Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, the premier Disgaea title for the PlayStation 3, is perhaps best known as the repeatedly isolated, hulking black sheep of Nippon Ichi’s most revered strategy RPG series. While it expertly transferred all the key elements that make Disgaea such an endeared franchise to a next-gen console, it lacked true evolution in the aesthetics department, so much so that it maintained the feel of a PlayStation 2 game. Last year’s excellent Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten began to remedy this with a moderate overhaul of the graphics engine to quell the typical “But it still looks like crap” complaints from the prickliest of SJRPG pundits. In the meantime, both the original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories received generally terrific remakes (Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness and Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days, respectfully) on the PlayStation Portable, keeping the fanbase pleased with a sufficient amount of extras and, with the addition of portability, hours upon hours of attention-holding road-trip fodder. With the release of the PlayStation Vita, Sony’s third official handheld device (after the PSP and the now discontinued, disc-less PSP Go), it was only a matter of time before Disgaea 3 was ported; unexpectedly, it arrives shortly after the system’s launch, and much to the delight of Nippon Ichi’s closest followers. Not so surprising due to the triumphs of past Disgaea reworkings, Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention isn’t only a better RPG than its predecessor, but just about the most legitimate reason to invest in a Vita at the current stage of the device’s life.
As with all Nippon Ichi undertakings, but especially the Disgaea installments, Disgaea 3 employs a winning sense of humor throughout, aiding in easing in NIS enthusiasts and non-fans alike to its signature loopy underworld-set storylines. The game’s narrative is yet another aspect that sets it apart from other entries into the canon. Its demon-world academia backdrop, very much like a Hogwarts for up-and-coming hellions, makes many of the situations and dialogue-fueled cutscenes come off like excerpts from a demented educational simulator. All of the original Disgaea 3’s memorable cast members return; playing as Mao, the offspring of a evil demon overlord, is still one of the series’s most eccentric experiences, completely atypical compared to the exploits of Disgaea’s Laharl and Disgaea 2’s Adell, protagonists who ventured down somewhat predictable (yet no less enjoyable) paths. Disgaea 3’s central downfall, something that not even the technological prowess of the PS Vita could amend, is that there’s way too much between-battle text. Yes, these sequences are markedly skippable, but the fact that they consecutively prompt a passing over after only a few moments is evidence that the original script could have used some mild adjustments. Switching over to the Japanese-language vocals is almost a must, as the English voice actors often venture into over-the-top mode when it’s clearly uncalled for.
Storytelling technique complaints aside, Disgaea 3’s real victories arise from its combat strategies, a structure still extraordinarily fresh, innovative, and addicting some four years later. At once incredibly simplistic and remarkably complex, Disgaea 3’s turn-based altercations utilize the familiar grid approach of genre classics like Ogre Battle and Final Fantasy Tactics, yet implements an array of warfield sub-scenarios that keep players on their toes in even the most seemingly elementary of netherworld bouts. After amassing a personalized assault platoon (an event that takes minutes to learn but days to truly perfect), mastering the application of Disgaea 3’s environments, particularly the rows of Geo Blocks that imbue the landscape, is extremely vital; defeating late-level bosses without the sly usage of bonus spaces (exp boosts, attack multipliers, etc.) becomes a vastly frustrating operation. Hoisting up your opponents and tossing them on negatively infused symbols is also an option, as well as choosing to decimate the matrix of effect emblems entirely, often resulting in a mixture of prototypical RPG scheming and uncharacteristic approaches in order to accomplish missions. Items also play a massive role in any Disgaea adventure, with each one serving a specific purpose mid-fight, as well as containing a selection of randomly generated dungeons within, spawning lengthy side quests that will entertain even the most hardened of strategists for weeks to come.
The PlayStation Vita is simply ideal for this type of game, the anime-style art looks right at home on the smaller screen—as opposed to the 2008 version’s slightly stretched out appearance on larger monitors. With plenty of benefits like the carrying over of previous PS3 download content, improved online play via a sharpened PSN compatibility layout, GPS capabilities (the more you travel, the more experience points are gained), fulfillment of the Vita’s touchscreen capacity (zooming, menu steerage, and view angle gyration is amazingly smooth), and the welcome presence of a number of Disgaea 4’s ensemble, Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention is an example of what any good remake should be. While it may not warrant the purchase of a Vita just yet (a distinction that will most likely go to Keiichiro Toyama’s Gravity Rush), if you do happen to own one, it would be immensely unwise to overlook this gem the second time around.