Hands-On Preview: Disgaea 4 – A Promise Unforgotten

Although Disgaea 4 doesn’t come out until September 6th, Nippon Ichi was kind enough to send us an early copy. While the core gameplay is very much the same as the first three games in the series (which can also be said about every SRPG they’ve ever made), everything else is new – and noticeably so. After completing the first full Episode and the nine missions it contained, I decided to write down my first impressions of the game.

First up, the game is gorgeous. It is easily the best looking Nippon Ichi game of all time, and also the best looking SRPG of this console generation. Now granted, SRPGs have NEVER been known for pushing the graphical envelope of a system but this thing looks amazing. Gone are pixilated sprites and in their place are fully animated characters that seem more in line with a Japanese cartoon rather than a video game. They still move on your grid based battle maps like any other SRPG character, but the sheer quality of the character models is amazing. I actually had to boot up Disgaea 3 in my other PS3 and the difference between the two visuals was night and day. While Disgaea 3‘s graphics might have been merely “okay” had it been a PS2 game, it was decidedly underwhelming on the PS3. Meanwhile Disgaea 4 can hold its own with any other game’s PS3 visuals. Of course, comparing D4 to something like Metal Gear Solid 4 or Killzone 3 isn’t really apropos as all those games have such different visual styles, but all are equally impressive in their own way. Disgaea 4 really looks and feels like an interactive anime come to life and I can’t think of another game for the Playstation 3 that looks this good in this style. I was blown away by the dialogue screen changes as well. For the first time you’ll see actual animation while character talk instead of static portraits. I’m not talking about blinking and swaying like in Idea Factory games either. You’ll actually see the characters move with fluid animation as their emotions and positions change instead of the “blinking out” of one portrait for another. See Fenrich chuckle. See Prinnies cower. See Valvatorez play with his cape. These are all things I can’t believe haven’t been done before now and to see them all in one SRPG really makes it all the more impressive.

Aurally, the game is amazing as the graphics. The soundtrack is incredible, the voice acting is phenomenal (in either language, but I actually prefer the English to the Japanese on this one) and the game is as fun to listen to as it is to watch unfold. Again, the entire package feels like an interactive anime and I’m loving it.

I personally don’t care about trophies but as I know many of you do, you might be interested to know I got a trophy for just watching the opening cut-scene. I didn’t see that coming. Of course, like most Nippon Ichi games, some of the trophy requirements are no doubt going to be insane, so this kind of felt like a pity present to me. After finishing the first Episode, I have only two trophies – that one and another for killing an ally. As well, all the trophies are hidden, so your best bet is looking online for a translation guide of what all the trophies are.

The story Valvatorez the vampire and Fenrich the werewolf. Valvatorez is a vampire who also acts as the Prinny Instructor in Hades. Hades is both a Netherworld jail and prison. As you start the game you learn that Valvatorez was once an Overlord in his own right, but for some reason (which you will learn, just not in Episode One) he voluntarily gave up his power and became a Prinny Instructor, which is considered the lowest of all jobs across the Netherworlds. Valvatorez is surprisingly good at his job and he even seems to really enjoy it. The Prinnies all seem to like Valvatorez as well, which is a change of pace from how say, Etna, Larharl or Mao have treated them. This relationship between the prinnies and their leader is not only a unique one for the Disgaea series, but it actually is the primary story hook for the game. You see, Valvatorez’s latest class of Prinnies are kidnapped right before their graduation ceremony in which each Prinny gets a farewell sardine from their teacher. As Valvatorez promised them all a sardine, he is honorbound to track down the kidnapped Prinnies and free them. Honour and promise keeping is a big thing for this fish obsessed vampire, almost to the point where you think he comes off more of a Lawful Good Dungeons & Dragons paladin than a vampire/one time Overlord of a Netherworld. Compared to Laharl and Mao who were anti-hero protagonists at best, it’s interesting to have a somewhat heroic protagonist for the game. Even Disgaea 2‘s Adell was doing things more for revenge than any sense of “it’s the right thing to do,” which is Valvatorez’s reputation. Of course, the back story is that Valvatorez was once nicknamed “The Tyrant,” so we’ll have to see if he’s just mellowed with age or this title came from manipulation by his vassal Fenrich, who is scheming to get his master back on the throne of SOME Netherworld. When Fenrich learns that the Corrupterment (the government of this particular Netherworld) is planning PRINNY GENOCIDE and thus his master will be out of a job, this is all the impetus he needs to start a plan rolling that he hopes will end with Valvatorez taking back his rightful power and title.

