Reading the “Septem Sermones Ad Mortuos”, “Seven Sermons to the Dead” is a great way to learn Latin and an even greater way to lose your marbles. They describe the Pleroma, the Limitless Void encapsulating and permeating all reality, all concepts, and all possibilities.
To meditate on the Pleroma is to invite madness, and to some extent, it is the true appeal of Disgaea. This is madness, Yes it is, this is Disgaea.
So… What do I mean? Disgaea as a series has always been very detail-oriented while also seemingly infinite in possibility space. This embrace of Limitlessness sets the series apart from other RPGs, and games in general. If you are so inclined, you could level grind and tinker and optimize your characters for nearly all eternity and most entries in this series could still scale to meet you.
It’s also quirky, charming, often hilarious and always self-aware. These are the other trademarks of the series. And I recognize and remember them from the first game! I’m reviewing Disgaea 4 Complete, having last experienced the series all the way back with the Original Disgaea on the PS2. I’m glad to say that both the Depth and Humor of that Classic SRPG have endured well into this incarnation.
I’ll do my best to introduce this game to you, though I won’t be comprehensive about it unless somebody insists on me doing so. The game is rated T for Teen, and contains some minor Offensive Language, Sexual Content, Crude Humor, and some Religious Theming. Our story begins with the fallen Tyrant Valvatorez, a once immensely powerful vampire with an ever-faithful werewolf retainer named Fenrich.
Though himself a Demon, Valvatorez is a nobly intentioned character in that his promises are sacred to him, in fact, he feels this same value should be upheld by all Demonkind. And to say he enjoys Sardines would be an understatement, though even to say he’s completely obsessed with them might still be an understatement.
Before going any further, I need to give some background for those new to the Disgaea series.
Imagine a serial killer, let’s call him Stabby McStabStab. Goes about stabbing folk as if it’s his life’s work and being mighty Proud of it, right up until he drops Dead. Our friend Mr. Stabby will awaken shortly thereafter as a Prinny. They look much like Stuffed Penguins with tiny wings that will painfully explode whenever thrown, which is handy as they are often used as Cannon Fodder in Gameplay. Mook or Military Explosive? Both! (All characters killed in Gameplay may be revived at the Hospital for a fee. Stronger characters cost more to Revive and Heal.)
Prinnies are effectively the Mascots of the Disgaea franchise and serve as cheap labor for Demons of the Netherworld and Angels of Celestia. If somebody has to do dangerous or unpleasant work, it’s always going to be the Prinnies. And when they inevitably die on the job, they can easily be brought back just to be killed all over again.
All this Comic/Karmic-ally inclined cruelty serves a purpose, however. Life as a Prinny is meant to teach them the weight of their sins in life, to make them feel the same agonies they inflicted on others such as through Thoughtlessness or Duplicity or Spite. And so their souls are meant to be released from their Prinny forms once their sins are paid off. Even if through centuries of hard labor. To be honest, I find beauty in the notion that even the worst scum among us will eventually be redeemed…
And until then, will be treated like the no-good shitstains they are.
Oh were that we could live in such a fantasy.
Hades is another item I must address.
As explained in the opening, Hades is the very first place Prinnies find themselves in. It’s partially a prison for the Netherworld’s worst, and partially a Training/Orientation center for new Prinnies.
When Valvatorez the Tyrant fell from grace, he was punished by being brought down all the way to the lowly level of instructing Newly formed Prinnies in Hades. And being the proud yet rather silly demon he is, he decided to become the very best Prinny Instructor in the Netherworld. His Prinny subordinates are very fond of him indeed. He promises each of them one of his beloved Sardines upon completion of their training.
Valvatorez refuses to drink human blood due to a promise. His retainer, Fenrich, is much less nobly minded while fervently loyal to his master… Though Fenrich is usually trying to manipulate Valvatorez towards ends for Valvatorez’s own good, often stating “All is for my Lord.” In practice, Fenrich is much less like a Servant and more like an Overbearing Parent. Manipulative only in the very most well-meaning sense.
