It’s quite rare when a RPG is released within a new platform’s launch window, let alone two. First there’s Dungeon Hunter Alliance, a fairly decent action RPG that’s also a pricey iOS port. And then, there is the recent release of Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention. Following a similar pattern to the PSP ports of Disgaea 1 and 2, Disgaea 3 is a Vita port of the 2008 PS3 game with oodles of added content. Although I was a fan of the first two games, I never did play the third and fourth game before tackling 3 right now. Having been years since I touched the series, I’m glad the quirky strategy-RPG has remained fun and charming. Although, it did take some time for everything to get rolling.
Disgaea 3 takes place in a netherworld, which consists of an entire school named Evil Academy. In Evil Academy, demons that cut class, get violent, and/or harass others are deemed honor students and doing the opposite is delinquency. You play as Mao, the top honor student, and the only son of the overlord who rules Evil Academy. A long time ago, Mao’s father committed the vile deed of ruining Mao’s game console and loses over four million hours of game data. Because of this, Mao is driven to take down his father and become overlord, but needs a special power to do so. He did extensive research from games, anime, and comics on how to beat an overlord and concluded that only heroes are capable of beating one. With this knowledge in hand, the evil Mao sets out to acquire a hero’s powers in order to defeat his dad, but such a feat won’t be easy for the number one honor student.
Much of Disgaea 3’s humor comes from playing around with the concept of a demon school. It’s a place where rules and formalities are all backwards where bad is considered good. Students beating up one another, teachers not wanting to do their work, and thievery is encouraged. At one point, students AND teachers once tried to stop Mao from attending class during the story. Disgaea 3’s humor also contains lots of fourth wall breaking, some gaming and anime parodies, and of course, a quirky cast to go along with it.
While I tend to enjoy NIS’ comedy style from the get-go, it took me a little while to get into Disgaea 3’s humor. I found most of the jokes rather weak early on, and didn’t get into the demon school concept all that much. The story also started real slow with nothing of real importance or value going on until the latter half. Disgaea 3’s characters are certainly a fun bunch but none of them really stood out, either. Gradually, the plot picks up the pace and gets more interesting, the jokes get better, and each character’s quirks get more amusing. I began to appreciate how the crazy school ran once I got a better understanding of it all. On the other hand, I’m surprised on how much I got into some of the game’s more serious moments. Part of the story deals with the growth Mao’s character in opening his heart, and some other characters undergoing their own dramatic developments. These scenes, along with a handful of other ones, are well-handled and balance the humor well. Disgaea 3 is still a comedy first and foremost though. It took a while for the jokes and characters to work on me but it worked itself out and the game ends on a fun, twisted note.
The gameplay is where Disgaea 3 ultimately shines. At its core, the combat plays like a standard-SPRG where the objective is to defeat all enemies. To keep the levels and fights varied, there are some additional games mechanics included. There is a throw mechanic where your units have the ability to pick up any object, ally or enemy to throw at a certain distance on the field. You can stack multiple allies to form a tower to quickly get across a board or you can hold on to an enemy at the expense of receiving damage. Throws provide a bit of strategy in some battles. What really keeps the battles varied is the geo block feature.
Geo blocks have a variety of positive or negative effects on certain parts of the level such as a stat boost or an enemy getting stronger. Geo blocks can be thrown away from a color or can be destroyed by various means to nullify the effect. Geo blocks give many battles a puzzle element to them where a part of the challenge is to work around them to defeat all enemies.
In Disgaea 3, party members don’t gain many skills by leveling up. Instead, you need to spend mana to acquire skills. A party member can only gain mana by delivering the finishing blow to an enemy. This method makes it a lot harder for weaker members to gain any mana for a while. Later on, other situations enable characters to gain mana by different means. You can also spend mana to gain passive traits known as evilty. Evilties provide a character with certain stat boosts, ailment resistance, or can temporarily be stronger under certain conditions. All party members come with evilty exclusives to their class and can only hold a certain amount of them at a time. Mana is a very important resource that’s heavily used in other parts of the game.
There are ways to power up your characters and any item in your possession; the item world feature makes a return. In the item world, you select any item, piece of equipment and such, and a random dungeon is generated. The item levels up with each floor passed, and you can only escape the dungeon after ten floors or with a special item. The strength of enemies depends on the selected item, and gets stronger as the item levels up. Alongside item world is the class world. Class world is a place where you can improve party members in certain ways at a hefty mana cost. Instead of boosting stats, class world enables a character to be enhanced in other ways such as increased movement or improved throwing distance. It’s also the only way to inherit skills or evilties from others. It’s similar to item world where you select a character and generate a ten floor random dungeon. You also can only do it a limited number of times with each character.
Another nifty feature in Disgaea 3 is the classroom. The classroom is a place to unlock extra features, additional levels, or as a way to create new party members. You can also enhance certain parts of the game through the classroom such as making enemies stronger or providing better items in shops. Like everything else, doing anything in the classroom costs mana, and there is no guarantee you will even get anything. After selecting what to do in the classroom, you must have enough approval by the demon committee. If the committee does not favor your proposals, you can give up and try again or do things the demonic way: you can bribe some committee members to sway them in your favor or beat them all up to submission.
