Strategy role playing games intimidate the hell out of me. The crazy amounts of number crunching and the time you need to invest to get the most out of them just doesn't jive with my current lifestyle. The ironic thing? I absolutely love the genre. When I was younger I used to play all kinds of SRPG's, regardless of their quality. As I got older and busier with work, finding the time needed to play got more and more difficult. It didn't help that the barrier of entry on most of these games is absurdly high.
In many ways the Disgaea franchise epitomizes why I can't afford to throw myself at SRPG's like I used to. The series is designed around breaking the rules, exploiting the game and grinding the hell out of your characters. I remember playing the first Disgaea during my college years and having an absolute blast. Unfortunately I also recall the game being a massive time sink.
Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention for the Playstation Vita does very little to change that fact. The barrier of entry is still as high as ever and you'll still be exploiting the game to its very limits.
And it's absolutely glorious.
Join me after the jump as I break down why everyone with a Vita should grab Disgaea 3.
Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention (Playstation Vita)
Mao is not your average protagonist. The top honors student at Evil Academy, Mao has made a name for himself by being as evil as possible. Skipping class, abandoning those in need, turning a blind eye to a friend; it's all in a days work for one who wishes to reach the top of demon-hood. One day Mao's father, Overlord of the Netherworld, steps on his prized video game console and inadvertently erases thousands of hours of gameplay. Our protagonist, filled with rage due to the loss of his save data, vows to get revenge on his father. In order to do so, Mao must seek out a true hero and take his strength, giving him the power to kill the Overlord. Due to a series of unfortunate misunderstandings, our protagonist accidentally steals the title from the hero-in-training Almaz. Wacky hijinks ensue.
Disgaea is known for having comical, light hearted narratives and Absence of Detention is no different in that regard. In fact, it's probably the most out there game in the series. You'll be face palming as characters have heated debates over whether or not salt and pepper should ever be used on eggs. This game can and often does get very strange but it never loses its heart. For all its quirks and weirdness, Disgaea 3 is ultimately about Mao opening his heart and creating real, lasting relationships with the people around him. You just have to dig through the layers of insanity to get to that point. That kind of story isn't going to appeal to everyone, but fortunately the game allows players to skip the event scenes with the press of a button should they so choose.
For the rest of us though, Disgaea 3 offers a large and satisfying story mode. Like most NISA published games, Absence has both English and Japanese voiceover. I opted for the Japanese so that I could compare it to the localized text. The voice acting is about what you would expect, with an array of popular Japanese voice actors making an appearance in the cast. I was also pleasantly surprised with the quality of the localization on the whole. There were definitely points where the Japanese dialogue and English text didn't completely match up, but the overall feel remained the same and I applaud the translators and editors for not trying to force the Japanese dialogue to fit.
Disgaea 3 isn't going to blow anyone away with its visuals. The original PS3 release saw a lot of criticism for using the PS2 sprites pretty much as-is. Absence of Detention doesn't change that, but it does benefit from the OLED screen. While I wish Nippon Ichi had gone out of their way to implement the Disgaea 4 sprites, the visuals are at least sharp and colorful. Additionally, the character portraits all look great and animate nicely, making dialogue a lot more interesting to sit through.
The real draw of the Disgaea franchise is the incredibly rich, sometimes purposely broken gameplay. The game plays like a standard SRPG, with a 2D grid on which you move your characters. If you've ever played a game in this genre, you'll feel right at home... at first. Disgaea 3 quickly begins to ramp up in complexity by introducing the geoblock, a series mainstay. These blocks add status effects to terrain and can be used to control the flow of battle if manipulated properly. Combo attacks with other characters, throwing enemies, using special abilities; Absence of Detention gives almost complete control of the battlefield to the player. How you take down your enemies is entirely up to you.
This complexity extends past the battlefield as well. You'll be creating and upgrading new skills called evilities in the main lobby using points you earn in battle. The voting system makes a return as well, this time in the form of class meetings. Depending on who you bribe and how, your stats will see an incredibly increase. Where you seat your allies also factors into additional perks.
What would a Disgaea game be without the massive time sink that is the item world? For those unaware, the item world is a unique feature in this franchise that allows you to dive into any item you have in your inventory, turning it into a completely random dungeon. The enemies get more difficult the deeper you dive, but the item drops get better as well. You could spend hours upon hours exploring the item world, leveling up and getting better loot. That's probably the real danger of purchasing this game; days of your life may be wasted traversing dungeons completely unrelated to the main campaign.
If you held off on grabbing Disgaea 3 for the PS3, rest easy with the knowledge that Absence of Detention contains all of the DLC from the original game as well as some brand new content as well. Unfortunately the game doesn't let you access the extra stuff until after you beat the main game, so people who have already gotten their fill on the PS3 will have to go through it all over again.
There's no arguing that the barrier of entry for Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention is high. The game's tutorials, great as they are, throw a lot of information your way and still don't touch on all the crazy tricks you can pull off on the battlefield. It's remarkably easy to get overwhelmed by the options that are available to you. My advice is to take things slowly. Work on characters you like and tackle the quests you'e interested in. I'd recommend beating the main story before diving too deeply into the item world, student council or reincarnation features. It'll only take somewhere around 20 hours to clear and it does a good job of building up to the post game.
The Disgaea franchise has never been for everyone. Its quirky cast of characters, dated but charming visuals and overwhelming number of options can be overwhelming and hard to get past. If you have the drive to push through though, you'll find a fantastic experience in Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention. The game is loaded with content and if you've been starving for a Vita game to poor hours upon hours into, this is for you.
8.5 - While Absence of Detention is often intimidating and its visuals won't win any awards, the amount of fun you get for your buck more than makes up for it. A must-have for any RPG fan with a Vita.
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