Before I write this review, I need a couple of disclaimers. First of all, I have not played a Disgaea game before. All of my thoughts are from someone completely new to the series. Also, I hate sardines. I don’t like the taste nor the smell. They seem like the perfect delicacy for cats and those in Hell.
I say this as Disgaea 4 begins with an former almighty vampire expressing his love for the fish. This creature of the night called Valvetorez has been banished to Hades for being a tyrant and is forced to become an instructor of Prinnies, all without his power. As a Prinny instructor, all he is required to do is educate the damned-souls-turned-penguin-like-creatures on the duties of a servant before sending them off to work off their sin debt.
Valvetorez takes his job a little too seriously, as reflected by his werewolf servant Fennrick. For example, after the Prinnies pass and are about to graduate from Hades, he makes a promise to give each of them a sardine. He intends to keep this promise, even if it means tracking them down after they have been Prinny-napped.
I must say that I love the plot and the characters in Disgaea 4 because it refuses to take itself seriously. The game revels in character flaws. Valvetorez is not the brightest star in the night sky, but he always keeps his promises, no matter how petty they seem to be. Fennrick believes that Valvetorez is beyond fault, saying that these flaws are instead positive qualities. These traits are what lead the two, along with a ragtag group of characters, on a journey to stop the government and get Valvetorez to the President of the Underworld. Yes, Hades is a republic.
One of the problems in Disgaea 4 is the fact that besides the two main characters and others that you meet along the way, the characters in the game don’t get much screen time. Yes, some demons get a little story action, but the group that you control get little to no attention. I understand the purpose, but it seems like more backstory on these would be better. As the game progresses, more characters get some development, but sometimes it was just too little too late. However, this is just a minor quip because the other characters that do get development are amazing, diverse and over-the-top.
The story is told in a variety of ways, from conversations on the battleground to comic-like cutscenes. Either way, the game is beautiful. While it doesn’t push the limits of the Vita, its palette spans the spectrum. I never knew Hades could be so colorful. Even in gameplay, the world and the characters look good from any angle.
Speaking of gameplay, Disgaea 4 is fun if slightly frustrating. As strategy RPG’s go, it has many features, which makes it ridiculously fun. Every character and character type has a weapon specialty and a place in the team. As long as you can build combos by putting characters next to each others, make towers by putting characters one on top of another and make monster allies weapons or one giant monsters, you should find the game fresh and lower-level characters easier to level up. Geo block and panels, which can do anything from change stats to warp characters in random places, adds an extra layer of strategy here. Also, even here, the game is funny with hilarious names and scenarios. While there isn’t multiplayer in this game, it isn’t needed. The game fits perfectly in single player.
However, it is the lack of features that makes the game stumble a little. While the Vita can use touch controls, using them to place units is nearly impossible and other touch controls are oddly placed. Even though the game allows for panning in and out and changing from isometric views to top view, there are still times it looks cluttered. At times, I would see an elevation where there wasn’t one and vice versa. I also once got trapped in a position on the first turn I had, forcing me to restart the battle. Again, these complaints are not huge. The gameplay is still on par with some of the best RPGs I have played until this point.
There is also a Cam-pain made, which shows Valvetorez and his effort to rule Hades. Using mana to bring bills to order and making new characters is cool, but some of the features, like making relics to increase stats or making a cabinet of characters, seems limited. Even near the end, I felt like features were unnecessary. They exist, but I never felt that much impact. While other parts of the Cam-pain mode are great like suggesting and voting on bills, I rarely went into it besides to make a new character. However, if you love this overworld strategy aspect, it is available at any time.
The game’s story is relatively short — I managed to complete it in 25 hours — but that’s not all to the game. For those who want more battles to level up their characters and weapons, which is necessary in this game, the Item Worlder is available. This dungeon mode of Disgaea 4 allows players to enter their items in order to level them. It provides several battlegrounds that can even be skipped completely. Although these are fairly small, it provides a great way to grind while also improving weapons and getting good bonuses. The bright colors also shine here, so it is far from boring. With long dungeons and the ability to go into any single one of your items, the Item Worlder is one of the best aspects of Disgaea 4 and one that will keep people playing for quite a while.
While it can be said that the game is slightly repetitive, it has a certain charm to it. I don’t know how many more times I can listen to my fighter character saying “Time to bust some balls!”, but I also don’t know if I can ever get tired of Valvetorez proclaiming “SARDINES!” like it is some sort of battle cry or the Prinnies saying “dood” after every line. The sound design and the voice acting is to thank for this, because the music is interesting and fun and the voices are funny but fitting. I could always find a song that I could battle to with any environment I was in.
Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited is a strategy RPG that refuses to be serious. The characters are great, the gameplay is smart and the story is both parts touching and hilarious. While some features can feel worthless and others nonexistent, it doesn’t feel boring or unfair. If the rest of the series is like this $39.99 package, I look forward to picking up when I have the time. I still hate sardines, though. Dood.