Be The #1 Honour Student Dood! (Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention Review)
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita console.
It’s time to start doing your happy dance JRPG fans, as Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention is dropping this week! Chock full of crazy shenanigans, demons, and some good ol’ tactical strategy, this is one Vita title that players will not want to put down.
Absence of Detention is a remake of the 2008 title Absence of Justice, which released for the PS3. The title, however, is less of a port and more of a “complete edition”, as each and every piece of DLC available in the original is included in the new version. To further buff up this re-release, two new characters have been added to the tale, alongside a new optional dungeon that features characters from Disgaea 4. There is a staggering amount of content in AoD, ensuring gamers will be at it for four million hours (give or take).
For those who never played the original, let me set the scene for you. AoD is set in the Netherworld, more specifically at Evil Academy where demons get their knowledge of all things wicked. However, everything in this world is hilariously backwards: demons are considered an “honor student” if they skip classes, insult teachers and their parents, commit crimes like vandalism, or anything else that would put them on Santa’s naughty list. Any student who is nice, caring, attends class, and is generally good is considered a delinquent and should be punished.
Players take control of a demon named Mao, who is considered to be the number one honor student in the entire academy. He’s never stepped foot in a class room, never eats his vegetables, and spends most of his days working on his own evil experiments or playing videogames. One day, he concludes his research and, to the shock of the entire school, sets out to become a hero and defeat the Overlord, the Dean of the Academy (who also happens to be his father). Along the way he discovers that becoming a hero isn’t that easy, and requires him to actually do the unthinkable: good deeds.
The overall story and setting in AoD is very well done, maintaining a solid narrative amidst the backwards universe. While it may be, at its roots, your stereotypical tale of a hero learning life lessons on his way to save the day, it’s been done in such a unique and hilarious way that it often breaks the fourth wall as well. The fact that good is evil and evil is good makes characters very memorable and makes the Netherworld a very fresh place, as opposed to your medieval setting in peril. Hearing the class-attending, good-deed-doing students refer to themselves as being a “super cool bad-ass” is very different, and makes the title stand out from the strategy JRPG crowd.
If you should finish the main story and still want more, fear not as there is an epilogue for you to play through. Featuring stronger enemies and additional scenarios centered on supporting characters, there is more than enough for you to sink your demon fangs into.
In terms of gameplay, there are two places you’ll be spending most of your time: the Academy and the battlefield. At the Academy you’ll have access to everything you’d need to prepare for your adventure. Weapons and armors can be purchased from one of the stores, the Nurse’s Office will heal any aches and pains, your characters can be customized in the Classrooms, and Item World can be accessed (but more on that and Class later). This is the perfect place for players to patiently plan and prepare.
When you’re finished at the Academy your next step will be using the Warp Gate to get to your next zone. Here, you’ll usually be treated to a bit of story before you start a battle. Combat in AoD is similar to other strategy RPGs, like Final Fantasy Tactics or Record of Agarest War, where characters battle in turn-based combat on a grid-based map. In terms of basics, players will move and give commands to their characters before ending their turn, whereupon the AI gets to do the same with theirs. Commands can be a simple attack, involve special skills or magic, or interact with the environment in different ways.
However, AoD varies greatly from other games in its genre when it comes to advanced combat tactics. Actions are not carried out right away, but must be executed from the main battle menu. This means a player can move multiple characters and assign them various commands before hitting “execute” and watching their choices unfold. When you’re done, you must then manually end your turn and let the AI have a go. What makes this really interesting is that you can do as many executions as you feel necessary per turn, and any movements made can be taken back (as long as the character hasn’t acted yet).
Why would you move and not take an action, you might ask? A perfect example of why is Team Attacks. If an attacking character is standing right beside an enemy, with allies directing at their sides or back, there is a chance they will join that attack in the form of a special combat animation. These tend to be more powerful overall than regular attacks, making them integral in fights. Because movement can be reset, players will want to set up a team attack, execute, then reset everyone other than the main attacker, freeing them up to take other actions. It’s a complicated system at first, but leads to some very creative strategies and engaging gameplay.
Another action that can be taken in combat is Lift and Throw. Players are able to pick up various set pieces and throw them to change the lay of the land, to make things like staircases or block an enemy advance. This can also be used in a very unique way, as characters and pick each other up and throw them. Using this feature, players can get their units to areas otherwise unreachable, or get someone closer to an objective than they would have reached themselves. Giant totem poles can also be made out of multiple characters, and special attacks can even be used in this form.
To further augment combat is the Geo-Panel system. During battle, certain tiles may be lit up a different colour, and standing on one of these can yield various effects for either friend or foe. These can range from enemies getting an extra 50% defense, allies gaining 20% magic power, or anyone being healed 30% at the end of the turn. These can be changed by throwing a different coloured Geo-Block onto any coloured space (which will affect every space of that colour), or removed by throwing a Null-Block onto it instead. Either way, any units standing on a space as it’s being changed/removed will take damage.
