Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention Review

Strategy games have, in my opinion, always benefitted from the portable playstyle. In the past, I have found it much easier to develop a crippling addiction to games like Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics when I can take them anywhere in my pocket. This way, I can invest hours upon hours while relaxing in bed at home, or I can play a quick fifteen minute match on the metro. The flexibility inherent in the portable platforms makes them perfect for pick up and play strategy, and Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention is superior to its console counterpart inherently because of this. A host of other improvements, subtle as they may be, also serve to elevate Absence of Detention above the original version of the game.

If you played Disgaea 3 on the PS3 when it released in 2008, you will notice the following changes. First, and most significant, is the fact that the DLC from the PS3 version of the game has been included here right off the bat. This includes the fairly significant chapters that center around Raspberyl that pop up towards the end of the game. A few improvements have also been made to the ways in which characters interact with each other outside of battle, with improved cutscenes featuring minor animation of the character portraits where there was none before. It’s pretty reminiscent of the way that Disgaea 4 handled the cutscenes, although unfortunately the sprites have not received the same loving HD treatment here as they did there.

In addition to these minor improvements to the core formula, a major update has been applied in the form of completely new chapters centering on new and returning characters. Raspberyl and her friends Kyoko and Asuka will take front and center again in one of the chapters, while new characters such as the alluring Stella and half-demon Rutile will be under your command in another. All in all, there will be three brand new chapters included in Absence of Detention, making an already lengthy experience significantly longer. My only minor complaint about this bevy of new content is that you will have to complete the main game in order to see most of it. That’s a pretty significant investment, especially for those who have already bested the lengthy game once.

A few other changes have been made as well. The level caps on items and spells have been raised, meaning that you will have to grind even longer to reach them. A few new skills have been added, including attacks that can be executed when you are near death that deal extra damage. Enemies will have access to these near-death attacks as well, though, which adds an extra wrinkle to the already complex strategy. New spots have been added to the Detention Room, meaning that you can keep more characters in reserve than before, and new controls have been added that take advantage of a few of the Vita’s features. You may now use either the front or rear touch surfaces to move characters around on the battlefield. This implementation feels half-baked, though, because only the movement functionality has been mapped to the touch surfaces. Menu options and dialogue scrolling must still be done using the buttons, rendering touch controls clunky and awkward. The rear touch panel continues to be confounding, and playing with it proves to be the least accurate of the control options.

These changes are all well and good if you have already played through Disgaea 3 once. But what of those who have never touched the series before? Absence of Detention is about as good a jumping on point as any in the series, although that’s really not saying much. The Disgaea games have always been infamous for their absurd depth, and this can be daunting for newcomers. To the game’s credit, it takes its time in doling out new mechanics and strategies so that players new and old will have time to wrap their heads around them. Once you figure them out, the game’s mechanics will prove complex and rewarding. Pulling off special attacks with the assistance of your teammates to clinch a tough win never gets old, and this appeal is part of what keeps Absence of Detention, and Disgaea games in general, going strong for such ridiculous running times.

Most of the gameplay remains the same as it was in 2008, meaning that Absence of Detention is one of the strongest options in the Strategy/RPG genre this generation. That said, it’s a bit less flexible than its portable predecessors. In Disgaea 2, you could teach any class its weapon skills by using them repeatedly during combat, while in the third entry you will have to spend currency to teach these skills. This makes the whole thing feel a bit less flexible simply because you are naturally less inclined to experiment when cold, hard cash is on the line. That said, this iteration of Disgaea 3 remains a sublime strategy experience full to bursting with depth, flexibility, and replay value. To explain all of the mechanics in the detail that they deserve would be an exercise in futility, but suffice it to say that, despite the fact that much of your time in Absence of Detention will be devoted to grinding, it will mostly feel fresh and enjoyable.

In fact, some of the best gameplay to be had is completely outside of the main story. In terms of plotline, I have always thought Disgaea 3 to be one of the weakest in the series, and Absence of Detention unfortunately makes no strides towards improvement in this regard. The characters are humorous and often charming in the moe sort of way that NIS does so well, but for the most part they lack the iconic appeal of Etna and friends from the early games. The humor, too, seems a bit dulled in this entry. A lot of jokes either fall flat or provoke minimal response. Compared to past games in the series, there are less laugh-out-loud moments in Absence of Detention, although on the whole it remains an amusing tale. Still, it was often the side missions and level grinding that kept me coming back rather than the story or the characters.

If you are looking for an experience to sink dozens, if not hundreds, of hours into, Absence of Detention fits the bill ably. The story was of imposing length even in its most basic state on the PS3 all those years ago, but with the inclusion of all of the DLC from that older version of the game and new levels featuring characters both old and new, this portable experience takes addiction to a whole new level. It’s only sad that the new controls feel so half-hearted, and that no improvements have been made to the lacking story. It may not be one of the strongest Disgaea games, but Absence of Detention still ranks among the best strategy/RPG hybrids of recent years, and as such it is easily worth the price of admission for anyone who loves portable strategy gaming as much as I do.

Score: 8.5/10

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