Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice – Staff Review

Nearly five years ago, gamers first got a crack at Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, a quirky TRPG set in the Netherworld. This game mixed a unique blend of humor with tactical combat and defied many of the common conventions of RPGs and of games in general. There really isn’t anything quite like a Disgaea game, and now the series makes its debut on the PlayStation 3 with Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice and improves on the formula in nearly every way.

Disgaea games have always been a little twisted. Since they are set in Netherworlds, being evil is the norm and is expected. This particular Netherworld is one gigantic and constantly expanding school called Evil Academy. This bizarre setting lends itself well to the comical nature of the game. Things begin with Mao, the young son of the Overlord and successor to the throne, reading superhero comics. He is doing research to gain the powers of a hero with the ultimate goal of defeating his father. As luck would have it, a hero has just appeared in the Netherworld, and Mao’s ever-faithful butler Geoffrey has tracked him down. Naturally, Mao sets off to capture this hero to discover what makes him tick.

Looking out the window, that's a paddling. Staring at my sandals, that's a paddling. Paddling the school canoe, oh, you better believe that's a paddling.
“Looking out the window, that’s a paddling. Staring at my sandals, that’s a paddling. Paddling the school canoe, oh, you better believe that’s a paddling.”

Mao prides himself on being the number one honor student.  While that may sound strange for a demon, one must consider the unique rules of the Netherworld.  Students that skip class and bully others are praised above all others, and demons that actually go to class or use proper manners are branded as delinquents.  In order to maintain his evil ways, Mao has locked up his heart at the conveniently named Heart Bank, which becomes central to the story as the plot progresses.  The game then focuses both on what occurs outside in the Netherworld and what is happening inside Mao.

One of the primary draws for many Disgaea fans is the story, mainly due to its quirky humor and puns, and Disgaea 3 does not disappoint. In regards to the plot, the game resembles what would happen if the first two games were thrown in a blender with a few extra jokes added for good measure. Mao’s personal journey is endearing, and is very reminiscent of Laharl’s. Throw in a fake hero, a Home Ec. teacher that is clearly modeled after chef Emeril, and three orcs with strong Mexican accents that make for a hilarious comparison to Disgaea 1‘s Mid Boss, and there will be plenty of points where you may find yourself laughing out loud. It is every bit as funny as the first game, and the only real criticism for the story is that it’s just too short. The plot cruises along at a steady pace, a couple plot twists happen, and then things just sort of start rushing toward the conclusion. Though most of the individual chapters are longer than those in the other games in the series, there aren’t any real filler chapters to extend the story. While most games suffer when chapters are added in just to pad the playtime, Disgaea games tend to be at their funniest when not directly driving the plot, so these chapters are sorely missed.

Disgaea 3 includes many new changes and improvements, many of which are directly tied to the school setting. For instance, classrooms have been added. In these, players can move students around, and depending on who is sitting next to whom, there are bonuses that carry over into battle. Classrooms also serve as the gateway to Homeroom, this game’s version of the Dark Congress found in the previous two games.  There are also clubs that can be assigned that can yield anything from extra experience or mana to better abilities. One extremely useful club changes the throw command to dual throw. Stacking characters to be thrown is a common tactic in Disgaea, but if the bottom character has dual throw, then rather than throwing the entire stack, the player can pick to throw anyone in the stack. This is especially useful in getting up high ledges; just stack up everyone and throw the top person.

Another new ability is called Magic Change. Whenever a monster type and human type character are in the same club, the monster can transform into a unique weapon based on its type. For example, all prinnies become guns. The newly transformed weapons can be extremely powerful, and there are special attacks that can only be done while holding a transformed weapon. But this transformation comes at a price. After two turns of use, the transformation ends, and the monster is taken out of play for the entirety of the fight without allowing another unit to replace it.

Famous last words.
Famous last words.

The final major addition to battle is the ability to combine special attacks.  In previous Disgaea games, regular attacks could be combined into team attacks, and this game is no different.  But now some special attacks can be combined for extra damage, and if the two special attacks are the same, the damage is greater still. The net result is the most polished battle system seen to date in the series.  Special attacks can also be purchased and uprgraded by spending mana, preventing long periods of using spells or special attacks just to raise their levels.  Special abilities called evilaties can also be purchased, but the best ones are character specific and offer bonuses like extra attack when there are more enemies on the map.

