When Disgaea: Hour of Darkness released for the PS2, it sparked a surprising love-fest that encompassed dozens of critics and many, many fans of the strategy/RPG genre. Most weren’t even aware of its arrival, but after such phenomenal feedback, everyone began to flock towards Nippon Ichi’s niche title. Now, here we are in a new generation, and this series continues to thrive; Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice has released, much to the delight of the legion of avid Disgaea fans. And after spending a good deal of time with this installment, we can only come to one conclusion: the game is fantastic…provided you have a ridiculous amount of time on your hands. With each successive entry in the franchise, we say to ourselves, “damn, can a game get any deeper?” Then, when the next title comes, we learn the answer: Yes, it can. But you had best be a student who isn’t involved in any extra-curricular activities, because otherwise, this game will force you to quit your job or dump the girlfriend.
The graphics are the weakest part of this title, but that’s not exactly surprising. Strat/RPG games have never placed a big emphasis on visuals, as they’re simply not a focal point; it’s the gameplay that always reigns supreme in this genre. Even so, we would’ve liked to see a bit more detail and clarity in Disgaea 3 , and that’s because many of the environments and maps are surprisingly bland and uninteresting, and the boring, fuzzy sprite characters seem ripped directly out of the game’s predecessors on the PS2. It wouldn’t have taken much time or effort to make this 2D/3D hybrid look very pretty on the PS3, and it’s disappointing to see NIS essentially ignore the need for updated graphics. We aren’t about to harp on this failing, though, just because it really isn’t a focus, and it likely won’t annoy hardcore followers of the series. We just wonder why, given the comical and colorful atmosphere, the developers wouldn’t enhance the visual appeal of those maps and battlegrounds…it’s a curious flaw.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the sound’s appeal is almost entirely subjective. If you like overblown voice acting with silly and even absurd dialogue, and if you enjoy the eccentric selection of music, you’ll be happy. On the other hand, if the characters annoy you and the soundtrack isn’t even remotely enticing, than you’re going to search for the mute button. We’ll leave that decision up to you, but as for the quality, it’s fairly good. The voices, as irritating as they can get, are relatively well done and while the music gets repetitive if you spend a lot of time in that central hub, it’s still nicely orchestrated. All in all, the sound is just fine, and we do applaud the originality found in that over-the-top cutesy dialogue and the semi-loopy tracks. Plus, the sound effects during combat are excellent due to their sharpness and diversity. NIS does a great job combining vocal exclamations with a variety of battle effects, and that’s a rare balancing act these days. Again, though, the sound isn’t a major concern of ours; the technicals as a whole really don’t represent vital aspects of a game like Absence of Justice .
Gameplay, on the other hand, is most certainly vital. And as has always been the case in this franchise, the gameplay in Disgaea 3 is amazingly deep from top to bottom, and we’re not exaggerating in the slightest. First, the basics: you play as Mao, a student in the Netherworld Academy who is just as cocky and ambitious as the previous main character, Laharl. He often gets lost reading his comic books, but as he says, all that research (anime, comics, and video games) is done for a purpose. He intends to take down an Overlord to become a Hero, and not only is this an issue because the Overlord in question is his father, but it’s also very much against the spirit of the Netherworld. Down there, you’re a good student if you skip class, ignore homework, and treat your fellow students like crap. You’re a delinquent if you attend class, diligently pay attention, and attempt to help other students. …makes sense, right? Well, the quest is similar to other games, but the storyline is a bit different, and somewhat interesting.
As for the gameplay basics, it’s simpler than you think: this is a purely turn-based strategy/RPG, in that there is no such thing as speed for individual units. You can select any one of your units at any given time, have them execute a move at any time, and only when you’re completely finished will you turn the board over to the computer. There’s strategy involved in the unit selection process, of course, as you may want to see how much damage is inflicted to a particular enemy before choosing another command. But then again, if you execute after every single command, you’ll be ignoring the Combo and Group attacks, which are available in certain situations. Now, there are alterations to the standard board format often found in this genre. For example, you can lift and throw objects and characters, allowing you to form paths to previously inaccessible areas of the battlefield. Furthermore, the Geo system is back, which changes the rules of the battle depending on color of a particular square on the field. Those who are familiar with this series are aware of this, and as far as we can tell, the fans are split regarding their approval of this mechanic.
But it’s not the gameplay itself that will blow your mind, as deep as it is. It’s the foundation of the gameplay that can make your head swim. ‘deep breath’ The Item World has returned, where you can go to upgrade the level of each and every piece of equipment you own, gaining a new level with the selected item with each successful battle completion. There are multiple Jobs as always, only now there are more than ever, and each individual class has a certain “Evility,” which is specific to the Job. These Evilities can be purchased with Mana – gained upon leveling up and finishing a foe during combat – and you can also purchase special skills and abilities (physical and magical). There are multiple weapon classes to go along with the multiple character classes; there are swords, axes, bows, staffs, and the like, and your Aptitude will increase in a particular weapon class the longer you use it. Although, each class has a base Aptitude to start with; Mages, obviously, aren’t quite so skilled with swords, for example. …what, you think we’re done?
The standard level cap of 99 doesn’t apply, as it hasn’t in the past couple of installments. If you have hundreds (no, thousands) of hours to spare, you can jack your characters to Lv. 9,999, and you can also spend another gazillion hours in the Item World, pushing each piece of equipment to maximum levels. Changing classes and “Resurrecting” is similar to the Transmigration system found in the original Disgaea , which means that building a Godlike party is quite possible albeit insanely time-consuming. Skills, abilities, weapons, items, aptitudes, classes, Evilities, Mana; it’s all over the place and it’s enough to freakin’ blind you with the amount of planning and preparation a player can undertake. And this is all conducted in one central hub within the Academy – as usual – where you can literally spend hours upon hours simply setting up your characters. Experimentation is limitless, and remember, all this takes place outside the plot-advancing field of combat. This whole adventure is so mind-numbingly intricate, it’s almost impossible to describe.
But anyway, if you’re a micromanagement freak with a lot of time to spare, and you love strat/RPGs, there’s no better selection that Disgaea 3 . However, we must mention a few significant issues. First of all, despite being able to rotate the camera (and even zoom in), the it becomes a problem on certain maps. The only reason it’s not a major drawback is because when the enemy is attacking you, there’s nothing you can do about it. Even so, it can be a struggle to see every corner of the larger battlefields, and with a lot of allies and enemies on screen at once, everything can get very muddled. Furthermore, with the lackluster visuals, sound that will really only appeal to fans of the series (and maybe anime followers), and a gameplay structure that only revolves around a completely linear story progression, this becomes even more of a niche title. It’s now all about the depth, and we can’t imagine there are millions of gamers out there who will be interested. And even fewer who have the time to deal with it.
Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice is exactly what one would expect from this franchise. It’s deeper, more elaborate, and more time-consuming than ever before, and it will reward the diligent and hardcore strat/RPG lover. The latter could easily get hooked on this bad boy for months and months, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, if you want to classify this in the RPG category for the PlayStation 3, there’s really no better role-playing choice (not that there's much competition). But again, if you’re not willing to invest the hours, you’ll be missing out on a lot of what makes this game great. If you’re just looking for a decent strat/RPG and you want to zip right through the story, Disgaea 3 doesn’t really stand out in any way, so the only question is: what type of gamer are you, and what are you looking for? The simple answer from our angle is this: if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll love it. If you’re not, it’s still best to avoid it, because in all honesty, this franchise is now less accessible than ever. Subjective pluses and minuses, friends.