I’ve spent years trying to figure out why Disgaea is so beloved. While I adore the aesthetic and witty dialogue, the gameplay has never clicked with me. I’ve given the series numerous attempts, but I never was able to stick with any of them for more than 10 hours at most. I’m very happy to say however, that after playing Disgaea 4 I finally get it.
Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten released originally on the PlayStation 3 in 2011, and then received an expansive re-release in 2014 for the Vita under the subtitle A Promise Revisited. It’s been half a decade since, and now it’s being revived for modern systems as Disgaea 4: Complete+. It compiles all of the added content and free DLC of Revisited with the high-quality assets of the original PS3 release, now in true 1080p for the first time. There are also a few added quality of life improvements to clean up the experience ever so slightly. While not offering any new content, Complete + provides every improvement from Revisited, but now playable on a system you actually own. For those looking to replicate the portable Disgaea experience of the Vita, the Switch version offers a fantastic alternative. I should note that our own Elizabeth Henges reviewed the Vita version of this game, and pretty much all of her points still hold up.
Disgaea 4 is the story of Valvatorez, a once-powerful vampire that has given up the life of a Tyrant and now spends his days instructing Prinnies in Hades. He’s vowed never to drink human blood again, making him lose most of his power until he can fulfill a promise he once made. While power is out of his grasp in his current position, at least he has sardines (which, fun fact, are nutritious and are even used to repel evil thanks to their potent smell).
This changes when the Corrupternment, the active government of Hades, unintentionally jeopardize his job by exterminating his graduating class of Prinnies in an effort to reduce their overpopulation. Fenrich, his devoted servant, concocts a scheme for his master to return to his former glory by overthrowing the Corrupternment and becoming the new president of the Netherworld. The simple-minded Valvatorez is more than happy to agree with this plan, as it means he can get revenge on the Corrupternment who prevented him from keeping his promise of feeding sardines to his Prinnies.
The story isn’t anything special, but what elevated it for me over past entries is the cast. They’re all charming and their dynamics work great for the witty comedic dialogue, while still being likable on their own. The main story is fun to work through, but the true highlight of Disgaea 4 is the gameplay.
Like with most Japanese SRPGs, battles in Disgaea 4 take place on grid-based maps. Your party consists of pre-made characters you recruit from the story and custom made characters that can be one of several classes or varieties. Disgaea has always been known for taking traditional turn-based strategy gameplay and giving it an over-the-top spin. The skills are insanely flashy, the damage numbers can get astronomically high, and the level cap is 9999. The games even have a fun take on pairing your units up, with the ability to literally stack them up into giant towers you can throw around and attack with for massive damage. You do this by being able to pick up and throw almost anything, giving you a lot of freedom in how you engage the missions. It’s all so amazingly extra and prevented me from ever getting bored while grinding away at the fun maps.
Like Elizabeth mentioned in her review, battles in Disgaea 4 often feel more akin to mini puzzle games thanks to Geo Blocks and Geo Panels. Almost every fight in the game has these, and using them to your advantage can make battles a lot more interesting. Both are color-coded, with Blocks containing both positive and negative effects (Like defense or attack up/down, no throwing/stacking, invincibility, letting characters attack twice, damaging characters that walk on them, etc.) that spread to every Geo Panel of the same color you put it on. Negative Geo Effects can be worked around by throwing the block off the panel or destroying it. What adds an extra layer of depth to this is that if a Geo Block is destroyed on a panel of a different color, every panel of that is warped to the same color as the Block. This damages every enemy on those panels and can also instantly destroy other Geo Blocks on those spaces, leading to large chains of damage. Missions being designed around this change up the usual focus of the difficulty, which I think makes it more approachable to newcomers.
Between fights, you’re sent back to your base where you can buy items, equipment, heal your allies, use mana obtained in battles to unlock and improve abilities, and more. One nice return that can be very helpful for new players is the Cheat Shop, introduced in Disgaea D2 and Revisited. This can let you tweak how much health, money, and experience you gain in fights. The two facilities you’ll likely use the most are the Cam-Pain HQ and Item World. Cam-Pain HQ serves as your hub for base expansion and any other various things you can add. You propose bills to the senate that cause certain amounts of your mana based on what you’re asking for, and then have to bribe enough demonic senators to lean in your favor to make it pass. With this change, the inventory of shops, open up new facilities, make new characters, and more that continue to update as you play through the story.
The Item World was the real meat of the game for me, and where I spent the majority of my playthrough. This facility unlocks rather early in the game, and is exactly as it sounds. Every item in Disgaea has a randomized world inside of it, full of floors of enemies you can fight to improve the item and grind levels for your characters. Different items have different levels of enemies, and you’ll be shown what to expect when you hover over an item in the menu. Every 10 floors you get a checkpoint that lets you return to your base, restore the health of all your characters, or continue on to further improve your weapons.
On paper, this sounds tedious, but I found it immensely satisfying. In my first 10 hours of playtime, I’d only cleared 2 of the chapters and had spent 6 of these hours just grinding away in the item world. I had completely ignored story progression just because I was having such a great time going through these randomly generated missions, they're that fun. All the experience, items, and money you get in these worlds are much better than anything you get from the main story and this incentive kept me coming back. I’d end up amassing over 300,000 HL early on with a team decked out with incredible gear. It was at this moment that I started to view the Disgaea formula from an entirely new perspective. Grinding has a notoriously negative connotation to it, but this was one of the few games where it’s surprisingly fun. It’s the most involved version of upgrading items I’ve ever seen from an SRPG, since you’re also improving your party members as you complete them.
What ties this package together in a wonderful bow is how good the port is. The visuals have been upgraded to gorgeous 1080p, making Disgaea 4’s stunning art direction look better than ever. Every environment, sprite, and portrait look simply stunning in true HD, the game is an absolute treat to look at. The voice acting sounds great, giving players the option to listen to it in English or Japanese. Personally, I don’t find the soundtrack to be too special outside of the game’s incredible opening, but it’s mostly harmless. The QoL improvements from Disgaea 5 have made it over, and the game even auto-saves now after every mission. While the lack of new content is unfortunate, it keeps in line with Disgaea 1 and 5’s “Complete” releases in the past few years.
I wasn’t expecting to have this much fun with Disgaea 4 Complete. The story didn’t blow me away, but the humorous dialogue and amazing cast go a long way. It’s still an incredibly addicting game with multiple endings and an insane amount of content. If you’ve already spent countless hours on the Vita version you might not find too much of a reason to grab Complete +, but this is the definitive release of one HL of an SRPG. That’s all from me, I’m off to go kill some more time in the Item-World now, dood.
Versions tested: Nintendo Switch
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.