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Review #432

Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten - Premium Figure Set Edition
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Genre: SRPG
Release Date: 09/06/2011

Nippon Ichi sent me a review copy of Disgaea 4 roughly a month ago and I’ve been playing it ever since. In my hands-on preview of the game, I admitted it was one of the best games I played this year. However on August 31st, my pre-order of the game arrived. Yes, even though they sent me a review copy I purchased the game. What can I say? I wanted the premium edition. It was the cost of a regular PS3 game, but with a softcover artbook, game soundtrack and a little Fuka figure. However since my girlfriend is big Disgaea fan as well, and likes to collect toys (mainly She-Ra), I actually sprang for the $120 Premium Figure Set Edition, which included nine extra figures from Disgaea 4. I was pleasantly surprised to see it arrive roughly a week early – not just so I could look at all the materials, but so I could give you, the readers a full review on the swag as well. I am still waiting for my Flonne download code however. Grrr.

So after putting a month of time into the game, did Disgaea 4 manage to unseat Mortal Kombat 9 as my favorite game of 2011 (Weird combo, I know), or did things fall apart the longer I played it?

Let’s Review

1. Story

In previous Disgaea games, one of the two main characters has been an offspring of a Netherworld (Hell)’s rule. D1 had Laharl. D2 had Rozalyn and D3 had Mao. D4 instead focuses on Valvatorez, a fallen vampire who has gone from being a legendary tyrant to…a Prinny Instructor. Not the most glamorous job in the world. As well, Valvatorez is far from a tyrant, being closer to “Lawful Good” on the Gygaxian scale of morality. He’s honest, law-abiding, honorable and kind. This is rather the point of the game though as Disgaea 4 goes out of its way to say that mankind with its war, famine, terrorism, environmental destruction, and choosing corporate greed over human welfare is a far more inherently evil species than demonkind. Although it’s all done with wit and biting satire, I can’t say I disagree.

The crux of the story is that Valvatorez’s latest class of prinnies are kidnapped and about to be executed because there is a massive overpopulation of prinnies in the Netherworld these days. Prinnies are damned souls after all, and very few souls are ascending to Celestia these days. Due to the massive influx of souls, there aren’t enough Prinny skins to go around – so the Netherworld President and his Corrupterment plan Prinny Genocide. Valvatorez saves his Prinny class and, disgusted by the Corrupterment’s actions, is pushed into revolting against them through the actions of his loyal seneschal, Fenrich. What follows is an uprising against the Netherworld President featuring my favorite cast of characters in a Nippon Ichi developer game yet.

I really enjoyed the story of Disgaea 4. It was quite different from the previous two games and there wasn’t a single character I disliked. Valvatorez is easily my favorite Disgaea protagonist so far and it was a nice breath of fresh air to see someone actually being nice to Prinnies for once. It was fun to see Axel and Flonne return as supporting cast, but the new characters really take center stage here. You have Fuka, the girl who should have been a Prinny, but they ran out of skins so they just gave her a hat. You have Vulcanus, the angel of avarice, Desco the would-be final boss and many others. Even the son of the Netherworld President shows up (completing the stereotype for the series), but at the end of the day, it’s all about Valvatorez the sardine obsessed vampire. I laughed through nearly the entire game and really appreciated how the game could be so funny and poignant at the same time. It’s like a Japanese Jonathan Swift except with Valvatorez being a vampire, his modest proposal probably would involve eating one’s young.

Disgaea 4 has the best overall cast of character and the best story I’ve seen in the Nippon Ichi series of SRPGs I’ve been covering since 2003. Considering the first Disgaea was our first Hall of Fame inductee at Diehard GameFAN, that’s a bold claim for me to be making, but it is in fact so. The bottom line is that the story alone is one that need to be experienced. It’s that good.

