Disgaea 4 Review
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Sitting down to write this review I started having a minor panic attack, going over in my head the list of points to be covered. Simply put, the amount of content jam-packed into Disgaea 4 is mind-boggling, and the idea of trying to adequately explain the game's various complexities is enough to make my brain cry. But these complexities are what I love about the Disgaea series; each map playing out like some crazy game of future chess, the pieces all adorable anime-brats with squeaky voices, the board a ridiculous mutli-tiered thing lit-up like a goddamn Lite Brite(tm).
Frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Disgaea 4 continues the series' tradition of quirky storylines filled with cute anime-styled characters, and though some claim to be off-put by the goofy plots which Disgaea is known for, the colorful ridiculousness is welcome in this era of tired "M for Mature" schlock. The main character is Valvatorez, a former vampire tyrant now reduced to training the Prinnies: human souls (bound to the form of cute winged penguins) being forced to work off their sins in the netherworld. Discovering that the evil "corrupternment" has ordered the extermination of all Prinnies, Valvatorez makes it his mission to confront the president and set the netherworld straight. The game's humor could've come off as entirely juvenile, but is saved by the incredible voice acting, which had me chuckling even as the game piled on more and more jokes about Vavatorez's obsession with sardines. Meanwhile the supporting characters are all great fun, including a gangster-wannabe grim reaper, a delusional Prinny-hating middle schooler, and an adorable monster girl who wants nothing more than to be a final boss someday.
As fun and quirky as the plot is, if you came here for the storyline, then you're doing something wrong. The real excitement of Disgaea 4 is what the game's trailer defines as "manly fantasy," the thrill of ripping into your foes while giant damage numbers explode across the screen. If you're like me, you were weaned on the excitement of Super Nintendo RPGs, your heart skipping a beat every time Ness or Crono leveled up. Disgaea takes that minor heart murmur and turns it into a full on heart-attack, allowing players to watch with glee as their cute characters evolve into level-9999 harbingers of doom, dazzled by the game's impressive (and often hilarious) special attacks.
Apart from the main storyline dungeons, the game's notorious "Item World" returns, allowing players to travel into the random dungeons contained within their own equipment, offering countless hours of extra gameplay. Though Item World is a great way to level-up items and snag some EXP and loot, players can also capture enemies to later add to the party, subdue special item-boosting "innocent" characters, discover secret bonus rooms, and, perhaps the coolest new feature, fight off pirate ships built and staffed by their fellow Disgaea 4 players. Unfortunately the game still doesn't offer actual PVP combat, but these A.I. guided skirmishes are a step in the right direction.
Also returning to the game is the senate, where players have to petition on behalf of various bills, such as wanting more expensive items or to unlock a particular dungeon. This feature definitely showcases the game's awesome sense of humor, as reluctant senators can be bribed with alcohol, put to sleep with chloroform, or taken out of commission with a bomb. And if the bill still fails to pass following this trickery, there's always the option to start a good old fashioned brawl. Most interestingly though, players can now appoint their characters to become senators on the Disgaea 4 network, and it's exciting to log-in and see all the shiny new bribes your senator collected while you were away. As another network feature, players can also create and share maps for the first time, and there's even a ranking system to encourage budding map-designers to do more than jam a hundred Prinnies onto a 10x10 grid.
Despite all the new and returning features crammed into the game, it's the thrilling battle system that Disgaea is known for, and this fourth installment keeps it going strong. In addition to your standard movement and attack options, human characters can also lift and throw each other around, allowing for some truly interesting strategies, as well as some hilarious "tower" attacks which encourage you to hoist your team up on each other's shoulders. Additionally, it's always advisable to position friendly characters to the right, left, and behind of an attacker, as there's the chance that one or more of these buddies will contribute their strength to a Team Attack. Interestingly, characters can always reset their position until they actually perform an action, meaning you can have your powerful allies run from Team Attack to Team Attack, until finishing the turn by performing an actual action.
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But perhaps the most important aspect of Disgaea's battle system are the geo-panels, colored map squares which sometimes have the battlefield looking like a shiny Rubix Cube. These are affected by items known as geo-blocks, which when placed on a geo-panel grant various effects to any character or enemy standing on a panel of the same color. It can be truly terrifying to start a map only to realize there's an errant geo-block in the corner giving every enemy character +50% to all their stats, though thankfully there's a variety of ways to manipulate this system. Characters can toss geo-blocks around to shift which panels, if any, receive the effects, and the blocks can also be arranged in a way to set up devastating combo explosions which I won't even try to explain (when a colored block explodes it turns all the panels it was on to the same color it was which then if another block is on the same color panel that explodes and...). This system really defines Disgaea's combat, and trying to manipulate each map to your benefit is a fun challenge.
Overall, Disgaea 4 is a blast, and easily cements Nippon Ichi's legacy as the kings of the strategy RPG genre. The gameplay is top-notch, the graphics are vibrant and colorful, and I definitely fell in love with more than a few of the characters (I'll be keeping my eyes open for some Fuka merchandise for sure). Really the only thing keeping Disgaea 4 from a perfect score is the lack of true online PVP combat, but given how much content has been jammed into the game, it admittedly feels a bit greedy to be asking for more. Anyhow if you've got a few thousand hours to kill and want to spend it plowing your way through some truly over-the-top RPG ridiculousness, this is your game.
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