There are basically two parts to Disgaea 3. First is the main story, and then there is everything else. The main story consists of eight chapters, which is shorter than prior games. Progression through these chapters is really straightforward. All you do is go through a series in each chapter and that’s it. The story is only about 20 – 30 hours, and the challenge feels consistent enough that you don’t need to do much grinding. Playing through the story is certainly fun. However, the game truly opens up with all the all little things you can do and the sheer amount of content available after the story.
After beating the game, a bunch of new levels are unlocked. These levels are much harder than the story ones, providing all sorts of new challenges. Some of these levels also enable you to get new party members with some being from previous Disgaea games. There are even story modes to play through. Heck, all the features mentioned above are only a few of the things you can do in Disgaea 3. The kicker is that a lot of is optional. You only need to do the item world once, and occasionally use the classroom to have shops carry better equipment. Aside from that, you don’t need to touch any of the features extensively and still do well in the main game.
These options are there for players who want to go way above and beyond the main game. In doing so, the diligent player gets rewarded with special content. It’s partially what makes the Disgaea games unique. It is the series that goes beyond the impossible in conventional JRPG statistics. Disgaea is where characters can reach levels in the thousands, have stats in the millions and can do damage in billions. The fact that the final story boss is merely level 90 and an optional boss’ level being in the thousands is an indicator on just how insanely wide open the game is in scope. Of course, all of this is only for hardcore, dedicated players. It’s just nice to have such options after finishing the game and have all these features that support them.
Disgaea 3 is primarily a PS3 port, but there are a few additions in the Vita version. First, it includes all of the DLC from the PS3 version. The DLC consists of new playable characters from other Disgaea or NIS games and an alternate story mode starring 3’s main heroine. Another major draw is the addition of four new scenarios and two brand new characters in them. All of this content is only available post-game. Other than that, there’s only a slight touchup on the 2D art, enabling the use of Vita’s touchscreens for some camera control. It’s nothing extravagant but more content in any form is always good. Think of Disgaea 3 Vita as a portable game of the year edition.
The visuals are Disgaea 3’s biggest weakness, but it’s not too bad. They are easy on the eyes and I find it better than how it looks on screenshots. It’s probably due to being seen on a more compact screen than on a large TV. Still, the sprites and 3D environments definitely look dated, even back in 2008. It does not look bad when zoomed out but up close, the lower quality easily shows. After seeing how great the sprites were in Disgaea 4, it makes it a lot harder to look back at the third game’s style. On the other hand, the 2D artwork remains great. I like all of the character portraits and all the background pictures are very vivid. Good artwork usually does not get hindered by age.
Tenpei Sato composes the music for the series and he did a fairly good job with Disgaea 3. Like the story though, I didn’t get into a lot of the songs early on. Sato did well with the music fitting with the games overall goofy tone but many tracks didn’t leave a lasting impression. There were some songs like the home base theme that is immensely catchy whereas most others are instantly forgettable. As the game progresses, the songs do start to get better with some cool battle themes. There’s even a rare instance where I found the cutscene/filler music to be genuinely good and it was amongs my favorite songs in the game. The music was never on par with previous games, but it has its strong moments.
As always, there are Japanese and English voice options. I chose to focus on the English dub. I have always felt that NISA does a good job with the English voice acting on all of their first party titles. Disgaea 3 is no exception with a lot of the VA fitting well with the respective characters and sounding natural in their performances. The acting is goofy and over-the-top which complements the silly dialogue, but it fits the game well. My favorite performances were actually from the NPCs who all have little speaking lines. Because their lines were few, the VA went all out on their performance and they have a more memorable impact than whatever the main cast did. However, some of the VA do not mesh with their characters that well. It took me quite a while to get comfortable with Mao’s voice. The voice fits his character pretty well, but there was something about it that made it hard to listen to and some of his line deliveries were inconsistent. Some of the other characters VA, like Mr. Champloo and Sapphire, felt pretty flat on their performance. Fortunately, the pros do outweigh the cons, and the overall dub is fine.
Disgaea 3 won’t bring over those who dislike the other Disgaea games. It’s also a hard justification to purchase it again for those who played the PS3 version. It’s also not my favorite installment, either, with the humor not feeling as sharp. It also had a poor beginning in several aspects. In spite of all those factors, I ultimately did enjoy the game. The gameplay is as fun as I remembered, and the series still has a quirky charm that most entries in the series don’t have. It’s a a solid PS3 port with no technical problems whatsoever, and includes a ton of free extra content. Disgaea 3 is a game that will last you a while, whether you just want to casually focus on the main story or go all out with post-game content. The fact that it’s portable makes it well-suited to quickly pick up and play a level or two or spend a few minutes grinding away. Even now, at the time of writing, I’m still delving into post-game content for kicks during my commute. Most important of all, Disgaea 3 is the only domestic Vita JRPG that is around for a long while, and thankfully, it’s a good one.