There are few franchises simultaneously as popular and as baffling to outsiders as the Disgaea series. Technically, there are only six mainline Disgaea entries, but the series is fairly labyrinthine, stretching across multiple consoles, various different editions, and literal thousands of hours of gameplay. The Disgaea franchise’s main selling point is its unutterable length; players often boast of spending hundreds upon hundreds of hours optimising characters in each game.
Into this storied little series comes Disgaea 4 Complete Plus. This is Nippon Ichi’s name for the repackaged port of Disgaea 4, a game that originally launched way, way back in 2011 for the PlayStation 3. Since then, Disgaea 4 has seen a re-release on the unfortunately ill-fated PlayStation Vita, a re-release which was retitled Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited. It’s this re-release that forms the basis of Complete Plus, which packages all of the Vita version’s DLC and polishes the graphics.
The writing and tone of the Disgaea series are extremely distinctive. If you’ve played these games, you’ll already know whether you have a taste for it. Anime fans will probably love it, while those who’ve never developed a love for the occasionally overwrought and overdone voice acting and writing of Japanese animation will probably want to leave well alone. Disgaea 4 is no different in this aspect; if you didn’t like the previous games, you won’t like this one.
Here’s the setup. Valvatorez is a former Tyrant who’s decided to stop drinking blood. This decision has stripped him of most of his power, but that won’t stop him tending to his class of Prinnies in Hades (they’re Disgaea’s penguin-esque mascots). Soon, Valvatorez falls foul of Hades’ government, the Corrupternment (yep, that’s as good as the writing gets), so he must set out to take his revenge on the organisation and perhaps recover some of his beloved sardines along the way.
The unique style of Disgaea is to marry the warring factions of anime-style melodrama and wacky over-the-top slapstick humour in a way that only Nippon Ichi seem to be able to get away with. The storylines in Disgaea 4 are simultaneously vestigial – they don’t have much of an impact on the gameplay – and integral to the overall presentation of the experience. There is, to put it simply, a lot of writing in Disgaea 4 Complete Plus. If you like it, that’s great. If not...well, it’s going to wear on you quickly.
Luckily, there’s also an absolute treasure trove of strategy gameplay to get stuck into if you don’t like the story. Disgaea 4 is ridiculously deep, painfully massive, and extremely demanding of your time. If, like many of us, you have a full-time job, you’ll find yourself stretched to breaking point by this one. Probably best to pencil in a few weeks when you can play it uninterrupted. To give you an idea of just how massive Disgaea 4 is, the level cap is 9,999. Think about that. Nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine.
That means you can level every single character in this game up to that astronomical height if you want to. Of course, it’s entirely possible to finish the game without doing this, but Disgaea’s strategic systems do call for number grinding and stat watching. Gameplay-wise, you’ll understand Disgaea if you’ve ever played Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics. It’s the same sort of grid-based turn-centric strategy that those games employ, albeit with a far grander scope.
Disgaea 4 is a game about grinding. Every single item in this game has its own randomised world full of enemies, which is how you level them up. That’s right. Every single item. If you want to power up a weapon, you’ll need to head into its Item World and grind up its stats by doing some fighting. It’s entirely possible to while away hundreds of hours on this aspect of the game alone. If you have nightmares about optimising your party, do not play Disgaea 4. It will break you.
If, however, you’re someone who loves admin in games – and I say that as a good thing – then Disgaea 4 is the perfect experience. Grinding in Disgaea 4 is ridiculously fun, in part thanks to the excellent battle system which gains a little depth this time around thanks to the Geo Block system. Blocks can contain a number of different stat changes and can be moved around the battle grid to change how enemies and allies act. You can also use Geo Blocks and floor-based Geo Panels to deal damage to enemies.
Disgaea 4 comes across as a game created by someone who wondered what would happen if you made the most jam-packed, overstuffed, maximalist strategy game possible. Every single aspect of the game is turned up to eleven, from the loud writing to the hugely packed gameplay systems and the oceanic levels of depth. If you’re even slightly disinclined towards grinding, this game will give you a massive headache, but if you love numbers you’ve found your match.
That said, the story itself is also surprisingly fun. Part of that is knowing that progressing will give you access to even more ridiculous levels, weapons to grind, and characters to use in battle. Some of it is the writing, which is winkingly self-aware without being cringe-worthy (most of the time, anyway). A large part is just that Disgaea 4’s high-stakes, fast-paced strategy gameplay is great fun in and of itself. Core gameplay loop is what matters, and Disgaea 4’s got it where it counts.
If you like Disgaea 4, there is an absolutely stunning amount of content here to keep you entertained. You’re not likely to grow bored with this one for a very, very long time. Whether it’s grinding up all your party’s weapons and stats to vastly overlevel the story (a surprisingly easy thing to do) or min-maxing yourself to challenge the game and get by on the skin of your teeth, Disgaea 4 accommodates you. Anime strategy fans, you have met your match.