Sunday, August 3, 2014

Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited (PS Vita)

Those of you who have followed the Disgaea series from it's beginnings will likely notice something oddly familiar about the title of this particular PS Vita video game revamp. The difference in title, in fact resembles the original version of "Disgaea 4" which debuted on US PS3 consoles under the name, "Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten". Keeping faithful to the original, but building upon it's core gaming experience NISA decided to go all out for the gamers' sake this time around, and offered the most content heavy Disgaea yet for the usual asking price. Not only did they revamp the visuals (HD), add new chapters, and include all 50 pieces of the original DLC, but they also made if fit the PS Vita handheld console perfectly. It's the type of game a Disgaea enthusiast could get lost in for a very, very long time. Like the other Disgaea games you'll find plenty of laughable moments as well as NISA's usual level grinding gameplay experience. For those of you looking for customization options you'll also find plenty of that in this latest re-release in the form of character naming, and item naming options.

For those of you who are new to the Disgaea series it is basically a turn based SRPG (Strategy Roleplaying Game) with a !@#$%^ ton of in-game content, and an immense amount of replay value. In it you control two main characters, and their army of faithful followers as their intertwined involvement unfolds through battles in episodic story driven chapters. This time around we find the former vampire tyrant "Valvatorez", and his faithful assistant "Fenrich" at odds with the Netherworld's "Curruptorment (Leaders)". Being the Prinny trainer, and true-to-his-word dood that he his Lord Val (Valvatorez) comes to his Prinnys' aid for the sake of a simple promise, and ultimately ends up trying to overthrow those who are trying to keep him from his heartfelt goals. On the flipside Fenrich, who is faithful to his master (Valvatorez) has his own intentions, and is trying to get his Lord Val back on the throne as the rightful ruler of the Netherworld. Together they confront various Corruptorment officials, and other wacky characters that each aim to make things hard for the pair.

About the Gameplay ...

Gameplay in "Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited" is a truly complex thing to wrap your mind around. There's lots to go over in the ever extensive, and often times hands-on tutorials. Once you go through all of the tutorials though you'll be more than well equipped to take on the many tasks at hand. All you really need to know is that there is a core gaming experience within "Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited" via the story campaign as well as plenty of extra activities to do on the side. The core of the game, as I mentioned before, will have you guiding Lord Val, Fenrich, and their followers through a story driven campaign filled with tons, and tons of mini-battles. The battles in the story driven campaign are each fought on a chapter by chapter basis, and on various gridded terrains that take in account both movement, and actions. Each character in your party will be able to move a set number of squares during your player turn depending on their class, and other in-game stats. After they are moved out onto the playing field you will have to decide the next course of action for your characters including whether to attack, defend, lift, throw, or perform a number of other character specific tasks. After moving your character from the starting spawn point via the "X" button, and clicking on said character again with a second pressing of "X" you will be able to choose the next action you wish your selected character to take. Once you are through setting all of your characters' actions, and executing them you can end your turn via the "TRIANGLE" menu, and let the enemy take their turns. Be sure you have everything in check though before you do so otherwise the enemy team could wipe out your entire party.

One thing to note about combat in 'Disgaea 4' is that besides being an SRPG it is also a combo based game that rewards you handsomely for your setup team attacks, and the joint actions from your army of support characters. By positioning your characters in your party in a row, or certain formation before an enemy/s you can perform team based attacks that deal a whole heck of a lot more damage, and fill up the stage's combo meter in the process. Rewards for your successful combos (follow-up attacks) come in the form of end battle perks such as HL (currency), equipment, and other items of use. Of course when it comes to marching your army out on the battlefield you'll want place projectile oriented characters such as archers, thieves, mages, and magic wielders who are weaker at a distance so you can pick off enemy targets from afar without losing the use of them.

There are plenty of skill specific character classes (Fighters, Mages, Thieves, Archers, Prinnies, Monsters, etc., ...) to unlock, play as, and improve upon in your quest to keep Lord Val's promise, but you will need to manage your created party efficiently otherwise you'll end up with a "Game Over". Unfortunately you'll find that there is indeed a definitive end to player's parties who aren't properly leveled up, and equipped with the best of equipment for the battles at hand. The moment all of your characters are killed off in a battle scenario you will have to start over from your last save, or from scratch depending on which choice is better for you. This is why finishing battles, leveling up characters through "Level Grinding (repeating battles for stat boosting)", and using earned currency for better equipment is a must if you hope to win against the game's harder enemies.

