At Netherworld Academy, up is down and light is dark, and evil is good and lemon is lime and, well, you get the picture. Young demons attend this school by doing as little as they possibly can to become high ranking honor students, or they attend each and every class, pitching in some volunteering here and there to become infamous delinquents. Mao, number one honor student of Netherworld Academy, just so happens to be the son of the dean of this very school, not to mention Overlord of the Netherworld. Not all is well in the house of Mao, however, as his SlayStation Portable was destroyed by his father, wiping out millions of hours worth of game saves. There's only one way to get revenge on his father, and that's to defeat him. In order to do so, Mao will have to do something he never thought he would. He needs to become ... a hero!
Disgaea 3's inner workings remain very close to the series' first title. It's a turn-based strategy role-playing game presented with an isometric view. Positioning of your characters is done on a grid system and if you've played Final Fantasy Tactics, you have an idea of how battling pans out. Placing characters to the side and rear of your enemies deals more damage but just as with previous Disgaeas, placing a character on an adjacent panel might yield a teammate combo attack to deal extra damage. For the first time in the series, special attacks can also be combined if two compatible attacks are executed at the same time. These can be devastating, and it's a tactic you'll be using quite often to thin out the horde.
Disgaea 3, like the rest of the games before it, is not very accommodating to the casual RPGer, however. The game does have brief tutorials and information pools to explain the game's basics and a few finer points, but it's best enjoyed with a FAQ or forum by your side. The game's difficulty level is punishing for those who just want to rush in and think they can skate by by level grinding alone. What makes the game tricky is that no matter how much leveling you do, you can still be taken out relatively easily if you don't call out the right people into the battlefield. This is where entering the item worlds comes in handy, a Disgaea staple.
Every item you get from a simple consumable to a weapon or piece of armor can be entered via the Item Worlder. Once in the Item World, you're thrown into randomly generated dungeons. These floors can either be cleared by defeating all the enemies or by placing a character on an exit panel. Sometimes these panels are blocked by a Gatekeeper, and you'll need to defeat it or find a way to remove it in order to progress. Each floor your clear increases the item by one level. Every 10 levels, you're given the chance to exit the item of which you can reenter at any time, and sometimes you'll be taken to Innocent Town that will allow you to heal your wounds and enter the Item Homeroom to suggest new topics to make the item that much stronger. Spending time delving into item worlds is not only a great way to level up, but you'll also end up making an item (as well as finding rarer more powerful items) so strong, you may never need to level grind again.
Reincarnation is also another returning favorite, and this allows you to start your character over again with the bonus of increased base stats and abilities. For example, you can make a star mage that has fire, ice and wind magic by playing with elemental mages and reincarnating them. Other class types unlock as you defeat them in the game or manage to kill a certain number of enemies altogether. Also, if you feel that you have too many characters, you can always have one absorb another's base stats and abilities to fortify that character.
You need a lot of mana to do reincarnate and absorb, however. If you want to make extremely powerful characters with every ability under the sun, be prepared to investing a huge amount of time into doing the same story level over and over again. The new mana system, however, may not be enjoyed by some. In previous games, as your mages leveled, the range and target capacity would increase. In Disgaea 3, you have to spend mana to increase these attributes and it comes with a negative effect of upping the amount of SP (skill points) to use. This means it takes an even longer amount of time to fine tune your party exactly the way you want it.
Geo Panels return to the world of Disgaea but with a twist. For the inexperienced, Geo Panels are panels on the battlefield that are imbued with special conditions, which could prove to be beneficial or a hindrance, by a Geo Block. Such effects can be pluses or minuses to attack, invincibility, regeneration or blocking entry entirely. Unlike the Geo Symbols of previous games, these blocks can be maneuvered over and stacked to create new puzzle opportunities. Unfortunately, some of the later story levels' Geo Block puzzles are more annoyances than challenging obstacles for you to overcome.
Another new feature is clubs. By visiting the Homeroom, you can assign your characters into different clubs that give them bonus attributes such as extra gains in experience points. One such advantage of belonging to a club is being able to magichange. Magichange is when you have a monster-type character transform into a weapon for a human-type character to wield. The upside is that the human gains extra stats and access to exclusive special attacks, but the downside is that after a few turns, the magichanged weapon dissipates off the playing field. Also, if the wielder gets killed, so does the weapon. Still, magichanging can be a table turner if used properly.
There is one major flaw with the series that has yet to be addressed, and that's the camera. You still are only allowed to rotate it at 90 degree angles, and you can zoom in and out at only three different increments. There are times where the lay of the land will have recesses or other obstacles that will obstruct your vision. Also, the rear touch screen controls aren't implemented very well, causing you to bump the controls when your fingers are merely resting on the Vita. You'll find that you're better off disabling the rear touch pad. Touch screen controls work just fine, and being able to swipe through your inventory, especially when its size becomes considerable, is a godsend.
Graphics have never been Disgaea's strong suit, and that remains the case with Disgaea 3. It still looks like it could easily find its home on the original PlayStation. To the game's credit, the background environments' modeling and textures are displayed very well thanks to the Vita's wonderful screen, but the antiquated character sprites are in great need of an overall. Still, whether it's newcomer Mao or revisiting past characters such as Adell and Flonne, the art direction has not lost its wonderful sense of charm. Also, the special attacks still have a lot of flash to them, and the inventiveness of some of them continues to impress while making you chuckle at the same time.
Audibly, it sounds no different than Disgaea 2. A lot of the same music has been recycled, and just about every single sound effect has been lifted from the previous game. It serves its purpose just fine, but its aural familiarity unfortunately cheapens the presentation. There's also a minor glitch where the Vita tends to run out of memory if you haven't shut the machine off in a while that causes some character exclamations to get cut short. What remains its strongest asset, however, is the voice acting, which is simply superlative. You must have a likeness for anime-esque voice acting, though. If you do, you'll love the performances of Mao and his supporting cast of characters. They help tell another great Disgaea story.
Do you have a Vita and 40 bucks and love strategy RPGs? Disgaea 3 is right up your ally. You may not want to buy it again if you've already played it on the PS3, but if this is your first outing, you're in for a treat. Not only are you getting an extremely fun and addicting SRPG, you're also getting all the post-game DLC content that was released for the PS3 version at no additional cost. Plus, there are much harder item world challenges that put even your strongest characters to the test, so if you've been dying for a hardcore RPG on the go, Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention is the perfect game for you.