The first crop of games available for any system launch usually need the requisite RPG, and with Sony’s launch of the PSVita handheld, Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention was the available choice. Technically, the game is a port of the PlayStation 3 title released four years ago, with several enhancements and all of the downloadable content baked right in. So, as a launch title, is Disgaea 3 worth the time and money one may set aside for an RPG on their Vita?
For starters, Disgaea 3: AOD is a classic, hardcore turn-based RPG, containing the usual dungeons and bizarre demons one would expect. Our hero, Mao, just happens to be the son of the Overlord of the Netherworld, and in this world the bad kids are the honor students. So one day when dad accidentally steps on Mao’s portable game console and destroys his entire lot of saved games and progress, Mao vows to overthrow his father’s position as revenge.
An adequate tutorial will instruct players how to navigate dungeons and control the characters, but if a player has no experience with a dungeon crawler like this, they will find themselves out of their depth quickly. Each dungeon is laid out like a grid, and depending on from what side of your enemy you initiate an attack, the upper hand can either be yours or you will be counter attacked brutally. As things progress, you will learn that the combat system can be exploited to your advantage. Placement of allies on the board is key, and at times when players can get all the characters into a position to implement a powerful team attack, the hit points rack much higher than attacking individually. There are also real strategic areas to use to your advantage in the form of “geo blocks.” The squares our players stand on can be assigned a statistical benefit (or detriment) for anyone standing on it to utilize. Figuring out how to exploit these key spaces is the only way to overcome some tougher demon battles, and adds a nice extra layer of strategy to the dungeon crawling.
In addition to all of the DLC from the PS3 version being ready from the start, this new version for the PSVita also contains new magic spells and super moves, new skills specific to character types, item customizations, touch screen controls and a few other surprises. Graphically, the old-gen style presentation looks wonderful on the vita, whereas on the ps3 it tended to look dated and lo-res. It doesn’t seem that these graphics have been updated or changed in any way; they just look and feel more “at home” on the Vita’s smaller screen. The overall art style of the game is your typical Japanese anime fare, and the artwork really shines during the game’s cut scenes. (The cut scenes themselves have a tendency to go on and on, but the storyline can be a lot of fun if players can resist skipping them.)
The sound design is also catchy and delightful. Fans of the series that have played other iterations will recognize some of the signature tunes. There is also a Japanese soundtrack for the purists who wish to play as originally designed. Overall, the gameplay is the kind of stuff obsessions are formed from. For those who delight in an RPG full of options and variables, Disgaea 3: AOD holds endless hours of value and delight. For the gamer who doesn’t like things too complicated, the whole presentation will be a turn off rather quickly, especially with regard of how to handle the geo blocks. All in all, the game’s absolutely nutty yet hysterical storyline and worlds are worth the time one may spend putting into learning and mastering the controls. There are some aggravating camera issues during certain battles, and sometimes it can be difficult to get a lock on a character. This leaves characters vulnerable to attack while the player fights their own battle with the camera.
With its classic RPG charm, challenging and intricate combat system and topsy-turvy world of heroic miscreants, Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention makes for a solid offering as the first RPG on Sony’s new handheld. It’s a great deal of fun with more than enough extra content and alternate endings to discover. One caveat remains, however, and that is if you have played through this title on its PS3 iteration, there is not much to offer you here. It is exactly the same game, and the “vita specific” perks are not enough to justify a second purchase. Chances are if you are reading this review then you are the type who “loves me some RPG!” and will delight in the intricacies of the combat system. All in all, Disgaea 3: AOD is a wholehearted recommendation; a fun, challenging time that will last as long as a player wants it to.
This review is based on a digital copy of Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention for the PlayStation Vita provided by NIS America.