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User Review : Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention

  • Insane amount of content
  • Unique blend of RPG/puzzle
  • Somewhat dated graphics
  • Storyline is meh

Is the Vita's BIGGEST game for you? Maybe...

TL;DR stats:
Game type - Strategy RPG/Puzzle
Number of hours to beat - 25 to 40
Number of hours to 100% complete - 100 to infinity
Platform - PS Vita

Let's get something out of the way, first:

How many hours did I put into Disgaea 3 before writing this review? Well, last time I checked my Netherworld Stats, the game says I've put 117 hours into the game. Goodness, how the time flies! And to be fair, that's not counting the 40-ish hours that I sunk into Disgaea 3 when it was on PS3, nor the 50-ish hours I put into Disgaea 4, nor the 100+ hours (each) I put into the remakes of Disgaea 1 and 2 on PSP a few years back...

There are only two game franchises that have me coming back time and time again, no matter how many games seem to pour out of the game development fountain. One of them is sidescrolling Mario. Whether it's old-school Super Mario Bros. on my NES, or NSMB2: Golden Orgasm on my 3DS, I love me some Mario. The other is Disgaea. This review is going to be lengthy. Why? Because Disgaea 3 on Vita is a massive game. I mean, it is BIG. There are hundreds of hours of content to sink your fangs into, if you're up to the challenge. But it's not all roses and sunshine and angels. There are some crippling flaws with this game, so this review is here to either push you to impulse-buy it 10 seconds after you finish reading, or make you shake your head and think "Gaawd, what a waste of time. I should've played a match in Black Ops, bro".

Let's get the REALLY bad out of the way, first. The Disgaea series is a cess-pool of bad developer practices. It really is. Ever since Disgaea 3 came out in 2008, the franchise is home to some of the worst DLC-whoring imaginable. When I say "worst", I mean "spend an extra $85 to get all the extra content" sort of worst. To get all the DLC for D3 (a 5-year-old game, mind you), there's a $50 bundle pack. Or, if you really want to grind your teeth...

Check out the official NIS website listing for the latest console entry in the series, Disgaea 4:

All of that extra content totals over $100 in content. Oooof!

Now, here's the good news: D3 on Vita comes with all downloadable content at no extra cost, in addition to several new tweaks, characters, and side-plots. In other words, it is the most "complete" version of Disgaea 3, boasting more content than even its console predecessor.

What sort of game is Disgaea 3? That's hard to answer. "What sort of gamer are you?" is a much better question. Do you like engaging and well-written storyline? Then Disgaea 3 is not for you. Summing the plot would be about as pointless as turning Gears of War into a Broadway musical. The plot is there. It's silly. It's pointless. You might even skip over entire sections just to get to the action. Or, you might like it. I won't judge.

Do you like tactical combat? Ehhh, D3 is a mixed bag. Sometimes, the battles are nail-biting and require you to think things through. Sometimes, however, battles boil down to who does the most damage, regardless of class-type, weaknesses, skill sets, etc.

Do you like level-grinding? Get Disgaea 3. Get it now.

Do you hate level-grinding? Ehhh, you still might like the game, although I doubt you'll get more than 40 hours out of it (the average length of the main storyline).

Do you like finding secrets? Do you like hunting for treasures, for character upgrades, for powerful skills, for impossibly-strong armor sets, for rare creatures, for hidden bosses, for parallel universes? I think you get the idea: this game might be for you.

If I really HAD to answer the question "what sort of game is D3?", I would say it is one part tactical RPG (akin to FF Tactics, Tactics Ogre, or Fire Emblem), one part puzzle game, and one part grind-fest.

