience boost each time they level up?

If you glazed over reading that last paragraph – demon fuse-a-whatzit? why would I mess with a board game in the middle of my RPG? – don’t worry because all the systems I mentioned can be as little or as large a part of your Disgaea 4 experience as you want. If you have a backlog that towers over your living room furniture and just want to see the story, by leveling up your characters a bit, and wailing away on some bad guys, you can invest a couple of dozen hours, get your RPG fix, and then make it back to Uncharted Creed City: Skyedges 4. You will walk away having enjoyed the game, indulging in a lot of unique, fun game mechanics and experienced a ridiculously offbeat story. However, if Disgaea factors into how you plan to spend your holiday vacation then go ahead and drop over a hundred hours into it – you will be rewarded. The most obvious indicator that this has the potential to be a free time eraser is the save game screen, which boasts a level indicator with four places. That’s right you can level up your characters to 9,999. Beyond that you can delve into Legendary weapons, upgrade them, and then one shot the final boss. There is no wrong way to play and enjoy this game.

Gorgeous anime-inspired visuals are a hallmark of the series, and Disgaea 4 is no different. While many felt Disgaea 3 lacked the visual punch a PlayStation 3 game should provide, Disgaea 4 makes up for it with a lush, warm color palette and striking character design. Each game in the series has added new characters to its quirky pantheon. New in Disgaea 4, Valvatorez, your main character and Prinny caretaker, Fenris, his loyal bodyguard, and Fuka, a girl who wears a Prinny hat and windbreaker combo because they ran out of Prinny skins, all fit right in.

The levels themselves have a more organic feel, with the courtyards and castles of more traditional strategy RPG’s being absent in favor of lush forests with giant mushrooms that serve as grid space and multi-tiered bridges, which bring height mechanics to bear. Add in the GeoPanel system, which allows individual grid spaces to have status effects, and a gorgeous mushroom patch becomes a deadly trap, as various spaces will poison characters. Level design in Disgaea 4 is among the best in the series and some of the best I have played in any strategy RPG.

The underlying strategy mechanics of Disgaea alone would likely bring in a solid following, but it is the personality that NIS has time and again injected into these titles that make them the fan favorites they are. As always voice acting is top notch, probing the entire spectrum of characters from yellow-bellied wardens to too-cool-for-school Prinny posturing. Valvatorez, as the star, is particularly note-worthy combining an uncompromisingly serious demeanor with grand, and always ridiculous, pronouncements, with an occasional pop culture references thrown in for good measure.

For strategy RPG fans Disgaea games are an event, and Disgaea 4 continues that illustrious tradition. While lesser series would have crumbled by their fourth iteration under the weight of their byzantine systems, Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten has transcended this obstacle by allowing players to explore every nook and cranny, but not forcing them to. The only knock against the game is that it preaches to the converted instead of bringing new players into the strategy RPG fold. However, if you love chess, tabletop games, or just the idea of stylishly adorable characters eviscerating each other then Disgaea 4 is worth your time. Just be warned if we haven’t heard from you in a few days and your mail starts piling up we might get worried, or just assume you are heading towards the level 9,999 promised land.


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Written by Justin Spielmann

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