Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten ReviewSkyler Bunderson
Disgaea 4 is the latest entry in the popular strategy RPG series from NIS. In it, former tyrant Valvatorez has been reduced to training the souls of sinful humans in preparation for their years of servitude as Disgaea's iconic, lovable "Prinnies." At least until his faithful servant and companion Fenrich sets events in motion that end up with Valvatorez leading a rebellion against the Netherworld "corrupterment."
Perhaps the most obvious change that fans of the series will notice is the visual upgrade. Disgaea's character sprites no longer look like they belong on the PSX. They're now at least PlayStation 2 quality. It sounds like a joke, but the visual quality of NIS titles has always been more than lacking. This is the first NIS game in years that doesn't look vastly inferior to everything else that has released alongside it.
It's great news, because the art style of NIS games is and has always been top-notch. Every character design in the game is distinct and fits the particular character. Valvatorez is a noble vampire dedicated to keeping every promise he makes. His cape and the rest of his outfit convey that nobility even before he says his first line. Fenrich, meanwhile, is much more ruthless and therefore doesn't present himself in the same dignified manner that Valvatorez does, instead opting to show off his chest and wear his hair long.
This perfect match-up of style and personality compliments the largely character driven humor. Character interactions are memorable and hilarious, all while moving the plot consistently forward. Valvatorez' nobility and single-minded obsession with keeping every promise he makes is part of what keeps him going on his quest to take over the Netherworld. Other characters join the group for their own motivations, be it, "To become the final boss," or, "To become a powerful demon and make my father proud." Fenrich even seems to have a one-sided crush on Valvatorez driving many of the actions he takes. It's all a bit silly, and Disgaea 4 knows this and embraces it. This doesn't bar the game from delving into more serious emotional moments, but Disgaea as a series has always excelled at comedy. The game is sufficiently self-aware that it doesn't dwell on the serious too long.
Every voice actor or actress fits their character perfectly. Troy Baker is an excellent Valvatorez, giving every line the oomph it needs to really work. Even so, should the incredibly picky find the excellent English VA not palatable to their ears, NIS games are among the few that allow switching to the Japanese voice work. The music, too, is well done and matches the game's mood, however it's not likely to really catch the player's attention to the same degree that the other elements do. It's good, but not on the same level as the rest of the game.
The gameplay is arguably the most divisive part of the experience. Character building is where its strengths lie, both through straightforward leveling as well as the various little mechanics that add some finesse to the character growth. Players can pay to upgrade skills into better versions even while leveling those same skills through use. Items and equipment can be increased in strength by entering the randomized item world within each and fighting through several floors of the world. Characters can even be reincarnated, resetting their level to one, but with higher stats and the opportunity to change classes. Better versions of classes are unlocked over the course of the game, as well. Characters can even be given positions in Valvatorez' newly formed political party, with various benefits upon leveling depending on the position they've been given.
Where the gameplay may lose some is that it requires grinding by its very design. When the gameplay emphasis is on growing the characters, grinding for levels is bound to be an inherent part of that. Disgaea 4 certainly requires the least grind of any game in the series thus far, but players will still find themselves repeating levels to build their party's strength semi-regularly. This is even more the case should they reincarnate any of their party.
It's also worth pointing out that for a strategy RPG, Disgaea 4 is fairly strategy-lite. The games do require a certain level of strategy, but nowhere near as much as other big name titles in the genre. Instead, each level is fairly straightforward and a matter of keeping in mind the ways in which it is geared in the enemy's favor. It's a sort of puzzle where players are tasked with removing the advantages the enemy has. This aspect of the games is by no means bad. In fact, it makes the series highly accessible to those who aren't normally fans of the strategy RPG genre. However, those looking for a more challenging strategy experience may not find what they're looking for in Disgaea 4.
Disgaea 4 will eat up a lot of time should dedicated players let it. The game will vary drastically in length depending on how much players let themselves go along with the game's little sidequests and diversions, and like any NIS game beating it is simply the first step, because there's so much to do afterwards. Everything from the writing to the gameplay is incredibly fun, if not as deep as some might want. It's an incredibly enjoyable ride, one that longtime fans and those new to the game will love from beginning to end.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
"Skyler has been reviewing games for over three years, and hasn't seen the sun once in all that time. He's an avid gamer with a special fondness for flawed masterpieces."
About the Author: Skyler Bunderson
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