Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention review

The PlayStation Vita hasn't exactly had a splashy start, coming out of the gate with a decent lineup of launch titles, though still having failed to deliver the kind of killer app that sells consoles. So while we're still waiting for the title which will help justify our expensive portable devices, me and the other Vita owners of the world have been content to bide our time with solid ports of already beloved titles, with Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention helping flesh out our starved library with some classic RPG goodness.

The original Disgaea 3 (Absence of Justice) first dropped for the PlayStation 3 back in 2008, and though classic RPG fans were certainly enthused, the game's simplistic style wasn't a huge hit with gamers looking for a true next-generation experience to cram onto their HD televisions. However on the PS Vita, the game's technical limitations are much easier to forgive, the blocky maps and old-school sprite graphics looking right at home on the unit's gorgeous screen, letting players enjoy countless hours of content without hogging the television.

Disgaea 3's plot largely consists of the same silly anime hi-jinks the series has come to be known for, with the ridiculous student body of the underworld's "Evil Academy" rallying behind the demon boy Mao in his quest to un-throne his Overlord father. As always, motivations are lighthearted and silly (for instance, Mao's true motivation is vengeance for his destroyed game console), though to be honest this game feature probably the weakest plot of all the Disgaea titles, and the humor often has a tendency to fall flat. Still, the attractive artwork at least gives you something to look at while the squeaky-voiced avatars drone on, and you can always fast forward ahead to the gameplay if desired.

Truthfully, wasting any time talking about the storyline is a pointless effort. The real hook offered by the Disgaea series is the thrillingly complex turn based strategy, which allows players to develop their highly customized teams of warriors, utilizing unique environmental effects to maximize their destructive potential. The grid-based battle system lets players move their characters around like chess pieces, maneuvering within range of enemies to unleash one of their many special attacks or spells. Building atop of this are layers of complexity, including the ability to lift and throw characters, or set up powerful chain attacks.

However the most interesting aspect of combat are the game's Geo Panels, highlighted squares of terrain which offer buffs (and debuffs) when items known as Geo Blocks currently occupy a square of the same color. This simplistic concept lends itself to some seriously advanced strategy, especially since players can toss the blocks around (so that a group on enemies standing on red panels get a -50% attack debuff), as well as shatter the blocks to set up gigantic chain combos which rip through everything unlucky enough to be standing on a panel. Geo Panels are just one example of how much the game offers, all with varying levels of complexity. Thankfully, Nippon Ichi skillfully offers a game experience for players of all types. Novices will be content to slowly grind their way through the main storyline, while experts will enjoy breaking every one of the game's rules, subverting the various systems to help power level characters all the way up to level 9999.

Point is, the Disagea series is a perfect fit for portable consoles, especially since the game's randomly generated "Item World" dungeons offer countless hours of replay value. There's plenty of new content jammed into this release as well, including most of the previously DLC-only content, as well as some wonky touchscreen functionality you'll likely ignore. As the first true RPG on the PlayStation Vita, Disgaea 3 definitely has a lot of expectations to answer to. Thankfully, this largely flawless experience delivers.

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