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Disgaea 4: A Game Uneasily Forgotten

If you like exploding penguins as much as I do, you should already be
acquainted with the Disgaea series of video games. Introduced in 2003
and spun off into handheld ports, manga and anime, the series proper has
returned once again with last week’s Playstation 3 release of Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten.

This time off the plot revolves around Valvatorez, a heavily-demoted
vampire in the Netherworld government (or “corrupternment,” as they’re
referred to). He’s been reduced to a Prinny instructor, but still seems
to feel overly important. He and his only fan, a werewolf named Fenrich,
are plotting to overthrow the Corrupternment for the simple reason that
their orders would result in Valvatorez breaking the promise mentioned
in the subtitle. Other characters include Fuka, an annoyingly perky dead
human, and Emizel, the Netherworld President’s bumbling son. As per the
usual, no one in this world is remotely close to sane.

But the
appeal of Disgaea’s existence isn’t the plot. It’s the twists it throws
into strategy gaming that have made it popular, and they’re all back
again, in addition to a couple new ones. Disgaea is the kind of series
that has depth within depth within depth, like some kind of Japanese
Inception (you level up your weapons, for example, by going “into them”
and completing a series of dungeon maps). You can still level up to
9999. Throwing people is not only permitted but encouraged. And you can
actually petition the Corrupternment to bend the rules further.


Since you want a strong army, it’s in your best interest to start
growing guys relatively early, though you won’t have the mana to do it
immediately. Every newcomer must be raised from Level 1, which means you
have to go back into the earliest maps and coddle them until they can
handle where you currently are in the game. Results vary. With a few
power-boosting accessories and a couple maps of grinding, I was able to
build the lovely girl above into a powerhouse within an hour. Another
character born at the same time, a thief I named “Feef,” evaporated at
the sight of her first Prinny and her career has been downhill from
there.

Ditto for any monster character I created. The monster
types do have the potential to become more useful later on in the game
(if you REALLY work on them), but they’re normally pretty weak for
having such ferocious appearances. The only time I really used the
monsters was when there was enough space to temporarily merge two of
them into a giant monster; then I would let all the bad guys stab at the
big distraction while my warrior team came around and picked them off
one by one. (I’m not the first player to use them for this purpose.)


The “strategy” in this game is less centered around the battle and more
around the environment surrounding it; they are more puzzles than
fights. Most of the puzzles revolve around dealing with Geostones, or
status-altering bricks. Because of their effects, certain blocks on many
of the fields are shaded in a different color and create some sort of
handicap to whoever stands in said area; these handicaps can only be
removed by destroying the Geostone in the vicinity with the same color.
You usually don’t have the convenience of walking over there until you
deal with several monsters first while under the effects of that
handicap. The puzzle is figuring out how to do so while taking the least
amount of damage.

In the example pictured, you’re confronted
with two rows of zombies; facing both at once will kill you. The game
doesn’t state it outright, but it expects you to find a way to demolish
one of those Geostone-built towers within one turn, thereby sinking the
zombies on it. I won’t spoil the solution. No matter what stage you’re
on, or how leveled up your army is, to make it through the game you will
usually have to THINK. Mindlessly plowing through it will just get you
dead. Your average new map takes at least a half-hour to finish if
you’re lucky, so Disgaea will keep you a busy little demon for quite a
while.


So will all the additional tasks: arranging your army and improving
your stats at Cam-Pain HQ, Item World exploring, creating teams of
pirates, and earning “Evilities” to make your units stronger. And if you
still need more to do, Disgaea 4 introduces online content to the
series, providing you with a limitless amount of user-created maps from
now until their server shuts down. Your characters will also visit other
people’s games as Senators if you appoint them so at Cam-Pain….so
have fun with the names; you get an audience.

Disgaea’s script
has many an example of Japanese humor sensibilities that don’t translate
easily (are sardines really that funny over there?) but when NIS
America takes liberties with their dialogue, the results are on a level
not seen since the glorious localizations of Working Designs. I played a
lot of hair-pulling maps — the one where they randomly change your
location comes to mind — but the game usually saved my mood by dropping
one of these afterward:


In addition to what’s pictured above, most of the enemies you’ll meet
on the field have random names, among them these actual examples:
Nicolas Gage, Destructocon, Human Recliner, Nintendont, Tigerblood,
Flaming Pancakes, Eyebrow Fetish, Fax Machine, Love Injector, Ready Set
No Go, Whatever, Crazy Cat Lady, Grilled Fish, This Name Sucks…..and
“U-Mad.”

Disgaea has a cult fanbase for a reason; its zany
spins on the strategy genre have made it a genre unto itself. If you
feel that we as a society have evolved beyond level-grinding, then this
isn’t the game (or the series) for you, but if you enjoy the strategy
genre at all and miss playing it on something that’s not a handheld, run
out and nab this before it becomes impossible to find. Long-time
Disgaea fans won’t be blown away by immense innovation, but it’s been
four years since the last one, so anything new should be welcome. There is well over fifty dollars of content here, and most will enjoy a heaping fourth helping of puzzle-solving, penguin-throwing good clean fun.
Dood.

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