Inside Pulse 12

Review: Disgaea 3 (Sony PS3)

Disgaea 3
Publisher: Nippon Ichi America
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Genre: SRPG
Release Date: 08/27/2008

We’ve all been big fans of the Disgaea series here at DHGF. At least at first. In 2003 the original Disgaea won damn near every award it was nominated for, including our GOTY. In 2006, Disgaea 2 won our best SRPG award. Now it’s 2008 and Disgaea 3 has arrived on the PS3.

I’ve always been the Nippon Ichi guy around here, having raved about Rhapsody since it came out, and having reviewed D2, Phantom Brave, and Makai Kingdom, I have to say I’ve enjoyed every NIS SRPG I’ve played, even if I do feel they’ve been going to the well once to often and even regressed a bit with Disgaea 2 jettisoning a lot of the innovation from PB and MK.

So how is the third Disgaea? It’s the first SRPG for the system and its MSRP is ten dollars less then most games, but is it still worth buying?

Let’s Review

1. Story

D3 takes place in the Evil Academy, a netherworld that both resembles and acts like a school for demons. Here however things are reversed from our world. Being bad makes you an honour student and being good makes you a delinquent. Your main character, Mao, is the son of the Overlord/Dean and is the #1 honour student at Evil Academy because he is so very, very evil. Well, actually he’s not. He’s a big dork obsessed with comics and video games, but somehow that makes him evil. I guess the writers were members of Kaientai?

Anyway, Mao wants revenge on his father for destroying his video games, and because he is so pop culture obsessed, he decides that the only way he can defeat the Overlord, is by becoming a hero. Enter Almaz Von Almadine Adamant, a young wanna-be hero who enters the Netherworld at about this time. The two meet, Almaz gets knocked out, and with a nod to Phantom Brave , Mao steals Almaz’s title and becomes a hero while Almaz gets the title of demon. Once the switch is made, the two discover that a title is more than mere words and it begins to affect them slowly but dramatically. Can these wacky mismatched tag team partners gets their titles (and souls) fixed? Can they get along long enough to achieve their mutual goal of defeating the Overlord? You’ll have to play the game to find out.

Overall, the story is quite nice and at times it’s even laugh out loud funny. Even though I think Mao is the worst antagonist in the history of Nippon Ichi SRPG’s, the rest of the cast is quite well done and helps to make the story here so much better then the disappointing plot that was D2.

What’s also great is that unlike D2, D3 is virtually stand-alone with little to no involvement from the previous Disgaea casts. This is great because one of my big problems with D2 is how much the D1 character overshadowed Adell and Rozalyn. Here though. Mao, Almaz, the Princess, Geoffrey, Beryl and the rest of the cast take center stage and do a grand job of it. That doesn’t mean you won’t be encounter classic characters from a wide range of previous Nippon Ichi games. It’s just that they are all in optional post game bits, or as downloadable content that has yet to reach US shores.

The story is quite enjoyable and it takes a nice look at what it truly means to be a hero. The ploty and characters make this the best RPG currently on the PS3, although I guess that’s kind of a left handed compliment considering the only other real RPG is Dark Kingdoms

The plot could have used some work, and I never really enjoyed Moa as he was too much of a creepy nerd for my liking, but the game’s story is still going to be exactly what Nippon Ichi fans are looking for.

Story Rating: Good

2. Graphics

Wow is this game ugly. We are talking the same exact sprites that I have seen for the past five years from NI. On a next gen PS3 game nearly two years into the system’s lifespan. There’s no real excuse for that people. This is worse than SNK people, because at least they keep their titles on the PS2.

The backgrounds however have a bit of an upgrade and are decent to look at, but they still fall flat compared to what the PS3 is able to pull off. I realize that the style and depth of a SRPG engine generally requires that the graphics are a generation behind the console’s power, but this is all still stuff that could have been pulled off during the PSX days.

There are all new combos and special attacks, and there are even totally revamped geoblocks that are huge instead of thin and flat. That’s really it in the way of any new visuals.

What here is cute for what it is, and hardcore Disagea fans will enjoy the visuals, but the best the game gets in the opening music animated cut scene and it all goes downhill from there.

Graphics Rating: Bad

3. Sound

Here is Disgaea 3‘s strongest point. The score is as awesome as it is varied. Each song manages to be quite catchy and infectious. Those who didn’t buy the game through Rosenqueen.com and thus missed out on the customizable D3 soundtrack will probably end up kicking themselves due to the quality.

Voice acting is top notch and it really made the game come alive for me. Mao sounded so much like Invader Zim there were times when I just closed my eyes and pretended the game was about Zim’s attempt to take over the Netherworld instead of lame ass Mao. Now there’s a X Edge style crossover for you. I especially love the voice acting for each of the characters on the battlefield. Unlike the graphics, there has been an aural overhaul so that characters used to just grunt (like Orcs) now have dialogue and cute little things to say. Big thumbs up for changes like that.

