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Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten Review


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On 09/23/2011 at 12:03 PM by Nick DiMola

Its charm is undeniable, but is this complicated tactical RPG worth your time?
RECOMMENDATION:

For fans of tactics games and RPGs.

Just so I'm not pulling any punches, Disgaea 4 is the first game in the series I've actually played. While it has taken four iterations for me to take notice, it's clear to me why Disgaea has become a fan favorite and is often mentioned amongst the best games on the PlayStation 2 and 3. This unique flavor of tactical RPG gameplay comes complete with an engrossing world, characters, and a story that's rife with social commentary.

At face value, Disgaea 4 is a game of overwhelming depth -- within the first minutes you're tossed into a hub world that introduces a huge variety of characters, abilities, and game modes to tackle, all of which tie together in a single endeavor. It's daunting to say the least, but as it turns out, most of it is off limits until the main story introduces it. Furthermore, the game offers a full set of tutorials that help diminish the learning curve associated with (initial) success in the game.

What distinguishes Disgaea from the wide variety of other tactics games out there is the layered battling system. Rather than just providing the standard set of moves, Disgaea adds the ability to lift, throw, and stack anything that appears on the board. This single design change drastically alters how you must approach each battle.

Using this ability, you can accomplish many different feats. Whether it’s getting a friendly character to safety or positioning him to be in attack range of a foe perched atop a tower of blocks, lifting and throwing gives you the ability to conquer the more complex, multi-dimensional board designs. Surprisingly enough, you can also lift and throw enemies in order to properly position yourself on the game board. Unlike most tactics games, there’s a certain degree of freedom within the Disgaea design that makes you feel as if there are many different solutions to any one given level.

Further depth is provided through the use of geo blocks and spaces. Geo blocks are physical items on the game board that can be moved around at will. Breaking one will set off a chain reaction of the geo spaces of the same color. Anything on a geo space on the game board will take damage when the block is broken and the space will change colors. Let’s say another geo block was on the geo spaces that have been activated and the color they have shifted to corresponds with said geo block; this will provoke a chain reaction that will multiply the damage dealt. This is a strong tool that plays a big part in gracefully defeating your enemies while incurring little damage.

Beyond these base mechanics, the battle engine runs deeper yet. Unfortunately, no tutorials exist to impart this knowledge upon you, requiring you to simply play through the game and hope to stumble upon some hidden set of abilities that are automatically invoked in a given situation. I managed to set off a few team attacks when two of my characters were in proximity to one another and I chose a particular attack. I’m still not quite sure how to recreate the attack, but it was effective when I happened to set it off.

It’s understandable, to a degree, that things like this would go undocumented in a game of such depth. However, you’d think that the developers would want to work in some sort of explanation somewhere, but the game is completely devoid of any sort of advanced tutorial.

I found myself most surprised by how drawn to the story I was. It’s absolutely absurd, but oddly intriguing. In a nutshell, you’re a fallen vampire prince, Valvatorez, who has sworn off blood and is now a mere instructor of prinnies. After his prinnies are taken before he can deliver the sardines he has promised to them, he sets out on a quest to fulfill his promise. Along the way he will encounter the Corrupternment (the government of Hades) and help overturn it so that he can stay true to his word. Despite the ridiculous premise and the mostly lame dialogue, the game still packs serious charm.

Adding to that charm is the brand new visual palette. With all of the old 2D sprites now brought into full HD, the game really pops off the screen. While I haven’t played a previous Disgaea title, I’ve seen them in action and the improvements made here are drastic. There's no more pixelation and the hand drawn sprites finally fit with their surroundings. If anything, the environments now look basic in comparison, though this does provide a nice offset, making the sprites shine that much brighter.

In regards to gameplay, without any sort of comparison point, I can’t say whether Disgaea 4 is a major improvement over past titles in the series, but as a newcomer, it managed to engage me in spite of its clearly massive learning curve. Once I got a handle on using the lifting and throwing abilities, I was making quick work of each level the game tossed my direction.

Where the game lost me is in the details. Though I enjoyed the actual tactical gameplay, I didn’t care for much else of the game. Managing all of the stats, moves, and associated sidequest gameplay, like the senate mini-game, was overwhelming and devoid of fun. I found myself constantly wanting to just move back to the battles wherein I could build and execute strategies to best my foes.

Disgaea 4 is an absolutely unique creation, and while its groundwork has been set by titles like Final Fantasy Tactics, it’s far more ambitious in its intent. There’s little question that Disgaea 4 will continue to receive my attention and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone with an affinity for the tactics genre, especially those looking for something fresh.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

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