Disgaea 4 Complete+

God I love this game.

Ed Note: Images for this writeup are from a combo of the Disgaea 4 Complete press kit, and my own save file.

Disgaea 4 is, somewhat strangely enough, the first Disgaea game I played. Specifically, Disgaea 4 Complete+ for the Switch. As far as I can tell, the “Complete” part just means that they opted to include all of the additional DLC and scenarios that were added to the game after its initial release in… 2011.

10 years ago.

Okay, so we might be a teensy bit late on this one.

One of the best things about Disgaea is the ability to customize your hub world and move all the NPC’s you actually care about next to each other.

In any case, like the other games, Disgaea 4 primarily takes place in the Netherworld. The main focus of the story is Valvatorez, a previously incredibly powerful vampire and also arguably total idiot, who never breaks promises he makes. One of these promises involved an agreement to not consume human blood ever. Pretty much all the other side characters are great as well, including Fenrich, Valvatorez’s second in command, who feels like an inverse version of the traitorous vizier trope, and Fuka, a elementary school child who dies, goes to hell, and then proceeds to determinator her way through the Netherworld by refusing to accept her death.

Valvatorez, the vampire who doesn’t drink blood, and Fenrich, his loyal servant who would really like it if maybe he would again.

These games can be kinda weird.

The general arc of the game is Valvatorez’s staging of a coup against the current President of Hell, in an attempt to fix the problems the Netherworld is having, including lack of energy, an inability to handle the influx of guilty souls, and just general failure to… well, be hell.

Behold, the… grid that I don’t remember the name of.

Mechanically, this comes in with the Corrupternment and building placement map. As you advance through the game, you’ll unlock political titles, buildings, and other elements that give benefits to units placed within their area of effects on this grid. You can also pass bills and policies to boost yourself, your rate of EXP gain, unlock new units, make friends, and also just shake down senators for cash.

The general structure of the rest of the game is fairly straightforward, with both the Item World and Chara World in Disgaea 4 following a similar structure of being procedurally generated combat levels where you need to clear all enemies, with a few additional minor changes between them. The game also has Magichange, the ability to turn monster characters into weapons temporarily for your other characters to use (don’t worry, they get better), and monster fusion, which lets you fuse monsters into larger versions of themselves with better range and damage.

Is it really a Disgaea game if the stats aren’t measured in hundred thousands?

Overall, Disgaea 4 is currently my favorite of the games story-wise, if not mechanically. While the game’s art style and mechanics haven’t aged terribly, many of the UI elements and menus do feel a bit outdated at this point, and some of the connectivity features, like fights and pirate ship leaderboards, feel a bit dead. Despite all of this, though, the fights are still interesting, the grind is nice and grindy, and story and characters are still funny.

Okay, so maybe I’ve played a bit too much of this.

You can get Disgaea 4 Complete+ here for Switch, and here for PC if you’re interested.

Disgaea Franchise Week – Kickoff

Here we go dood!

This post inaugurates what I’m calling Disgaea week. Some of you may be wondering why we’re doing this. Is it blatant pandering? Is it because America NIS approved my press credentials? Is it because I love Disgaea and really want them to send me a review copy of Disgaea 6?

The answer has two parts. 1. How dare you question my journalistic integrity, and 2. Yes.

Yes to all of the above.

On the flip side, it also gives a good opportunity to talk about some of the things that are similar between the games, without having to rehash them each time I write about the series.

So lets talk about Disgaea. If I had to summarize the game series in one sentence, I would say: “Disgaea is a tactics game about unleashing your inner mechanics munchkin.” Of course, this ignore the great art, the really solid writing, and skips over all the actual mechanics. But I only had one sentence, so we’ll get to that in a bit.

If you’re not familiar with the series, the Disgaea games don’t necessarily have any continuity between them. Instead, it’s a franchise more in the form of something like Final Fantasy, where each game is a separate cast of characters and goals, but certain elements remain the same, such as the primary combat mechanics, character classes, and Prinnies. Prinnies are the souls of the damned, doomed to pay for their sins in the afterlife by being sewn into a penguin shaped costume and used as the servants/cannon fodder/meat shields/target practice dummies for everyone else in the netherworld.