Vocally and musically this is the best Nippon Ichi stateside release since Makai Kingdom. Much like the original Disgaea, D3 is a game worth picking up just for the acting and soundtrack.

Sound Rating: Unparalleled

4. Control & Gameplay

Like most SRPG’s the majority of the game can be divided into two areas: Base Camp and Battling. Base Camp is your out of combat area where you can get items and heal your characters, but do little else. With Disgaea 3 you can also talk to unimportant NPC’s, open treasure chests and go to homeroom, which is a little bit more then the majority of SRPG’s, but still a long way from Shining Force I-III in terms of exploration.

Battles involve your usual grid based map, in which both you and your opponents move around the map trying to kill each other. Your goals can range from anything between “Kill everything” to “Kill this one specific character.” It’s pretty much the same thing for every map on the game, but at least there are multiple reasons and locations for this repeated slaughter. One of the interesting things about Disgaea 3, like all NI SRPG’s, is that the game is turn based. This means one side gets to move all their characters , then the opponent goes, and the process is repeated until one side is dead. Most SRPG’s feature every character on the screen at once with turns based on speed. With speed based RPG’s luck and stats play far more a role then they do in D3, where you can be a little more tactical with your gameplay.

There are three main types of battles, each with their own sub division. The first is story mode, where you just complete the assigned story bits. The second is Item World, where you can enter an item to gain extra XP, level up your item (yes, EVERYTHING has levels here) and encounter strange inter-dimensional places like Innocent Town, Pirate Ships and more. The third and final mode is something entirely new to D3, and that is Class Mode. Class Mode allows you to enter one of your own characters and you can improve their skills and abilities that are otherwise set in stone here. Each character can enter only a limited amount of times depending on the quality of the character

There are a few changes to the standard gameplay of the series as well. Instead of the Dark Assembly, which was the equivalent of Congress in the previous games, you now have a student government. Same thing, different name right? Well, now some of your characters can become homeroom reps and thus allow you to push odds in your favour. This includes the creation of something new for the game called “Clubs.”

Clubs are exactly like what you’d expect from a school: Small organizations devoted to a particular extracurricular activity. Here however, these clubs provide you with bonuses to your stats or bonus abilities such as a new tower “dual throw,” enhancements to a new and generally boring ability called Magi-Change which turns a monster alley into a weapon for a limited amount of turns before it goes away thus leaving you at a tactical advantage, or even unlock new background tracks.

The last big change is a big one but it’s also Lunar 2: Eternal Blue levels of stupid. See, in Disgaea 3 you have something you collect called MANA. With mana, you can spend it towards proposals for your character in Homeroom, or get yourself reincarnated (drops you back down to Level 1 but with massively increased base stats). D3 adds a new level where all your skills and magic need to be bought with mana as well. Yes, you read that right. Instead of enhancing your special abilities and skills naturally, the game did the exact same thing as the Sega-CD version of Lunar 2 which is easily one of the five most bitched out gameplay changes in the history of RPG’s. Why Nippon Ichi why? So this means you now have something else to spend Mana on, which is obscenely low to begin with because the game is all about grinding rather than plot advancement, and it also royally screws over characters like Priest or Clerics who are generally HEALING. In the previous games, Clerics managed to get their abilities up pretty nicely because skill and special abilities were raised in a sane logical manner called USING THEM. I can’t honestly think of a reason why they decided to go this route.

There is also something new called Evilities, which is the Disgaea version of Pokemon abilities, inane automatic powers specific to each character. How do you earn new ones? By spending more Mana of course…

That’s basically the playing of Disgaea 3 but multiplied by say a hundred hours or so. It’s the usual same great quality controls and gameplay of the series married by two big things: The step backwards to the grid map started with Disgaea 2 and the repeat of the Lunar 2 magic experience error. Just remember Nippon Ichi to ask yourselves, “Whatever happened to Working Designs, anyway?” Oh yeah.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

5. Replayability

In order to do everything in Disgaea 3, you’re going to have to play for hundreds of hours.

Yes, you read that right. HUNDREDS. There are so many optional quests and such an emphasis on uber stat micro-management that you could play only this game for a year and still have lots of stuff left to do. For those of you who just want the story, that’s about 50 or so hours, depending on how much you muck about with the Item World, Class World, Homeroom and things like that.

Thankfully the game can accommodate casual interest as well, but it really is geared for multiple playthroughs and for hundreds of hours of mindless mayhem.

Replayability Rating: Unparalleled

6. Balance

The problem with Disgaea 3’s emphasis on routinely battling so your characters can hit level 9,999 is that you are often going on these Item World quests and thus getting your characters up to levels far beyond what they need to be at for the actual story based bits of the game. Do I really need a character at level 436 when the end boss is only 90? But it can and will happen due to the nature of the game. This leaves things pretty unbalanced, but in your favour.

Against your favour those is the occasional random enemy in the Item world like say a level 2500 pirate when your characters are in their 30’s. Ouch. Again it’s random, but it’s still badly balanced.

