It's no secret that a lot of Nippon Ichi's success has come from the hugely popular Disgaea series. Naturally it was only a matter of time before gamers arrive in the Netherworld once more. While not necessarily reinventing the wheel with Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten, Nippon Ichi has kept the evolution going with enough advancements and new hooks to keep things interesting. Disgaea 4 promises to again provide gamers with its renowned combination of humour, crazily powerful battle moves, and human towers.
"The high-definition capabilities of the PS3 have been fully embraced."
Disgaea 4 moves away from the school setting of Disgaea 3, focusing more on the political structure of the Netherworld. While politics has been touched on previously via the Senate, A Promise Unforgotten will see it play a much bigger role throughout the game. Players can expect the story of Disgaea 4 to pile on the humourous satire that is prevalent throughout the rest of the series, including confirmed usage of a certain President's campaign slogan. The main character for this installment is the vampire Valvatorez, a powerful overlord before he swore off human blood and lost his powers. Now he has been relegated to the job of training Prinnies, souls of sinning humans that are atoning for their misdeeds as highly explosive penguins. Valvatorez has promised his Prinnies each a sardine when they finish training, but unfortunately they have been kidnapped and all signs point to the kidnapping being ordered by the ruling corrupternment. In order to fulfill his promise, Valvatorez must rebel and get them back.
It just wouldn't be Disgaea without a colourful and bizarre cast, and Disgaea 4 is no exception. The popular enmity between lycanthropes and vampires seemingly doesn't appear to apply to Valvatorez, as his werewolf attendant Fenrich swears absolute loyalty. Naturally the unusual cast doesn't stop there, including other characters such as Fuka, a dead middle-schooler who doesn't believe her death and its results to be real; Emizel, son of the current President of the Netherworld; and Desco, whose official name is "Final Weapon: Death/Extermination Submersible Combat Organism." As with other NIS releases, players can expect characters of the previous games in the series to make appearances, with Axel, Laharl, Etna, Flonne, and of course the Prinnies confirmed by the game's official site.
The basic turn-based gameplay will be instantly familiar to those with experience in strategy RPGs. Players command each unit of their team on a grid-based map and attempt to complete a mission objective (more often than not involving wiping out their opponents). If players manage to surround an enemy then group attacks may be executed, allowing for much greater damage. Huge level, attribute and damage caps are one of the defining features of the series, and these epic numbers are complemented by over-the-top skill moves and some unique strategic options. Between battles players can return to their base of operations, which acts as a hub where they can heal, purchase new items, and create new party members.
Many of Disgaea's unique additions to strategy RPG genre return for A Promise Unforgotten. Geo Symbols provide bonuses or hindrances to characters standing on matching coloured squares, but can also be destroyed in order to set off a chain-reaction that can cause serious carnage. Characters or objects can be picked up and thrown at will around the battlefield, with the possibility of creating huge ladders of units that can be used to help overcome many of the obstacles on the battle maps. The corrupt Senate allows players to pass special laws in order to create more powerful characters, weapons and items. Disgaea 4 even manages to add new craziness to the battle system with the ability to fuse monsters together to create a much bigger and more powerful monster. Continuing the new theme of the story, political options are also no longer limited to just the Senate, with a new territory capturing feature that allows the player to conquer parts of the Netherworld and run their own nation.
Nippon Ichi has said the story should take about forty hours if fully concentrated on. As is usual with Disgaea, however, there's much mileage in the various random dungeons and micromanagement that should easily take fans well past the hundred hour mark. The Item World has also returned, which allows players to power up a weapon by diving into it and completing the random-generated battles inside. A new map editor is also included, allowing players to tailor maps to their specific requirements or desires. Unfortunately, some limitations to the map editor have been placed on the Western version of Disgaea 4. Rather than having full control over each individual block, players will only have access to pre-determined landforms and map names will be randomized. However, RPGamers will at least still be able to share their maps over the internet.
After some disappointment in the visual advances of Disgaea 3, Nippon Ichi has ensured that no such complaint can be leveled this time around. The high-definition capabilities of the PS3 have been fully embraced, with the sprites now looking supremely detailed and crisp. The 'talking portraits' system for conversations has also seen improvements, being animated further than before to provide an extra touch of immersion, which should help set A Promise Unforgotten apart from the other RPGs that rely on this system. Nippon Ichi has stated that the localized version will include slightly more voiced dialogue than the original Japanese version, as well as keeping cameos from select anime characters in the animations for certain spells.
Disgaea 4 has already been well received in Japan and it's more than likely western RPGamers will find much to enjoy from the tongue-in-cheek series once again. Nippon Ichi still realizes the importance of accommodating new fans and the game does include tutorials for all the features, so even those who are new to the series should be able to experience an entertaining welcome to its unique universe. Disgaea 4 is due to be released exclusively for PS3 on September 6, 2011.