Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice (PS3)
Those of you hoping for a true next-generation Disgaea game from Nippon Ichi Software, keep dreaming. The truth is that Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice should not be on the PlayStation 3 at all, and -- save some seamless level loading -- does not take advantage of the PS3's powerful architecture in any meaningful way.
Yet, even without a next-generation veneer, Disgaea 3 stays true to the series and provides a serious overhaul of some of its key elements. The game continues the tradition of being a ridiculous grind-fest where the level cap is 9,999 and the end goal is creating the ultimate character capable of doing in excess of 1 million points of damage. Most of us will never know that joy, but it will not be from a lack of trying.
Disgaea 3, for all its changes, still adheres religiously to the tenet established in the first game: The grind is good and the grind is never-ending -- like a man looking at a painting of a man looking at a painting of a man to infinity.
While there certainly is an endgame to Disgaea 3, there is also a post-game and a ridiculously difficult post-game endgame starring the most powerful foozle in all the netherworlds. For those that love to grind, making it to this second endgame and beating it is the most satisfying experience you'll encounter in the entire game. Along the way, you will unlock characters from previous Disgaea games, encounter the most challenging scenarios available, and face the most powerful monsters the game can throw at you. It is difficult, time consuming and overwhelming at times, but it speaks to the nature of the franchise.
Disgaea 3 and all the other games in the series are like massively-multiplayer online games that are offline. They require a ridiculous amount of dedication, an understanding of the game's underlying system and the desire to create the most powerful characters and weapons possible. An average playthrough that focuses on completing the main storyline and avoids the post-game might take you 40 hours, while dealing with all the wonderful post-game content could take you in excess of 300 or more hours to complete.
Sir Pri is your gateway to the new Class World.
In addition to the familiarity of the Item World (which allows you to level up an item by going into it and kicking the shit out of its residents), Disgaea 3 introduces a similar venue for leveling up characters called the Class World. While there is a fair share of story-driven content to be enjoyed in Disgaea 3, the lion's share of your time will be spent these randomly generated levels that occur inside objects and people and are peppered with rainbow-colored panels.
Item World remains mostly unmolested in Disgaea 3, but added gameplay elements and events spice things up a bit. New specialist events give you more types of specialist to create, and a new object called a Level Sphere provides a quick and dirty means of leveling the item you are in. By far the most exciting change is the ability to reverse pirate an item. After you encounter and defeat pirates in the Item World, you will be able to partake in one-off , turn-limited missions that allow you to steal treasure, subdue additional residents, and gain additional level spheres to beef up items. Reverse pirating is novel because it takes a concept added in Disgaea 2 and gives you the ability to take part in it. It is always a plus when an event turns into an additional activity.
Geo Blocks, a new type of Geo object that can be stacked to give Geo Panels multiple effects on a single square, now affect the entire game. In previous games, Geo Symbols had to reside on separate panels of the same color to stack effects because of their shape. These symbols also made it impossible to traverse the square they resided on. Now you can have multiple effects on a color panel group and more real estate to walk on.
One annoyance is that block height creates additional challenges in navigation, because the camera is still a pain in the ass. This is most evident in the Class World, which tends to use smaller, randomly generated levels packed with lots of residents buried within the peaks and valleys of stacked blocks. Getting the camera to focus in on a particular enemy or block is frustrating as a result. The camera has always been problematic in Disgaea (and just about every other tactical Japanese role-playing game on the market), so fans can expect more of the same in Disgaea 3.
The skill system has been changed dramatically in Disgaea 3. In Disgaea 2, you learn skills by grinding them to a certain level to unlock new ones. In this game, you unlock skills by hitting a certain level and then purchasing new ones using mana (energy you get from your kills) from a special shop. You will still be able to level these skills up to make them more powerful, but to unlock greater, more powerful forms of each skill you'll have to spend additional mana to "boost" them. In addition to this new wrinkle in the skill system, players will start out with a new active skill called an Evility. Evilities give special "always active" benefits to the user, and higher-level classes get some of the most powerful Evilities in the game.
While this new system is straightforward , diehard Disgaea fans might be turned off by the fact that they have to spend even more time grinding their favorite skills and gaining the additional mana it takes to max them out. Personally, I think the system works just as well as the old one because it gives you the ability to boost a skill with additional power. Boosting is no substitute for a true high level skill, so grinding and raising a skill's level is still an integral part of the skill growth system.
Disgaea 3 also introduces the Class Club System, special social groups that you put characters in to get bonuses or to unlock features within the game. For example, you might join a club to leach mana or experience from other players sitting next you in the classroom or you might join another club to make a special non-player character appear. Clubs are an integral part of the game because they unlock special NPCs and features that otherwise aren't available. However, the real power of clubs beyond all that is that they facilitate the grind. Certain clubs allow you to auto-level a character or gain copious amounts of mana without ever taking them out of the base panel. Clubs provide a free lunch for players who do not want to dirty their hands with certain undesirable but important characters.
Even more profound changes can be found in the Classroom at the Demon Academy, where you will conduct all your political business. Besides taking on the uncooperative student council (whose approval you need to get all your proposals passed), players have to deal with teachers (who give you direction on character development each time you level up), clubs and seating arrangements. Clubs are especially important to the Class World, because only characters from the same club can learn skills and Evilities from each other.
Clubs are very important in the mid-game and when you are reincarnating as well, because they are a fast track to leveling skills and character level very quickly. It makes it easier to unlock those elusive high-level classes because you don't have to grind crappy characters individually; simply put them in a club that gives you these advantages and use a power character to do all the killing. Of all the new features added this year, clubs are the most effective and useful of the entire bunch and alleviate the massive amounts of grinding you need to do in order to take on the more robust challenges that await in the post-game and in the Item and Class Worlds.
Finally, there is the Student Council, a replacement for the Dark Assembly that fits with the Netherworld Academy theme of the game. The Student Council functions exactly like the Dark Assembly, with the exception of a new club that allows you to put your characters on the student council and into the voting mix.
You can still use items to bribe groups and special items like PA's to trick groups into favoring a given proposal -- or ( if you are strong enough) you can simply beat the naysayers into getting your proposal passed. In the early part of the game, this is a tall order, but in the latter stages it's a satisfying cake walk.
After playing well over 100 hours, completing much -- but not all -- of the post-game and hitting level 2,000, I can confidently state that Disgaea 3 is a must-buy for Disgaea fans. It doesn't matter that it does not provide all the bells, whistles and window dressing one might expect from a true next-generation PS3 title. What matters is that the game delivers what Disgaea fans want, while changing the sum of its parts just enough to make the game worth playing for hundreds of hours. My biggest complaint is that it is not available on the PlayStation 2 -- many of Disgaea's most ardent fans do not own a PS3, and this game alone does not warrant such an extravagant purchase.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.