I’m expandable, dood!

The mechanics of the games often consist of a few fairly nested systems, but the general core gameplay is pretty simple. You’re given a gridded map, a deploy point to move units out onto the map from, and a bunch of enemies you need to defeat to clear the map. The complexity of these maps ranges based on the game, and how you’re expected to beat the map. Some maps are effectively puzzles, requiring moving boxes/blocks around, or destroying various patterns. Some are just standard “Brawl your way across” fights. And some are a combination of the two, or exist to teach you to understand specific mechanics.

Of course, this is just for the standard levels included throughout the campaign. You can also go to the “item world,” which is a series of randomly generated challenge floors. Clearing each floor levels up the item that you’re currently inside, and you can also collect “Innocents” which are people that can be moved between your items, and equipped to your items. So, you can level up your items that you equip to your characters and also equip characters to your items that you equip and where are you going please come back.

And it’s this sort of systemic and mechanical orgy that defines what a Disgaea game is for me. Disgaea games are games where you can level up everything, and once you hit the level cap, you can reincarnate and do it again. They’re games that let you graft and move skills and Evilities (think passive Pokemon-style abilities) from character to character. They’re games where your skills gain experience separate from your character, where you can tweak every inch, and relevel a character over and over until the number on their stat bar is larger than the GDP of the entire planet.

Oh, and you can also go to the chara world, which is different depending on the game, but lets you adjust additional bonuses, and okay, I promise, I’ll stop talking about the systems for now.

Outside of this smorgasbord of interesting interactions, the other biggest thing I’d say the games have going for them are that they’re actually well-written and have voice acting that doesn’t make me cut the cables going to my headphones.

Most of the characters involved, especially the protagonists, are deeply flawed individuals in a variety of interesting ways. My personal favorite would have to be Valvatorez, the main character of Disgaea 4, who is a powerless vampire who could instantly become extremely powerful if he wished, except for the fact that he absolutely refuses to break his promises.

In either case, the key take away from this article is as follows:

  1. I really like Disgaea
  2. Disgaea is a tactics game about being a complete munchkin.
  3. NIS America please send me a review copy of Disgaea 6.
  4. This entire week is going to be me pandering to try to get that to happen.

So buckle up mother fuckers, because this entire week is about to a roller coaster ride of exploding penguins, exceedingly strange mechanics, vampires that don’t suck blood, and the other weirdness that makes up the Netherworld(s)!

Lets go Dood!

Assassin – 10 Years Later

One tradition my High School had was a game played by the seniors called Assassin. I’m sure this is a pretty common thing, but like most traditional games, I suspect it goes by a billion different names and variation, so here’s an what ours looked like.

For each team who wanted to play, they had to pay an entry fee of $20. Teams could have up to four people on them. The game itself was a water gun fight, where if you got hit with water, you were out. At the start of each week, each team was given another team to be their opponents. Your goal was to take out more folks on the opposing side than they took out on your side. There were also a series of rules based around when and where you were allowed to shoot people with your water guns (you couldn’t enter buildings without permission, couldn’t do stuff during school hours, and couldn’t do it on school grounds). In general though, the game should have been pretty simple.

The emphasis here is of course, on the word, “Should.”

In practice, the game tended to turn rapidly into a complete clusterfuck, in part because of the rules, and in part because of how the game was judged. Notable moments over the years included a player purchasing and using a ghillie suit, a car chase (no, really), the use of what I think was converted fire-fighting equipment as water dispersing item, and the head judge acting like a dumbass. I also heard a truck mounted pressure washer was involved one year, but I don’t know how true that was.

Let’s talk about the problems with judging for a moment, though. So, who was the judge? Which absolute fucking idiot decided that it was both a good idea to help run this thing, and to put them themself in a position where they would have to make calls about rules and behavior to a bunch of their peers competing for several hundred dollars?

