You know how gamers sometimes get frustrated because we feel like developers do the same thing all the time? Gameplay and plot clichés wherever we look? Well good news: Disgaea Infinite is not quite like anything I’ve ever played before. It’s a graphic adventure game, and it reminds me of Shadow of Destiny (which I liked quite a bit more than reviewer Dancin’ Homer did), but it’s not even quite like that. Let me explain.
Disgaea Infinite features the characters from the original Disgaea and Disgaea 3, although having played those games is not a prerequisite to understanding this one. You play the role of a Prinny who Overlord Laharl throws out a window shortly after the game begins. Hours later, you regain consciousness just in time to hear Laharl getting blown up back in his room. In his anger at the “assassination attempt,” he cuts all of the Prinnies’ salaries to nothing (they probably didn’t have anything to do with it, but they’re easy to punish). Since the Prinnies’ whole reason for being in the Netherworld is to work and earn enough money to pay for the sins they committed during life, they view slave labor as a very distressing proposition.
Serendipitously, just before being thrown out the window, you found a magic pocketwatch that allows you to send your soul back in time and possess those around you in an attempt to change your fate. Even better, it lets you do so over and over again until you get things straightened out to your satisfaction. In this case, that means either stopping Laharl from being blown up or at least making sure that the Prinnies keep their salaries. Of course, since you got thrown out of a window before it all started, you don’t even know what happened, so before you can improve your situation, you’ll have to discover the true facts behind the explosion.
Much of the time while you’re possessing someone, you’re a passive observer; but in your possessee’s moments of indecision, you can step in with a bit of mind control to force them along the path you want them to follow. There’s no one character who you can possess to get the whole story, but you can always switch from the character you’re currently possessing to anyone else in his/her presence and follow that character instead. To help you keep things straight, the game is divided up into hour-long blocks of time, and as you move through the game’s day, possessing different characters as you see fit, it automatically builds a timeline of which characters were in which locations each hour and flags the times/locations where you have discovered an opportunity for mind control. Since there are about a dozen characters involved, the timeline becomes very helpful very quickly. Still, you’ll probably need to take notes to remember which paths you want to take and which you’ve already taken.
Being a Disgaea game, there are a number of different endings (14 to be precise), and once you’ve got the basic storyline worked out, you can choose to keep trying different combinations of possessions and mind control until you see all of the endings, or just until you get the ending you want. In fact, if you make the “right” choices, you can see the end credits within about 15 minutes of starting the game. It’s not an ending your character would want you to get, but it is an ending. An in-game database tracks every ending you’ve gotten, which I appreciated. I also liked the way the developers used some of the endings to tie this game into other non-Disgaea games where the Disgaea characters have appeared, although you could choose to see it in a less positive light as in-game advertising.
This is a fun game, and as far as I know, its gameplay is unique. Some of its elements have appeared in other games, but never all of them together. I only have two complaints, and one of them is minor. First, I don’t like that you’re given a fairly short time in which to make your choice when performing mind control. There’s nothing else in the game that’s on a timer, so it feels out of place. Second, it’s a very short game. I managed to get more than half of the endings, including the “Best Ending” in just a few days of playing. Granted, I played a lot more than I normally would in a few days, but that’s still pretty short. On the up side, it’s been released as a bargain title – it cost $19.99 from day one.
Disgaea Infinite is also very funny. Despite its short playtime, it got more actual laughs from me than any other game I’ve played in quite a while. However, in bringing this up, I must give one note of caution: if you’re Christian, there are a few lines that are intended to be funny, but definitely cross the line into blasphemyland. Lines like “Deep-fried Jesus sticks!” and “Oven-roasted Christ crackers!” They’re not enough to stop me from buying or playing this game, but the laughs they got from me were certainly more uncomfortable than those that the rest of the humor did.
Disgaea Infinite tells its story mainly through lightly-animated character portraits. Many of the pictures and poses will be familiar to fans of the series, but the animation is new, and it’s done quite well, and it really adds emotional impact. I say “mainly” because several times during the game, including when you mind control someone and during the endings, a short action scene plays out using the battle sprites from the original games. They’re cute, and their inclusion makes sense. In short, this game keeps its graphics fairly simple, and it pulls off that minimalist approach admirably.
Disgaea’s normal voice cast returns in this game, and they do the same great job I’ve come to expect from them. In addition, purists can choose to enjoy the dialogue in the original Japanese. I don’t speak the language, so I can’t say how well those actors do, but based on the English cast, I feel it’s safe to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m not as into game music as some of my colleagues, but I’ve always liked the Disgaea themes, so although most of the music in this game feels familiar, I’m not disappointed. I believe that there are a few new tunes, specifically in the endings, and they’re good as well.
The control options in the Disgaea games have always been great. NIS seems to understand their audience and the little things in gameplay that are really annoying, like watching the same attack animation for the billionth time. Disgaea Infinite doesn’t have battles, but it does have a button you can press to auto-skip any dialogue you’ve already seen. I really loved that as I played through some of the same events over and over, trying to find the right path to each ending. The controls are nice and simple, and they do just what they need to. The only negative thing I can say about the controls is that the printed manual lists the wrong buttons for certain things, and to call that out seriously would be nitpicking.
Here at RPGFan, we review RPGs and graphic adventures alike, but it’s rare to find a game that hits both of those genres. Disgaea Infinite is one of those rare games. It plays like a visual novel, but it will also appeal to fans of the Disgaea RPG series. As I said above, it’s fun, it’s funny, and it’s unique. It’s designed well for portable gaming, allowing you to stop at a second’s notice. It’s got a lot going for it, and I’m glad I got to play it. I just wish it wasn’t so short.