Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice Review (PS3)

“Never judge a book by its cover,” goes the old adage and never has this been truer than in Disgaea 3’s case. Exclusively on PlayStation 3, Absence of Justice is an old-school RPG in every sense, from the isometric viewpoint to the flat 2D sprites; Disgaea 3 is keeping it real. Some may feel let down that this is the case when so many RPGs manage to conjure up incredible visual feats; bold, shiny cinematics and whizz-bang effects to match. Take a look at games like Lost Odyssey, The Last Remnant or any of the recent Final Fantasy games including the forthcoming number XIII, and you’ll find vast, sprawling epics with enormous melodramatic stories, sweeping orchestral music all draped in the slickest graphics money can buy.

Disgaea 3, by comparison seems anachronistic, a throwback to a much simpler time before production values began to rocket through the roof. And therein lies its appeal, because Disgaea 3 doesn’t need any of these things to provide a deep and engaging experience, it just does and makes it seem effortless. However there are a number of issues that conspire against giving Disgaea 3 a full recommendation, although none of these problems will matter one jot to fans of the series, of which there are many.

Combination attacks like this often do the most damage, but having your team close together leaves them vulnerable. It's a bit of a gamble then.
Witty though it may be at times, sometimes these sequences can outstay their welcome. You can always skip them though.

Firstly – while arguably immaterial – the graphics are extremely basic. The 3D isometric backgrounds may be serviceable enough, but the pixellated sprites could have used a little more care and attention. If you’re making a game for a high definition console, which will be played on an HD television, then your characters need to look crisp and well animated. Here they look pretty ugly on an HD set and having them superimposed onto maps that look bold and tangible doesn’t look right. Secondly, Disgaea 3 appears to be mired in its own traditions, so the use of clunky – albeit very well drawn - animated portraits during cut-scenes feels incredibly dated and it’s not long before they begin to grate. The humorous and well-voiced dialogue does go some way to alleviating the feeling of repetition, but there are so many of these sequences to wade through, you may gradually find your patience wearing thin.

There’s also a hell of a lot to learn and take in from the outset, so be prepared to spend a long time getting to grips with the basics if this is your first time playing this kind of game. This is a strategy RPG in the purest sense, which means there are more than a few core gameplay mechanics that you’ll need to become acquainted with. That is after you’ve been subjected to the insane storyline, wherein the central protagonist, Mao resolves to defeat his father who destroyed his millions of hours of precious videogame data. As far as reasons for murdering your own father go, this one would be fairly low on our list (or would it?), but instead Mao sets out to find a legendary hero to help him on a quest to vanquish his data-wrecking dad.

Anybody who has played a Disgaea game before will know exactly what to expect from Absence of Justice, as there’s very little here that hasn’t been seen before. Battles play out on various sized grids, some with different tiers and other variables such as coloured Geo Blocks, which add an extra element of puzzling to the proceedings. While these battles can at first seem dauntingly complex – especially factoring in the colour-coded Geo Blocks and their effects on your enemies – they are presented in such a way that you’ll soon grasp the basics. For instance standing characters near to one another can create powerful combination attacks and each character in your party has their own unique strengths and weaknesses that you’ll learn to exploit.

The main college hall is the first of Disgaea 3's hub areas and is where you'll do your shopping, customisation and spell acquisition.
Raise a topic in class, get the majority vote from your peers and you can unlock things such as cheaper items, better weapons and so on.

Any monsters in your team can transform into handy weapons, some characters have useful ranged attacks and others have melee moves that can be devastating in close quarters. It’s all about positioning your team in the most effective formation and then planning each of your moves accordingly. You’re given infinite time to work out your strategy during each turn until you choose to select ‘End Turn’ from the battle menu, at which point you leave yourself at the mercy of your enemies until your turn begins again. There are niggles with the camera that can make battles more difficult than they should be at times and being able to rotate the camera and zoom in and out to a limited degree doesn’t really alleviate the problem. Sometimes your view is unavoidably obscured and using your cursor to get behind the offending obstacle can inexplicably cause it to drop off the screen, causing panicked wiggling of the analog stick to make it reappear. Luckily this is an infrequent and minor nuisance, which doesn’t break the game, it can simply render some battles needlessly irritating. Given that the battles are the core component of the game however, these shortcomings should have been addressed.

Success during these battles will earn you experience towards levelling up as well as Mana, which acts as your currency to purchase spells, weapons, armour and other items from vendors back in the central hub areas. While equipping your allies with the best armour and weaponry can grow into an unhealthy obsession, levelling up can continue all the way up to level 9,999 should you have the time or inclination to do so. Few will bother to take the game to these extremes (myself included, I hasten to add) and possibly even more will give up during the first few hours. There’s a great deal of depth to Disgaea 3 that can be almost disconcerting, especially to the casual player. Absence of Justice will only ever really hold any long-term appeal for the hardcore, more seasoned strategy RPG fan with its dated visual style and complex gameplay.

