As usual for a Disgaea game, it takes place in the netherworld where you’ll likely control demons. Valvatorez was once a powerful tyrant but after losing his powers he has been reduced to being the guy who trains the new Prinnies. Unfortunately he may soon be out of the job when the corrupt government of the Netherworld decides that they need to exterminate every last Prinny. It is up to Valvatorez to save the Prinnies. Compared to the last couple of entries, Disgaea 4’s story is actually quite political. This doesn’t mean it forsakes its characters, but those not too big on political humor or satire, may not find Disgaea 4 to be that enjoyable. There are a lot of ridiculous jokes weaved into the tale along with some clever parodies and satirical observations. You’ll find bigger and better stories in several other JRPG’s but at least it’s enjoyable to a degree. The characters are likable and charming and some of the dialog is funny. What you may not appreciate right off hand is the voice acting itself. Disgaea has always gone for over the top voice acting and at times it has been annoying. You can opt to listen to the dialog in Japanese if you wish, or you can turn it off all together. The story is still told through, for the most part, small skits that involve character portraits standing across from each other. A charm of Disgaea that has yet to actually grow tiresome or old. All told the story might not keep your attention but some of the funny lines will. But nothing will hold your attention like the gameplay.
Disgaea has always been known for it’s unique gameplay structure. And if you’ve played previous games in the series you won’t find too many additions here. Like your typical strategy RPG Disgaea has you sending characters into the field of battle where you battle your enemies in phases. The game is much more complex than most Strategy RPGs, even today. As I said, if you’ve played the series before you’ll have no trouble slipping right in, but newcomers will find themselves lost. The game slowly piles on new concepts for you to grasp. First introducing you to the basics of attacks before slowly introducing you to special moves and defending. It then jumps into some of the more interesting concepts of the gameplay, such as the Geo Symbols. The Geo Symbols have always been what separates Disgaea from other games. When in battle you’ll no doubt notice that certain tiles are certain colors and blocks on them. Each Geo Symbol will give any color tile it sits on a specific buff or debuff. It can be something as simple as “Recovery 40%” or something as damaging as “Ally Damage 20%”. It might even be something different such as providing you with 50% more experience. This aspect of the Geo Panels has often made some of Disgaea’s battles feel a little puzzle based. The enemies are not always something to worry about. So are the different tiles in battle. And Disgaea 4 is relentless at times. If you go rushing off into too many battles it isn’t shy about punishing you. If you don’t take time to meticulously learn some of the gameplay mechanics the game is likely to be much more challenging than it has to be.
Along with the Geo Symbols, Disgaea 4 brings back other familiar things. The item world is back, allowing you to dive in and go deep to raise the level of your weapons. The item world has been expanded upon a bit. Every five floors you now get to branch off and explore more than you otherwise would. There are still mystery rooms filled with goodies and surprises too. The item world pretty much showcases another thing Disgaea is about: Grinding. If you’ve been coddled by RPGs where you can pretty much do anything, Disgaea 4 will change that quickly. This is a game that actually expects you to grind. And if you don’t, it WILL punish you for it. The good news is, the gameplay is engaging enough that grinding doesn’t feel like a chore. Especially because going into the item world presents a unique experience each time. You won’t find a lot of floors the same and the Geo Panels and Symbols are randomly generated.
Disgaea 4 hasn’t changed much from its predecessors at all. Much of it will be familiar to fans. At times its more like putting on a pair of old gloves and finding they still fit perfectly. If you haven’t been much of a Disgaea fan, there isn’t anything here that will likely turn you into one. Disgaea probably isn’t going to reach much higher. It’s still unique in its own way, but at some point it may have to do more than just add on small tidbits to its gameplay.
There is one area where perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad for Disgaea to progress just a little. The presentation. The sprites here are perfectly redone in HD, but it doesn’t look all that different from what you’ve already seen. All the artwork is pretty much exactly the same. It is definitely noticeable, however. The game gives you the option to toggle between HD and SD sprite settings. Needless to say if you’re playing on an HD TV then the difference is obvious. Still, it’s hard to shake the fact that even in HD Disgaea 4 looks exactly like the three games which came before it. More so than the graphics, however, Disgaea still uses isometric maps where you can only shift the perspective left or right. But you can’t zoom in or zoom out or tilt the perspective. On some maps its fine but on others you might lose track of your characters or some of the enemies this way.
The music on the other hand, actually sounds really good. The voice acting may, at times, grate on your nerves, but the soundtrack isn’t likely to. It fits the game perfectly. You will also hear a couple of remixed tracks from previous entries.
If you’ve enjoyed previous Disgaea outings then there is no harm in giving Disgaea 4 a try. The change in the story’s themes may not be for everyone at first, but it still maintains a lot of its humor to make it easier to swallow. Either way, in regards to its storytelling it is certainly a step up from Disgaea 3. If you’ve never been into Disgaea you’re not going to change your mind with this.