Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten is an exceedingly complex turn-based strategy game populated with quirky anime characters and that uniquely Japanese awkward charm. Fans of the series will find exactly what they expect here -- and non-fans will find exactly what they fear. I count myself among those fans and I love it. This is probably the best Disgaea since the 2003 original.
Watch the Disgaea 4 Video Review
Disgaea games always star antiheroes that, despite proclaiming evil intentions, are actually good guys at heart. No different, Disgaea 4 casts you in the role of a vampire named Valvatorez who previously enjoyed a tyrannical reign over the Netherworld. For reasons revealed during the game, he gave up his power for a woman and now holds a low-ranking job at a prison. Disgaea fans will be delighted to know Valvatorez now makes his living as a Prinny instructor, so, yes, the cute penguins still have an important role here.
Although a demon, Valvatorez is disgusted by corruption in the Netherworld government and decides to reclaim control of the realm. Along the way he'll encounter and recruit a cast of eccentric and charming characters as he builds his army and makes his way to the evil President, who appears to be behind this mess. As in the previous Disgaea games, there are many plot twists and shadowy antagonists revealed throughout the story.
If you've never played a Disgaea game before, here's what you need to know: it's the most insane turn-based strategy series around. At its core it's similar to Final Fantasy Tactics or Advance Wars but much more elaborate. You don't just have to worry about commanding your troops on the battlefield – there are also the Geo Panels that add benefits or detriments to your characters when they stand on them. And the fact that you can petition the local government to pass laws that will make your life easier. And the fact that every item in the game has an entire world inside of it you can dive into and level grind your characters.
Watch the Disgaea 4 PlayStation Conversation
This is why I love Disgaea 4, but others will find it their personal hell. Not everyone gets this series, but those of us that do really get it. A simple test: If you like turn-based strategy games, you like anime, and you actually enjoy level grinding, then you will love Disgaea 4.
The first Disgaea was already complicated, and each entry since has stacked new mechanics on top of that foundation. You now have the ability to equip monsters as powerful weapons and combine monsters into giant super soldiers. Seeing a fat, waddling Prinny is amusing, but I didn't find myself using these new features very often.
The real reason to play Disgaea 4 is for the deep, addictive strategy gameplay, but the lighthearted story and likeable characters make it that much more enjoyable. It does get wordy at times, though. Occasionally, I just wanted everyone to shut up and let me play.
Disgaea's visuals have been completely reworked, making this the best looking entry in the series. The anime art is very attractive, and I love the cute, super-deformed in-game characters. It isn't high-tech, but it looks great. If you're old school, though, you can flip back to the pixel graphics of the previous games on the fly. Unfortunately, because of the locked isometric perspective, there will be times when your view is blocked by obstacles in the environment. You miss some of the ridiculous special attacks, which is a shame because they're some of the most entertaining parts of the game.
If you're like me, you prefer to play your Japanese games with a Japanese language track. Disgaea supports our preference in the settings menu.
Those that can appreciate what Disgaea 4 offers will find one of the best gaming values of the year. The campaign stretches out for hours and hours and the Item World offers infinite dungeon diving. Plus, you can create your own maps and share them with friends via the PlayStation Network or create pirates to send into other users' Item Worlds and attack them.
Disgaea 4 does feel very much like the first game I played almost a decade ago. The new mechanics provide more strategic options, but part four doesn't ignite a Disgaea revolution. I love this game, but it doesn't amaze me the way the first one did in 2003.