The Disgaea series is as well known for its quirky story and devilish characters as it is for its deep and engaging strategy action. Both of these aspects successfully make the transition to the Vita with Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, this port of the PS3 title fits in quite well on Sony’s powerhouse handheld and actually improves on some aspects of the original.
Like all games in the series, Disgaea 3 takes place in the Netherworld, a world populated with demons, their servants and other assorted evil-doers. The main character here is Mao, the evil Overlord’s son and number 1 honor student at the Evil Academy. Seeking the power to overthrow his father, Mao comes to the realization (through extensive research in the form of video games, manga, and anime) that since heroes always defeat villains, he needs the power of a hero to defeat his father. This series thrives on its silliness, and the third installment is no different.
The characters here are a motley collection of genuinely charming stereotypes, in-jokes and goofballs that continually entertain through a story that, while not the pinnacle of storytelling in the medium, keeps the action light and enjoyable. I will say, however, that I found myself skipping large swaths of the dialogue after playing for a while. It wasn’t an issue of quality, but of sheer volume. There is a ton of text in this game, so unless you love to read, be prepared to keep your finger near that skip key.
Absence of Detention has picked up a few new tricks in the transition to the Vita. Vita specific touch screen controls are present, most notably the ability to change the camera angle by tapping the corners of the rear touch pad. All the DLC for the PS3 is present here, along with some other additional content. The game also looks considerably better than its PS3 cousin by virtue of the Vita’s sharp OLED screen.
Newcomers to the series may be a bit put off by the sheer amount of depth on display here. In addition to the hours and hours of story driven action, each item within the game also features a randomly generated world inside. These worlds are the perfect place to grind for experience and to increase the level of the item. Be warned, you can only exit these worlds every ten floors, but that doesn’t pose too much of a problem thanks to the Vita’s sleep feature.
More depth can be found by virtue of the game’s school setting. Everything from RPG tropes like item and weapon stores to the entrance to the aforementioned Item World can be found in the Evil Academy, which functions as the primary hub. Also present here is the ability to go to homeroom. This feature allows you to rearrange the members of your party at different desks in the classroom in order to stack teammates that often attack together next to each other, thus increasing their effectiveness. You can also suggest topics for Homeroom, which have the potential to increase certain stats or add effects. These topics are voted on before they are accepted, which means you’ll have to resort to some bribery to sway the vote to your favor. If the ayes have it, your motion will pass and you will gain the proposed benefit, if it fails, you have the ability to attempt to forcibly change dissenters minds through combat.
The gameplay in Absence of Detention should be instantly familiar to any fan of SRPG’s, and the previous games in the series specifically. While some new features and Super Moves have been added, the core gameplay remains the same. Move your army across a grid, attacking enemies using a multitude of tactics. Like most SRPG’s, you can’t simply rush into an altercation attacking everything in front of you, at least not without getting wiped out pretty quickly. You have to carefully align your troops and their attacks in a strategic fashion (thus the S in SRPG) in order to progress past the most basic levels.
The action plays out in turn by turn fashion with you positioning troops and ordering their actions, none of which actually play out until you choose to execute them. You’ll have plenty of decisions to make within this framework. Do you attack the enemy directly in front of your character or have one of your allies throw you across the field of play towards a stronger enemy that is out of your reach? Attacking from the side or from behind increases the effectiveness, so positioning is key.
Geo-cubes and geo-panels add to your substantial list of options by imbuing different squares on the battlefield with different effects. Destroying a different colored geo-cube on a set of geo-panels will change all like colored panels to the new color, damaging any enemy standing on that panel and changing their effects. Deciding how best to attack each set of enemies never ceases to engage the player and force some outside of the box thinking. The gameplay consistently manages to be deep without being confusing, which has always been one of the strong suits of the series.
If you aren’t scared off by the incredible depth, there is a lot of fun to be had in Disgaea 3. The game makes a smooth transition to the handheld arena, and it is a solid choice for killing either 10 minutes or an hour. I hope that Disgaea 4 sees a Vita release, because while 3 is solid, it is generally thought of as the weakest in the group. The story and characters won’t be for everyone, especially if you aren’t a fan of excessive wordiness, but the writing is solid and the jokes are clever. Fans of the SRPG genre should definitely pick this one up. If you are new to the genre and just looking for a time sink, it’s probably not a bad idea to watch some videos and read up first before taking the plunge to make sure it’s your speed. There is definitely a learning curve here, but once you’re hooked, you’re sure to spend hours grinding away in the Netherworld.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.