It’s also quite telling that unlike previous Disgaea games where each Netherworld was more or less a dictatorship, the one is D4 is a democracy. Although Episode One doesn’t specifically say that Valvatorez is going to “run for president” of the Netherworld, the fact your character management screen is referred to as “Cam-pain HQ” and you have a Senate instead of a Dark Assembly seems to hint that things will go that way. As well, when you create a new character for your team, they give a “campaign speech” after you finalize all their stats. It’s all very amusing and I laughed through almost the entire first Episode. Speaking of character creation, you might be interested to know that each creatable character has a choice of three personalities and their own voice work to go with it. Time will tell if this is just flavor or if any of these choices have any effect on the character’s stat growth or the like. Politics, and the satire thereof, is really the focus of Disgaea 4, moreso than in any of the other games and it will be interesting to see how people react to that.

In Episode One, you won’t have access to level building or the Item World, but you will be ability to use the Evility Shop where you can learn skills and evilities. Every character starts off with an Evility. Humanoid characters can hold up to two and Monsters can hold up to three. The best starting Evility is Fenrich’s “Tyrant’s Slave” where his stats are boosted by 30% (Yes, ALL of them) when standing next to Valvatorez. You’ll be able to mix and match Evilities on your character, but each character will have access to a different pool of Evilities and Skills based on what their class is or their monster type. Evilities, Skills and creating new characters all cost Mana though, so you’re going to have to do a lot of grinding as the game goes on.

There are nine missions in Episode One. The first four are tutorials that act as classes where Valvatorez is teaching his latest class of Prinnies. The missions include going over basic attacks, special skill/defensive abilities, Tower attacks and Tower throwing and finally, lifting. After that, the Prinnies are kidnapped and you have to go through the four actual missions for the Episode. The first introduces geo panels to the game. The second introduces you to the Warden of Hades -Axel. You might remember him from Disgaea 2. After this battle with Axel, the third is one where you actually help Axel against the Corrupterment who wants to kill him and your characters. The fourth battle introduces fusion and Magi-Change abilities, so you’ll be able to watch your monsters change into weapons or merge two of the same monsters into one giant aberration against nature. The fifth and final mission of Episode one is a boss battle with Enziel – the son of the current Netherworld President. It’s actually a pretty tough battle as Enziel is a powerful mage, so make sure your characters are a decent level before doing this one. At the end of the battle you’ll have an encounter with Fuka, the leader of the Prinny Exterminators. The Prinny Exterminators are made up of human souls that couldn’t be Prinnies due to the lack of Prinny skins. So they just get Prinny shaped hats instead. The Exterminators are in charge of the Prinny genocide ordered by the President and his Corrupterment but to learn more about them…you’ll have to wait for September 6th when you either get your hands on Disgaea 4 yourself or read our official review of the game.

To learn more about Disgaea 4, you should visit the official website for the game. There are three versions of the game you can get. The first is the basic game. The second is the Premium Edition which comes with an artbook, and a Fuka figurine. If you preorder the Premium Edition from either Gamestop you get a DLC Flonne (from Disgaea 1 and Trinity Universe) character voucher. If you order from Nippon Ichi directly, you get the Flonne DLC AND the game’s soundtrack. Considering how good the soundtrack is, ordering from NISA directly is definitely the way to go. Finally, there is the Premium Figure Set Edition, which can only be purchased directly from Nippon Ichi and is a whopping $120. This version gives you not only the Fuka figure, but nine other figurines as well. These figures include Archangel Flonne, Fallen Angel Flonne, Axel, Prinny, Enziel, Vulcanus, Fenrich, Valvatores and Desco.

I’ll admit, I’m in love with Disgaea 4 so far, and Valvatorez is more than likely going to replace Zetta as my favorite Nippon Ichi character of all time (although Zetta is in the game!) . Although I still have a (VERY) long way to go, Disgaea 4 is definitely surpassing any and every expectation I had for it. Is it a PS3 or even GOTY contender though? Only time (and our review) will tell…

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