Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited does not like you. It will do whatever it can to screw you over, throwing your team onto dangerous ground and stacking the deck against you. Whenever you think you’ve got a foolproof strategy, you’ll find a stage that eliminates the efficacy of everything you’ve been doing up to this point. It’s constantly undermining you, but it doesn’t do so just by throwing overpowered enemies at you like some RPGs might. Each stage is essentially throwing puzzles at you that you need to overcome to play effectively, and dang it, I think I like it.
These puzzles grow out of the game’s “Geo Panel” mechanic. Geo Panels are colored spaces on the map that will take on the attribute of whatever “Geo Block” is placed on another space of that color. This means that your base might be in the middle of a bunch of panels that decrease a unit’s defense by 50%, with the Geo Block you need to destroy to get rid of that effect sitting safely on the other side of the map surrounded by buffed up enemies.
Further complicating these mechanics is the fact that if a Geo Block is destroyed on a Geo Panel that doesn’t match its color, all of that color of panel will explode into the color of the destroyed Geo Block. If there are multiple Geo Blocks of different colors on these changing panels, you can start a chain reaction that will wipe out the effects on more and more of the board as the panel colors change in succession, damaging everything on them and resulting in more bonus items at the end of the battle.
I realize that sounds really complex when it’s in wall-of-text format, but the game rolls it out for you in a way that’s pretty easy to understand in the first couple of stages. It’s a good thing, too, because once they have the basics out of the way, they start using them all against you.
For instance, early on, I was pitted against an army of snipers and archers locked in place atop Geo Panels that allow them two attacks and 20% health regeneration per turn. I figured my heavies were strong enough that I could rush them down and survive. That worked for the first four or so of the eleven enemies, but, even trying to stay out of their range, my team was taken apart.
I figured if I couldn’t win normally, I had to rethink my approach. So, I restarted the map, moved right in front of the first sniper, lifted her off her geo symbol, and tossed her right next to my base for a thorough beating. I then gradually worked my way through the stage, removing snipers from their perches, and taking advantage of the fact that their AI on this stage wouldn’t allow them to move. I also used their empty Geo Panels to eliminate other snipers at a distance. Unit by unit, I systematically and underhandedly took out the enemy troops. Disgaea 4 didn’t abuse me just to make me grind, it wanted me to learn how to abuse it right back. I assumed that once I had that figured out, I was golden for the rest of the game.
This cockiness lasted for about 45 seconds. Feeling like my team was indestructible, I hopped into the item world (one of the infinite, randomly generated multi-map dungeons that exists inside every item in the game that you progress through to level up that item). Noticing that I’d forgotten to heal my party since the last battle, I immediately moved Valvatorez, the game’s main character and my strongest party member, out onto an unsuspecting geo-panel that promised 20% bonus recovery as well as a whole slew of other things. Naturally, to expedite the process, I sent my healer out to take care of him. I had her cast Cure and Valvatorez performed a happy little fist-pump animation before exploded into purple mist. He was dead.
Oh, so that’s what “Reverse Damage” meant.
This really just set the tone for the rest of my jaunt through the item world. Each stage tossed new Geo effects at me, everything from cloning my enemies to leveling them up, to teleporting my units all around the stage, to infinite counterattacks (which resulted in some hilarious deaths). This culminated on the tenth floor with red Geo Panels given the “encroach” effect. This meant that the red panels would grow a few panels in every direction each turn. This was no problem, mind you, until the red panels covered the majority of the map and overlapped the indestructible “Mighty Enemy” Geo Block that makes all enemies invincible. This made clearing the stage a scramble by half of my troops to keep throwing the Geo Block just outside of the red panels’ reach while the other half took out the remaining enemy, tossing them off the red panels to kill them when the first half couldn’t do their job effectively.
One of my favorite things about A Promise Revisited is the way that it refuses to let you play it like any other tactics game. If you’re not willing to toss enemies around, exploit the way the game’s team attacks work, and play with the Geo Panels until your team strides across the earth like triumphant golden gods, you’re going to die and be miserable. Even once you think you’ve got a handle on how to play the game properly, it’ll occasionally pull out the rug from under you or completely overpower you out of nowhere, making you scramble again. However, if you start looking at each map as a puzzle, and start abusing all the mechanics you can, it’s a (slightly masochistic) joy.
Food for Thought:
1. Everything in A Promise Revisited pushes you towards exploitation. The game even has a “Cheat Shop” that allows you to shift around some points alter the rate at which you gain money, EXP, and Mana (used for learning new skills and holding senate meetings, which I’ll get to later). Personally, I’d always decrease the amount of cash I took in to increase the rate of the other two.
2. I had a lot more fun than anyone should capturing enemy units by tossing them from unit to unit and throwing them in my base. Whenever I was given the ability to include a new monster type in my army (usually by beating the stage they’re introduced in), I’d go back into that same stage and try to capture one. Non-monster units were harder to catch since you’d need to get the senate to approve your ability to create one of that job type before you could capture them.
3. There is lot of game to this game, and it’s all available at the beginning if you enter Triangle, Square, Circle, Triangle, Square, Circle, X at the main menu. It’s pretty cool to have access to three campaigns right off the bat.
4. Speaking of campaigns, the main story is silly, but also surprisingly grim. It deals with death, the decline of humanity due to a lack of fear, Prinny genocide, media corruption, child abandonment and… sardines.