Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention continues the series’ trend of appearing first on consoles and later on portables, with its jump from PS3 to Vita. The praiseworthy port is good for first-time Disgaea players as well as fans who skipped its first PS3 entry (where it was subtitled Absence of Justice). With the Vita version packing in all of the downloadable content from the PS3 version as unlockable additions, Absence of Detention even has something to offer those who’ve already beaten this game.
Gamers who have never played the Disagea brand of tactical RPG, but are curious about where to start, can be encouraged that this is as good of a place as any. They’re all wacky and enjoyable TRPGs. If you’ve enjoyed or have been interested in games like Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy Tactics, you’d do well to try at least one Disgaea game at some point. The first Disgaea (whose best versions are on PS2 and PSP) might be the best overall starting pint, but you’re really not missing anything by jumping in here, thanks to great tutorials. Didn’t get it the first time? You can go back and replay the step-by-step guide battles as many times as you like, per NIS usual. The game is complicated and deep, but by no means intimidating.
What may seem daunting, however, is that these games generally bring a hefty time commitment with them — one that might call 45 hours a “speed run.” There’s so much to manage in this series, from the government/school systems, to the item world, to good old fashioned level grinding and experimental battling, there is no short Disgaea playthrough. Part 3 was no different in this regard, so naturally, players should expect the same of its updated port, even more so if they want to unlock all of the DLC bits, which are now a part of the Vita package with no need to download or spend extra money. To get everything, however, one will have to play through the game. Most things aren’t opened to enjoy right away, which may come as a disappointment for those who’ve already hit triple-digit hours in their PS3-based Disgaea 3 plays.
The biggest and most attractive piece of all Disgaea 3‘s downloadable chunks on PS3 was the alternate scenario starring Raspberyl and her posse. For the PS3 version of Disgaea 3, this four-chapter extra scenario is a $12 update — a little more expensive than a lot of DLC, but it adds over 20 hours of gameplay. This alternate scenario is included in the handheld update and becomes available at an early point in Mao’s scenario. Most people, including those who’ve beaten Disgaea 3, have probably never been through this extra mode, so it’s nice to see it included for free and available so soon. The one small hangup with it is that one must play it alongside the main story rather than apart from it, because certain things in Raspberyl’s scenario don’t open up until they first open in Mao’s. Overlapping party members between the two bitter rivals keep their equipment and stats when jumping between the story games, though keeping track of everything — what’s going on in which story, who has what items — may get a little confusing.
That’s not the only bit of minor confusion. It’s a good thing Disgaea games don’t take themselves too seriously, because a lot of people might have a hard time keeping track of motivations and who is trying to do what. Mao is on a quest to be really good at being a bad guy, eventually becoming the baddest good guy who became a great bad guy, making things good in the land of the bad by making things actually bad, because that’s good, but standing in his way are evil people who are trying to be more good than he is with their evil tactics of doing good and spreading evil across the land, which of course is good. What. The. Hell. Is. Going. On. Question. Mark.
Fortunately, the characters are so well written and acted that one can never mistake the friends and foes. The feud between Mao and Beryl is entertaining, thanks to Nippon Ichi’s skillful character crafting; while the player might lose track of which bad guys are trying to be good for the sake of being and, and which good guys are being so bad that it’s good, one will always be aware of which characters don’t like each other and why certain events are noteworthy and/or hilarious. This is Disgaea we’re talking about. If it’s your first time, just sit back, don’t over think anything, and enjoy the comedic play in front of you.
Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention joins the growing roster of PS3 Break games whose rear touchpad options get in the way from time to time. Getting too comfortable and lettings one’s hands slide into a different position on the machine will result in unplanned menu scrolls and unexpected camera adjustments. The rear pad can thankfully be turned off, but the drawback to this is that it sticks the player with the default camera zoom level, which I found less than ideal. One needs to always turn the rear touchpad back on, use it to zoom in a notch, then go back into the menu to turn it off. The ability to save battle camera settings would have been a pretty big convenience here.
The visuals are better on Vita than they were on PS3, thanks to the smaller screen. On an HDTV, many people took issue with the low-res characters sprites in Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, and rightly so. For a PS3 game, its visuals simply were not up to par, even when considering its cult appeal and the fact that tactical RPGs are generally given some leeway in that department. On PSV, however, that problem is virtually eradicated. These are not the higher-resolution sprites that appeared in Disgaea 4, but since it’s on the smaller screen, they thankfully don’t have to be. Absence of Detention doesn’t look stunning, but it does look good.
Take caution that this review may sound more negative than it actually is. It’s cool; this is only due to the fact that the minor quibbles take a long time to explain. Such is the nature of Disgaea. While the negatives and neutrals bear mention and take up space, for the most part, they’re shoved aside by Disgaea‘s great tactical RPG setup. The characters are eccentric and play off of each other very well, helped by a script and voice acting amusingly over the top.
For almost a decade now, the Disgaea series has been synonymous with innovative tactical RPG gameplay. What’s more, they’re even better in portable form. If you like tactical/strategy RPGs, or are at least willing to give them a shot, then chalk up Disagea 3: Absence of Detention as another good reason to snag a PS Vita.