The Netherworld Has Gone to Hell… Again
It’s no secret that the Disgaea series is Nippon Ichi Software’s cash cow. Fan favorite Disgaea 1 has been ported to almost as many platforms as the first Final Fantasy game, and Disgaeas 2 and 3 have been successful for the company as well. Combining a feature-rich strategy RPG core with a strong dose of twisted, madcap humor, the Disgaea series charms both casual and hardcore gamers. This fall, Disgaea 4 will become the latest entry in the series to reach North American shores, promising a new theme and an even bigger combat system.
As usual, Disgaea 4’s story features familiar themes that become inverted when set in the demonic Netherworld. This game abandons the “school” setting of Disgaea 3 for one that focuses on politics. The main character, Valvatorez, is a vampire who used to be a powerful overlord, but who has lost most of his power after swearing off human blood. He now works as a trainer for Prinnies, lost human souls who are working off their sins while wearing the bodies of adorable penguins. Valvatorez has promised each Prinny a sardine at the end of the training, and Valvatorez always keeps his promises. Thus, when the Netherworld’s government kidnaps the Prinnies, our vampire incites a rebellion in order to get them back.
Players familiar with the Disgaea series will remember the demonic Senate in the first game, and know that demon governments not only don’t hide their corruption, they revel in it. There should be plenty of political satire to be had in this setup. In fact, the developers have let slip that one minor character in the game is fond of the familiar slogan, “Yes, we can.” Of course, Valvatorez can’t topple the government on his own, and he’s got a small band of friends who form the game’s main cast. His second-in-command, Fenrich, is a smart-mouthed werewolf who is completely devoted to his vampire boss. The two unlikely friends will be accompanied by Fuka, a dead middle-schooler who is convinced that the entire adventure is a dream (it isn’t; she’s dead), and Emizel, the bratty son of the current Netherworld’s president. Of course, the party is likely to have plenty of Prinnies at its disposal for any peon-related duties and the regular shouting of “dood!”
The main characters aren’t the only party members who will be participating in the strategy battles that form the core of Disgaea 4’s game play. The player will be recruiting and building up demons of various classes who will be the main troops in Valvatorez’ army. Classes include warrior, valkyrie, professor, cleric, armor knight, and archer. Using these various classes, players will create a diverse army that can be deployed ten characters at a time. The main characters have their own unique “classes” as well, and their special attacks tend to be particularly potent. On top of that, monsters can be recruited to swell the ranks of the army, with each species having its own combat style and special abilities.
Disgaea 4’s basic combat should be familiar to anyone who’s played a strategy RPG before. The player’s deployed army will use its weapons and skills to meet whatever goal the map requires. The goal is often “defeat all the enemies,” but can also involve other things, like capturing an area or defeating a boss. If the player surrounds an enemy unit with troops, there is a chance that the player’s troops will execute a powerful group attack. Of course, this is true for the opposition as well, so the player should be careful to not allow a unit to be surrounded.
On top of the basic play, Disgaea’s “lift and throw” system is being particularly emphasized in this entry. Units can pick up other units and toss them in order to reach new locations or perform other tasks. In Disgaea 4, the system can be used to build huge towers of units and use them to perform seemingly impossible feats. Trailers have shown stacks of units moving around like caterpillars, attaching to objects, and swinging around like a jump rope.
This expansion of the lift and throw system is an example of how everything in Disgaea 4 has been turned up a notch. The series is known for encouraging munchkin play and putting out gigantic numbers, and Disgaea 4 complements this with over-the-top special attack animations and other hyperbolic systems. The player can throw monsters at other monsters, which will then become giant monsters that will give extra experience when fought. Alternately, the giant monsters can be transformed into giant weapons that the player’s characters can use, plus apparently the process can be completed again for even huger monsters and weapons. The entire battle system has a tongue-in-cheek design that emphasizes creativity and fun along with strategic thinking.
There are some new features outside of combat for the game, as well. The player will need to master the art of demon politics, which generally involves a great deal of bribery and backstabbing. There will also be a territory capture minigame, in which the player seizes territory in the Netherworld and hires subordinates to protect it. The infamous Item World has returned, in which the player enters a weapon and completes a series of random battle maps in order to power up said weapon. Item World is a notorious time-sucker, but, as usual, it’s not extensively required in order to complete the main campaign. The amount of time sunk into Item World is up to the player.
Although the main game largely features a new cast of characters, Disgaea fans will be happy to learn that there’s a post-game campaign that includes favorite characters from the series, such as Laharl and Axel. Between the post-game content, possible downloadable content (provided the Japanese downloadable content doesn’t appear in the North American version from the start,) optional challenges, and Item World, players can sink hundreds of hours into the game after the 40-hour main campaign is completed.
Disgaea 4 has been out for a few months in Japan, and has done well with both critics and gamers. It sold well enough there to turn around Nippon Ichi’s falling fortunes, and Japanese gamers have been gobbling up the downloadable content that has been coming out since release. North American gamers will have the chance to try out the game for themselves in September, and it certainly aims to give them as much over-the-top Disgaea craziness as they can handle.