The combat - the real meat of the game - is fleshed out by 50 individual character classes, 20-ish Unique characters, a half dozen weapon types, and hundreds of special skills (spells or special attacks) assigned to certain classes. If you've played Disgaea before, something that is (relatively) new in this game is the Evility system. Evilities are special boosts to your character, like giving Fire attacks a 30% jump in damage, or negating 50% damage from Monster type enemies, or increasing your magic range by 2 tiles, or adding a 50% change of adding Sleep to your basic attacks, stuff like that. These Evilities are typically unique to each class, so if you want to explore all the game has to offer, believe me, there's plenty of character builds to play around with when it comes to Evilities. On top of that, every class has Unique skills that can only be used by that class. Let's use your basic, run-of-the-mill wizard as an example. There's the Mage (female) and the Skull (male). They have access to all the same elemental spells. In past games, the only difference outside of appearance was that Mage spells used up 50% less SP (mana). Skulls received a 30% boost to damage at the cost of also using 50% more SP. The differences ended there. But in Disgaea 3, the Skull and Mage also have Unique skills. The Skull, for instance, has a handy spell called Brain Rise that doubles the targets Intelligence stat temporarily. The Mage has a spell that lets her exhaust all of her remaining SP for a huge attack, and the more SP used, the more damage is dealt. Every single class has unique abilities like this. Compared to previous games, there is a much bigger reason to experiment with the different class types.

Needless to say, there are a TON of options, and if you enjoy the battles, you'll never be at a loss for what character you should use. In fact, sometimes it seems like there are TOO many characters, but I suppose it is better to have too much than too little, especially if you really get into the end-game grind-fest (more on that later). Turns are done back and forth a la Fire Emblem or Advance Wars, with the player getting the first turn in any battle. In other words, you move and attack with all your people, then your opponent moves and attacks. There is no "initiative" to determine which individual units move next, and while this might seem unrealistic or stupid, it gives a much-needed simplicity to an otherwise-complicated battle system.

The puzzle side of Disgaea adds an added dimension to the game that is often lacking in this genre of RPGs. Disgaea 3 has something called Geo Panels and Geo Cubes. Panels are just colored squares on the ground that - left alone - serve no purpose other than looking pretty. The Geo Cubes, however, when sitting upon these panels, add unique effects that can turn the tide of battle, effects like healing 20% of your health at the start of the turn, or making an enemy invincible, or warping you to a random tile on the map, or allowing you to move further, or forbidding you to use skills/spells. This aspect by itself is neat, and it adds a lot of flavor to the combat system. However, there is another side to the Geo Cubes. They can be destroyed, and when they're destroyed, they start a chain reaction if they're sitting on a colored Geo Panel. Destroying all the panels and cubes in this manner will unleash a massive explosion that damages (and often kills) all enemies on the screen. Simply look up "Geo Panel Combo" on Youtube to see what I'm talking about. In some battles, you don't even have to fight, since any units (friend or foe) will be damaged if they're standing on a colored Geo Panel during a combo. From the start of the series, all of the Disgaea games have allowed you to Lift and Throw things, be they Geo Cubes, enemies, friends, or whatever. Throwing enemies into a neat line to allow for a big area-of-effect attack, or matching up Geo Cubes on correct panels to set up for a huge combo is another puzzle-ish aspect of the game.

All of this sounds interesting, but I suppose the big question is this: are you the sort of gamer who can sink 100 hours or more into a game? Don't misunderstand. I'm not saying you NEED to sink 100+ hours into Disgaea 3, but the opportunity is there. See, once you finish the main storyline (and subsequent side-plots), you've really only seen about 50-70% of the game's content, depending on how diligent you were during the main playthrough. Have you unlocked all of the classes yet? Some of them are tricky, requiring you level up other classes first before they become available. Have you unlocked the Pirate Club yet? It allows you to go on Pirate Raids inside the items you've already leveled up in the Item World. Or what about the Diez Gentlemen? Did you beat all of them, too? Have you tried your hand at the Class World, where you can boost a unit's movement, critical rate, and more? Or maybe you've done all this and you're looking for more. Okay, how many X-Dimension maps have you unlocked (and beaten)? Have you visited the Land of Carnage yet, where the power of enemies goes well beyond the 9999 level cap? Have you stolen the Baal Sword from the Item God yet? You'd better have leveled up a Thief to do that. Have you been hunting Statisticians? They're a big help because they multiply your Experience gain. Did you find the Puppy Paw Stick? Shhhh, don't tell anyone, but it lets you duplicate items! Round up your Statisticians and slap them on that Mage of yours. Ready? Hit that block of enemies and BOOM! You just jumped from level 50 to level 5,000! Impossible? Not in Disgaea.

