[With this review, I’m kicking off what I would like to become a regular series of gaming-related posts. Various factors will decide how often these posts get written, such as the popularity of these posts, whether or not anyone else on Team Zero wants to write about gaming, and the frequency at which games eligible for review are released. These posts will usually (but not necessarily always) deal with Japanese games, to try and keep these somewhat related to what Bokutachi no Blog usually covers. I hope you enjoy it!]
There are 5 games that make me incredibly happy. 5 games that fill me with a sense of joy that makes me feel as if there is no better place to be in the world than when I am playing them. Those games are:
#5: Resident Evil 4
#4: No More Heroes
#2: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
#1: Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness
Here I am, reviewing the 4th entry in a series which contains my favourite game of all time, a game that fills me with a euphoria that has yet to be matched by any other game. Not only that, but it’s an entry that fixes many of the problems levelled at the series. I think you can all see where this is going.
When I first discovered the series with the PSP remake of the original title, Hour of Darkness, I knew that I would love this game. Never has a game clicked with me as quickly as Afternoon of Darkness did. Here was a game that was incredibly complex, yet didn’t overwhelm its players, allowing them to ignore its many intricacies. Here was a game that was wonderfully self-aware, a game that acted as a parody of JRPG’s whilst managing to be an excellent one at the same time. The story, the characters, the gameplay, everything. There was literally nothing that I didn’t love about the game. I was hooked, and sank 300 hours into it, that’s more than double what I’ve spent playing any other game (besides other entries into the series).
So naturally I decided to seek out the rest of the games in the series, so I played the 3rd game on PS3, I still loved it, and appreciated the improvements made to the gameplay, but the characters and story just didn’t gel with me the way it did in the first game. Then I moved on to the remake of the 2nd game on PSP, the story was ostensibly better than that of the 1st and 3rd game, and the remake incorporated many of the improvements found in the 3rd game, but it sacrificed much the series’ trademark humour, and once again, failed to deliver characters as interesting as those in the 1st game.
The 4th game seemed to be a more serious entry yet again, the story concerning a vampire who had forbidden himself from drinking human blood after failing to fulfil a promise he made to a young woman before she died. Oh how wrong I was…
The overall tone of the game, wonderfully, is closest to that of the first game. It has its serious moments, but it’s still completely, utterly hilarious. That aforementioned story about the vampire is true, but still segues into a remarkably funny plot point regarding sardines, which our protagonist, Valvatorez now derives his power from. You see, after abstaining from drinking human blood, Valvatorez lost most of his power, and was demoted to the absolute lowest position a demon can hold, Prinny instructor. (For those unaware, a Prinny is the soul of a human who has sinned during their lifetime that is placed inside a penguin-like body until they earn enough money to reincarnate)
Upon finishing the training of a batch of Prinnies, Valvatorez promises to give each of them sardines, but they are taken away before he can fulfil his promise. Unable to break a promise, Valvatorez makes his way to save the Prinnies and give them sardines before its too late, eventually leading Valvatorez and his party to confront the President of the Netherworld himself.
Yes, the plot is as ridiculous as it sounds, but that is exactly what I love about the series. It manages to take something as stupid as that, and turns it into something that is at times hilarious and touching, boasting some of the best characters the series has ever seen and a surprisingly effective love story. Our cast consists of the aforementioned vampire, his werewolf servant, a human girl who believes that everything happening around her is all just a dream, a money-grubbing angel, the son of the president, and a man-made demon girl whose dream is to become a final boss. These characters will become your new best friends over the course of a few hundred hours or so
I haven’t even started on the gameplay yet! This is why Strategy RPGs have become my favourite genre. Whereas most games in the genre, such as Final Fantasy Tactics and the rather excellent Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, offer up a very strict set of rules, Disgaea takes these rules and throws them out the window, not only allowing characters to exploit its systems for everything they’re worth, but encouraging it oh and it offers up a level cap of 9999. For example, when a character attacks an enemy and is surrounded by allies, there is a chance that they will perform a team attack, but moving a unit and not doing anything else with them still allows for the unit to be used, so a player can line units up for a team attack, and then reset all of their positions (with the exception of the primary unit in the attack) and have them move again, essentially giving units a second turn. Characters move on a grid-based battlefield, with individual stats determining how far they can move each turn, units can be thrown to clear gaps and move further each turn (a fairly ingenious mechanic in practice). I’m not going to go into specifics with the battle system, there’s Wikipedia for that. But I will mention the improvements made to this entry. Characters can now use allies special abilities when positioned next to each other, the school-based setting of the 3rd game has been replaced with a political one, allowing players to appoint units to a cabinet, granting various bonuses to units. The item world which allows players to dive into items in order to strengthen them has been refined and now allows a certain degree of control regarding how the items improve. There are many other subtle tweaks which altogether make for a better experience, but by far the biggest improvement to the series comes with the updated graphics.
One fact has been undeniable since the series beginning on the PS2; Disgaea has never exactly been good looking. The games have traditionally stuck with fairly low-res character sprites (they weren’t even in HD in the 3rd game) with mediocre-at-best 3D environments, the best-looking parts of the games has always been the absolutely wonderful art and character designs by series mainstay Takehito Harada (seriously, he’s a terrific artist) but with Disgaea 4 comes a slight update that goes a long way toward making this a good looking game. The sprites have been updated to create something that looks far closer to Harada’s artwork, and, dare I say it, the game looks good. Sure it’s not the best thing you’ll see all year, but it’s great seeing just how big of a difference it makes, character art now moves as well, making the cutscenes feel far less static and more vibrant. This bodes very well for the future of the series.
So here I am, my first game review and I’m giving it a 10 out of 10, feels strange, really. But when you have a game this good, this long, this satisfying, it feels like I’d be doing it a disservice to give it anything lower. If you enjoy JRPGs at all, you need this game; it’s one of the best deals of the year. Hell, I spent way more than I should have on shipping for importing the Super Premium Edition (which comes with an artbook, 10 small figures, free downloadable content, and a soundtrack CD) and I still feel as though it was an absolute bargain. With multiple endings and masses of post-game content, you can quite honestly play these games forever and still have something to do in it.
Is it the best Disgaea game? Absolutely. Is it my favourite Disgaea game? You know, the 1st game holds a very special place in my heart, but this might just take my top spot, time will tell. And so, my list grows to 6 games which fill me with joy, and I cannot recommend it enough.
10 out of 10