Platform: PS Vita
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
After a strong launch line-up the Vita’s release schedule has been worryingly quiet. It has also been without anything resembling a decent RPG to really get our teeth into. Hopefully that’s all about to change as Disgaea 3 gets a re-release.
We’re not entirely sure why NIS didn’t release Disgaea 4 instead as it’s generally seen as the superior title. What you have here is a full priced game that has been out on the PS3 since 2008 and available for under a tenner today. On the plus side, Absence of Detention does come with all the separate DLC from the PS3 game, including an extra four chapters. Not that you’d miss it, this game is huge. You can level up to Lv. 9999 type of huge.
From the screenshots you may have already gathered this is a tactical RPG in a similar vein to Final Fantasy Tactics. So instead of both sides standing on the spot taking turns like a spells and stabbing dance off, they must navigate the isometric maps to gain the advantage. For better or worse, depending on how you like it, this means battles can take ages.
You pick members from your expansive roster to jump into the fight, move them to where they can reach with a limited zone, pick an attacking action then repeat for multiple team-mates. When ready you execute the commands in sequence before ending your turn and letting the enemy have a go. If you’re not used to this tactical setup, it may take a while to gel. Hell, if you’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIII-2 recently it will melt your brain for the first few hours. There’s no simple option of ‘push X to win’ here.
There are other factors to take into account during battle that prolong the experience even further. Timing simultaneous team attacks will give you a massive damage boost and you’ll always need to consider how open to attack you’ll be afterwards. Some stages require you to pick up and throw blocks in order to create platforms to reach higher enemies. This felt like a needless inclusion though if I’m honest, and I knew during the lengthy tutorial I was going to roll my eyes and grumble something unmentionable every time this was required and pine for the HD sexiness of FFXIII-2’s hand-holding.
New to the series, are the Geo squares that can enhance abilities when you attack when standing on them, but beware of your enemies making a beeline for them too. When low on health you can trigger a new powerful attack which can help you out when you’re on the brink. I’m not entirely convinced giving the bad guys the same perk was a wise move though.
The story is bat-shit crazy and will either infuriate you or send you into anime-inspired spasms of joy. Characters are cranked up to 11 and the cast swells at a dizzying rate. Expect cameos from other games in the series along with the trademark humour throughout, although perhaps not the best the series has provided.
Playing as the son of the evil Overlord, you’ve decided to take on your father because he deleted all your save data from your favourite console. Justifiable, no? In Disgaea’s warped world the adventure takes place at an evil academy where being bad is considered the path of the scholar and anyone behaving and attending classes is a delinquent. Despite this, attending classes will help you improve your team’s skills and attributes, although it’s good to see you can opt for a spot of bribery too.
Graphically the game maintains its old school charm with smooth sprite animated characters backed up with some anime scenes cutscenes. The frame-rate throughout is outstanding. Even just walking around a courtyard is eye pleasing as the camera follows you in gloriously slick fashion.
There is a feeling of the game, the series and the tactical RPG genre treading water visually though. The PSP became home to loads of similar titles and re-releases, meaning there were very few RPG titles that actually stood out from the crowd. There’s only Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and Valkyria Chronicles II that really made an impression for me over the years. Let’s hope the Vita isn’t in for a similarly stagnant fate.
- Rich in-depth combat
- Will last for absolutely ages
- Includes the PS3 DLC
- Battles can go on for too long
- Not very newbie friendly
- PS3 version is much cheaper
The Short Version: This is only for the Disgaea hard-core, but there’s not really enough here to warrant a purchase if you bled the PS3 version dry. For newcomers, it could prove too much of a steep starting point for the series, so Absence of Detention may struggle to find a market. It looks great on the Vita’s screen though and is -by default- the best RPG on the system.