Special attacks are accompanied by some nice effects. Overall though, the visuals don't quite hang together properly.
Areas like this with Geo Blocks and Geo Panels all over the shop can be complicated and look like a clown's nightmare.

Yet there is an inescapable allure to Disgaea’s world even in spite of its lack of graphical finesse. Absence of Justice will get its hooks into you given half a chance, but you’ll know from the moment the game fires up whether you’ll be in for the long haul or not. Should you be coaxed into Disgaea 3’s world, be prepared to lose hours of your life collecting items, creating new party members, participating in class debates to unlock new abilities, accumulating Mana to acquire new spells and customising your team after each and every skirmish.

Should you have the fortitude to stick with Disgaea 3, you’ll find a game that is deeply rewarding with bags of charm. Those expecting something in the same vein as a Square Enix production however, can consider themselves forewarned – they’re like chalk and cheese. Strategy RPG fans and fans of the Disgaea series will be in hog heaven with Absence of Justice, as it stays faithful to the franchise traditions. If you find yourself in this category, then Disgaea 3 is well worth seeking out.

Top game moment:
Striking the perfect balance in your party formation and tearing your enemies a new one.

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By Marco_Fiori (SI Veteran Newbie) on Feb 26, 2009
Games were good ten years ago and if they follow the same formula set out, there's no reason why the same outcome isn't possible. Too many games in the modern era focus on the visual and forget about the basics of what an RPG is.

Character development, a rich story and addictive battle system (in whichever form) is all that I need to lose hours of my life.

Nice review Richard, it was a pleasure to read.
By senecaz (SI Newbie) on Feb 28, 2009
wow disgaea 3 already.. i havent even finished the disgaea hour of darkness yet. and oh my gosh did you just say leveling up to 9,999? it will take years of my life to finish this game.

well thanks for the info. :)
By nickgipe (SI Newbie) on Mar 02, 2009
Yeah i would have to agree with marco...its great if the graphics are high tech but if there is no substance to the game then it wont sell even if it does sell and they tri to do a second game then it wont sell kinda like lara croft
By grimreaper (SI Member) on Mar 06, 2009
This is a great rpg but only for hardcore gamers, since to complete it all you have spend a lot of time to level up, since the maximum level is 9999, but for the ones who like this is must have, i have one myself, the only let down is graphics, because they are not that great, its very anime-like, but the story is good.
So for those who played the 1st and 2nd this is a must.
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 06, 2009
Maybe it is a good game, but hell, it's time to move on! I've seen better graphics on iPhone! This is really low, no matter how good the game is. They should have made this ten years ago. It's a shame.
By grimreaper (SI Member) on Mar 07, 2009
LOL wowerine, i can' t argue with you on that but there are also games that are all about graphics, and storyline sucked, at least this one as a decent storyline, however i agreed with you the graphics are really low.
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 07, 2009
Well, the story line can also be questioned... It's Japanese style remember. I read a manga book series recently. Blade of the Immortal. Now that's some crazy, hard-to-understand, full of gore stuff. Thank god I understood the point of it (it really took me a while).

Did you ever hear about lolita complex? That's psychic disease common only in Japanese people. I don't want to talk about that here... I guess that stressful life, never-late-to-work and the subways have some sort of effect on those people. :S
By grimreaper (SI Member) on Mar 08, 2009
LOL. lolita complex you are right about that. they do have some sort of fetish for that.
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 08, 2009
Yep. I call that insanity. :|
By BoneArc (SI Elite) on Mar 10, 2009
this is what i call Fantasy life full of guess what ... even more fantasy !

i hope the story would be way better then they say
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 10, 2009
The story is, since the game is out already. But it follows the same plot as the games before it. Not worth playing if you are not a die-hard fan of the series. :)
By crawlroman (SI Core) on Mar 11, 2009
This game is CUTE ^.^
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 11, 2009
OMG, he keeps saying the same thing over and over! LOL!
By slaythat (SI Veteran Member) on Apr 20, 2009
Pure, unadulterated fan service for the Nippon Ichi faithful and strategy RPG enthusiasts, though outsiders may find it incomprehensible.

The Good:
Solid, consistently funny story New gameplay changes make this the best Disgaea yet Even after you've finished the story, there are dozens of hours' worth of things to do Geo blocks add a puzzle element that makes you approach each level differently.
The Bad:
Somehow turns your PS3 into a PS2 Still features an absolutely atrocious camera Less accessible than ever for someone new to the series Not enough Prinnies, dood.