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interview: Disgaea 4 director and lead programmer Masahiro Yamamoto

There are certain expectations that come with the release of a sequel. With games, one can usually count on, at the very least, better visuals, improved gameplay, and returning characters. Those who are familiar with Disgaea and its follow-ups know that Nippon Ichi Software has been able to fulfill all three in each iteration of its flagship series - each version saw its share of graphical updates, new gameplay systems were added and existing ones were either tweaked or overhauled, and main characters from previous games always made an appearance at one point or another.

Still, even though subsequent games were arguably better than their predecessors, there were always a few odds and ends that left some fans wondering - "what were they thinking?" In a recent interview with Masahiro Yamamoto, the director and lead programmer for Disgaea 4, I took the opportunity to get to the bottom of some of them.

Did you have to overhaul the entire engine to accommodate the higher-resolution graphics?

I didn't actually have to re-write anything. It was more about things like reading time and the memory space, and just kind of making little adjustments to compensate for the higher-res sprites.

If that's the case, then when you went from Disgaea 2 to Disgaea 3, why didn't you transition to HD graphics at that point?

It's something that we've always wanted to do, but doing the first PS3 game... There were just a lot of things that we needed to look into. So, we wanted to gain experience with Disgaea 3 and then use what we learned when developing Disgaea 4.

For Disgaea 4, were there any things that you could not do because of hardware limitations?

Not with the hardware itself. I'm actually still trying to gain more experience and find out more about it. I think there's a lot more that I can do, but there are other obstacles like time and resources.

Based on fan reaction toward the Japanese release, are there any changes that you think are necessary for future installments?

Something that I thought that I could keep improving is the networking system. It's something that you have to have experience with to know what to improve on.

Have you ever thought about implementing some sort of two-player collaborative mode in future installments?

Disgaea is basically a one-person game where the players rear their system and their characters and their items. So maybe not for the Disgaea series - maybe for a different franchise.

As far as you can tell, which entry in the series has the most popular cast?

If you exclude Disgaea 4, I know that the first Disgaea - Laharl, Flonne, Etna - they're the most popular amongst the fans and the most demanded. But, I feel that with Disgaea 4's characters - we were able to make them as impactful as the first one's. At least in Japan, the fans have expressed that they have been pretty popular as well.

Sequels usually feature the same main characters, but with the Disgaea series, each new entry introduces a new cast of characters. What is your reason for doing it that way?

I feel that it is necessary to swap around the characters because the game itself has the same setting - the Netherworld - and it has a traditional gameplay system. Then it has the story that surrounds them both. It's not necessarily better, but I feel that it's good to have variations in the characters.

So you don't see characters from previous games headlining future games in the series?

It's not impossible - there is a possibility that it might happen - that there will be a repeating main character - I'll talk to the scenario writer - Niikawa - about it and figure out whether it will or not.

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