Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited follows the story of Valvatorez the vampire. He was one of the strongest of the demons in the underworld, but an ill-considered promise forced him to forego drinking human blood. Without it, his power dwindled and he was reduced to the role of Prinny instructor in Hades. The Corruptment, the evil government of the underworld, decides that there are too many Prinnies, and the only option is to exterminate them. This leaves Valvatorez with two choices: go back on his promise to give sardines to the Prinnies or overthrow the Corruptment. Along with a wild cast of characters such as a rogue would-be Prinny named Fuka, his loyal wolf-like butler, and the son of the Corruptment's president, Valvatorez sets out to free the Prinnies and keep his promise.
Like most Disgaea titles, Disgaea 4 focuses on jokes and humor above all else, and as a result, the plot is quite silly. The cast of characters is varied and enjoyable. The biggest problem with the plot is that each character has one specific joke that's overused. This gets better as the plot goes on and the characters develop further interactions, but it can sometimes feel tedious. It's a fun cast and the jokes hold together the plot, despite their repetitiveness. A little more variety in the humor would've done wonders.
The core gameplay is strategy-RPG, but this is one of the more complex strategy-RPG games on consoles. The basic interface and gameplay are incredibly easy to pick up and play, but there is just so much stuff to do. Any given battle or character can approach battles in what feels like an infinite number of ways. You can equip characters with different weapons, and every character has built-in "Evilites" that give them special passive traits that hugely alter the way they play. You can fuse characters together, throw enemies around, form huge chains of attacks, and many more things.
One of the coolest aspects of Disgaea's combat system is the Geo-Panel and Geo-Cubes. These have been a series staple and remain a part of Disgaea 4. Every map is covered with colored blocks known as Geo-Panels. When you play a Geo-Cube on a Geo-Panel, every square covered by a Geo-Panel of the same color gains a special attribute, such as recovering HP, invincibility, teleportation. Destroying a Geo-Cube on a Geo-Panel causes all panels of the same color to change to the color of the cube you just destroyed, and it also eliminates its effect. Anyone, friend or foe, standing on a panel when this occurs takes damage. If you destroy another Geo-Cube with this damage, the effect occurs again, and it's known as a Geo-Chain. Manipulating these effects is the key to a lot of battles in Disgaea 4. You can create a lengthy Geo-Chain or swap cubes to get beneficial effects while denying them to the enemy.
Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited is a very, very, very long game. The core story can be finished in about 30 hours, but doing everything in the game can take hundreds of hours. There are a ton of optional bosses, challenge maps, and a randomly generated Item World you can explore that allows you to power up weapons and characters. It's not an exaggeration to say that finishing the game is just the beginning of the Disgaea 4 experience. The sheer amount of content is mind-boggling, and most of it is fun. There's even a Dark Senate that you can attempt to bribe to pass special bills and unlock new content, or you can beat the living daylights out of the senators to bend them to your will. This comes in part with the Cam-Pain feature, which lets you set up special senators or artifacts to boost the strength of your characters.
Disgaea 4's difficulty is tough to judge because it's simultaneously easy and difficult, and it's very customizable to your preferences. There are lots of different ways to increase the power and potential of your characters, who are already quite powerful. For example, Desco joins your party at the end of Chapter 3, and she can probably carry you through big chunks of the game. You can level up items for her, grind levels with her skills, find the right monster for her to fuse with, reincarnate her repeatedly to boost her stats, and so on. With a little work, you can create a character who can effortlessly conquer the main story on her own. There are both quick and time-consuming ways to gain power that would normally break the game wide open.
Yet there's also plenty of difficulty in the game. You can choose to adjust the difficulty level by increasing the enemy's power or reducing your EXP gains. Most of the bonus content requires an absurd amount of stats and/or smart manipulation of characters. Enemies can have stats in the tens of millions, and maps can be completely stacked against you, so you'll need careful planning to conquer them. It's never overwhelming, but you'll have fun trying to figure out a way past it. It'll require a little thought, but later areas also provide a lot of ways to circumvent or overcome the challenge.
At the end of the day, Disgaea's appeal depends on how much you enjoy the plot or watching numbers grow to ridiculous levels. The core gameplay doesn't change much, and the game has a good sense of progression. Beyond a certain point, though, you'll probably fizzle out before finishing all the content. Fully completing the game involves a lot of time, especially with a certain amount of random rerolling required to find certain items or get the best equipment. This makes it a great choice for the Vita because you can pick up and play for a few minutes at a time, which is pretty perfect for Disgaea as a franchise. You can turn off the system whenever you want and instantly pop back into the game later, and that helps prevent the 100-level dungeon world excursions from growing tedious.
The Vita-exclusive features do a lot to improve the Disgaea 4 experience. Most are minor tweaks that you probably won't notice until you're deep in the game. You can instantly adjust your EXP, Mana and HL gains or change the enemy difficulty on the fly, and that removes a lot of the unnecessary tedium of trying to gain levels or boost characters. There is more significant additional content, such as the included DLCs and Nagi Clockwork's storyline, which add more value to the packed game.
Disgaea 4 is a huge step up from Disgaea 3. The character models have been redone in a much higher quality style. They're more animated, and each character has a few different animations that help them stand out. For those who played the PS3 version, the game hasn't changed much, and it runs surprisingly well on the Vita. I encountered slowdown during busy attack animations inside the Item World. For the most part, the gameplay is smooth as it needs to be, and little has been lost in the portable transition. The voice acting provides a choice between an English dub or the original Japanese voices. Troy Baker as Valvatorez knocks it out of the park, but several of the Japanese voices are better for their characters. The soundtrack is reasonably good, if a bit too familiar. It's good, but it doesn't hold any surprises.
Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited is easily one of the best buys you can make as an RPG fan on the Vita. It's a well-designed, deep and fun game that is brimming with content. The new content is an improvement over the original PS3 version. The storyline is a tad silly and simplistic, but it doesn't get in the way of the boatloads of gameplay. Die-hards may spend hundreds of hours perfecting their characters, but even casual players who just want to experience the story will get their money's worth from Disgaea 4.
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