Monday, September 19, 2011

Disgaea 4: 20+ Hour Final Checkpoint

Having completed a couple romps through Item World, I decided it was time to continue the main story for a few more chapters. With my powered up characters the story progressed without to much difficulty, the increased power of my characters, and their now upgraded equipment brought the difficulty of the fights back down to a fairly easy level.

Chapter 3: The Story Starts to Solidify
With the introduction of the three main protagonists complete the story starts to move forward. In Disgaea fashion the plot to overthrow the current overlord starts in earnest, and character motivations start to come into focus. The motivations for overthrow are introduced in this chapter, and have a humorously dark twist to them, which emphasizes the setting. The last battle of this Chapter gains another character for your party as well, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters in this iteration of Disgaea. The earlier Item World grind paid off, as the last Stage of this chapter requires that you have an item leveled up to 10 from the Item World.

Chapter 4: The End of the Beginning?
This Chapter seems to draw the intro to a close, and starts the main story in earnest. A couple more reveals are made, and each of the story characters have some character building time. With the pieces now in place it feels like the main story is about to begin in earnest.

Closing Thoughts and Overall Opinion:
Having reached the 20 hour checkpoint it's time to give the summary review.

The gameplay seems much improved over previous Disgaea games, with several new additional elements to the game. The online community elements add a sense of scope, and also an element of competition to those so inclined. Item World feels less like a chore with the new events and decisions being made, though make no mistake it's still a bit of a grind. The Cam-Pain map is a brilliant addition, and gives you an extra degree of planning.  

While the story started out slow, Chapter 3 and 4 greatly improved my opinion of the characters, and have introduce a couple more cast members. The increased party interaction seems to greatly improve the story, since it gives you a better view into all of the characters personalities. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here.

My overall opinion is that this is an excellent addition to the Disgaea franchise. While the series is most certainly not for everyone, I would definitely recommend it for anyone that likes other NISA titles, or those that enjoy other Tactical RPGs like FF: Tactics or Tactical Ogre.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Disgaea 4: 10 Hour Checkpoint

Item World, where freetime goes to die.
Having finished Chapter 2 of the plot at the end of the 5 hour checkpoint i decided it was time to dive into the Item World element of Disgaea 4. However, to describe my opinion of Item World I have to explain how it has changed from previous iterations and discuss the mechanical side of Disgaea games.

Item World Basics:
Item World itself is a side-area of the game used to improve your items. This is accomplished by working your way through a random dungeon associated with the item you want to improve. After completing 10 floors of one of these dungeons you are given an opportunity to leave, alternatively there is a special item that can be used to leave the Item World early. You can also enter the same Item World several times, picking up on the floor you previously stopped at. 

Item World and Leveling:
Item Worlds act as an optimal place for leveling. Each item has an initial experience level for its monsters, and each floor you clear leads to progressively tougher enemies worth even more experience. While you can gain experience by replaying Story missions, it is often far less efficient than attempting an Item World of an appropriate starting level.
Additionally, completing floors in Item World increases the stats of an item, and allows you to create items vastly superior to those that will be readily available from the item shops.

Item World Layout:
One of the major features of Item World, which goes back to the original Disgaea, is the use of complex random maps. It's not unusual to get a highly diverse mixture of monsters and condition panels that make each floor unique and interesting. This new version also adds a branching paths map and known event locations which makes Item World feel more interactive, and provides additional motivation to go 'one more floor.'

New Features:
I was pleasantly surprised by  the number of new features that have been added to Item World. A Mini-Map displaying event location gives you guidance, which can help inform what path you take through Item World. Item World suddenly feels a lot less like grinding down a tower, and more trying to maneuver toward events you want. 
The choice of paths is a new addition to Item World and has the effect of either making the individual item better, or making the stat improving residents better. The advantage of improving the residents is that they can then be transferred to other items, so the branching paths make you chose between short term power or long term improvement.
Another new feature added to Item World is Player generated Pirate Crews, a potentially very difficult but interesting random encounter compared to the previously fixed Pirate Crew encounters. Disgaea 4 has added a number of network features to this newest iteration of the Disgaea series, with the ability to create your own Council Senators and Pirates to gum up the online works and make the game feel like more of a community of players.
There are several other additions to Item World as well such as Leveling Spheres and special event platforms, all of which seem to help break up the monotony that Item World can sometimes have. 