Story Rating: 8/10

2. Graphics

Three years ago I reviews Disgaea 3, and although I liked the game, I was fairly mean to the graphics. However, it was deserved. It was PS2 graphics and five year old sprites on the PS3. I even got an email from Nippon Ichi promising that the graphics in Disgaea 4 would be better. Well, they lived up to their promise. Although the visuals in Disgaea 4 are nothing like say, Heavy Rain or L.A. Noire, they are still incredible in their own way. Gone are pixilated sprites and in their place are fully animated characters that appear to have been ripped straight from a high definition hand drawn anime series. It’s beautiful and the best any Nippon Ichi game has ever looked. Even character portraits during story scenes are fully animated. There are no more static portraits as in previous NISA titles. Nor are they just wobbly blinking portraits that have become in vogue thanks to a lot of Idea Factory JRPGs. No, you’ll see facial expressions change with fluid animation or Valvatorez make grand flourishes of his cape instead of a static portrait being replaced by another one. It’s wonderful to see this. It’s modernizing JRPG tropes and for JRPGs who want to stick to a more anime style appearance rather than CGI, this is the new standard bearer.

I didn’t encounter any visual bugs, tearing, slowdown or jaggies and I was constantly impressed by the visual quality throughout. It still looks and feels like Disgaea, but with a massive facelift. This is the best Takehito Harada’s characters have ever looked so Nippon ichi fans will be released pleased with the graphics here.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

Tenpei Sato has done a great job with the music composition of Disgaea 4 There are some classic tracks from previous games along with some really high quality new stuff I found myself humming long after I turned the game off. I’m really glad the Premium Edition of the game came with a soundtrack as I’ll be getting a lot of use out of it. From the opening anime cut scene to the last track of the game, the music ranges from J-Pop to Jazz and all of it is awesome.

The voice acting is also top notch. Troy Baker, who you might know as the voice of Vincent Brooks in Catherine is Valvatorez and it’s almost impossible to tell it’s the same guy –the voices are that different. He’s one of my favorite voice actors right now and his Valvatorez is simply amazing. Patrick Seitz, who is Scorpion in Mortal Kombat these days, does an equally incredible job playing the stoic and subdued werewolf Fenrich. Kate Higgns AKA Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog is Fuka and she does a great job with this equally adorable and annoying character. In fact the entire English voice acting cast does a wonderful job and I have no complaints. They really brought the characters of Disgaea 4 alive in a way I found the Japanese cast couldn’t. Of course, for those of you who want the Japanese voice acting anyway, it’s there for you. You just have to go into the options and pick. As always, it’s great to see Nippon Ichi make that option available.

Whether you are talking the soundtrack or voice acting, Disgaea 4 is one of the best games from an aural perspective this year.

Sound Rating: 10/10

4. Control and Gameplay

One of the great things about Disgaea 4 is that like all Nippon Ichi games, it is exceptionally deep. You could easily put SEVERAL HUNDRED HOURS into the game and still not have done everything there is to do. Even today, this is mind blowing. Disgaea 4 is even deeper and more complex than Makai Kingdom. For those of you that fear being overwhelmed by all the options – don’t worry. If you just want to play the main story mode – you can! Of you want to spend hours in the Item World – you can! For everyone else there is so much more.

You have the usual Disgaea trappings in this game. Max level is 9999, you can reincarnate characters, unlock characters from previous games (Zetta!) death with an infernal version of Congress, and there are multiple endings. There are a LOT of new things though that you can either dabble in lightly, or that you can spend an inordinate amount of time on.

First up is the Cam-pain headquarters. This is Valvatorez’s base of operations and here is where you’ll interact with the sentence and create new characters. For every story battle you complete, you’ll have a space for a new character. Adjoining characters get a bonus to their chance of a team attack so how you place characters is as important as what you make. As you progress through the game you’ll be able to unlock buildings for your headquarters. Unlike buildings in Makai Kingdom that can be placed on the battlefield, these take up spaces just in HQ and characters placed near them gain special abilities like sharing XP or mana. One big change from previous games is that you have to place a certain building down before you can capture enemy combatants. The game won’t let you until you do so. Finally, you will end up forming your own Ministry (as in government, not religion) as you advance in your attack on the Corrupterment. Each minister has a different role and some will be uploaded and appear randomly in other people’s games. This is kind of neat.

Besides all the things to do in the Cam-Pain headquarters, you have the ability to collect pirate ship parts, make a ship and finally invade the item world or even other games! Of course your invading team will be controlled by the game’s A.I. when this happens, but you’ll be able to fine tune the A.I. so the characters actually play similar to how you would have them act. Again, this is extremely neat.

