The Disgaea series has surged in popularity in recent years, mainly due to its nearly limitless degree of combat depth and heaped amounts of content. Disgaea 3 was originally released on PS3, along with a vast selection of downloadable content, so rather than create a brand new game for Vita from scratch Nippon Ichi decided to package the PS3 release and its additional content together into one robust retail release, Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention. The result is easily one of the most in-depth and involving strategy game experiences around, but one that also demands a mammoth amount of play time to come to grips with.
Anyone that's played any previous Disgaea titles knows that there's nothing simple about these games. While the battle system itself is fairly traditional as far as strategy RPGs go, that's where the similarities end and the overly complicated combat system begins. But there's more to the experience than just the battles — if you're to have any hope at all of making your way to the end of the adventure, you're going to have to stop and smell the roses around your school.
Moving around the school offers a host of ways to interact with other characters, not to mention a plethora of shops to buy items, weapons and armour, something that's absolutely vital to your survival as the game's difficulty ramps up. There's even your home room, a place you'll need to visit often in order to further your understanding of the battle engine and form bonds with your allies to improve their chances of performing team attacks.
Combat consists of several actions that involve everything from selecting which character to move, to positioning them around the grid in locations where they'll be most effective. Once you've got your team in place, you'll then select what actions you want them to take during the current round, from simple attacks to combining strengths with other characters in the form of team attacks. You'll even learn fun twists like picking up and throwing items and characters, a useful feature for those times when enemies are just out of reach. These actions are only the tip of the iceberg and you're going to have to spend a lot of time experimenting during battle to learn the vast array of moves and attacks available to you.
Since this is a Vita release, touch screen controls prove to be quite intuitive during battles, but long-time players still have the option of using the traditional button controls. The camera system remains a bit problematic at times, especially for those times when the playing area becomes crowded with enemies and characters, not to mention more complicated terrain. You can spin the camera around and tilt the area a bit more dramatically, all of which help, but there will still be those times when you'll need to switch all the way to the top-down viewpoint in order to see everything on the playing field at once.
Series fans will already know Disgaea 3 has one of the most intricate strategy battle systems known to man. You could literally spend weeks just trying to figure out all of the ins and outs of combat, but that's really what makes the game ultimately so much fun to play. As if this amazing fighting system isn't enough, you've got enough storyline and character development to easily keep you busy until the next Disgaea game is released, probably even longer if the truth be told.
From a visual perspective, Disgaea 3 really shines on the Vita's OLED screen with the contrasting deep blacks and vivid colours doing an impressive job of bringing the world around you to life onscreen. Unfortunately, the characters and enemies don't show the same level of detail and polish afforded the backdrops and, at times, look a bit out of place. The audio presentation is every bit as hit or miss with some absolutely mesmerising tunes mixed in with a bevy of somewhat mediocre, and often overdramatic voiced dialogue.
When it comes to strategy titles, few approach the sheer level of combat depth and offbeat storytelling prowess of Disgaea 3. Even with the handful of minor faults you'll encounter throughout the experience, there's still an enormous amount of challenge and fun to be had. While certainly not terribly friendly to newcomers, seasoned fans will find a heaping helping of engaging strategy gameplay to sink their teeth into and an adventure that offers up countless hours of play to those willing to explore all it has to offer.