Things aren’t right in Hades. The established government – or “corrupternment”, in one of the game’s not-so-subtle political digs – has decided it can’t be dealing with the influx of human souls from the mortal world, which usually serve penance as the penguin-like demons called Prinnies. Instead, it’s easier just to wipe them out. This doesn’t sit right with Valvatorez, the sorta-vampire hero of this fourth strategy outing, who leads an uprising both on the battlefields and in the Netherworld’s polling booths.
Valvatorez’s campaign proves to be literally that: a battle to win command of the underworld through any means necessary. It lampoons the political process at every turn, mocking indecisive cabinets and aggressive militaries in equal measure, bringing a more satirical edge to the series’ comedy.
As a game though, Disgaea 4 doesn’t do much break the mold. Then again, when you’re dealing with one of the finest tactical RPGs on the market, with an intuitive yet comprehensive battle system leaving plenty of room for player experimentation, you probably don’t want to invite change for the sake of it. You’ll still move around a grid-based isometric map, marking out special attacks or picking up other characters and flinging them about to make better use of terrain or movement limits. Its new features enhance, rather than redefine the experience – varied ‘Tower Attacks’ when you pick up a stack of characters, fusing monsters into more powerful forms, and transforming others into weapons all add new approaches. Many of these come in the post-story content though, and with about 40+ hours to wade through first, some players may never see it.
The Vita version drastically expands on the original PS3 release, with features such as a cheat shop, new recruitable characters, improved skills, and more powerful magic. Returning players will notice the improvements immediately, though newcomers may find the eventual depth just a touch overwhelming. It’s the constant trickle of features and play options that makes Disgaea in all its forms so compelling though. It also looks far sharper on the Vita too, despite the smaller screen, with the HD animated sprites looking especially good.
However, the new cast aren’t quite as engaging as their predecessors, and cameos from the likes of Laharl, Flonne and Etna from the first game straddle the awkward line between being fanservice and a reminder of how much more engaging they are. Yet with its social commentary masquerading as humour and its near-perfect approach to strategy gameplay, Disgaea 4’s Vita outing is the ultimate expression of everything great about the series.