Sooo Valvatorez, he’s unusually fair to his Prinnies. In fact, he decided to be the very best Prinny Instructor that Hades had ever seen.
And so he is, or at least he appears to be the most enthusiastic and well-liked instructor based on what I’ve seen so far. In fact, he even promises each Prinny in his class One Sardine from his personal supply apiece. This promise, it is half of the impetus that sets the plot into motion. The other half stems from a crisis of sorts in the Netherworld…Too many Prinnies. Far too many. Fenrich even declares that the Quality of human souls declines further with every day.
See, The Netherworld is run by a Corrupternment. Which is a Government in all but name? Demons seem very fond of wordplay in general, and most Demonic concepts are Puns. For instance, Cam-Pain for Campaign and Evility as the term for an Ability.
One demon even mentions learning about Love from a Naughty Book. Which I suspect was a rather tame Romance Novel since Demons theoretically aren’t supposed to care about Love.
I’m Spoiling too much of the plot here, but suffice it to say the Corrupternment has been living down to its name and all it implies. As a result, humans haven’t been kept appropriately terrified of Devils and Monsters and have lost their general sense of Piety. Which is why so many of them become Prinnies of late. Even the land of Angels known as Celestia is running low on Funds. It’s a hard time for all involved.
That’s about as much of the Plot as I feel safe divulging to you as a new player.
If you happen to have played one of the earlier games as I did, remember that each game is set in an alternate timeline. And so you’re in for a wholly new tale provided you passed up the original Disgaea 4 on PS3 as I did.
AudioVisual Elements, Presentation.
So you may note that the Backgrounds and Objects that aren’t the Hand Drawn Characters look a bit outdated or even Retro. This game is a Remake, but in all honesty, they were outdated somewhat back on the PS3 original of this game. That kind of thing just is not the Priority in this type of game and it doesn’t matter to me in the slightest, as everything in the Environment is like a wrapper through which the very Expressive Sprites and Character Portraits and Art are contained. I’d really rather see it be entirely 2D myself as that is where the artwork always shines in these games.
The Music, on the other hand, has this lovely Orchestral sound and even has a Jazzy tune that later replaces the Default Hades theme. It’s very Bouncy and Silly if I may describe it that way, though it can also get pretty dramatic and Rock-Esque in more intense areas. I like the Music, and as always I’ll probably try to bum a copy of the OST from NIS when this Article goes Live. On to the Gameplay!
Strategy RPG’s and Disgaea Basics
The Strategy RPG Genre encompasses games like Fire Emblem and Tactics Ogre, as well as Final Fantasy Tactics and relatives of Disgaea such as the original Rhapsody on PS1 and La Pucelle. The gameplay is defined by having your Party of Characters controlled on a Grid in Combat. Each Character has Stats that makeup how much damage they do and how much damage they take, how fast/far they move, and how powerful their Magics might be as well as their Resistance to Magic and other effects. Characters remain between battles and grow after each engagement, which is where the RPG elements of Strategy RPG come into play. Between Combat sessions, you’ll find yourself at a Hub located in Hades, the Prison I mentioned earlier.
From the Hub, you’ll be able to access the Character and Item Worlds, the Hospital, Item and Weapon, and Armor Shops, a special Cheater’s Feature, and of course access to the levels that comprise the Core Plot and gameplay. Most of these features will rarely come into use unless you decide to use them, consider them a kind of Luxury.
Disgaea is unusual among most Strategy RPG’s as it enables a lot more Customization of Characters than any games I’ve seen before. You can even Reincarnate characters to start them back off at Level 1 with raised Base Stats and to Bank Levels. (I’m in the dark myself on exactly what Banked Levels do.)