In the game’s favour is your ability to vote on stronger or weaker enemies, but if you’re doing a lot of exploring or munchkin’ing your guys, then it has little to no affect.

If you’re playing just to beat the game for the sake of story and stick to that, you’ll find a well crafted nicely balanced title, but if you do any veering off, get ready for a massive cakewalk except for the occasional random rare occurrence. Or the after game optional battles.

Balance Rating: Poor

7. Originality

Although the very core of the game is the same as it has been for five years, or rather 8 years if you want to go back to Rhapsody for the real core, Disgaea 3 brings a lot of new elements to the series. Between stealing pirate ships, going on the Diez Gentlemen quests, and all the new optional bits, the game does feel like a lot of internal tweaking has been done to it.

Still though, this is the eighth Nippon Ichi SRPG to hit US shores in as many years, and they are all mostly interchangeable. There’s a lot of customization to D3, and that helped it a bit here, but when the game is still using sprites from 5 years ago, you know that there’s also a lot of resting on one’s laurels with this series.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

Although D3 is definitely flawed and still a notch below the first Disgaea and Makai Kingdom in terms of quality, it’s still exceptionally fun to play and I was easily sucked in. I spent far more time with this game then any other title I’ve recently reviewed, and that’s mainly because I could! The title was that deep and there was also something new to make, explore or kill that I was never bored and always having fun. I love a good SRPG, and considering that this year has only seen crap like Rondo of Swords and R-Type Command, Disagea 3 was a breath of fresh air in terms of quality, if not originality.

This is certainly a game I’ll be playing all year, simply for the desire to do battle with Etna and Laharl and get them to join my time. I’ll also admit to being a bit disappointed that the Adell and Rozalyn quests aren’t available for download yet. You can be certain I’ll be snagging those the second they come stateside.

All in all, Disagea 3 is one of the reasons I feel my PS3 was a worthwhile purchase after all, and I’m glad my next reviews are Hell’s Kitchen and ugh…TNA Impact meaning I’ll have a lot of time to play this game for fun instead of just review purposes.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

Here’s the odd thing. Nippon Ichi tends to make their games for the niche hardcore psychotic gamer. The type of gamers that no one wanted to play tabletop games with because they were obsessed with rules and stats crunching instead of you know, having fun. Disgaea 3 is no exception as it rewards you for that level of nerdy data manipulation and incessant playing that creates a maxed out character only to reincarnate them over and over again for super supremo stats that allow you to have a chance against Baal. Seriously, this is like playing Battletech in the high school cafeteria level of uber-nerd

At the same time, the writing is exceptionally witty and all that extra nerdy crap? It’s all optional, meaning even a mainstream gamer or an old JRPG fan that just doesn’t have the time to put into a game this large DOESN’T HAVE TO. So yes, this is the largest game released on the PS3 so far, but you can still play a normal length RPG game with Disgaea 3 and you can always come back to the other cycles or post game quests after the fact.

Really, in terms of hardcore stat munching and breeding, Disgaea 3 is akin to the Pokemon games, and Pokemon is the most successful video game franchise EVER. Just think of Disgaea 3 as a more adult oriented version and there’s no reason why you, the mainstream casual gamer can’t have fun with it. Well, except for the whole Hell and demons and evil is good bits I guess.

Appeal Factor: Above Average

10. Miscellaneous

There’s not much left to say here. Disgaea 3 is definitely a love letter to Nippon Ichi fans…for the most part. It’s the biggest, most customizable Disgaea yet, with a cast and crew of characters that you are sure to have fun with, even if they’re not as memorable as the original characters.

This review is into seven pages in Microsoft Word and I still feel I haven’t described the game in enough detail to do it justice. It’s that big! I guess you’d call that an “Absence of Justice” then. Ho ho ho. Oy, that was bad.

I suppose I could do a plug for Doublejump’s strategy guide here. Although the binding of their products is generally quite poor and your guide will be falling apart in less than a week, it really is packed full of HUNDREDS of pages of information, tips, statistics and other mumbo jumbo that fans of the series will die for. I’m normally a guy that gives thumb’s down to strategy guides of any kind, but Doublejump has gone the route of the old Working Designs’ guides, meaning they are just as much pieces of art as they art cheat sheets for those of you who can’t play the game properly.

A fun little game offer more content then any other title for the PS3. Quite an impressive feat and this is certainly proof of the importance of substance over style.

Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled

The Scores
Story: Good
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Unparalleled
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Poor
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
As a step above Disgaea 2 and a step below Disgaea: Disgaea 3 is a welcome addition to both the Marl’s Kingdom shared universe of SRPG’s, and also my gaming collection. It’s a good quality title, even if it is a bit of an eyesore. You don’t need to have played any of the previous games to enjoy this one, but if you DO try it and like it, the original Disgaea is being ported to the DS next month along with the game that started it all: Rhapsody. For now though, you better get started on D3 as it’s arguably the longest game you will ever play.