Oh right. That was me.

To say the game of Assassin I ran went poorly would be an understatement. It would be like saying that there was a fire-related event at Notre Dame, or that people might currently be taking trading cards a bit too seriously.

The phrase “Unmitigated Fucking Disaster” comes to mind.

But it’s been almost 10 years (Jesus Christ it’s been almost 10 years, what the fuck), which strikes me as a good time to revisit this tradition, examine it, and try to figure out what I would do differently if I was to run it again, now that I’m 10 years older. And theoretically wiser. But mostly just older.

So if I could run the game again, what would I do differently?

  1. Take out the entry fee and prize.
    If I could only make one change to the game, this would be it. I’m not going to say that money is the root of all evil or any hippie bullshit like that, but it absolutely corrupts this game in particular. The entry fee means that pretty much however you make your ruling, someone is going to hate you, and it screws good sportsmanship over in a massive way. Talking of sportsmanship, this brings up the second problem…
  2. Remove the elimination aspect of the game.
    The bracket-based elimination is something that I look back on and die a little bit inside, purely from a game design standpoint. It’s one of the worst aspects of the ruleset. If you get eliminated early, you no longer get to play the game, which feels bad, and again, leads to folks wanting to argue hits and knockouts. Removing players is almost always bad design. Instead, it would make more sense to give each team a weekly score based on the number of members of the enemy team that they eliminated. That way the game could run for a series of weeks, and everyone would get to… y’know. Actually play the game. Which brings us to…
  3. Move combat exclusively to the weekend.
    Among all of the clusterfucks and problems in the game, the biggest one was the issue of legal knockouts. Is the parking lot school ground? What about the pavement? If you get shot coming into the school, but it’s before 8:00, does that count? If you’re at a “protected” school event, and you leave to kill somebody, is your kill legitimate? These are all questions that are up for debate based on your interpretation of the rules, and frankly, they’re not worth it.

    Instead, I’d want to move the game to remove all those restrictions, but played exclusively on the weekend, from 6:00 PM Friday, to 6:00 PM Sunday. If nothing else, it would probably make the teachers hate the game a bit less.

So, if all these changes were made, would the game be perfect? Would peace reign supreme? Well, not really. There were a lot of other problems, too, like rampant kingmaking, shooting people in cars, and how the game itself encouraged hiding in your house and waiting for the week to end.

And this brings me to the real problem: how the game was formed. The rules were cruddy because they were a stew of rules invented by a variety of people, including the people running and playing the game, the teachers who hated it, the parents who wanted kids to stop hiding outside their house at 4:00 AM, and the coaches who would have liked it if their student athletes brought water bottles instead Super Soakers to practice. The end result was a system where a variety of people had input, but no one actually had complete power over the rules, and as a result, they kind of sucked.

Especially if your judge is an idiot.

So instead of making minor rules changes, what if we tore the whole thing down? What if we started from scratch, and tried to design an event that would capture the fun tension, but without the actual occasional risk of physical harm, and complete disruption to everyday life? What would that look like?

Well, I have an idea. It’s called Secret Agent. And it’ll be in a post that goes up later next week.

Nuclear Throne

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about Nuclear Throne for like two weeks now, and each time I think that I’ll be able to figure it out if I play more of it. Then I go play more Nuclear Throne, and I don’t generate anything new to say about it.

Okay, so let’s talk about why I don’t think Nuclear Throne is perfect, and why I still think you should play it even though I’m about to complain about it a bunch.

To make a long story short, Nuclear Throne is so fun and I played it so much that I was able to make a list of the things that annoy me about the game. So let’s talk about the parts of this good game that drive me nuts.