Aside from the main story you'll find that there are tons of activities to take part in at your Netherworld home base. Like Disgaea games before it Disgaea 4's home portal includes the usual Rosen Queen shops for equipment, and health item purchases as well as other go to places/characters that provide other in-game services (Evility Shop for learning skills, stat boosts & status resistance ... Bestiary, Unlocked Content , etc., ...). Along with the additional in-game shops, and services you'll be able to hold senate hearings via a "Cam-Pain HQ" menu system, and pass game changing bills (cheaper/expensive shop items, EXP boosts, Cheat Shop, etc. ...) that affect the gameplay. There's even an item world where you, and your party members can traverse the weapons, or items via a pirate ship, and enhance their various attributes/stats through randomly generated battles. One thing that's different from other Disgaea games before it though is the actual "Cam-Pain HQ" where you can position senators (party characters), and evil symbols on a semi-overhead map in order to give characters in-battle boosts as well as new functions on the battlefield. The "Support Group", which is another home base area of interest will allow you to retire unused party members for the purpose of support in senate hearings. While my descriptions are somewhat vague you'll find that learning the tutorials I briefly discussed is an easy thing to do if only you pay attention. It is imperative that you pay close attention to all the provided in-game tutorials, and information so that you'll be well prepared to get the most out of your "Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited" experience.

Combat on the Grid ...

While 'Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited' does require specific combat strategies at certain points within the game's campaign you will find that most of the time you can organize the battle as you see fit. After spawning all of the characters you wish to do battle, and having them execute given commands you can use the grided terrain to your advantage. Terrain advantages include, but are not limited to the use of colored stat boosting/nerfing Geo Blocks, and their respective colored Geo Tiles. By destroying Geo Blocks on different colored Geo Tiles you'll be able to deal extra damage to the onscreen enemies while changing the tile color, and alter the stat boosts they may be emitting as well. Sometimes the Geo Blocks, and their respective tiles will work in your favor giving your own team the advantage, and other times the enemy will have the upper hand until you destroy the right Geo Block upon the appropriately colored Geo Tiles. In situations where there are multiple Geo Block colors, and tiles you will find that you can cause a destructive chain to occur that will sometimes clear an entire area of enemies along with all of the tiles, and blocks without you having to deal with any of them.

In standard combat situations you will need to setup up your team of characters, and monsters on the battle grid in a manner that is most beneficial to them. By setting up team attacks, and following up with solo attacks with single characters/monsters you will be able to chain together combos that will reward you at the end of battle. As I briefly mentioned earlier your combo chains that are dealt while enemies are still onscreen will be tallied up at the end of a battle, and will reward you an item for each combo/chain tier that you are able to reach. Some reward items will be health oriented while others will contain weapons, and equipment. It's always best to strive for the highest combo/chain possible. Keep in mind though that it's the battle grids that hold the Geo Blocks, and Geo Tiles that will usually reward you the best due to their high chain possibilities.

Other standard combat options include the use of character specific attacks, special attacks, demon fusion, and magichange. As far as character specific attacks go you'll find that each class of character/monster has certain inherent attacks that they can perform on the battle grid. Fighters for example are melee oriented, and can attack with axes, spears, swords, or fists. Long distance characters such as the archer, or the thief (which can wield a gun) are long distance characters that have attacks that deal damage from afar. As you continue to play through the game you will unlock more human-type, and monster-type characters that can each be created, named, and improved upon stat-wise via the senate hearing menu. After being created you'll get a short animated senator sequence that will show said character giving their speech as to how they'll make the Netherworld a better place. Character classes each have specific weapons that they can use as well as skills that can be learned via the Evility Shop. One thing I forgot to mention is that the Evility Shop, and the senate hearings run solely on the mana that you earn from battles. In order to learn skills, Evilities, or hold bill passing senate hearings you will need to have acquired sufficient mana to do so. Mana in turn can afford you many new in-game options including the availability of new items at the Rosen Queen as well as new skills, and Evilities at the Evility shop.

Aside from the standard attacks (attacks & specials) you'll find that characters within in D4 can undergo some unique transformations on the battle grids. Monster-type characters, for example can be fused together via a "Fusion" command. All you have to do is get two of the same monsters side by side on the battle grid, and choose the "Fusion" option for one of them. This will result in the monsters combining into one larger monster with much greater stats. The catch is that their movement uses up SP, and that they have a limited set of moves that they can take. In regards to the SP situation once the SP is fully depleted both monsters will no longer be usable on the current battle grid. There are ways around this though. As with any proper RPG you will be able to find, and purchase SP refill items within the game. This option will negate the SP usage if you have SP refills in stock. On the flipside of character-to-character transformations you'll find that combining a human-type character, and a monster-type character in a similar fashion will result in what's known as "Magichange". Magichange is a transformation process in which a monster-type character becomes a stronger weapon for the paired up human-type character. Some monster-types will morph into projectile weapons (guns / bows) while others will become melee weapons. Using both the 'Fusion', and 'Magichange' options can turn the tide of battle, and make an easier win out of a seemingly more difficult situation.

