Disgaea 4: It’s Time for a Change

I’ve been a huge fan of SRPGs (Strategy Role-playing Games) ever since I played the original Final Fantasy Tactics back on the Playstation. I also quite like anime-inspired games. These two interests coincide nicely in the Disgaea series made by N1 (Nippon Ichi). The original was lauded heavily for it’s fun combat, ridiculous characters, and it’s innovative grid-based battle system. Fast forward nine years to Disgaea 4, and we have pretty much the exact same game as the original, but with different characters. My entry into the series came in a game called La Pucelle which was another SRPG made by N1. While it wasn’t a Disgaea game, it set a lot of the foundations that would later be used by the series. You see, internet, before Disgaea became as popular as it is, N1 worked on a variety of SRPGs including La Pucelle, Phantom Brave, and Makai Kingdom. These games were still SRPGs like the Disgaea series. They shared many similarities, and even cross-over into Disgaea games constantly. However, unlike the Disgaea series, these games were big on innovation. Sometimes a new system would work, and sometimes they wouldn’t, but none of these games played the same. Ever since Disgaea became popular, innovation in the series halted and N1 seemed to stop working on these spin-off titles.

Take my word for it:  Zetta is one badass freakin’ overlord.

That isn’t to say that N1 has just released the same game over and over again. What has happened is that they are more interested in tweaking the current battle system instead of overhauling it. So make no mistake, Disgaea 4 plays much better than Disgaea 1, but there is only so far a series can go by tweaking alone. Disgaea 4 may be hands-down the best Disgaea game ever made, but it’s time to start making changes. So where should there be changes?

You should start by giving Laharl his sandwich back.

Firstly it’s time to look at the sprites. Disgaea 4 was a big step in the series by offering HD sprites, which is ridiculous when you consider that Disgaea 3 was also on the PS3. These sprites are absolutely beautiful. However, the character designs haven’t changed since the original, and while there is certainly a place for tradition and continuity, having the same limited number of classes with the same limited design for each game just comes off as lazy to me.

Upgrading a class leads to a palate swap. There is definitely room for improvement here.

The most obvious change I can think of is overhauling the battle system. The same grid-system that has been in use since Tactics Ogre could seriously be improved upon. Instead of making new ways to show off the rather useless lift command, the developers should try to innovate past the basic grid system. Both Phantom Brave and Makai Kingdom did it, and Valkyria Chronicles shows us that SRPGs don’t need to abstain from innovation. There is no reason why the Disgaea series has maintained the exact same system for so long.

In Disgaea, mushrooms eat you.

Disgaea 4 meets my expectations. The dialogue is just as funny and satyrical as ever. The item world is still a major time sink in my life, the ridiculous leveling is still a joy, and HD sprites are a fantastic, if not late, addition to the series. The problem is that I just can’t shake the feeling that I’ve played this game before, 3 times actually. I can’t stress enough that Disgaea 4 is my favourite game in the series (As long as you don’t count Makai Kingdom), but it’s time for some innovation. I know N1 doesn’t want to fool around with a winning formula, but the last thing any series wants is to turn into the Dynasty Warriors series.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer


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