You know, maybe the best way to summarize this game is as follows: It’s Disgaea . And when you say, “it’s Disgaea ,” strategy/RPG aficionados know exactly what to expect, while anyone else will likely get this confused look on their face. But considering that any new installment in the long-running, highly in-depth, critically acclaimed franchise is geared specifically to the niche strategy-loving crowd, those two words constitute a short yet fitting summary.
If you played Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice on the PS3 back in 2008, you may or may not wish to pick up the Vita iteration. It’s true that Absence of Detention features all the downloadable content for the PS3 version but for the most part, we’re talking about two very similar titles. The Vita iteration only suffers from a slight graphical downgrade where the sprites and environments aren’t quite as sharp. However, there are more animations and character reactions during the comical cut-scenes, and the Vita allows for simple touchscreen controls for combat. Such a feature is unnecessary but it works fine.
As was the case with the audio in Absence of Justice , it’s extremely subjective. If you’re a big fan of humorous, over-the-top voice performances and a well-orchestrated yet somewhat repetitive soundtrack, you’ll enjoy the various music and voices. For me, I found the acting to be hysterical one minute and really irritating the next, so it’s sort of a mixed bag in my eyes. But there’s no denying the great sound effects during combat, and I’ve always liked the music track selections in these games. They just get a little tiring during particularly long battles.
Disgaea is all about pure turn-based strategy, and the fans dearly hope this never changes. You select your ally, move, and select a command; the execution of that command can be given immediately, or you can wait to execute when some or all of your characters in place. Doing the latter is critical, as it allows you to group your team in a way that may grant combination and team attacks, which are often devastating. The enemy side doesn’t receive a turn until you hit “End Turn,” which of course shouldn’t be done until you’re completely finished.
For years, this has been a staple structure for the franchise, and it hasn’t changed yet (thankfully). There’s a huge amount of intricacy and complexity involved in both the actual combat and the pre-battle preparation, which goes well beyond your standard leveling up and selecting new abilities. It’d take far too long to explain it all, but let’s just say that Absence of Detention doesn’t skimp on the depth or longevity, as you once again have an almost limitless level cap (9,999), the infamous Item World, and a bevy of abilities, equipment, and items.
As you might expect, all of this translates to a particularly steep and lengthy learning curve if you’re not familiar with previous titles. However, as that’s probably pretty damn rare – as I said before, only Disgaea fans are typically attracted to Disgaea games – I’m not going to call it a significant drawback. That being said, the developers could’ve done more to introduce us to a few of the especially complicated tactical maneuvers and other gameplay elements that could prove daunting even for veterans. We just got so little in the way of direction.
The actual mechanics are decent, although the camera can still get a little wonky. It’s a common problem in the series— A whole lot of characters can occupy a relatively small battle map, which causes annoying visibility problems, and it doesn’t help that the camera doesn’t seem capable of giving you the best view at all times. Yes, you can control it but for some reason, that doesn’t always seem to help. I’ve always thought that with so many characters on both sides, the maps should be larger in these games. Extended, intense confrontations can come across as…messy.
Still, there’s always plenty to do. When you’re not earning Mana to advance your character or selecting cool Evilities, you can attend homeroom. Now, demon school is all about cutting class and not playing by the rules, but homeroom is very important for anyone interested in mastering the battle system. For instance, you can pair up two characters in class (i.e., seat them side by side), which boosts their chances of participating in a team attack, and you can sign up for various clubs, which adds some battle bonuses, many of which can be significant.
Homeroom also acts like the Senate in other Disgaea entries. Fans will remember petitioning the Senate to change certain rules in the game, or petitioning for the addition of something new. This could involve anything from creating a new character to getting the shops to stock better equipment. You do this now in homeroom and the class representatives will vote for or against your motion. This works just as good as before, and adds just another layer of insane depth that is basically unparalleled in this or any generation. It’s just deep, engaging, addictive entertainment.
Disgaea: Absence of Detention is just about what you expect, even if that isn’t overwhelmingly attractive to those who aren’t fans of the genre. They sort of cut you loose without much in the way of detailed explanations, the camera can still go screwy, and while the touchscreen feature is cool, it just doesn’t mean much in the long run. Outside of that, this will absolutely deliver plenty of bang for your buck, so if you’re taking a trip some time soon and expect a lot of free time, this should fit the bill. Just don’t lose too much sleep. This one can grab you.
The Good: Art style and presentation is just as comical as always. Story is surprisingly amusing. Extra combat animations. Tons upon tons of content. Gameplay remains crazy deep and rock solid. Technically sound.
The Bad: Slightly hazy visuals. Camera can be iffy. A few more tutorials would’ve been nice (and I normally never say that).
The Ugly: “Lv. 9,999? …and exactly how long might that take?”