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Disgaea 4

Disgaea (魔界戦記ディスガイア Makai Senki Disugaia?, lit. "Hell Chronicles Disgaea") is a video game series of tactical role-playing games created and developed by Nippon Ichi. The series debuted in Japan on January 30, 2003, with Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, later re-released as Disgaea: Afternoon of DarknessDisgaea DS. One of Nippon Ichi's most popular franchises, it has branched off into both a Manga and Anime series. The Disgaea games take place in a fictional universe called the Netherworld and are known for their uncommon RPG elements, such as complex gameplay, extremely high maximum stats and humorous dialogue. Main characters in the series often include cynical, power-hungry antiheroes forced to fight alongside heroic foils, much to their disdain. The Disgaea series has sold 1.6 million games as of Q1 2010.

Disgaea 3 version of the English series logo
Genres Tactical role-playing game
Developers Nippon Ichi Software
  • JP Nippon Ichi Software

  • USA Atlus USA, Inc., NIS America

  • EUR NIS Europe, Square Enix Europe

  • AUS Ubisoft Australia, AFA Interactive
Platform of origin PlayStation 2
Official website

Disgaea 4 continues the series’ tradition of quirky storylines filled with cute anime-styled characters, and though some claim to be off-put by the goofy plots which Disgaea is known for, the colorful ridiculousness is welcome in this era of tired “M for Mature” schlock. The main character is Valvatorez, a former vampire tyrant now reduced to training the Prinnies: human souls (bound to the form of cute winged penguins) being forced to work off their sins in the netherworld. Discovering that the evil “corrupternment” has ordered the extermination of all Prinnies, Valvatorez makes it his mission to confront the president and set the netherworld straight.  The game’s humor could’ve come off as entirely juvenile, but is saved by the incredible voice acting, which had me chuckling even as the game piled on more and more jokes about Vavatorez’s obsession with sardines. Meanwhile the supporting characters are all great fun, including a gangster-wannabe grim reaper, a delusional Prinny-hating middle schooler, and an adorable monster girl who wants nothing more than to be a final boss someday.


Each Disgaea game consists of a number of missions that the player undertakes from a central hub. In the hub, the player can manage equipment and team members, heal their party, and other functions. When the player is prepared, they can then travel to the next available mission as well as replay any mission they have already completed. Missions are usually arranged in a number of chapters with cutscenes before and after to advance the plot.
Each mission requires the player to complete an objective, all missions can be completed by defeating all the enemy forces. The mission takes place on an isometric grid-based board with spaces at various heights. The player and the computer alternate turns. During the player's turn, they can summon members of their party from a starting point, up to ten. Each characters once on the board can move and then perform an action, including melee attacks and special abilities. Once a character has performed an action, they may no longer move that turn unless they attack before moving. The player can move as many characters as desired and plan their actions at a time, then issuing an "Execute" command to carry out those actions. If the player has characters that can still move and perform actions at this time, they can do so, otherwise, they will end their turn. The computer opponents then perform their actions. When the player successfully completes a mission, they are given bonus items based on their overall bonus score, which is earned through combo attacks, special attacks, and other features of the game.
The player can arrange to have allies next to each other to fight a foe with a chance to launch a combo attack, which can do more damage and boost the mission's scoring meter. Players can also have characters lift and throw other characters or objects on the level for various effects: for example, a character can throw another character to an empty space as to allow that second character to move farther than if on foot, or certain monsters called Prinnies can be thrown at others to cause explosive damage. It is possible for characters to pick up a character that is already carrying another character, and so forth, allowing for one character to move within a single turn to the far side of the map. However, any character that is still carrying another character at the end of the turn will take damage. While a character is holding others they can attack, when this is done each character adds to the damage.
Across some boards are glowing colored spaces which are either red, green, blue, yellow, purple, cyan, and special objects called "Geo Symbols" which are either null, red, green, blue, yellow, purple. When these are placed on a colored field, they impart a bonus or penalty to all battle participants on the same colored field; such bonuses can also stack if multiple Geo Symbols are on the same field. A character can destroy a Geo Symbol which will cause all the field spaces it affects to cause some damage to the characters on them as they turn to another color determined by the destroyed Geo Symbol. It is possible to arrange a chain of these effects, each chain increasing the amount of damaged earned and increasing the bonus score for the mission. As with characters, Geo Symbols can also be lifted and thrown as to affect the board's bonuses.
In addition to maintaining their party at the central hub, the player can create new characters to the party based on experience each character earned in battle, or, with enough experience, attempt to alter the features of the central hub, such as having better weapon or armor at the stores. This itself involves convincing the Dark Assembly to agree to such changes, and it is possible to initiate combat in the same manner as the missions to convince the creature to see otherwise. There is also an Item World gateway; here, the player can select any item in the party's inventory and enter it. The Item World for an item is randomly generated but depends on a number of factors based on the item itself such as its rarity or power. By descending through the Item World, each level similar to one of the main missions featuring a random map and a number of creatures as well as an exit portal to the next level, the player can improve the abilities of the item as well as free Guardians that live in the item. These Guardians impart certain benefits to the item, such as increased in attack or defense values, and once they are freed, they can be moved between items freely.

