Disgaea 3: Absence Of Detention may be a little confusing for the RPG novice. On one hand its school-based location, cutesy anime style and quirky sense of humour suggests that it’s a game aimed at the young casual gaming crowd. However, as soon as you get past the drawn-out introduction and step into the first combat tutorial, it reveals itself as an in-depth, turn-based tactical RPG with an incredible amount of depth.
Indeed, Disgaea has become a popular franchise over the years because of its deep strategy gameplay, and fans should prepare themselves once again to spend many hours embroiled in its fantasy world, customising characters, tweaking their classes and frequently visiting stores to upgrade powers, buy equipment, potions and weapons to help them in battle.
As a port of the 2008 PlayStation 3-exclusive Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, this latest PS Vita version comes with all the original DLC pre-loaded, but it also includes brand new skills for each of the classes, new moves and fresh boss battles. Disgaea 3’s gameplay has so much variety to it, and with hours upon hours of play time for those seeking an alternative to PS Vita’s current range of pick-up-and-play titles, there’s no reason whatsoever why fans of the PS3 version won’t enjoy the battles again on the handheld’s first ever strategy RPG.
We’ve come to expect that any game that hails from Japan will have a line-up of bizarre characters and a quirky storyline that isn’t that easy to follow, but Nippon Ichi’s strategy role-playing game’s tale and setting are part of its appeal. The storyline revolves around Mao, a demon freshman who attends The Evil Academy in the Netherworld. In this school, some students aren’t too keen on learning, and are positively encouraged to be devious by their teachers. Mao, in particular, gets up to mischief, fights a lot and generally goes around causing bother. There is meaning to the madness though as Mao’s evil thoughts extend far beyond playground mischief, as he seeks to take over his father’s position as Overlord of the Netherland by any means necessary.
The storyline, of course, isn’t supposed to be serious. Disgaea 3’s stereotypical characters are full of witty remarks and sarcasm, and the developer often plays around with RPG clichés to create a tongue-in-cheek adventure that certainly raises a few giggles. The school setting is also a place that players can identify with, and having Mao act like a naughty boy and get away with it is an appealing scenario that gives the game a certain charm that many RPGs don’t manage to allude.
The game revolves around combat and as you wander around the school you can interact with NPCs to build on the back story, as well as visit vendors to upgrade powers, buy equipment, spells and potions. There’s an in-depth class system for those seeking an immersive RPG experience, and you can while away many hours customising your characters.
As you gain more money and EXP, you level-up and unlock further powers and items. The sheer amount of options available to tweak your character so he’s ready for some challenging battles will either be overwhelming, or totally absorbing, depending on your stance when it comes to this particular genre. Stick with it though, and Disgaea 3 is the type of addictive game that you’ll find hard to put down.
Combat is turn-based and takes place on an isometic grid with 2D sprites. Here you get to control a group of characters as they go head-to-head against a gang of enemies. The developer has made good use of PS Vita’s touchscreen by allowing you to zoom in on the action or move around the battlefield to help you plan tactics.
Switching between characters and placing them on the grid can also be done via touch. The initial combat tutorial doesn’t go into much depth, and isn’t much help if you’re new to turn-based combat, but veterans will soon be carefully selecting moves, weapons, powers and attacks before unleashing their strikes on the opposition.
Like any good turn-based RPG, the battles are thought-provoking and require careful planning, while the increasingly challenging grids and enemies ensure that it’s not just one easy fight after the next as you’re forced to look outside of combat to make sure your characters are equipped properly.
On the surface, combat is quite basic. You pick your character, move him to a square on the grid and then choose how you want him to attack from a list of options. You then take turns with the rest of your group, before the enemy turns on you. Each time you attack, or get hit, your health drains and the last team standing wins. It’s a concept that developers have been using since the 1980s, but Disgaea 3 still proves that it’s a winning formula thanks to the multitude of combat options and some impressively designed grids that require thought and strategy to complete.
As well as all the standard attacking moves there’s another layer of strategy added with the inclusion of Geo-blocks, which can have a positive or negative effect on your characters or the enemy. You can stack these blocks to reach certain areas, create stepping stones, and cause huge hit point damage to a group of enemies.
Team attacks can also be triggered by placing your teammates next to each other on the grid, while skills can be combined when you use two characters to hit the same enemy with a special skill. The tactical options are immense and part of the fun of Disgaea is spending time prior to your turn working out the best way to attack and then adapting your tactics based on the enemy’s moves.
Presentation is impressive with a slick anime style and a well-cast selection of voice actors who do well to inject some personality into the characters. The Evil Academy too is fun to explore with dozens of NPCs to interact with and lots to get involved in outside of combat, including the addictive Homeroom mode where you can perform tasks to affect battle performance and make such requests as asking that the school store gets stocked with better items.
Indeed, Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention is a game jam-packed with options, items and interactions. While the cast are funny and charming, the gameplay is challenging and immersive. If you’re into SRPGs and yet to try the Disgaea series, this is an excellent starting point, and being able to bring it on the move with PS Vita is an added bonus.