Battles were not the only places where changes were implemented.  The item worlds, randomized multifloor dungeons contained within each item, saw many improvements.  Though you are only required to go through the item world once, it’s one of the best places to level, so many players spend a fair amount of time there.  All of the improvements from Disgaea 2 are in, and now at the end of every tenth floor, players can make it to an item town with treasure, shops, and most importantly, a hospital to revive and refresh the party should you wish to delve deeper.

Another new addition to the item world is reverse pirating.  Disgaea 2 introduced pirates, monsters that are primarily interested in the treasure found in the item world, and they are back again.  But Mao and his allies can get in on the pirating action themselves, completely changing the way the item world is played.  As an added incentive, there are specialists that can only be found in this manner.

In both the item world and in regular plot-based battles, geo panels are back, but this time they take the form of geo blocks that can be stacked.  Like in other games that use geo panels, having multiple blocks of the same type add their effects, but now, stacked blocks also add their effects.  In many of the story battles, it is usually important to either use the geo blocks or get rid of them, and fortunately, they are much easier to get rid of than before.  All a character has to do is throw any geo block next to any other block or group of blocks of the same color, and all of them will disappear.  If anything is on top of the stack, it’ll take damage from the fall, which can add an extra layer to the strategy behind destroying the blocks.

Visually, the game performs well, but it simply cannot compare to most other games on the PlayStation 3.  The graphics are only a mild step up, but the increased resolution does make everything significantly sharper and smoother.  It’s a similar effect as when Katamari Damacy made the move to the Xbox 360. In the end, the graphics serve the game well, even if they do not boast the highest polygon count.  And when it comes to the large character sprites, they’ve never looked better. There is also a very long, highly detailed opening video that shows off some pretty impressive high definition animation.

Ever since the Power Rangers got there, the Netherworld has REALLY gone to hell.
“Ever since the Power Rangers got there, the Netherworld has REALLY gone to hell.”

Aurally the game does a fair bit better than it did visually.  The music is a collection of familiar tunes from previous games with quite a few new ones mixed in.  The songs are very catchy, and it’s not hard to find yourself humming the school theme even when you’re not playing.  Fans will be pleased to hear that once again, the voice acting is superb, and for those that want to hear something other than English, the disc includes the Japanese voices.  The sound effects are largely voice clips, and they are pretty funny as well.

The issue of difficulty for Disgaea games is a tough one to call.  The game can be made very difficult by doing minimal leveling, or on the other hand, the game’s level cap allows your characters to have an edge of over 9000 levels against the final boss, who at that point would die if you looked at it funny.  You can go back and replay any level at any time, and the item world is always ready and full of enemies at nearly any level. This also has an effect on playtime.  One could possibly finish the game in as few as 30 hours, but to kill every boss, it may take as many as a hundred hours.  It’s entirely up to the player as to how much time to spend playing.

While most games have very minimal interfaces, there are a couple issues with the way the player interacts with the game.  In battle, you will constantly be looking at stats on the battlefield.  Though they are easy to manage, it would have been convenient to see more information at once rather than have to use the right analog stick to switch between pieces of data.  One can see equipped items, elemental affinity, or numerical stats, but only one can be viewed at a time.  It’s never a huge bother, but it’s one of the few sticking points where it could have easily been improved.

The other main problem is with the game’s camera.  There are three basic camera settings, and it would have been nice to have more control.  As with the previous Disgaea games, the view can be rotated 90 degrees, but unlike its predecessors, the view cannot be shifted to give an angled down perspective.  Though the angled view is sorely missed, there is now a top-down view that is helpful, but it can only be used when the camera is pulled out to its highest.  The best option would have been to have all three levels of zoom and all three angles of camera placement.

In the end, Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice is an amazingly funny game with a lighthearted plot and interesting tactical combat.  Its only major drawback is that the plot just wasn’t long enough, but what’s there is worth going through.  Though Mao falls slightly short of the legacy of Laharl, the rest of the group more than makes up for it.  Taken as a whole, this is probably the strongest cast yet, narrowly edging out the trio of Disgaea 1. Considering there are plenty of extras after the game is finished and the fact that there are ten additional party members that can only be recruited on subsequent trips through the plot, there is a significant amount of replay value.  If you enjoyed the first two games and have a PlayStation 3, there is absolutely no reason to pass on this game.

One Comment

  1. Duke Gallison:

    Still haven’t played the second game yet :/ As for the graphics, I sort of wish Nippon Ichi would get with the times, since even Stella Deus on the PS2 has better graphics than the third Disgaea or any of N1’s PS2 games have…

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