I'm cashin' checks and breakin' necks in a nearly all-Disgaea 4 week of gaming here, folks. In honor of the football season starting up, I implore you to ignore the TV completely, grab those pork rinds and beer, and settle in for a long fall's read on what might be the most tragically ignored game of the week here on Giant Bomb. The format of my adventures in Disgaea 4 is blatantly stolen from Dan Kempster's "Enduring Final Fantasy VII," which is a MUCH better read here on Giant Bomb. Get to crackin' on reading that if you haven't already - and if you haven't already, for shame!
OF SARDINES AND MEN
Disgaea 4 starts up with its usual bizarre J-Pop/anime-styled intro video, and I"m immediately reliving my ultimate love-hate relationship with this series. For the record, I've played each one of the proper Disgaea games. I've put in close to probably 100-120 hours in each, and though I don't go completely all-out in finding every legendary weapon or maxing them out to level 100, I'd consider myself a Disgaea pro of sorts. After about thirty seconds of that terrible intro video, I skip forward to the main screen and select a new game.
We are quickly introduced to Valvatorez, a Prinny Instructor in Hades who is obsessed with... sardines? And by obsessed, I mean totally bananas about them in true, annoying anime-fashion. I've said it before, but if you tried to make a drinking game out of how often Valvatorez (who I'll refer to as Val from here on out) says "sardine," you'd kill your liver. Anyways, Val's sinister right hand werewolf Fenrich guides him towards completing his goals for the day, insinuating blatantly he wished his master was back to his former glory as a tyrant of the Netherworld.
Anywho, Val greets his students, the Prinnies, but not before gaining a couple of new members for his team. The training consists of basic Disgaea 4 levels, teaching the user how to move and attack, utilize special moves, and the sort of basic know-how to play a game of this sort. It also broaches upon more advanced Disgaea skills, such as the team attack (which really isn't so advanced, as you just group characters next to one another and make a normal attack) and how to utilize and destroy geo blocks and geo panels. The geo panels are colored panels on the battlefield that have special effects. Essentially, a Geo Block will grant those effects, but only when on one of the colored panels. So, say for example, a geo block was in play on the map that had an Attack +50% effect. On a normal, non-colored title, it wouldn't do anything or add any bonuses. But if it were on a colored tile, all tiles of that color would have that effect. These statuses aren't always positive, and can sometimes lead to much more dangerous or even invincible enemies. But by taking the geo blocks out of play, the enemies lose those bonus effects, rendering them much easier to kill.
The graduation of the prinnies is a happy affair, with Val promising each graduate a single sardine for passing. The prinnies are abruptly kidnapped by a mysterious force. Val, who is also obsessed with keeping promises, vows that he will get the prinnies back so that he may fulfill his promise of one sardine per prinny. Yes, it's stupid. Trust me, you don't play a Nippon-Ichi game for its great storytelling.
Val and Fenrich approach the warden of Hades, Axel, a returning character from the Disgaea series. Axel explains that the "corruptorment" has ordered the death of all prinnies because Hades is becoming too crowded. Prinnies, I should explain, are the souls of humans atoning for their sins... as explosive penguins with a love of the word "dood." Val tricks the death squads sent by the President's son Death Emizel (the embodiment of Death, though he has yet to take a single life - I know, I know, the story gets even worse) into believing Axel is with them, and Axel is supposedly slain (a repeating joke throughout the game). Val and Fenrich take on Emizel and defeat him, naturally, after a five or six stage chapter.
At this point in the game, most everything becomes available in terms of starter shops and the Item World. I've taken a little time to grind level 1-2 and 1-4 a couple of times, but now I jump into the Item World on a very basic sword in order to pump up its stats, do some leveling, and grab some loot. I'm given an Mr. Gency Exit, which enables the player to leave the Item World when used, though it does have its disadvantages (we'll get to that possibly in a far-flung Sparky's Update when I feel like explaining the post-game a bit more in-depth). I've also gone to the game's Senate to create a couple of new characters, namely a healer and a Wind and Fire mage. These characters are the bread and butter of the early game for me, so I take care to assign them prime spots on my team, rearranging characters as I see fit and making sure I keep them in play for the first couple of chapters.
My romp through the Item World introduces me to a few notable changes in the game. First, the Item World now has branching paths, where you can choose to focus on leveling the item or increasing its Residents. An Item's Residents give it long-term benefits and can be transferred item to item, but it's not something I really need to worry about in a low level item. I focus on leveling up the weapon, burning through the various stages without much problem. I also find that there are a few new bonuses in the Mystery Rooms, such as a character that will give you an extra Mr. Gency item. Pretty cool stuff. The game also includes a bit of a tutorial on certain Item World particulars, a first for the series as the Item World is usually left unexplained past its initial shopkeeper's explanation. Nice, but not really necessary for an old pro like me.
At every ten levels of the Item World is an Item General (or variant, such as an Item King). This is a more powerful character that acts as a mid-level boss for the Item World. After defeating the Item General, I go to Item Town, which is essentially a breather for the Item World, and allows you to heal up and either continue forward in the Item World or return to the home base. Since I've leveled my party up fairly decently and obtained a few nice loot items, I decided to call it quits and head back to base.
Let's go ahead and call that the first entry, then. I'm actually pretty far into the game, at about Chapter 5 or so, but I don't want to overwhelm you with an even bigger wall o' text. Hit me up if you have any questions, comments, or thoughts, and if I can explain something further, I will.