Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thirty Four - Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten

The newest entry to my games beaten list is one I picked up almost exactly one week ago, at midnight on September 6th. It's been roughly 90% of all my free time alone since then. THIS IS DISGAEA 4!

Disgaea is one of my gaming obsessions. Since first trying out Disgaea: Hour of Darkness seven years ago on my PS2, I knew I was in love. This is a strategy RPG to the extreme. Disgaea is a series with unbelievable range and freedom in RPG team-building, an anarchic sense of humor, and a surprising amount of heart underneath it all. Disgaea is only for the hardcore RPG enthusiast, though, as it has a necessary grind, hundreds of items to collect, an incredible amount of post-game content, and a lot of video game and cartoon humor that demolishes any fourth walls our mind puts up.

Disgaea 4 begins with... an unusual premise. Valvatorez is a vampire living and working in Hades, a branch of the Netherworld where wicked souls are transformed into Prinnies (penguin slaves that are a mascot of the Disgaea series); Prinnies perform menial tasks for a tiny salary in order to pay off the sins they garnered as humans. Valvatorez, however, was not always a lowly Prinny instructor (a shit job if there ever was one) - he used to be a legendary Tyrant, a Demon Lord so powerful that his name was known across multiple Netherworlds. For some reason, Valvatorez swore off drinking human blood 400 years prior to Disgaea 4's storyline, and as such has lost most of his former power.

Valvatorez is joined by Fenrich, his loyal werewolf manservant who has pledged his life to Valvatorez. After some of his Prinny students are abducted, Valvatorez realizes that the rest of the Netherworld is in a sorry state indeed, and begins a revolution to set things straight, with Fenrich's help. Along the way, Lord Val and Fenrich recruit a cast of bizarre characters as allies - my personal favorite being Desco, a horrifying tentacle demon with the appearance of a little girl. Desco dreams of some day being the final boss of her own video game. Seriously.

Following that plot along, Disgaea 4 takes the player to over sixty story maps, a robust number even for Disgaea, plus a host of endgame tasks. Each battle looks like something out of Final Fantasy Tactics, except more extreme. 3D maps are sometimes much taller than they are long, terrain varies from snowy graveyards to amusement parks to android castles on the moon, and stages are occasionally full of colorful blocks that create bizarre effects on tiles they occupy. That's right, sometimes Disgaea battles play out more like rainbow-grid puzzles. And that's only if your characters are at an adequate level at all.

Yes, levels. There is a LOT of level grinding to do in Disgaea, but how much you want to do is up to you, and they make it easy on you. There are at least three story maps (three that I used, plus there's always one post-game one that's the pinnacle) full of experience bonus tiles that are designed for fast leveling. You get to those, grind a little bit, and you'll be hideously overleveled for any storyline task. Furthermore, the game's map editor feature lets you make your own map for whatever you please, including grinding. Going to the network and trying one of the the top-rated EXP/CP maps can also get the job done. For the record, the final boss is at level 100 and my team was as such: Desco at level ~430, six or seven monster characters at level 170-200, and the five main characters (other than Desco) at level 90-100. Yes, I might have used some Stronger Enemy Bills for levels.

Bills, what bills, you ask? Well, like every Disgaea game before it, you unlock most of the game's content at the Dark Assembly. The Dark Assembly is a board meeting of sorts with random demons in attendance, where you vote on things like unlocking new classes, unlocking new maps, improving the inventory of the game's shops, or making enemies stronger or weaker. Mastery of the Dark Assembly is key to success in any of the four Disgaea games.

Between those colorful geo panels, the Dark Assembly, and all the other traditions and aspects to Disgaea 4's formula, I could go on for pages and pages. I'll spare you, but definitely try this series out if any of that sounds appealing. My final thoughts on the game are as follows (warning: heavy on Disgaea jargon):

1. D4 is similar to D3 in its basic systems (and its changes from D2 to D3), but builds on all of it. You don't have to abuse the Chara World to learn skills, as characters learn more on their own, but Chara World is still there for your character micromanagement wet dreams.

2. The storyline of D4 was pretty good, touching upon environmentalism, government, redemption, responsibility, and above all, keeping promises. The cast starts out weird, gets weirder, and then somehow each character's plot thread meets at the very end.

3. Disgaea 1 through 3 had humanoid characters much stronger than monster characters. Period. Disgaea 4 puts monsters on another level by introducing Fusion and Giant Magichange, improving and expanding D3's Magichange mechanics. Monsters are not only stronger and more useful than ever, they're easier to level than humanoids, as they have access to wide-area attacks much earlier. For the first time ever, I'm excited to make a monster team in a Disgaea game. This is a good thing.

4. I've seen the game's post-game cameos and DLC on YouTube, and its stunning. Great selection of characters, unbelievable variety of stuff for use in the game's map editor and ship editor, and more that I would struggle to think of. Bottom line: this is the biggest, most robust endgame in Disgaea history. That alone might make it my favorite in the entire series, because even though I come for the story, characters, and gameplay, I stay for the post-game shenanigans.

5. This game is FREAKIN' gorgeous. By far the best sprites I've ever seen in a strategy RPG, and the new standard for Disgaea. Even the subtle movements of the dialogue sprites blew me away (i.e. blinking, gestures). Wish more RPGs had sprites that nice.

Games Beaten: 2011 Edition

1. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
2. Primal Rage
3. Torchlight Hat Trick
4. Ghost Trick
5. Flower
6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
7. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
8. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
9. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
10. Tales of Eternia
11. Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
12. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
13. 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
14. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
15. Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
16. Dragon Age: Origins
17. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
18. inFamous Evil Finish
20. inFamous 2 Good Finish
21. Big Bang Mini
22. Final Fight: Double Impact
23. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
24. Cthulhu Saves the World
25. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword
26. Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening
27. Disgaea Infinite
28. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse
29. Jeanne d'Arc
30. Dragon Age II
31. Jade Empire
32. Cthulhu's Angels
33. DeathSpank: Orphans of Justice
34. Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten


Next is probably either Marvel: Ultimate Alliance or Odin Sphere. I'm at the very early stages of both. 3D Dot Game Heroes hit a snag, but I'll get to that one too, eventually.

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