So you wanna Fight? Here’s how to do it. You’ll see a Glowing Blue Panel on the Map. This is called the Base Panel and is where you will Summon your Units. (Units are Individual Combatants, AKA Characters.) Disgaea is a Turn-Based game. So you will take Turns moving your Units and then carefully watching the Enemy move their Units. This goes on until you or the enemy is defeated. (or you Quit)
When it is your turn, select your Base Panel and then the Character you want to summon to the Field as a Unit. Once they pop up, you may select any of the Blue Squares for them to go to. The Move stat of a Character determines the distance they can Move here. You may also select an Enemy if you want to have your Unit Attack it. Once you give the orders, your units will standstill with an A overhead indicating that you’ve given them an Action to perform. So when you select Execute, all Units will begin Executing the Actions you assigned to them. This is puzzling at first, but it grows on you and allows for more depth to the combat.
There are Normal Attacks and Special Attacks. Normal Attacks will cause the enemy to CounterAttack if they are able, while Special Attacks will not normally trigger CounterAttacks.
Special Attacks allow a player to do many things, often unique to the Class of Character being controlled. Special Attacks require a set amount of Spirit Points/SP to be used, which functions the same as MP in most games.
Both HP and SP can be restored via Consumables purchasable in the Shop or by using certain Special Attacks/Techniques.
Lifts, Throws, Totems
Throws can be executed by first Lifting an Object or Player. Lifting and Throwing may be performed in the same turn in lieu of performing an Attack or Special Technique. The Distance something may be Thrown varies from Unit to Unit, usually based on Classes. Prinnies are special and will EXPLODE when thrown, be careful! You can have a Monster or Human Type Unit climb on top of Human Type Units by walking into their occupied Space.
Also… If you throw one enemy on top of another, a thing happens. Is it good? Is it bad? Kinda both? I’m not gonna say.
Totems are a relatively advanced technique. You can stack as many characters as you like provided you place Humans on top of Humans and you may have only One Monster on the Top. A Totem has only its bottom member to be Vulnerable to Attacks. So you can Lift a Damaged Unit to get it out of danger until you can Throw it to safety. Totems also allow for Totem Attacks and Totem Special Attacks. When in a Totem, the Unit on the Bottom may Throw or Attack. If they choose to Attack, then everybody in the Totem will fire off an Energy blast with Damage determined by their relative Stats. Any Kills achieved in a Totem will offer Shared EXP and Mana across all its members. So Totems are my usual means of leveling up lower-level characters quickly.
You can spend the Mana you pick up from killing enemies on Reincarnating your characters. Changing their Classes to access more Evilities and Skills, all while building up your Base Stats and “Banking” the Levels. No idea what that means, but Bank 100 on a single Character to Unlock the Character World!
Geo Blocks and Panels
These things are all over in the Item World and feature prominently in the Main Story levels as well. These are Puzzle inspired, and deceptively simple. They exist solely to turn what would normally be a leisurely Ten Minutes of Slaughter into a Half Hour of it. There are some rather hard feelings between me and them. So each Geo Block contains an Effect. And if it sits within a Zone of colored Panels (ColorCoded Blinking Squares on the Map.) then its Effect starts Affecting the Zone and passing those Effects to you and whomever else might wander into that colored Zone. Blocks may be differently colored than the Panels they rest upon, and if so then Destroying the Block will both Remove its Effect and change the Color of all Panels with the same color to match the Destroyed Block. I’ve had a good time with these, and pretty often too. They’re great fun when you’re progressing through the Story and they’re used to create a cool Set Piece… But whenever you’re doing an easier map and just trying to get from Point A to B, they slow your progress considerably.
GeoBlocks will be destroyed if you throw one Beside another of the same color, or cause one to fall into position directly beside another of the same color. On the other hand, you cannot lift blocks that are connected to any other blocks of the same color. Thus isolating Blocks from others of the same color is a critical skill to possess in the Character World, as tossing that separated one back to a chunk of its former fellows will destroy all of them instantly. So you can clear chunks of one color all at once instead of manually selecting each for destruction. GeoBlocks also will have HP bars, and so you must deplete that normally to destroy one. A Panel changing Color or being Destroyed will deal damage to all Units and Blocks on that Panel. That’s important as it allows for Chaining the process of Destroying GeoBlocks and can be as much a Hazard to your Units as to the Enemy Units.