WTF Moments:
Is that Pirate riding a spinning space turtle?!?

Closing Thoughts:
Having spent almost this entire checkpoint in Item World and the Cam-Pain map, I now have an appreciation for the new features of Disgaea 4. While the Story hasn't completely sold me yet, the improvements to Item World and the creation of the Cam-Pain map features, as well as the addition of several new online features, have sold me on this latest addition to the Disgaea series. I'm impressed with their taking the Item World mechanics, that have been more or less the same between all the iterations of the Disgaea family of games, and improved it noticeably.

Next time, the twenty hour checkpoint. Advancing the Story, and the lure of side-quests.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Disgaea 4: 5 Hour Checkpoint

Recent RPGs such as Final Fantasy 13 and Ar Tonelico 3 have made me think about how the game experience can change drastically as you play them, and it can take several hours before things start clicking. As a result, I've decided to start writing 5/10/20 reviews for games i play to talk about the experience at different time checkpoints. First up for review, Disgaea 4.

5/10/20 Review, Disgaea 4:
I have a history of loving the Disgaea series and other RPG/Strategy games that NISA has released over the years, so I've been looking forward to this game for several months now. However, Disgaea games are notorious for their distractions in Item World and the necessity of grinding to do well at later levels in the game, so the question is how well will this latest iteration hold up with these timed checkpoints.

Five Hour Checkpoint:
The first couple of hours are spent on character introduction and a quick introduction of the mechanics. To help get a better feel for the story i decided to focus on the storyline missions and avoid Item World and replaying maps for additional experience.

The first five hours of play was capped off with the completion of the second chapter of the story. The main cast has been introduced, and several other characters have been alluded to at this point. The main protagonist has taken until about this point to grow on me, as his motivations and quirks took a bit longer to grow on me than the previous Disgaea protagonists, however the secondary characters entertaining enough to compensate.

Mechanics and Gameplay:
For those unfamiliar with Disgaea gameplay, the tutorials give basic introductions to the mechanics in the form of quick explanations and examples, driven home by then making you actually do it. For those more familiar with the Disgaea series it lets you skip the tutorial explanation with a quick press of the Triangle button, and jump right into the fight itself.
Due to my decision to focus on only the Storyline missions, and my refusal to grind in the first checkpoint, the difficulty quickly ramped up particularly in Chapter 2, and i was routinely having to revive several characters after every fight due to the foregoing of Item World leveling.
One of the major new features of Disgaea 4 over the previous iterations is the introduction of the "Cam-Pain map" a territory map that expands as you complete more storyline missions. You are restricted to a number of active units equal to the number of territories you control, and through the completion of story missions and passing bills in the Senate you gain access to special building you can put on the map as well to give your characters bonuses. While this adds a new layer of complexity to the game there are tutorials given as new features unlock with story progress, and overall I'm enjoying the addition.

WTF Moments:
Sardines, really?!? The main characters hangups take a bit of getting used to, thought it seems to have settled down in Chapter 2. I also was a bit surprised to get a trophy for watching the opening sequence, does that really require a trophy as incentive to watch it?

Closing Thoughts:
So far so good, the story was a bit rough for me at first but i think it's starting to pull things together. Most of the features seem to be unlocked with the completion of Chapter 2. The Cam-Pain map is interesting, and the challenge of playing the story through for the first five hours without grinding made combat especially entertaining and difficult.
While i wouldn't advise this game for everyone, those that enjoy the RPG/Strategy genre and/or have a quirky sense of humor will probably like this game. I would also say that if you are interested try the previous iterations of the franchise, since their stories are a little easier to get into at the start.
My plans for the next checkpoint include running through Item World a bit and exploring the side-features of the game. My characters felt underpowered near the end of Chapter 2, it's time to address that and level up a bit.