Nippon Ichi's Disgaea franchise has gained quite a following since its first inception in 2003. Since then, there have been numerous titles and spin-offs, but the third installment in the franchise, Disgaea 3: Absense of Justice, is the first to appear on a next-generation system. With the PlayStation 3 as its chosen platform, Disgaea 3 opens players up to a world of demons and magic once again, but does the latest addition rise as quickly to the top of the pile?
The story places the player in control of Mao, a young honour student at the Netherworld Academy who looks rather similar to a previous protagonist, Laharl. He is a typical demon, displaying malevolence and contempt towards everyone and everything. However, he is different to all the other students due to his father being the Overlord of the Netherword. In true demon style, Mao wants this role for himself and hatches a rather confusing scheme through which he hopes to overthrow his father.
The majority of the story scenes are presented prior to the start of levels, and they are fully voiced. Anime-style faces appear on the screen to display exaggerated emotions and while it might seem a bit childish, it certainly has character. It helps the story to flow smoothly and means that players have an opportunity to get more involved in a story that's definitely worth their time, even if it is rather unconventional.
Following the story segment, players are introduced to the gameplay. Being a Tactical RPG, Disgaea 3 operates using a grid-based battlefield. At the start of a level, up to ten characters can be placed on the battlefield and from here they can move, attack and defend. All of these actions are governed by a character's stats and using each character wisely can make a big difference in combat. This is because of the combo system, which allows multiple characters to attack the same enemy in a massive chain. Characters that have close affinity can also join in during other attacks. Once all possible moves have been exhausted by the player, it's up to the enemy to try and achieve victory given their position.
The levels start off quite basic in their appearance and design, but later on the addition of "Geo-Blocks" makes things more complicated. These can be moved or destroyed in order to manipulate the map in various positive or negative ways. Carefully planning strategies that utilise the Geo-Blocks can make levels considerably easy, but there has been an extra layer of depth added for this installment with the ability to stack blocks, and throw them. This creates a very strong puzzle element to battles, but only if players are willing to embrace it. It's quite possible to achieve victory without becoming too involved with the Geo-Blocks.
Upon concluding levels, players are taken back to the hub of their activities, the Netherworld Academy. Here it's possible to heal characters, buy new equipment, create new characters and petition for various bills to be passed. From here, the Item World and Class World can also be accessed. These worlds are similar to the levels seen in the main story, but their sole purpose is to try and increase an item or class' potential. These can be exceedingly challenging as they are about endurance. It's not possible to run back to the Academy after completing a level, so players must be able to take on multiple conflicts.
Graphically, the game looks dated. Disgaea games are known for their unique styling, but given the extra power of the PlayStation 3, the game looks far too similar to its PlayStation 2 predecessors. The sprites do look a bit sharper and crisper and it's definitely intentional, but it would have been nice to see a more noticeable improvement. There are also some glaring graphical glitches that appear when the camera is fully panned out.
The Disgaea franchise has always offered a load of replayability for those who wish to invest the time and Disgaea 3 is no different. The main story is satisfactory, but for those who wish to delve deeper, there is plenty. The level cap is 9,999 and to complete some of the later levels, attaining this is actually necessary. The returning Item World and new Class World offer new avenues for player's to test their skills and there is also extra story and different endings to be unlocked should more levels be completed. It's easy to see hours being eaten up while trying to explore all that Disgaea 3 offers.
Being the first Disgaea on a next-generation system, it would have been nice to see a greater level of graphical improvements. However, graphics don't necessarily make a game, and gameplay is where Disgaea excels. There is a huge level of depth to the game in general and when combined with an extremely unique story, it's not hard to recommend Disgaea 3 to fans of the RPG genre.