Finally, you have the ability to create your own maps. Now big time Disgaea fans will know that the map making aspect of Disgaea 4 was…somewhat neutered for the North American release. You don’t have the same options that the Japanese version did. I still don’t understand why they had to make that change for the US release, but it was one that Nippon Ichi didn’t want to make themselves, so it is what it is. I’m disappointed we don’t get the same depth as the Japanese version, but what’s here is still pretty impressive and it just adds another layer to the Replayability and customization that the Disgaea franchise is known for.

Aside from all this, the game plays much like any other SRPG. You have a grid based map and you move your characters along it. It’s turn based, so each side moves separately instead of based on character speed or agility. There are roughly three dozen character classes and monsters to choose from, with ten characters that can be out on the field at any one time. It’s exceptionally well done and the only two complaints I have about the entire engine are the nerfing of the Map Editor and that I would have liked to have had a little more camera control as this game only allows you to turn the camera rather than shift the angle. All in all though, it’s a great game and easily the best SRPG on the PS3.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

I think it’s safe to say that Disgaea 4 offers more Replayability than any other game released this console generation. You have the story mode, unlimited item worlds, hidden maps and characters to unlock, the Map Editor, the ability to pirate other games, and I’m sure there will be a lot of DLC options on top of all of this. Again, you can spend HUNDREDS of hours with this game and still not have done everything there is to do in Disgaea 4. While I strongly doubt very many gamers will put that much time into this, it’s nice to see just how much content you are getting for your hard earned cash. I remember eight years ago when I was floored by how much replay value was in the first Disgaea and each game in the series that followed it nearly doubled the content. Insane. If you’re an RPG fan on a very strict budget, I can’t think of a better game for you to pick up.

Replayability Rating: 10/10

6. Balance

One of the great things about Disgaea 4 is that you have almost complete control of the challenge. Is the game too easy? Petition the Senate for harder enemies. Is the game too hard? Petition the Senate for easier enemies or more powerful equipment. The game will let you grind to your heart’s content. So if you want to get characters up to level 9999 before you finish story mode and cakewalk through that, it’s fine. You can do just about anything.

As well, many of the battle maps are more than straight forwards SRPG combat. They also tend to be puzzles as well. With thing like varying heights, huge gaps, geo panels and more, there is often an intellectual challenge to be had in addition to mastering the art of sticking sharp things through soft things. You’ll find that you can power your way through things or solve the puzzles and do a lot of damage to your opponents even if they are much stronger than you.

Very few SRPGs offer this amount of customization for your difficulty. Generally it’s all about grinding. It’s nice to see that even thought he Disgaea series offers more grind potential than any other SRPG series, that it also gives you ways to get around having to grind at all.

Balance Rating: 8/10

7. Originality

The core of Disgaea 4 is the same as most Nippon Ichi SRPGs since La Pucelle. It follows the same basic SRPG guidelines and then follows the episodic format and crazy leveling we’ve seen since Disgaea 1. Disgaea 4’s originality and innovation comes with all the side/optional material. The things you can do in Cam-Pain headquarters, the level editor, the unlockable characters and post game content are very impressive and not only separate Disgaea 4 from previous NISA video games but all the other RPGs of this console generation. I can’t think of any other SRPGs that have a level editor. The only other RPG I can think of that lets you invade someone else’s game is Demon’s Souls and those two games are so different from each other, it’s almost impossible to compare.

So in some ways, Disgaea follows the same conventions as every NISA developed game for the past decade, and in others it’s extremely innovative. Let’s call it a thumb’s in the middle here as the two balance each other out.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

It was really hard to put Disgaea 4 down. I wasted hours just futzing around in item worlds. The only reason I stopped playing was because Cladun X2 arrived for review in addition to the Cthulhu tabletop games I had to do. Ah, the life of a reviewer. Never the chance to savor.

