Lovers of grid maps and tactical role playing games, gather round and listen to this tale of deities, deception and downright dastardliness; stuff that Disgaea 3 is drenched in. Playing as Mao, a student at the Maritsu Evil Academy, this troubled demon has a somewhat skewed vision of what a true hero really is. Moa is out to kill his Dad, the overlord, and decides that the best chance of achieving this goal is by being the greatest hero. What hideous horror could a father have done to warrant such wrath? Wiping out a 4 million hour save game by treading on his SlayStation Portable, that's what! It's enough to send any dedicated gaming junkie to the edge of relative reason.
The story, which definitely pokes fun at comic fans and gaming geeks, sees our wannabe hero join forces with an unlikely cast of school delinquents. In this case, delinquents are students that are never late for school and never miss a class. Hey, it's an evil academy remember? Raspberyl, Geoffery, Almaz and Mr. Champloo, (the Home Economics teacher and master of High Heat-Style Chaos-School Kitchen Fist - yes you read that right), to name but a few, all aid or hinder Mao along the way. It's a strong cast of characters, with great voicing acting work, whether listened to in English or Japanese.
This third outing of Disgaea is the first to grace the “Next Gen” platform. The game has never been a tour de force graphically and has come under much criticism, particularly on the Playstation 3, as being weak visually. It is true that, other than increasing the resolution on display, characters and monsters remain largely the same – Nippon Ichi are clearly reusing their catalogue of sprites and animations. However, this doesn't really detract from the gaming experience on offer, of which Absence of Justice has in spades.
The basic gaming premise is simple: defeat every enemy unit on the map - it is up to the player to decide how that's done. The army can be built up of many different unit types, from Fighters to Ninjas, Mages to Healers, Catsabers, Mothmen, Slimes and of course, the explosive yet loveable Prinnies ... d00d! Using ordinary attacks, magic or insane special skills, such as the team tower attacks, every adversarial opponent must be reduced to zero hit points. Doing so moves the story along, and treats the player with a well scripted and witty dialogue. It doesn't manage to reach the dry and dark humour of Hour of Darkness, in fact it does become quite childish in places, but it's interesting enough that it's not a chore to sit through on the initial play-through, even if the first couple of chapters does not convey this adequately. For those people likely to rinse the story a number of times, you'll be glad to know that every cut scene can now be skipped.
The core gameplay remains the same as in the previous games, so geo-cubes (special objects that cause status effects across the maps) make a reappearance, as does Item World, multiple endings, the Rosen Queen Store, the Hospital and the Dark Academy; albeit in the guise of a school class debating team. Nippon Ichi haven't been sitting on their laurels though. New to the third game are the Home Room, Class World and Evalities – oh, and Magichange, where a human unit can combine with a monster for super-awesome powers.
Class World gives the ability to substantially raise a character's statistics in a similar way to Item World. Evalities are special powers that can boost a character's ability, such as reducing damage received – these are quite powerful and as such, only a limited number can be allotted at any one time. The Evality master is also the person to see when learning new skills or improving old ones. Previously skills were automatically learnt when using a character in battle. In Disgaea 3, units earn mana which can be spent on any skill available to that class. With this arrangement it does feel that levelling an individual to uber-strength takes more time, but then that's simply more time to enjoying playing the game.
The Home Room allows fellow classmates' seating to be arranged in such a way, that bonuses can be garnered; boosts such as gaining extra experience for sitting in the corner of the room, for example. There are a multitude of perks to be had by spending some time in this area – and it's another feather in the cap of Absence of Justice's venerable variety in gameplay delights.
There are many hidden facets to Disgaea, and Absence of Justice is no exception to that rule. There are side-quests for the Diez Gentlemen, unlockable characters and extra stages – and then there's the super-hard X-Dimension: A place where extraordinarily hard demons don't fear to tread.
The great thing about this series is just how approachable and accessible the games are to newbies, yet at the same time give veterans a level of depth, deeper than a particularly tall giraffe's throat. Should the desire be there, it's easy to get wrangled up in the technicalities of the game, shifting specialists (residents of item world) about weapons and armour in order to maximise their statistical usefulness. On the flip-side, this can all be left alone and simply follow the story through to the not-so-likely conclusion instead. The only real downside here is some may feel it's not quite different enough from previous iterations.
Through the evolution of the series, Nippon Ichi have refined the TRPG mechanics to the levels of Royal Brackla Single Malt Whiskey. Disgaea 3 is a game to be savoured one tantalising taste at a time. There's so much on offer here that Disgaea could be the only RPG purchase required this year. It's a must buy for any fan of the genre.