Disgea 3: Absence of Detention - His and Hers Review
His Review with Ian Abbott
Do you like turn based strategy RPG fantasy adventures by Japanese developers? Yes. Do you like to grind? Yes. Do you want a game with a self-declared 1,000,000 hours of game play? Yes.
Welcome then to Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention, by Nippon Ichi Software. A polarising game that is either going to rouse thoughts of ultimate happiness by playing it for day after week after month after year or destroy your soul and bore you senseless within an hour.
Ported onto the PS Vita from the original 2008 PS3 exclusive (Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice), this game has value for money running out of its ears. Though it would actually take 114 years to see all 1,000,000 hours of game play, it’s also got all the original DLC content, new moves, new characters and extra scenarios to keep you amused for at least 150 hours. Taking on the character of Lord Mao (son of the mighty Overlord) in the Nether Institute Evil Academy, I was seeking vengeance on my father who accidentally deleted my precious video game save data, which I spent over four million hours accruing. It has a wonderful soundtrack and score that fits the alternative and slightly quirky set of characters and visuals which have translated so well from the PS3. It’s a mixture of catchy songs, faux organ recitals and a lush cinematic sound that all convey the mood so effectively. The vocal histrionics and personality from the characters is marvellous and completely in keeping with the world that is created as well as buckets of wit and sarcasm that kept me engaged in the world.
Wandering around the school interacting with NPCs helps build up the back story whilst shopping at the vendors or upgrading your crew with different skills, upgrades and equipment after each combat round are great ways to while away the hours to ensure optimum immersion in the Nether Institute. The bouts of battleage take place on an isometric grid with 2D sprites where you control the differing classes of characters (healing mages, warriors, penguins etc) to defeat those presented before you. This game formed combat habits within me whilst playing it, caution first, move en-masse and then executing those almightily satisfying 2 and 3 person combos or special moves to obliterate enemies. As you clear each stage, you gain EXP and level up, which unlocks more powers and items, a happy cycle that will continually reward the player as long as the player is willing to invest the time as you can max your characters up to level 99999.
There’s no deterioration and no editing of cut scenes in this transfer to the PS Vita and it genuinely feels like you’re holding a miniature and portable PS3 but playing an absolutely huge game. It’s a gaming experience where I could pick up and play for 30 minutes or get lost in for 4hrs or more because of the episodic nature of the chapters and battles. This type of game won’t appeal to everyone (even Tracey enjoyed a lot of it), but for me it has a great flow, looks good, sounds great and is one of the best games currently on the PS Vita.
Her Review with Tracey McGarrigan
If I had gone to Demon School, I would have cut a pretty sad figure as always did my homework on time, volunteered for extra curriculum activities, was a senior prefect and had no concept of how to successfully bribe other students to bend to my will. At the Nether Institute Evil Academy, students who skip class, forget pencils, rob others of their lunch money and run down the corridors are generally are revered by their peers and praised by teachers like the sexy, pink haired Ms Machiko; “I’m going to keep you after school for a guidance sessions if you’re naughty, just me and you.” Delinquents on the other hand do their homework, pay their school fees and have perfect attendance records, such is the quirky world of Disgea 3: Absence of Detention.
Though it might go against the concept of “schooling”, any player entering into the strategy-heavy classroom based battle series for the first time should be prepared to pack an overwhelming amount of info about how to play into their brains and make the most of the long practice tutorials, reading all the help guides before combat. With study comes an addictive, deeply intricate and challenging game with funny, tongue-in-cheek characters, led by Mao, a top honor student with a 1.8million EQ (evil quotient) whose ambition is to become the greatest ‘hero’ in the Netherworld in order to beat up his Overlord dad (Dean of the Nether Institute) as revenge for his dad stepping on his Slaystation console. Basic gameplay involves moving classmates around themed “classrooms”, attacking enemies with weapons or spells and preferably working together to create powerful team attacks and combos until the grid is clear. Packed with anime action and conversations full of self-referencing jokes stuffed into an odd ball plot with a catchy adolescence soundtrack so punchy your ear and mind will be drumming it out long after the power is switched off, there is plenty to enjoy here.
Unlike Ian, I rarely play turn-based strategy RPG games. By the fourth or fifth battle, I already felt overwhelmed but when the basics gave way to hundreds of customisable options my brain imploded. Not only had I complete control over each of the ever increasing number of characters, to use in whatever way, when and where I wanted but the environments themselves came into play as can navigated through with different results. Smashing desks and moving blocks wasn’t too taxing thanks to the ‘Lift and Throw’ action and ‘Tower Attacks’ are fun the more people you have stacked vertically but in the bigger battles, moving or standing on ‘geo-blocks’ can give or take away benefits like EXP or healing. Trapping enemies on negative blocks seemed to become my preference as I am cautious and slow on attacking but this added so much thinking time to my gameplan. Mistakenly not selecting the right classmate for a certain attack or simply getting my positioning skewed was easy to do as there was so much to keep in mind. Even with the Vita’s back touchpad allowing for some brilliant camera adjustments taking me close up to the action or zooming out, watching from directly above or sticking to the normal 45 degrees, I felt I was winging the wins. One battle lasted over 3 hours with most of my time spent chunnering outloud to myself, methodically talking through the process and each character’s move, using up every last sap of mana or cursing when it all went wrong. Yeah, this game is great for long journeys as long as being ‘the mad one talking to herself on the bus’ doesn’t matter. Disgea 3 has value for money woven into every move and is probably a very rich gaming experience for those with time to dedicate to it.
Back in the Academy, talking to a zombie teacher in the ever expanding halls about weapons, the layers of complexity for me were delivered early on but were explained in long, inapplicable ways that meant I wasn’t relishing the hundreds of hours lying ahead. Getting a good grasp of the basics meant I never died as such but I was aware that I was probably missing out on huge chunks of the game’s satisfaction by not always accurately assigning the most suitable weapon to the correct student, messing up maxing out all their stats and fully levelling them up in a balanced, well thought out way, buying the right kit, squandering credits and mana I’d preciously gained in battle. Even when taking time away from the battles to talk to fellow Academy mates, I learnt that who I sat next to in the homeroom, who I bribed and what club I joined all had an impact on the game, influencing team attacks once in combat. The more the story progresses, the more allies join in. Shopping for items, visiting the school nurse, learning or improving skills is also a huge part of the game and can swallow up even more hours as the shops hold more than an Argos warehouse.
In truth, this game is so humongous that I never felt I was any good and was merely scraping by, which many people actually understand when reflecting on their school days. For those players who love an apparently bottomless depth to strategy games where levelling up can become obsessive, look no further. Creating new characters from the dozens of classes each with their own skills, stats and ‘evilities’, buying and selling goods, exploring the randomly generated ‘Item Worlds’ that make any Zelda dungeon look as easy as wandering around your front room, messing with weapons and spells whilst taking care of the tactical manoeuvres of an entire class of kids in a crazy, topsy-turvey demon world – Disgea delivers in delightful abundance plus it looks and sounds damn good as it does so. For people like me looking for the odd challenge with some unique features, it is also worth investigating but can often feel like homework rather than playtime. No one has ever graduated from the Nether Evil Institute but this isn’t a bad way to enjoy neverending campus life.
Disgea 3: Absence of Detention is out now for the PS Vita.