I loved my time with Disgaea 4 and it’s the most fun I’ve had with a game this year. There was always something new to do and hours would fly by. As soon as I get a chance, I’ll know I’ll be right back to it. Disgaea 4 is going to be in my PS3 for the rest of 2011 and for much of 2012 as well. It’s that good and that hard to put down. The story, the characters, the sheer amount of content, the customization and the unlockables not only make Disgaea 4 one of the deepest RPGS ever, but one of the most addictive. Even now I want to go back to it, but I have this bloody review to write (and CaldunX2 to finish…)

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10

9. Appeal Factor

As a general rule, SRPGs tend to be a pretty niche genre. Disgaea seems to be the exception to that rule however. The original broke Atlus sales records back in the day and helped convince Nippon Ichi to open a stateside branch. While not every Nippon Ichi game has been a strong seller, the Disgaea series always manages to be. As Disgaea 4 is easily the deepest of the series along with offering (in my opinion) the best story and cast of characters in a Nippon Ichi game to date, there should be something to please everyone here. If you haven’t enjoyed SRPGs in the past, the story should be more than enough to win you over. It’s definitely the best PS3 exclusive I’ve played this year and the best RPG to boot. With a price tag of only $49.99 for the regular version and $59.99 for the premium version with the soundtrack, artbook and Fuka figure, people outside the usual fan base will be picking this up just because of the “deal” factor and discovering that they love it. With luck, it’ll make them want to pick up the previous three Disagea games as well.

Disgaea 4 should do extremely well and it’s hard to imagine how anyone who picks this up could possibly be unhappy with it. It not only does everything right, but it has become the standard-bearer for what every SRPG should be from now on.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

The fact Nippon Ichi is selling the regular version of Disgaea 4 for ten dollars less than the regular MSRP for a Playstation 3 game is impressive. The fact Nippon Ichi is selling the premium edition for the same price as a regular PS3 is worthy of praise. In a day an age where premium editions are going for insane prices with little actual quality extras, this is something gamers should be taking note of. An art book, soundtrack and figurine for normal PS3 pricing when other premium edition games are coming out for $20-30 MORE and are about half the quality of what you are getting here. Honestly, buying this game is not only a thank you to Nippon Ichi for being the only publisher right now that actually puts the consumer first and their profit margins second, but helps send a signal to other publishers that they should be doing the same thing.

Now let’s talk the “Premium Figure Set Edition.” For $120 you are getting nine more figures. I’ll be honest. Unless you a crazy Disgaea fanboy/girl, there’s no reason to go for this version. Stick to the Premium Edition. If you ARE that much of a Disgaea fan and you have some money to spare, than you will probably love this. It is expensive, but the nine extras figures are of extremely high quality and look great. They arrive in a separate large box with artwork of all the characters in the game on the top. The sides of the box have photos of all nine figures enclosed inside. Once you open the box, you’ll find nine separate little sealed boxes. Inside each one is a high quality figure with a stand inside. As a big Disgaea fan, I loved these, but if my girlfriend wasn’t a bigger fan AND likes to collect toys, I’d have probably just gone with the regular Premium Edition. Either way though, all three versions of Disgaea 4 are amazing and the price tag on the regular and premium versions deserve praise in this day and age of massively overpriced “collector’s editions” of games that actually offer little long term (or even short term value. Awesome job Nippon Ichi.

Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10

The Scores
Story: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 10/10
Control and Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 10/10
Balance: 8/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Appeal Factor: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 10/10
Total Score: 81
FINAL SCORE: 8.0 (GREAT GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Disgaea 4 is easily the best RPG released in 2011 so far and a definite “game of the year” contender. The story is both hilarious and a biting satire on the current political climate across the globe. The soundtrack and voice acting are top-notch, the characters are memorable and the game is visually stunning –especially for a SRPG. In a nutshell, Disgaea 3 pretty much answers every complaint JRPG detractors have been espousing for years and then some. From visuals that look they were ripped straight out of a hand drawn high definition anime to the hundreds of hours of gameplay you can get out of this single blu-ray disc, Disgaea 4is a truly great game in all respects. It’s funny and poignant as the same time. Most of all, it’s a game every PS3 owner should pick up to see not only how a company should handle premium/collector’s editions from here on, but because it’s a game you can’t help but fall in love with.

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