Something else that’s a little different in AoD is the job system. In most strategy RPGs, characters have set job-types they can be, such as a warrior, archer, or templar. Here though, we have aptitudes. For example, a monk may act like a fighter, or a cleric may act like an archer – all dependent on that person’s aptitude. Each character has their own preferences for weapons, and can learn different skills based on how they progress. In another example, I personally have a spear-wielder who can also cast ice magic, and a thief who specializes in gun-play. There is an impressive amount of classes a player can create, and even monsters can be enlisted to your team, though they behave differently from your humans and demons.
Monsters are unable to lift or throw anything, and are limited to monster weapons. However, they have a very unique use. Aside from being an extra combatant, they can use an ability called Magichange. This skill allows them to transform into a powerful weapon that can be used by a human character (as long as they’re in the same club, more on that when we cover the Classroom). The wielder will also have access to extremely powerful skills during this time as well. However, there are a few catches: the monster may not revert back to its natural state; after a set number of turns they will leave play for the duration of the battle; and if the wielder is defeated so is the monster. While a powerful option, it’s best used in specific situations.
Overall, combat is very varied and entertaining. While there is a massive learning curve to tackle at first, once it’s been mastered the rewards are worth the effort. Coupled with the hilarious and twisted story, you’ll be stuck in a wonderful conundrum: wanting to finish this battle to hear more story, then wanting to finish this scene to fight another battle.
This brings us to the Classroom and Item World. In the Classroom, players can arrange and customize their characters to suit their play-style. In Class, each unit has their own desk, and players sitting beside, in front, and behind each other have a better chance of Team Attacking during combat, making seat arrangement an important aspect. Characters can also be arranged into clubs, and members of certain groups receive bonuses like better prices at shops or additional experience. This is also central to Magichange, as a monster can only change for a fellow club member.
New clubs and options can be unlocked for the Classroom by visiting the Homeroom. Here, the character of your choice presents a new addition (such as a larger class for more units, or new clubs) to various class representatives in an attempt to have the new idea approved. Players need a majority vote to have something cleared, and reps not in favour can be bribed ahead of time. However, since demons are evil little buggers they may vote nay even if they strongly agree, just to tick you off.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “Why am I going to class if I’m not supposed to? Isn’t the main character best known for skipping like a good boy?” To quell these thoughts, the Classroom isn’t an actual class as much as it’s a secret hideout for your team. No lessons are taught and you ignore the teacher completely, so you can continue to be an evil little demon.
For those looking to upgrade or customize their usable items or equipment, Item World is the place to go. Here, players will travel into an item itself and will fight against various enemies throughout different levels of a dungeon, in an effort to level up the tool; one floor completed is equal to one level up. Along the way, you may encounter “innocents” which are demons living inside the item, that give it extra bonuses to different stats. These creatures can be tamed, than moved from object to object, making every single item fully customizable in its own way. This is a great mode to give you an extra boost, or just get some extra battles in.
Visually, the game is very well done with no texture or animation anomalies to be found. Characters are animated as 2D sprites on 3D backgrounds (think of Record of Agarest War, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Ragnarok Online) giving it a classic kind of feel. Conversations place an anime styled “bust” of the character on screen to show the person in detail, and at certain points these cartoons are animated to show a change in expression. This style serves AoD very well, and is brought to life with the Vita’s massive screen.
On the audio end, things are wonderful and painful all at the same time. The voice cast gives a wacky performance that brings the backwards world of AoD to life, but comes across as annoying at times. I personally wanted to shoot each and every Prinny (a blue penguin-like creature that feels it’s necessary to say “dood” every other sentence) I encountered because they drove me nuts; the average gamer will want to as well.
On the other hand, the soundtrack is absolutely wonderful. From the slow, piano and flute style heard in a certain character’s heart, to the upbeat and spooky sounding opening theme (which reminded me of music from The Nightmare Before Christmas), everything has a dark or Halloween kind of sound to it. The only downfall in terms of music is down to the nature of the game. Chances are you’ll be spending a decent length of time either working on upgrading your characters, or fighting in a lengthy battle. This means that you’ll hear the same song during that period, and some gamers may tire from it. Again, this isn’t a shot at the music, as it’s very well composed; you’ll just hear a bit too much if it depending on how you play.
When the final school bell rings signaling the end of the day, Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention was never in a class to begin with. The game was too busy with its wonderful upside-down-backwards story, diverse and entertaining gameplay, and beautiful visuals and soundtrack to even bother with something as measly as an education, just like a good demon. For that, it receives top marks and is easily my personal favorite Vita game to date. JRPG fans, this is the Vita title you’ve been waiting for. Pick it up, pop it in, and get to that mischief dood (argh, now I’m doing it!)
Final Score: 4.5 / 5.0 and an A for awesome in all classes.
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