MagiChange and Fusion
So Monster Types have these two unique tricks to them. They can Fuse together if side by side and with plenty of space, transforming into a larger monster. This combined form has greater Stats and Range of Attack. HOWEVER, their SP will deplete with each turn in this form. So if you want to maintain it, I suggest carrying plenty of Consumables that Restore SP. If they run out of Sp, they will Split again. While sharing a body, the EXP and Mana gain is split evenly. So it may help to pair up a Weak Monster with a Strong one when Grinding.
MagiChange is similar in some ways to Fusion but allows a Monster Type to change into a Weapon for a Human to use. Each Type of Monster will change into a set Weapon Type and will bestow access to a Special Move to the Human wielding them. This form will last ONLY 6 Turns. After that, the Monster will no longer be usable in that battle, as if it had died.
There is apparently an Advanced type to MagiChange requiring two Monsters of the same type, but I don’t know how that is done.
There are Six Stats: ATK, INT, HIT, DEF, RES, SPD.
Determines Physical Damage dealt to enemies with most Physical Attacks
Determines the Efficiency of Spells, be that for Healing or Harming.
Accuracy, This is essential for actually Connecting with your attacks. Guns and Bows depend on it a lot for their Damage Calculations.
This number determines how well a Unit diminishes incoming Physical Damage.
This number determines how likely you are to Resist Magic attacks and Ailments.
This number determines the odds of Dodging an attack and heavily factors into the Calculations for Guns and Bows.
Weapons and Stats
So you’ve got HL, you should spend it on good Equipment. Gear that raises Stats on a Character. Each Character has a Single Weapon Slot and Three Equipment Slots. Equipment comes in a number of flavors, my personal favorite being the Emblems. Emblems are particularly convenient choices of Items to enter through the Item World, as progressing through them will let you Subjugate Innocents (Neutral Minions that you must beat the snot out of.) for strengthening the item while clearing Levels, which also improve the item in most areas. Emblems are All Around Buffs, in that they improve everything by a bit. So Leveling up any of the Emblems will help create Equipment useful in ANY situation, and I figure that I’ll be Grinding somewhere, so it may as well be in the Item World whilst making better Equipment for my Characters.
Evilities are Equippable Abilities. They can be purchased with Mana gained from combat. By default, Monster Types will have 3 Evility slots with Human Types having 2, with Monster Types possessing an Evility Tied to/Decided by their Class.
Currencies: Two types of currency are used in this game. HL (Pronounced Hel) and Mana. HL is gained through defeating Enemies and Clearing Levels. It’s hard not to pick up HL, so don’t worry too much about it. HL is what you will spend on Items and Armor and Weapons. Mana, on the other hand, is a trickier concept. Mana is gained by Characters themselves as Individuals through defeating Enemies. So you usually will need to do some Grinding to pick up extra Mana for a character.
Grinding is a term used in VideoGames to refer to an activity performed to increase Stats or Numerical Values. For instance, Grinding Levels or HL or Mana would be trying to raise those values as opposed to progressing in the story naturally. You won’t usually be required to Grind, but a lot of the fun of Disgaea comes from taking advantage of every opportunity you can to make your Characters and overall Party more powerful.
My one Complaint and my Verdict
Disgaea is a spectacular game, but also a Time Sink. I love it, but it doesn’t really respect your time. My impulse is always to be Thorough, and that has hurt me a lot in trying to write this review. I’ve spent at least eighty hours on it. Half of that time has been spent on me Grinding through Item World and Character World maps to upgrade my Characters. And that’s what gets to me, everything you do in Gameplay is Manually controlled. They let you Autoplay the sometimes too long Cutscenes, they let you greatly speed up the Animations in Battle, but you still have to manually Command everybody on every map no matter how much you outclass your enemy. An AutoPilot option for Grinding is all I could ask for to make this game my perfect companion. But Holy Hell, I’m willing to beg for it or pay for it as DLC.
If you’re into Strategy RPG’s and enjoy clever comedy writing and like this Art Style, then I wholeheartedly recommend this game. Just be sure to clear your Schedule first!
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Robert Kelly Ball
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