I mentioned the story before. It really isn't the focus of the game. Oh, sure, there's a story. There's actually a lot of storyline, but it's silly and - for some people - it might even be annoying. This is true for any of the Disgaea games, not just Disgaea 3. With that said, you can jump into the series at any time. You don't have to start with the first game and work your way up.

I think the one thing about the Disgaea series (and Disgaea 3 in particular) that I really enjoy is that the game dares you to abuse the system. Despite all the little tricks you can pull off, there are always challenges to be found. The game dares you to find a map with Experience boosts and grind it over and over again until your characters are hundreds of levels above the campaign enemies. It dares you to level up your weapons and items to obscene amounts so that you're doing 10 million (yes, million) damage in one hit. And the funny thing is, the game somehow keeps pace. Even when you're doing 10 million damage, there will be enemies with 200 million health. Even when you're maxed out at level 9999, there will be enemies with stats 10 times higher than yours. Even when you think you've found all the items that can be found, there are hundreds more to be found in the Land of Carnage. Even when you think you've beaten all the bosses that can be defeated, you'll run into more bosses in the Item World.

And when you finish all that, there's always New Game+, of course...

There's one last thing I want to point out. I've been babbling on and on about content and about the hundreds of hours you could sink into this game, but I don't want you to think that you have to sit down and play for hours and hours at a time to get anything done. This isn't Skyrim! A strength of the game (especially considering it is on a portable system) is that it can be played in small bursts, if you want. You may not have the time to sit down and beat another chapter in the story (which could take an hour or two), but you might have time to grind through 20 floors in the item world (which could take 10 minutes or less). You might not have time to grind your main character's level up a few hundred so that you can beat the next boss, but maybe you have a few spare minutes to level up their affinity in the Class World. I'll admit, there are plenty of sessions where I've sat down to play for a quick 20 minutes and it turned into 2 hours, but you don't HAVE to play such long stretches of time if you don't want to. The majority of battles take less than 10 minutes, and you can save in between any battles at the home base.

If you have a Vita, this game is worth a try. There is plenty of content to keep you occupied. Think of it this way: the first Disgaea game came out nearly 10 years ago on the PS2. Yet, half a dozen games later with virtually no change to the basic mechanics, the games are still going strong. There must be something to the game for it to last that long. Don't expect your hand to be held. These games can be brutal. Don't expect every single trick to be laid out in plain detail. Some things are meant for you to discover on your own (or look up online). But if you're up for a new challenge, Disgaea 3 is a game that won't run out of steam for 100s of hours.

From a purely technical standpoint, the graphics are mediocre. The 3D models are average, and the sprites can be a bit blurry. With that said, everything is so colorful and creative, so you probably won't mind.
Some of the soundtracks are annoying (you can unlock a Music Shop to change the default tracks if you want), and after a while some of the sound effects and battle cries start to sound samey. But, it's not a dealbreaker.
The core mechanics are fun. And yet the game doesn't give you only the basics. It gives you so much extra content and extra tricks that you'll be learning new things even after 50 hours of playtime.
Fun Factor
If you enjoy the basic combat and puzzle aspects, you might just blink an eye and realize you sunk 100 hours into this game. It's addictive!
You can check the game stats of people on your friends' list and you can also check "worldwide" accumulated stats of everyone else playing the game. Other than that, nothing. Hey, but at least you get all the DLC content for free, right?
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shammgod1866d ago

Great in depth review. I heard this might become free through ps plus, might have to scoop it

belac091864d ago

it was my second vita purchase and i put almost 200 hrs into it, and im still not done, i just havent played it in a while. it's a great game.

Bimkoblerutso1862d ago

Good review there, guy. I too could never get into the goofy, generic story or characters...and yet the gameplay has got to be the exact opposite of goofy and generic. I've put around 100 hours into every single entry in the series.