As fun and quirky as the plot is, if you came here for the storyline, then you’re doing something wrong. The real excitement of Disgaea 4 is what the game’s trailer defines as “manly fantasy,” the thrill of ripping into your foes while giant damage numbers explode across the screen. If you’re like me, you were weaned on the excitement of Super Nintendo RPGs, your heart skipping a beat every time Ness or Crono leveled up. Disgaea takes that minor heart murmur and turns it into a full on heart-attack, allowing players to watch with glee as their cute characters evolve into level-9999 harbingers of doom, dazzled by the game’s impressive (and often hilarious) special attacks. 


All Disgaea games take place mostly in the "Netherworld", a parallel universe inhabited by demons where moral values are reversed from those of humans. Multiple Netherworlds exist, each with their own Overlord. Other areas include the human world, shown to possess a futuristic level of technology in Hour of Darkness, and "Celestia", a heavenly realm inhabited by angels. Rather than being purely good or purely evil, inhabitants of the Netherworld and Celestia possess human-like qualities, but are swayed far more towards either moral extreme.\Apart from the main storyline dungeons, the game’s notorious “Item World” returns, allowing players to travel into the random dungeons contained within their own equipment, offering countless hours of extra gameplay. Though Item World is a great way to level-up items and snag some EXP and loot, players can also capture enemies to later add to the party, subdue special item-boosting “innocent” characters, discover secret bonus rooms, and, perhaps the coolest new feature, fight off pirate ships built and staffed by their fellow Disgaea 4 players. Unfortunately the game still doesn’t offer actual PVP combat, but these A.I. guided skirmishes are a step in the right direction.

 Also returning to the game is the senate, where players have to petition on behalf of various bills, such as wanting more expensive items or to unlock a particular dungeon. This feature definitely showcases the game’s awesome sense of humor, as reluctant senators can be bribed with alcohol, put to sleep with chloroform, or taken out of commission with a bomb. And if the bill still fails to pass following this trickery, there’s always the option to start a good old fashioned brawl. Most interestingly though, players can now appoint their characters to become senators on the Disgaea 4 network, and it’s exciting to log-in and see all the shiny new bribes your senator collected while you were away. As another network feature, players can also create and share maps for the first time, and there’s even a ranking system to encourage budding map-designers to do more than jam a hundred Prinnies onto a 10x10 grid. 

Despite all the new and returning features crammed into the game, it’s the thrilling battle system that Disgaea is known for, and this fourth installment keeps it going strong. In addition to your standard movement and attack options, human characters can also lift and throw each other around, allowing for some truly interesting strategies, as well as some hilarious “tower” attacks which encourage you to hoist your team up on each other’s shoulders. Additionally, it’s always advisable to position friendly characters to the right, left, and behind of an attacker, as there’s the chance that one or more of these buddies will contribute their strength to a Team Attack. Interestingly, characters can always reset their position until they actually perform an action, meaning you can have your powerful allies run from Team Attack to Team Attack, until finishing the turn by performing an actual action. 

Disgaea’s battle system are the geo-panels, colored map squares which sometimes have the battlefield looking like a shiny Rubix Cube.  These are affected by items known as geo-blocks, which when placed on a geo-panel grant various effects to any character or enemy standing on a panel of the same color. It can be truly terrifying to start a map only to realize there’s an errant geo-block in the corner giving every enemy character +50% to all their stats, though thankfully there’s a variety of ways to manipulate this system. Characters can toss geo-blocks around to shift which panels, if any, receive the effects, and the blocks can also be arranged in a way to set up devastating combo explosions which I won’t even try to explain (when a colored block explodes it turns all the panels it was on to the same color it was which then if another block is on the same color panel that explodes and…). This system really defines Disgaea’s combat, and trying to manipulate each map to your benefit is a fun challenge.

Disgaea 4 is a blast, and easily cements Nippon Ichi’s legacy as the kings of the strategy RPG genre. The gameplay is top-notch, the graphics are vibrant and colorful, and I definitely fell in love with more than a few of the characters.Really the only thing keeping Disgaea 4 from a perfect score is the lack of true online PVP combat, but given how much content has been jammed into the game, it admittedly feels a bit greedy to be asking for more. Anyhow if you’ve got a few thousand hours to kill and want to spend it plowing your way through some truly over-the-top RPG ridiculousness, this is your game.

Check out Disgaea 4 game trailer for more details.


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