  1. The Ammo System
    Nuclear throne has a bunch of fantastic guns that all feel super fun to use and handle in the game’s twitchy, fast paced environment. Unfortunately, the guns have a low ammo cap for how hectic the game can become. And I hate that. Often, instead of playing the game like a dodging run-n-gun, I found myself peaking out from behind corners, popping off a shot, and then hiding behind a corner again to conserve ammo. I just want to shoot things.
  2. HP and Damage
    This is a bit of a weird gripe, but here it is: The game does not telegraph at all how much damage various attacks from enemies do. This can become quite frustrating because it’s entirely possible to have a reasonable amount of health (say, 4 HP), and just die in one shot or by blowing yourself up by a surprise high damage attack. I just… find this very annoying. I feel like if I have 4 health left, I shouldn’t just die in one hit.

The end result is that Nuclear Throne ends up feeling like two different games: one where you run-n-gun-n-dodge, and one where you peak around corners with a crossbow, taking potshots and hoping nothing actually rushes you.

So yeah, I generally like Nuclear Throne. I think it’s pretty good. I don’t think it’s perfect. If you bought the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle, you already own it, so you can just download it from there. It’s also just on itch.io for $11, and that feels like about what it’s worth.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars

These are the same games that came out 14 plus years ago, with a better controller, and worse motion based gimmicks. If you liked them before, you’ll probably still like them now.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars has Super Mario Galaxy in it, which is pretty much worth the price of admission on its own. Okay, now to figure out what else to say so that this looks like a real article.

I’m not sure there’s much purpose in talking a lot about Super Mario 3D All-Stars, or at least the games in it. Like, it’s a collection games of which the most recent is 14 years old at this point. You’ve got Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. They’re the same as when they came out, and you can now rebuy them for your Switch for like $60 bucks.

What’s that, small voice in the back of my head? Assuming that everyone has already played these is mildly exclusionary, and maybe I should write about the actual content of the games anyway? Sure, if it keeps you from telling me that I should go fishing for rats with a hook and cheese in the alley behind my house, I’m all for it.

All three of these games are 3D platformers, and with some variations, follow more or less the same structure. There’s a hub world, which connects to side zones, each of which has a series of levels populated with either Stars or Shines, which you need to collect. When you collect enough, you unlock access to the next level. Different stars require you to do different things. Some involving navigating gauntlets of traps, some involve solving small puzzles, some require you to defeat bosses, and some are based on your ability to do one of the three things above as fast as possible before a timer runs out.

There. Voice in the back of my head quieted. So let’s return to the bits I want to talk about: each of the individual games.

I played a little bit of Super Mario 64, and to be honest, I don’t think it holds up well. The camera is wonky. I don’t love the controls, and I don’t have any special nostalgia for it, so I’d say that one is wash. This isn’t a remaster, so the graphics are Nintendo 64 graphics, which is to say they look bad. It might have been revolutionary for the time, but that time was over 20 years ago.

Next up is Super Mario Sunshine. I haven’t played any of it, mostly because I’ve been busy playing Galaxy, and I’m not sure if I’ll play any Sunshine, mostly because I really do not want to sit through the eons long opening cutscene. Also because so much of Sunshine is recycled boss fights against that weird goop piranha plant. Again, not a remaster, so I don’t feel too bad about that.

So, we’ve got two down, neither of which was great, but that’s okay because we still have Galaxy. And Galaxy is still godly.

So far, I’ve played Galaxy the most out of the collection. I’d say it holds up very well all things considered. While there’s some wonkiness at times with some of the sections that use motion controls, none of it was enough to make me want to stop playing the game. The music is still great. The graphics aren’t going to win any prizes for incredible technical sophistication, but they also don’t have to. The level design and worlds are all super fun, even if the movement feels watered down relative to other games.

The reality of it is at $60 for just Galaxy, I probably would feel like I got my money’s worth out of the games. But that’s partly because I never really got to finish Galaxy in the first place. I’m not sure that this collection offers a huge amount of value to anyone who has already played these games to completion before (unless you already love the genre, in which case I’m not sure you’d need this review).

So yeah. This isn’t a remaster. If you already liked Mario, want to play more, and somehow destroyed all your consoles except your switch, I’d say the game is a pretty good deal. If you don’t like Mario or 3D platformers, then skip it. This is the same game that came out 14 plus years ago, with a better controller, and worse motion based gimmicks.