Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice PlayStation 3
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Nippon Ichi Software
Having absolutely loved Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and its sequel, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, it's fair to say that I've been looking forward to Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice for a long time. There are a few developers who do quality strategy RPG titles (Square Enix and Atlus immediately spring to mind) but when it comes to over the top wackiness and crazy storylines no one else really compares with Nippon Ichi Software, developers of the Disgaea games. Now that Disgaea 3 is with us I can honestly say it's another great addition to the series. However, there have been some changes this time around and there are some disappointments too that prevent the game from being as impressive as the first two games in the series.
Once again the game is set in the Netherworld. This time we are based in The Nether Institute, a kind of high school for young demons. The students in this school are far from being teens however. The main character in the game is Mao and he looks rather youthful for a 1578-year old. Mao is the son of the Overlord and also the number one honour student (which means he's evil of course as he's a demon) of institute. Mao's made it his goal to kill his father and he's been researching anime, comic books and video games for three months on how to do this and he's figured out that he has to become a hero in order to achieve his goals. Mao has a problem however. Being a demon he doesn't understand the concept of love and justice and for someone who wants to become a hero that's a real problem. Still, he isn't stupid and has an EQ (Evil Quotient) of 1.8 million and with the assistance of his suspiciously efficient demon butler, Geoffrey, he'll find an answer somehow. Amongst his companions are a female demon, who is the same age as Mao, called Raspberyl and an 18-year old self-proclaimed human hero named Almaz (who joins the party early on in the game). The story is as wacky, outlandish and enjoyable as ever but the characters aren't quite as interesting as those from earlier titles such as Laharl and Etna.
If you're a veteran of the first two Disgaea games you'll already be up to speed with much of what is in Disgaea 3. The turn-based and grid-based combat of previous titles in the series remains and is as enjoyable and addictive as it's ever been but there are some new additions to the game-play this time around. The game still has Geo Panels (which can give a variety of advantages and disadvantages to characters standing on them) but the Geo Symbols have been replaced by Geo Blocks. These still generate the effects for Geo Panels but they can be thrown on to other Geo Blocks of the same colour in order to destroy them. If you're careful about how you do this, and there is a certain puzzle element to it, it can lead to filling your bonus meter rather quickly on certain levels. The Dark Assembly (where you could get certain acts and conditions approved in previous Disgaea games) has been replaced by the Homeroom to fit in with the school theme. You can still bribe the members to vote for your suggestions and you can get to influence decisions by using a microphone to relay your ideas over the school intercom system to gain favour. The Item World (which allowed you to explore the various levels inside one of your items, and level it up in the process) returns and this time it's joined by the Class World which allows you explore worlds inside your characters in order to earn them additional abilities that they wouldn't otherwise obtain.
Monster type characters can now be used to transform into a weapon, when accompanied by a human type character (a process known as Magichange). There are attacks that can only be used when in the Magichange state and it's certainly a useful ability. You do need to create a club (when you're in the Class Room and it's worth noting that being in the same club does have other benefits too) and make sure that both the monster and human type characters are both members of the club in order to carry out these attacks during a battle however. There are risks to it however but it's certainly something that adds a twist to the battle experience. Each character now has two Evilities which are essentially two slots to which you can assign special Evility abilities (which can be bought with mana points) to your characters. Skills are also learned and boosted by purchasing them with mana points which is quite different from previous Disgaea games where they were naturally acquired as your character levelled-up and boosted as they were used more frequently. Personally I preferred the method used in Disgaea and Disgaea 2 but the new method does allow you greater control of character customisation.
With Disgaea 3 being the first game in the series to arrive on the PlayStation 3 you might have been forgiven for expecting the series to finally improve the quality of its graphics. Many would argue that the graphics in Disgaea and its sequel, which were PlayStation 2 games of course, were little better than what could have been achieved on the original PlayStation console. Those people are going to be flabbergasted with the graphics in Disgaea 3 because there still isn't much of an improvement. Given the graphical horsepower of the PlayStation 3 it's mystifying as to why Nippon Ichi felt they could get away with not upgrading the graphics in any major way. The heavily aliased characters in the game are a real eyesore. I defended the quality of the visuals in the first two games because they did have a certain charm but I expected much more this time around. Yes it's nice being able to have a wider view of the action on an HD display and there are more camera angles available this time but having a game with virtually PlayStation quality visuals on the PlayStation 3 is just plain silly. Of course the strategy genre isn't one that depends on high quality graphics but it's still disappointing that the game doesn't look much better.
Another thing that hasn't changed from the previous titles in the series, and this time it's good news, is the support for deaf gamers. You'll be able to follow the game's crazy storyline as all of the game storyline dialogue is subtitled. The speaker's portrait is placed alongside the dialogue so you'll be aware of who is saying what and all of the game's humorous comments. All of the game's tutorial messages are subtitled too, so if you're the kind of the person who ignores the manual and jumps right into the game, you're going to have no problem at all in getting to grips with the game. Comments made by the characters during the course of a battle still aren't subtitled. These comments are of no consequence and are repeated ad nauseam so it's not exactly a problem that they aren't subtitled. The game makes good use of icons to convey information to inform you of various status effects and elements that your characters are strong and weak against. In short the game is absolutely fine for deaf gamers.
Disgaea 3 has finally arrived here in Europe and it's a game that will definitely put a smile on the faces of all those who've enjoyed the previous games in the series. The storyline is as wacky as ever and the characters are just as bizarre. Taking your characters from level 1 to 9,999 is just as addictive and time consuming as ever and the game as a whole is another stunning Nippon Ichi strategy RPG to add to an already impressive catalogue. Despite these words of praise however, I still feel that there is room for improvement. Graphically the game is in dire need of improving and bringing into the twenty-first century. I've no objection to the general look of the characters (in fact I really like that distinctive look the characters in a Nippon Ichi game have) but on the PlayStation 3 they should be much better than they are. The storyline maybe be enjoyable, and having a healthy amount of different endings is nice, but I can't help but feel the key characters in the game aren't as interesting as in the previous two games. Essentially though, it's a game that's a worthy addition to the Disgaea series and it's another game that will swallow up over a hundred highly enjoyable hours of my life.