Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice
Have you ever stopped and wondered what the world we live in would be like if everything was flipped right on its axis? Imagine a world where being a royal bastard was socially accepted, encouraged even, or getting to class on time is seen as heresy to everything you and your peers stand for. Imagine a world where the hero is the enemy, a manifestation of everything demons fear and misconceive – love, faith and courage. Only such a thing could be conceived as fantasy. Well then - welcome to Disgaea, a place so confused and alien that even its own ideologies don’t make much sense. That’s not even the beginning of it; nobody does strange quite like the folks in the land of the rising sun and both they and their fans know it. Being the third entry into a now cult established series, there are no doubt some expectations to be had not only in terms of quality but also humour - rest easy, the game is hilarious.
Mao, son of the dark overlord isn’t too happy. In fact that doesn’t even begin to sum it up as several days prior something tragic occurred that shook the very foundations of his life and morals. Mao’s father accidentally trod on his son’s Slaystation portable, thus invoking the deletion over one million hours of game saves. As you would assume, Mao is most displeased and swears an oath to defeat his father once and for all to gain supreme power over the Netherworld demon Evil Academy. The story doesn’t quite have the substance and depth of say, a novel but the wonderful characters and the blessing of some fantastic dub work give it charm in equal measure to its predecessors. Disgaea’s cast of lunatics and outcasts carry the game’s narrative to greatness. Without such a decision to emphasise the characterisation it’s doubtful the archaic graphics and inaccessible mechanics would have done the game many favours.
Battles take place on a game board, similar to that of fan favourite Final Fantasy Tactics. However, instead of opting for bog standard RPG attributes, Nippon Ichi have bitten the bullet and opted for some fresh ideas. Among the new features in Disgaea 3 is the introduction of Geo-blocks, an elemental based tactic cube that appears on the battle ground either independently or as grouped clusters. These act as catalysts for status ailments; usually giving an advantage to a respective side of the opposition. Despite each Geo-block having its own dedicated colour it is still safe to check the effect they may be having on the board to avoid any unfortunate losses on your behalf. Some battles may initially appear overwhelming at first but with a bit of creativity and planning on your behalf it’s always possible to turn the Geo-blocks against the enemy and come out victorious. Such a system may appear like a pretty niche concept, even for a strategy RPG, but as you hone your skills in the tutorials and progress, they will undoubtedly become your best friend on the battlefield; in some cases the only key to success.
There’s no denying the unbelievable depth this game entails, with a clear design for grind-addicts and RPG lovers in mind, plus numerous implementations that would only give the casual player a head ache; this is a real gold mine for fans. Aside from the ability to level your party up to a mammoth level 9999, items are also individually trainable from part way through the story. This takes place in the item world, a separate dimension allowing you to progressively improve and modify the power of your item inventory. Dotted around the main academy hall are a number of other students and teachers there to help (or in some cases rip you off). Checking out the weapon and item vendors will become a regular occurrence as enemies and allies increase in strength at a sometimes alarming rate. It is also a good idea to stop by the nurse’s office after every confrontation to avoid strolling into the next battle with several casualties already confirmed.
The weaponry system is commendable on the grounds of its versatility; gone are the days of RPGs where characters are only able to use one class of weapon. Each member of your party will be assigned a number of weapon classes they can equip and fight best with; for example to get the most potential out of Mao in battle you should assign him with either a Sword, Spear, Axe or Staff. It’s ideal to choose one class at first and then upon mastering the classes respective skills to move on to another. This gives you considerable freedom to choose which characters shall partake in each kind of class. If you feel a character with high HP is better off on the front line, then equip him/her with a powerful weapon and give those lacking in physical strength a job to help behind the scenes, such as the staff to perform healing magic or a spear for longer range. It’s still worth noting, however, that a character with the ‘Red or White Mage’ accolade will be only able to perform magic as an exception to the rule.
Disgaea 3’s presentation will no doubt vex many gamers, especially in the current climate where looks have become an integral part of a games attraction. Sporting hand drawn environments with traditional 2D sprites, it’s going to take the more shallow gamers among us more than rose tinted glasses to look past the graphics. Fans of the series were no doubt expecting this decision and while it doesn’t exactly hinder the game at all, it does seem odd not to have some notable improvement to the visuals for Disgaea’s jump to the current generation. Qualms aside, the game maintains a special charm that many RPGs thus far in this generation have missed completely. If you’re willing to play what is essentially a PSone game on your PS3 then by all means take the plunge. It’s a stark reminder that we focus far too much on visuals these days than what really makes games fun in the first place.
As a whole, Disgaea 3 is a fantastic addition to both the PS3’s consistently improving catalogue and the strategy JRPG genre. With a lengthy story mode and a near enough endless number of abilities and characters to level up this game may just about take over your gaming life altogether. Matching both the quality of the voice work and scripting is the relentlessly catchy J-pop soundtrack; despite kicking in every time you visit the academy, you never quite tire of it. The rest of the electronically composed score doesn’t quite hold up as well but does an amiable job at setting the scene and mood. With such a colourful and empathetic cast, playing Disgaea 3 is nothing more than a joy. It’s strong anime-esque design and confounding gameplay isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but it wouldn’t be the same any other way. If you’re up for throwing away several weeks of your life, there’s no better place than Disgaea to do it. Just don’t whine when you realised you’ve lost all your friends and seem to think your dad is out to get you.
Eight out of ten