Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten

PlayStation 3

Reviewed: 12/1/2011

When Disgaea 4 was announced, the second question everybody asked themselves was “Isthis game going to be different from the last three?” The first question had naturally been, “Are there better graphics now?”, the answer to which is”Yes.” Disgaea 4 isn’t actually all that different from the previous games in the series, but it still shows that the Disgaea series can grow up and continue to refine itself, while preserving the things that made the others lovable.

It feels like the Disgaea series has come a long way since the first iteration. There was a real danger of the story being a rehash of the same genre-savvy jokes and jabs at the evil nature of demons, which we’ve seen before. Instead, Disgaea 4‘s story is a matured and refined version of all the things that brought people to the Disgaea series in the first place.

The story about Valvatorez’s promise to a human girl, widespread corruption, the role of angels and demons to keep humans in check, and how the world has been thrown out of balance is played surprisingly straight. It’s dramatic, a little bit tragic, occasionally sweet, and rarely veers off into the realm of wacky hijinks just because, being Disgaea, it feasibly could. Instead of situational humor and gags, what lends the script some levity is the fantastic rapport between the characters, who might be the best Disgaea cast yet.

Nothing reflects the increasing maturity of the series more than a lead who isn’t a bratty kid. Sardine-loving Valvatorez, a vampire who lost his powers after giving up drinking human blood, is a refreshing and flawlessly executed character. As a ex-Tyrant, he can be threatening and forceful, but most of the time his unflappable nature and hilariously matter-of-fact statements balance whatever chaos is brewing around him. He’s optimistic and confident about everything, not because of some awkwardly-executed Power of Friendship cliche, but because he simply believes in the potential that every being has to
improve themselves–even if it takes some painful failure first. The game industry needs more characters like this, who talk about personal growth and yet don’t fall prey to the awful cliches about not giving up.
The rest of the cast is very complementary, from the loyal and blatantly scheming Fenrich, to the half-Prinny Fuka, who’s filled with sass and ambition despite being in denial of her death. The script is exceptional because has such well-rounded characters backing it up.


There isn’t much new to the gameplay systems in Disgaea 4, since most of it is a transplantation of the successful formulas of all the previous games, with heavy borrowing of Disgaea 3‘s mechanics in particular. Basically, if you played any of the others and enjoyed it, you’re getting a tweaked version of the same addictive tactical-RPG fun. The battle system is still divided into enemy and player phases, with all the great skills, lifting and throwing, Geo Panels, chains and team attacks, and moving mechanics that are simultaneously fun, challenging and exploitable. New to the game is Monster Fusion, the ability to combine two friendly monsters into one giant monster with enhanced stats and superpowered skills. Fusion can be combined with the dual-wield-friendly Magichange command, which turns a friendly monster into a weapon for a humanoid character to wield, which significantly ups the appeal of monster-type units. This helps the game bring variety to the types of parties a player might build, which will be appealing to people who have played another game in the series.

A lot of the systems have been tweaked, trimmed and streamlined for the better. Most of the redundant classes with both male and female versions have been trimmed, leaving only a single superior male or female version: for example, the Priestess is still around, but the Priest is gone. This means fewer new characters that need to be made to unlock advanced classes, which is a time-saver. The election-themed Cam-Pain HQ lets the player place characters within areas to boost their teamattack chances or give them additional benefits with Evil Symbols. A new Discipline Room lets the player torture captured enemy units to gain treasure or recruit them. The Item World and Character World also put on reappearances, with a few extra features thrown in, like building your own custom pirate ship and maps. The downside of the map-building system is that only by going online is it possible to gain CP to buy new map pieces, leaving unnetworked people without a lot of room for


Some of the descriptions of new systems are a bit vague and frustrating, especially in a series that usually has excellent localization. A Cabinet position description might say, for example, “Increase ATK when unit within the area levels up.” How much attack? Enemy units, ally units or both? What is the area? Cabinet positions cost mana, but it’s not clear whether it’s worth spending mana on them because the
descriptions just don’t cut it. The game is filled with numbers,
percentages and statistics for almost everything else, so why the lack
of details in the new material? “Opposing party ain’t looking happy!”
Which opposing party? All of them? One specific rival party? And so
forth. These “Huh?” moments are brief, but happen frequently enough to be annoying.

Even though it doesn’t have a lot of really catchy themes, Disgaea 4‘s soundtrack is a lot of fun. The music is great work as usual by Tenpei Sato, with new tunes and some clever arrangements of old ones. A downside is that music selections are disappointingly repetitive. All of the non-boss maps in a single chapter tend to have the exact same music, meaning they wear out their welcome quickly, and some of the best tunes are underutilized. The theme that scores the Item World also shows up in a lot of story battles, so it’s easy to get sick of.  It’d be nice to have the option to change music in the Item World, home base and shop, where the player will spend the bulk of his time.

The showcase element of Disgaea 4
is the graphics, brought into the modern era with hi-res animated
sprites that accurately reflect the character portraits. They’re a
significant upgrade from Disgaea 3‘s
grainy sprites, and look fantastic. The well-defined edges and crisp
lines give the characters a very illustrated feel, and are often in
constant movement. The maps showcase the character sprites without
making them look out of place, for what might be the first time in the
series. The map textures are in harmony with the sprites, with similar
color palettes and lines, making them look illustrated too and bringing a
sense of uniformity to the aesthetics.

There’s something still a little off about the hi-res 2D sprites running around on cubey maps with lots of blocks and platforms, but on flatter maps the sprites and terrain are a wonderful match.


As is usual for the series, Disgaea 4
is packed to the gills with content. The main story runs anywhere from
35-70 hours on the first time around, and it has multiple endings,
including a few bad ones along the way. The Item World could be a game on its own, and between it and the Character World, a perfectionist could sink in hundreds of hours trying to unlock everything and rack up billions of points of damage. There are also plenty of extra maps, and some scenarios the unlock after the game is cleared. Anyone who buys Disgaea 4 is getting his money’s worth; a player will likely run out of steam before the game does.

Disgaea 4 boils down to more of the same, except usually better. It has the same great RPG mechanics, same flavor of music, same bang for your buck; a way better story with likeable characters, some tweaks to make the gameplay more streamlined, and graphics magnitudes better than what came before. If you enjoyed the series before, this time through delivers more of what you love without letting it get stale, offering fun new experiences. If you’ve never played a Disgaea game before, this is a great place to start.

-Janelle Hindman

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Great
Story Excellent
Graphics Great
Sound/Music Great
Replay Value Good
The Verdict: Excellent