Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention Review
Game: Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention
Developer: NIS America
Publisher: NIS America
Available on: PlayStation Vita Only
The last time I looked at the excellent Disgaea series was to write about the highly amusing Disgaea 4, which continued Nippon Ichi’s tradition of wittily scripted, tactically deep, grid-based strategy RPG with some style. Sure, it didn’t veer wildly away from the very first game we saw emerge on the PS2 way back when, but it was still ace. Historically, the developers followed their big console releases with handheld counterparts, starting with Afternoon of Darkness for PSP, and Disgaea DS. Now we get the opportunity to play another handheld version of an earlier release, as Nippon Ichi have decided to bring a tweaked, additional-content-laden version of Disgaea 3 to the PlayStation Vita.
STORY: The brilliantly named Evil Academy forms the backdrop to the story, a strange school in the Netherworld where activities such as truancy and bad behaviour are considered commendable, with goody two shoes students looked upon as delinquents by comparison.
You play the part of Mao, the only son of the demon Overlord who runs things in the Netherworld. Mao is a teenager obsessed with reading manga based around his favourite character – the Super Hero – who he aspires to become so he can overthrow his old man. He is kept in check by a butler named Geoffrey, who provides humorous observations and is very much the Alfred to Mao’s hormonally imbalanced Batman. The young man sets out on a quest to become a true hero, however, along the way a number of other denizens of the underworld setting decide to throw their oar in and complicate matters. Mao’s rival, Raspberyl, attempts to foil his plans by fair means or foul, however unbeknownst to all, a puny human called Almaz has also ventured into the Netherworld to take on the demon he believes is out to get his beloved princess. Almaz becomes entwined in the entire goings on in a way he couldn’t have possibly imagined, and there are some shocking twists to the tale that eventually come out in the wash.
GRAPHICS: Great animé movies, cutscenes and static battle introductions bookend the traditional isometric Disgaea style graphics that form the basis of the main game. As always with Nippon Ichi, the production values and presentation are brilliant. The graphics – which are effectively a carbon copy of those from the PlayStation 3 version – look much better than the console original on the impressive Vita screen.
The camera can be a bit of a bugbear, you can change your viewing angle, and swivel the camera around, and this can be done using the touchscreen, however sometimes the grid battle screen does become cluttered with several characters, or complex terrain. When this happens you can switch to a top-down view of the action; something which compromises the charm of proceedings but is a necessary evil in order to see what exactly is going on.
SOUND: Like Disgaea 4, Absence of Detention has a funny script, which is brought to life by some sterling voice work. Miscreant schoolboy Mao is snotty and annoying, Raspberyl and her posse are devilishly cruel and sassy, and the Prinnies (yaay!) are as funny as ever. Generic Voiceover Guy™ handles the introductions and some of the story fill-ins in what I construed as a tongue in cheek style; the whole package is an absolute hoot. With its numerous piss takes out of otaku culture, the gaming industry, and even itself, Disgaea is a great alternative to some of the po-faced RPGs out there. Musically the game is just as accomplished, with some great and varied compositions soundtracking the action. At times it is hard to believe you are playing what is effectively a niche role-player, and not some huge, well known big hitter; the score is that good.
GAMEPLAY: If you have not played a Disgaea title before, let me put you in the picture, in as simple terms as I possibly can. You progress through the lengthy campaign the same way as you do with most turn-based RPGs. Battle. In the case of the Netherworld, battle takes place on a grid. You can move your characters around the grid, some can move further than others, some have different attacks, and the terrain can affect the outcome of proceedings.
Acting as a hub in the game is the Evil Academy itself, where you can access the many shops, speak to NPCs to progress the story, and“train” in your Home Room, a handy place to learn about the crazy number of techniques and form bonds between your characters so they can perform more effectively in combat.
You have a party that can contain a number of characters. There are myriad weapons and items, including armour, that can be used to customise these characters. There are a huge variety of character classes. Every single weapon can be customised, every weapon can be “opened up” and contains its own dungeon, for goodness sakes! The amount of customisation is utterly ridiculous, and the amount of variation in the attacks, spells and suchlike you have access to boggles the mind. Of course, being Disgaea, you can also level up to stupidly high statistical levels, something I touched upon when reviewing the last game in the series. This is an incredibly deep game, which you can play and enjoy as a beginner thanks to handy in-game tutorials, but will need to sink hours into to truly master.
LONGEVITY: It could be said that Disgaea is, effectively, endless. For fans of grinding and lengthy dungeon crawling, or those who like tinkering with battle systems, this is going to be a dream come true. The story is superb and will take you many, many moons to conquer. You will want to progress the story, too; it is a corker. Those who owned the PS3 original will be pleased to hear that all of the downloadable content from that version of the game is present here, meaning more characters, more missions, more of everything. It is a package brimming with glorious, wonderful, RPG…stuff.
VERDICT: Disgaea is perfectly suited to the Vita, the old-school graphics dance around magically on the OLED screen, the recognisable ditties are wonderful emanating from the handheld speakers, and best of all, the gameplay can be dipped in and out of using the handy sleep function. Gone are the days when you would end up having to plough through a mega-lengthy section of the game without being able to stop and rest. Touchscreen controls are largely irrelevant, you can move things about on the grid using a finger if you wish, and can use them to operate the camera, but I found it was just as convenient to use the good ‘ol buttons. A wonderful port of an already great game, this is a good start for NIS on the Vita.