Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice Hands-On

We take another trip through the Netherworld with this demonic sequel.

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Disgaea has always been one of the more elaborate strategy role-playing games, but that's more a case of its combat mechanics than the look of the game. "Old school" would be an apt description when talking about the sprite-based characters and isometric backgrounds. So when it was announced this February that the third installment in the series, Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, would be arriving on the behemoth hardware of the PlayStation 3, a few eyebrows were certainly raised. We recently got a chance to see how that transition is working out by taking a look at Disgaea 3 at a Nippon Ichi Software press event. While the retro look of the game remains in full effect, combat has been ratcheted up a considerable amount with what NIS jokingly calls "stupid hard levels."

Mao (left) is one funny little demon, and so are the characters he encounters.
Mao (left) is one funny little demon, and so are the characters he encounters.

Disgaea 3 features a new story with a familiar setting. You'll once again venture through the cutesy anime Netherworld, but this time you're setting forth from an academy rather than a castle. The main character this time around is named Mao. He's been diligently studying anime, comics, and video games for a solid three months, having come to the conclusion that he needs to defeat the Overlord to become a truly renowned hero. The problem is that his father is the Overlord. But no matter--Mao has accepted that he'll need to defeat his father to ascend to the status he seeks to inhabit.

The demon academy Mao attends is an odd institution where honor students are the ones who constantly misbehave and delinquents are those who manage to arrive to class on time ready to learn. This twisted set of standards has deemed Mao a top honor student. It's also labeled Raspberyl, another student, as a delinquent. Raspberyl is one of the characters you'll encounter throughout the story. In addition, Mao enlists the help of his butler, Geoffrey, to help strip a lesser-known hero of his title so that Mao can skip all the initial growing pains and go straight on to conquering the Overlord. From there, it's the usual assortment of eccentric characters and absurd humor you've come to expect from a Disgaea game.

One of the combat mechanics that has given the series a unique feel among strategy RPGs is the ability to stack characters on top of each other and toss them around the battlefield. You'll still be able to do this in Disgaea 3, but now, you've got a few more uses for your human totem pole. You'll be able to use what are called tower attacks to go after enemies in a variety of ways. We were shown a clip of a tower acting as a 10-person cartwheel to roll over and do damage to those caught in its path. There was also a moment with one person grabbing the entire tower and swinging it around, as well as several bizarre chain reactions where characters are shot from the tower like bullets from a loaded magazine.

Another new feature is the skill merge, which takes skills you've acquired throughout your various battles and fuses them together to achieve hybrid results. You can also use an ability called magichange to transform your character midbattle. A few other enhancements include the ability to deal damage up to a million points at a time and a class world that gives you access to 40 randomly generated battle stages per character. With 270 characters in the game, that should add up to quite a bit of space.

Beyond these, one of the bigger features added to the battle system is the idea of geo blocks. These introduce a puzzle element to the fights. They're multicolored blocks that can be stacked and arranged on the battlefield, which can then be taken out in chain attacks to achieve all manner of strange results. We're not yet sure about the specifics of the geo block placement (how much of it is done by the player and so on), but suffice it to say, they should take an already deep battle system and make it even more extravagant.

Tower attacks get to be pretty crazy.
Tower attacks get to be pretty crazy.

Visually, Disgaea 3 is a bit of an odd duck. The backgrounds have been improved immensely with much sharper textures, but the character sprites still look just as they did before. This creates an odd contrast between the clear backdrops and relatively blurry characters. But with the radiant battle effects, dramatic transformations, and colorful attack animations that occur throughout the course of combat, it would be hard to classify the look as being overly simplistic.

We're looking forward to getting another chance to play Disgaea 3 because there have been far more tweaks and additions made than we've been able to mention here. Until that time comes, you can mark your calendar for an August 26 release.

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