Disgaea is like string theory – those in the know have heard of it, some have even tried to get their head round it, few have succeeded.
This writer is not one of those people. For the likes of me, Disgaea is a strange, exotic creature; a strategy role-playing game as pensive and considered as Final Fantasy Tactics at its most diabolical, and yet still finds room for hardcore level-grinding and the insane narrative decisions to rival that of, well, Final Fantasy.
Since debuting on the PS2 in only 2003, the Disgaea series has courted the impression of a much more aged franchise. By appropriating a pixel art style when only the Dragon Quest series still occupied that space and adhering to an old-school difficulty curve that could be best described as ‘tortuous’, Nippon Ichi has cultivated a seemingly timeless gameplay experience that consistently proves to be an addictive devour of time for the initiated and a profoundly off-putting prospect for any gamer who wouldn’t recognise a Prinny if it ran up and smacked them on the ‘dood!’
Released for ‘good’ behaviour
Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention won’t be upsetting that particular apple-cart any time soon. Returning to the school-based antics of the Nether Institute Evil Academy, Absence of Detention is in fact a re-release of the 2008 PS3 offering Absence of Justice, reworked and repackaged for portable play on the Vita. What could have been a cynical port on to Sony’s new handheld proves to be a rather generous cynical port, however, as Detention not only ships complete with all of the PS3 DLC as standard, but also includes four new scenarios and two new characters.
Vita owners will now be able to play as Rutile and Stella – the former, half-cat, half-transfer student; the latter the stuck-up student president of rival school ‘Death Institute Majin Academy’ – in their own school invasion storyline. Meanwhile, Almaz and Sapphire embark on a new mission to steal test scores, Kyoko and Asuka discover first love and Big Star and Salvatore enjoy an Evil Academy culture fair – so basically the typical high-school drama stuff. Aside from these additions, Detention will also feature guest appearances from two Disgaea 4 characters: main character and final-boss-in-training, Desco, and part-Prinny middle-schooler, Fuka – both as unlockable playable characters.
Only on Vita
So far so iterative, but Absence of Detention also include some additions that take advantage of the Vita’s unique capabilities. One particularly intriguing concept is the ‘Honor Quotient’ which uses the system’s GPS tracking to reward real-world distance travelled with air miles that improve experience points, mana points and shop prices. While encouraging players to hop on the next plane may not be incredibly eco-friendly (not to mention economical), engaging in-game rewards with out of game activities is an interesting way to connect the two experiences while also shaking the reputation of the hermit RPG gamer.
Obligatory additions such as touch screen and touch pad functionality are less welcome but happily optional extras, while adding animated character close-ups is a surprisingly astute consideration when downsizing the graphics for the Vita’s wide-for-a-handheld screen. Concerns about Disgaea 3’s graphical resolution remain, however, as the decision to opt out of even high-quality pixel art in its 16-bit aesthetic grow ever more jarring as the capabilities of platforms grow ever more impressive. Nevertheless, to complain about the graphics of an old-school, isometric JRPG in the year 2012 would of course be to miss the point, and for whatever it’s worth, Absence of Justice’s art seems far more comfortable on the smaller Vita screen.
Disgaea addicts will undoubtedly find mileage in Absence of Detention’s less obvious alterations. Nine new ultimate weapons have been added (including the impractical-sounding Stardust Sword and Ancient Spear), more discipline-oriented players will be pleased to hear that story characters can now be placed in the Detention Room, monster classes can now equip 2 additional Evilities for maximum evility(ness?), while generic characters perform new unique attacks, a record shop sells records and Tera Magic will allow characters to ‘travel through dimensions’ according to the latest trailer (which appears to ultimately amount to ‘do strong magic’).
Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention is not for me, but if you’re still reading this preview it’s most likely for you. I envy you. You have discovered a rare joy, an acquired taste, a game that rewards the time and thought you invest in to it with a nuanced gaming experience coupled with stellar battle statistics that few of your peers will be capable of appreciating let alone recreating. Absence of Detention will not be rewriting any rule books, but what it will inevitably offer is a largely unique experience, on a largely new console, which rewards those able to tunnel to its heart with a portable RPG experience unlike any other.