As far as combat in the Item world goes you will find that it requires a series of completed battle victories to level up the item in question. In order to make it to the end of an item world playthrough you will have to survive, and earn 10 consecutive wins on randomly generated battle grids. The battles fought in Item World are usually harder to take on than the story mode counterparts in that the "Notorious (enemies)" are usually tougher than your average story mode characters/monsters. The added fact that Geo Blocks, and Geo Tiles usually litter the battlefields makes the task at hand an even more daunting one. One thing you need to note is that items come in a variety of different rarities (common, rare, legendary ...), and can each be leveled up multiple times as well as have additional effects imprinted upon them as you do your Item World playthroughs. Not only will the items' stats increase as you conquer the stages of the Item World, but the Notorious that you defeat will become Innocents which you can store in the provided menu storage system, and place on items that you see fit for additional boosts.

One thing that really sets Item World apart from the main campaign is that it features multiple paths including the occasional healing stations, and mystery stages amongst other things. Unlike the story campaign though you will find that Item World battles do not have to end in the complete annihilation of all onscreen enemies, but that reaching certain in-stage portals will take you to different areas of interest. Item World in essence is a pirates dream come true, and can afford your team many perks along with item stat boosts should you be willing to return to it often. One thing I forgot to mention about battle in D4 is that sometimes killing off an enemy will leave behind a treasure chest. These randomly appearing chests contain everything from HL (in-game currency) to items of different variety. The only way you'll gain the contents inside though is to attack the chest as you would an enemy.

Extras ...

As I briefly mentioned at the beginning of this review "Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited" is chock full of extra content. Along with the original 50 pieces of DLC comes some extra scenarios not seen before in D4. There's "The Fuka & Desco Show", "The Flashback Episode", and an entirely new scenario that accounts for the story of Valvatorez, and Sister Artina (aka, "Time Leap"). This means you'll have much more in-game content than ever before, and that all said content comes with the game from the start. There's no need in purchasing extra DLC to get this additional in-game content!

One other interesting feature in this version of D4 is that your gameplay will take place both offline, and online in some respects. The offline portion of the game is everything I previously mentioned. The online portion of it however involves the "Cam-Pain HQ", and the allowing of your characters/monsters to be sent to other players' senate hearings to score bribe loot (you have to bribe the senate sometimes to vote in your favor). By positioning your characters/monsters strategically on the Cam-Pain HQ map you will set them up to invade other players' games, namely the senate hearings. This can definitely work in your favor as you'll have the opportunity to influence bill passing for other real-world players, and score bribe loot in the process. Collectively D4 takes in account all players' in-game activities including senate invasions, and tallies them up in a global stat display. Things like how many times you visited the Netherworld Nurse, and how much damage everyone collectively has done is tallied up together. It's a nifty little extra that will in turn give the gamer, and the developer an idea of just how popular the game really is.

About the Graphics & Sound ...

From a recent return visit to the PS3 port of Disgaea 4 I did notice a huge difference in graphics between both versions of the game. Instead of the usual dull Disgaea character sprites, and colors in D4 on the PS3 NISA chose to give each in-game character, and area in the PS Vita version of the game an in-game overhaul. Not only do the characters look HD (High Definition) in design, but the world around them also features a more rich, and realistic HD color palette. During my playthrough I even noticed some dialogue panel art/animation that seemed to reflect an improved artistic design. Lord Val's cape for example is animated like it is in the game's intro, and sports the morphing bat shapes that go along with it. For those of you looking for visual improvements you will definitely find them here.

In the way of audio you'll find in place an impressive Japanese voice-over option as well as an English voice-over option for those who would rather have that. The soundtrack in "Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited" mostly stays true to the original game with little change at all. It often times features symphonic melodies like the ones you'd find in an anime cartoon. The tunes usually mirror the mood of the onscreen event, and range from the more whimsical tracks to the more serious battle hardened ones. There's a track to fit every occasion within the game, and each track has it's rightful place. For those of you looking to enjoy the provided soundtrack in it's entirety in-game there is a character at Lord Val's Netherworld home base that will let you listen to, and enjoy the various tracks in the game's soundtrack as well as any cutscene, and video you may have encountered during your playthrough.

The Verdict ...

With all the extra content, the revitalized graphics, and the fact that the game is now available in it's entirety on the PS Vita you'll find that this game is absolutely a "Must Have!". There's no if's, and's, or but's about it. Those looking to spend some quality time with a quality handheld RPG will find that opportunity here. The only question you should concern yourself with is whether you want the limited edition (Disgaea 4), or the standard version. The limited edition, as it were comes complete with the game, a collector's box, a tear-proof poster, 3 exclusive Disgaea keychains, and a microfiber cloth with a Disgaea mural printed upon it. As far as I know the limited edition is still available for order, but is only available at NISA's official online store. If you are interested in buying the limited edition it's best you get your order in quickly as the game's release date is quickly approaching. In fact I just checked, and only 25% of the stock is still available at NISA's $49.99 asking price. That's only $10 dollars above the standard edition's price!

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