Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
If you're looking for the difference between Disgaea 3 and Disgaea 4 in a nutshell, here it is: in the former, you get a trophy just for starting a new game. In Disgaea 4, by contrast, you need to watch the opening animation all the way through in order to get a trophy.
That may not sound like much, particularly if trophies aren't your driving motivation, but it nonetheless captures the essence of both games. Where the last one — my first in the series — made some concessions towards accessibility for newcomers, Disgaea 4 will make you work. And work. And work. Nothing comes easy in it, and that design choice is reflected in the very first trophy.
Of course, there's more to Disgaea 4's difficulty that just the trophies (though those, obviously, rarely come easy). It's a complex game, and it never tries to hide that fact. Admittedly, it's in a genre — strategy RPGs — that tends towards the complex, but even by those standards, Disgaea 4 is still pretty demanding.
See, there's not just your typical "move your team around the battlefield and upgrade them where appropriate", like you'd get in Final Fantasy Tactics or many of the Shin Mengami Tensei games. It's also managing the board layout via something called "Geo Panels" (which, truth be told, I'm still a little fuzzy on). It's making sure to upgrade your "evility" alongside your weapons and your usual stats. It's learning how to combine some monsters to form even bigger monsters, and then determining how many spaces you can move with those before the super-monster abilities wear out. And, above all else, there's the Cam-Pain HQ.
Cam-Pain HQ is, quite frankly, ridiculous. It's as if Disgaea 4's developers looked at their game in all its grindy glory and decided what it really needed on top of all that was a complex political system. Sure, you could just move your characters across a board, but wouldn't it be even more fun if you could also form geopolitical alliances, pass bills through a Senate, and appoint a Cabinet?
The ironic thing in all this, of course, is that, much like the other games in the series, Disgaea 4 revels in being silly and light-hearted. It's a game where the sorta-evil-secretly-good protagonist has an intense obsession with the restorative powers of sardines, where the corrupt government is called the Corrupterment, where (in keeping up with the series' longstanding tradition) everyone calls everyone else "dood". Considering how deadly serious most RPGs take themselves, it continues to be refreshing that Disgaea never takes itself overly seriously.
That said, all the humor in the world won't make a difference to you if you're not a fan of grinding — and make no mistake, if you want to achieve anything in this game, you'll be doing a whole lot of that. You can grind your way to Level 9999 if you so choose, which means that you could literally play nothing but this game for months.
Should you, though? I hate to say it, but you probably know the answer to that without me weighing in on it. If you don't want to spend every waking hour of the next few months grinding and grinding and grinding, then you may want to look into something less demanding. If, however, you're already a fan of the series, then you'll soon find Disgaea 4 has everything you've come to know and love of Disgaea: it's long, it's deep, and it's funny. If that's you (and I have to admit, it's certainly not me), then grab it now, and empty your calendar for the foreseeable future.