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Review

Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited Review (PS Vita)

Unbroken.

Disgaea has been around for some time now, over a decade in fact. Yet, during its ten years on the strategy role-playing scene, few games have come close to replicating its success. Employing a combination of tight mechanics, transforming battlegrounds, and a growing roster of larger-than-life characters, Disgaea has continued to maintain dominance over the genre with little standing in its way, especially outside of Japan.

The series’ latest mainline instalment, Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten, proved just as popular among fans back in 2011. It comes as no surprise then that Nippon Ichi Software has decided to port the game to PlayStation Vita, just as it did a couple of years ago with Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention.

If you’ve yet to immerse yourself in the Disgaea universe, there’s one thing you should know first: it’s completely barmy. Within the first few minutes of A Promise Revisited, players are introduced to the game’s outlandish hero, Valavatorez, a vampire ex-tyrant who has a queer obsession with sardines. Accompanied by his werewolf man-servant, Fenrich, he vows to keep a promise sworn four hundreds years in the past. It’s a nonsensical backdrop made only stranger when Valvatorez forsakes his powers to become a Prinny Instructor, tasked with training a platoon of pea-brained penguin-like demons.

For those who are only vaguely familiar with Disgaea, the above will no doubt sound like an anime-infused Twilight fanfic conceived in the midst of a fever dream. However, for returning veterans of the franchise, this is pretty much standard fare. Naturally then, Disgaea 4’s quirky tale of demons, underworld politics, and age-old promises isn’t for everyone. Fortunately for those who aren’t too keen on all on the melodrama you can skip the majority of the fluff and get straight down to gameplay.

Unlike conventional Japanese role-playing games, Disgaea shrugs off vast open worlds and random encounters for something much more streamlined and controlled. Players will start out in a hub where they can access a variety of vendors and other NPCs offering upgrades and additional content. From here you can access a pool of replayable missions and by picking one, you will be immediately beamed to a pre-set battlefield.

These are grid-based and come in all shapes and sizes, the designs becoming much more varied as you advance through the game. Verticality is common as is the presence of both Geoblocks and Geo-panels, both of which lend an important mechanic to game flow. Whenever entering a battle, much of the grid will be covered in coloured panels, each conferring unique bonuses to whichever units stand within its area of effect. These can range from small stat boosts to rule changes such as the disabling of lifting or ranged attacks.

disgaea4vita

When you combine the Geo system with other features such as combo attacks, Towers (where two or more players stack up), Fusions, and Magichanges, Disgaea 4 can start to feel a little overwhelming. Even when outside of battles there is much to do with equipment and abilities needing constant upgrades. An hour or so in, the game even drops a new Cam-Pain feature into the mix, presenting players with a political map and the ability to call senate hearings. It’s a lot to take on board, especially if you’re trying to keep track of Disgaea 4’s story, though the bombardment eventually subsides, allowing players to experiment with everything they’ve learned.

After a handful of battles, the game’s combat mechanics will become familiar as you deploy units and strategically move them around the battlefield. Though there isn’t much information given in regards to the numerous character stats, there’s enough for players to recognise which units are suited for which combat scenario. This connection with your team will continue to develop over time and, with the ability to create new characters, you’ll eventually be able to lead your own custom force into battle.

In terms of visual style, little has changed since Disgaea’s debut way back in 2003, with its hand drawn characters and 2.5D battlegrounds still enduring. The game carries a quirky, distinct art direction which permeates throughout, bolstered by its strong pool of voice talent with Troy Baker (The Last of Us) starring as Valvatorez.

What’s Good:

  • Solid mechanics with plenty of depth.
  • Looks great, no performance issues.
  • Hours upon hours of content.
  • Non-linear structure.

What’s Bad:

  • Takes a while to get going.
  • Story and characters a bit OTT for some.
  • Very little refinement to the series’ core mechanics.

Games like Disgaea 4 are what the Vita was built for. Although the console has recently been rebranded as the home of indie gaming on-the-go, there are dozens of stellar Japanese imports to be had, A Promise Revisited being one of them.

With that said, this isn’t a game for everyone, especially those who favour linearity and plots that take themselves a little more seriously. Although it may not be an ideal entry point to the series, returning fans and those who missed out on Disgaea 4 will find themselves right at home.

Score: 7/10

6 Comments
  1. MrYd
    Member
    Since: Mar 2011

    No mention of what happens after you’ve completed the fairly short main game? Which could possibly come a lot sooner than expected. Losing some battles can trigger the end of the game. A bad ending, obviously. Followed by starting the game again (in a new game+ kind of way).

    And when you finally make it to the end of the game (which isn’t hard), then you find the real game. Potentially hundreds of hours worth. Even learning how all the game mechanics work can take a long time. How you level up items and characters. You’ll spend days diving into the item worlds. And probably just as much time finding out which of the main missions is best for levelling characters, and how to adjust the difficulty (which is, obviously, so much more complicated to do than is really necessary) so you can level characters tens, or hundreds or possibly even thousands of levels in a single battle.

    Once you’ve worked all that out, you might just be ready to try some of the harder post-game fights. But probably not.

    All the Disgaea games seem to be wonderfully overwhelming. Almost as if they’ve just slapped a load of game mechanics in place and hope people can work out what’s going on. Which is enormous fun, if you want to spend the time.

    Also, Prinnies. I love those little exploding blue penguin doods. (Prinnies were mentioned in the review, but the most important rule seems to have been overlooked. Reviews, or anything written about Disgaea, must always contain the word “Dood”. It’s a law).

    Comment posted on 22/08/2014 at 10:49.
    • Kennykazey
      Member
      Since: Mar 2010

      I don’t like the bad endings, as I got one and was asked to save, which I did. This basically overwrote my last save and forced me to start over instead of retrying the last battle. Without warning.

      Disgaea 3 Vita, BTW. I’ve not yet to forgiven the game for that. So just wanted to warn newcomers about that quirk if it’s still in place here.

      Comment posted on 22/08/2014 at 11:43.
      • MrYd
        Member
        Since: Mar 2011

        Yes, Disgaea 3 and 4 do that. In certain battles, losing leads to a bad ending and forces you to start again.

        But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Probably for the best, actually. You’ll fly through those first battles the second time around, since everything carries over to the new game. The main story is only really there because it’d be weird to have a game without it. The real fun is in levelling up characters to stupid levels and doing all the stuff after the main story. 90% of the time you’ll spend with the game takes place after the short main game. Quite possibly more than 90%.

        That’s if you want to do all that work to beat all that endgame content. And get those trophies that might take a long time. (Although the Vita version seems to have different trophies. The 10 billion damage trophy has changed from “Biggus Stickus” to “The Power of Sardines!”. Which is disappointing)

        Comment posted on 22/08/2014 at 12:25.
      • Jim Hargreaves
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        Oh yes, there’s an absolute glut of content to be had. Found myself sucked into the Item World to upgrade my gear and frequently went back to replay stages to farm mana and XP.

        Comment posted on 22/08/2014 at 13:12.
  2. Lieutenant Fatman
    Member
    Since: Jul 2013

    Played this on PS3 and loved it. Much better than previous game for me as the characters in this one are a lot more entertaining, made me laugh quite a bit.
    The voice acting is great and Troy Baker does a great job as Valvatorez.

    Comment posted on 22/08/2014 at 12:05.
  3. Steelhead
    Member
    Since: Oct 2013

    I’ve been interested in Disgaea since the first one released but I never got around to buying it due to lack of money when I was young. Since then I kind of forgot about the series but I think I’ll pick this up at some point.

    Comment posted on 22/08/2014 at 19:54.

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