Since it came out a few months ago, Sony's PlayStation Vita has had some fairly good games released for it. Very few of those games, however, are ones that will really get the player going for hours on end. At least, that is until NISA released Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention onto the platform.
Though technically a port of the PlayStation 3 game Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, Absence of Detention has more than just optimized graphics for the PS Vita's 5" OLED screen. It also has a few new scenarios and a pair of characters that weren't in the PS3 original. The Vita version also features auxiliary touchscreen/touchpad.
The touchscreen/touchpad controls were done right for the most part. Nowhere in the game are they vital, but they serve their purpose in allowing the player to toggle through his characters during battles or zooming in/out of the battlefield (both via the rear touchpad) as well as by scrolling around the battlefield using the touchscreen. Like with many games that take advantage of the Vita's rear touchpad, though, players will find themselves accidentally touching it with the very tips of his/her fingers, and thus causing the game to seemingly go haywire until the player realizes what's going on. It's a minor annoyance to be sure and is more a fault of the game system than the game itself.
Compared to some games available on the Vita, Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention won't be winning any awards with its graphics, but that's not to say that its visual presentation is lacking. It's quite the opposite, in fact, as the game's anime-style graphics and grid-based atmosphere suit it well and provide for a fun and visually engaging play experience Using the art style that the Disgaea series has been known for from the start, Absence of Detention's visuals are clean and do the job well without all of the bells and whistles found in many other video games.
Voice acting in Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention is, to put it simply, quite good. NISA-localized games have garnished a reputation for having good quality English vocals, and Absence is no exception. The goofy and over-the-top voice acting that players will find make the game even more of a joy to play. The game's soundtrack, composed by Tenpei Sato, compliments the game well and players might sometimes find themselves taking a brief break from gameplay to simply listen to the background music.
Like the other Disgaea games (and other NISA-published titles beyond that), Disgaea 3's storyline and setting are a bit on the absurd side of the scale. The game takes place in the Netherworld at a location known as Evil Academy. The main character, Prince Mao, is a demonic student there who is a bit too full of himself. His goal is simple: take revenge against his father (the school's Overlord) for accidentally destroying his PlayStation Portable and the four million hours of save data stored within. Sound idiotic? It should, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Within the game, Mao will encounter a human "hero" looking to impress a princess who doesn't even know he exists, demonic "delinquents" (demons who do good rather than evil), and the series' iconic Prinny characters (yes, they still explode when thrown). Heck, players will even find themselves in combat with the Academy's way-to-passionate-about-food Home Economics teacher. To put it simply, this is a game that can only exist in the anime world; and it's better for it.
Gameplay, though, is the really meaty part of this game. Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention, just like all of the other core Disgaea games, is a turn-based tactics RPG. Battlefields take place on a grid with both AI-controlled enemies and the user's own characters on it. The player then moves his characters around the battlefield a-la chess to not only defeat the enemies (who can also move around during the enemy's turn) but also to accomplish certain objectives on the battlefield. One such objective could be the elimination of mechanic-altering Geo-Blocks (which usually help the enemies) and opening up treasure chests found in some battles.
Combat, at its core, is quite simple. All a player need to is position his characters so that they can attack an opposing one, though it can go much deeper with that. Each of the games many character classes (both Human-type and otherwise) have their own set of abilities (called "evilities" within the game) ranging from weapon-specific skills to more magical abilities such as the ability to cast a fireball at an enemy. Attacking characters can also form combo attacks if alongside a friendly unit. Combo attacks are much more powerful than a basic one and are a good tool to use to tilt the outcome of a battle to one's favor. While it all sounds quite complex, Disgaea 3's gameplay is actually quite simple and is explained in plain terms to the player bits at a time throughout the early game as to not overwhelm him/her with a lengthy tutorial as some games do.
Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention finally gives the PlayStation Vita something it's been lacking since launch day: a game that offers a lengthy, yet enjoyable gameplay experience. While those who are prejudiced against the Disgaea series will find nothing here that they'd like, those who do like the franchise (or RPGs in general) will find a gem of a game in this Absence of Detention.
Final Game Guys grade: A-
(NISA provided a copy of this game for review.)