It's been quite a while since I've been able to enjoy a Disgaea game, let alone look forward to one. Perhaps the extended break between Disgaea 3
and Disgaea 4 is just what I needed, because after getting my hands on the first few chapters of Disgaea 4 I am more than ready to just dive back in to the strategy game from hell. NIS kind of left a few gamers out in the cold with Disgaea 3, which isn't to say it was a bad game, it just felt very, uncharacteristic of their games. It had some of the manic charms of the first two games, but the magic just wasn't there. But it looks like they have returned to form in Disgaea 4, with just two chapters cleared for this preview it's easy to see the best of what this series has to offer. From the spastic characters to the greatly enhanced visuals it's obvious that NIS knew they'd need to bring something special in order to make Disgaea 4 resonate with fans.
Let's get this out of the way first, this game looks damn good. We're not quite up to Vanillaware levels here, but Disgaea 4 features some really high resolution sprites, and they animate quite well. Seeing this game in action, it's quite literally a work of art. The special attacks that the series is known for have also received a significant boost in graphical fidelity, making every over the top attack look all the more epic. And those Prinnies, they look so good in HD dood. But, if you absolutely MUST have the classic Disgaea look, well NIS has got you covered as well, as there is a character display option that will give you the pixelated classic look that the series has been known for in the past.
Getting through the first two chapters, the story is looking to be much stronger than what Disgaea 3 had to offer. You play the role of Lord Valvatorez, a vampire who's been demoted to the role of Prinny Instructor, charged with teaching the souls of the damned their new place in the world of Hades, so that they may pay back their sins incurred during their time on Earth. Unfortunately these Prinnies seem to be coming en masse, which has caused a bit of overcrowding in the underworld. So what is quickly dubbed 'The Prinny Wars' has begun, with the Corrupternment (opposite of Government, get it?) out to destroy the Prinnies, and Valvatorez, through some misguided promise that he intends to keep, is going to save these poor doomed souls. So far the war has devolved in to a match of wits with a girl who clearly doesn't understand that she's dead, and finds the underworld to be a dream, one that she expects to see improved for herself and the Prinnies.
Other Disgaea staples are present like the Dark Senate, which has an interesting new wrinkle, you can assign a Foreign Minister who will go in to the ether of PSN and land in another players Dark Senate as a visitor. After they take their place, they can be placated with an item (which comes home with the character and can be used in your inventory, awesome), causing them to vote for your motion or against it. Your foreign diplomat also might just beat up some of the members of the senate as well, which you can view through their history. You can also appoint a Defense Minister who will show up with a player uses a cell phone item to call for help.
Gameplay hasn't changed too much over the years with the Disgaea series, it fits that NIS strategy RPG niche quite well, and I'm hoping that with Disgaea 4 the franchise will try something new. Early impressions seem to suggest that the meta-game is where most of the changes will fall in to place, which to be honest is a bit disappointing, but our time with the preview was shorter than most, so maybe that's a sign that there's good stuff they have yet to show off. But for those unfamiliar with the series, Disgaea's strengths lie on creating a statistical nightmare, with characters who have numbers so ridiculously high assigned to stuff like hit points, and strength and intelligence going up against enemies with numbers equally outrageous in a battle of tactical wits. There's also a random dungeon inside of every item of the game, where traversing the levels will power up the item, and that goes for any item, from used chewing gum to the sword of Ragnarok.
Our look at Disgaea was short, but enjoyable and showed off some new properties that are a welcome addition to the series. I can only hope that there's a little bit more under the hood in terms of gameplay experience, as it would be a shame for the past three years since the release of Disgaea 3 to have been spent solely on making this game look good. Which don't get me wrong is a major improvement for the series. I'm just hoping the gameplay makes a similar jump in quality.