March 19, 2009 by Ewan Aiton
There is more to being evil than just stealing sweets from small children and running over small cute fluffy bunnies with the car. It is, in fact, about concocting a plan so confusing and convoluted that the good guys will never figure out what is going on until it is far too late. This is what Watchmen taught us but it is also what Disgaea 3 aims to show us, albeit in a far more goofy and slapstick fashion. In doing so it also adds a badly needed JRPG to the PS3’s catalogue.
The basic thrust of the story is this: you play Mao, the number one honor student at the Evil Academy in the Netherworld. He has concocted an evil plan to unseat his father, the Overlord of the Netherworld, and take his place. After reading countless comic books and playing video games he decides his best shot at defeating his father is to become a hero.
The game is a tactical RPG at heart and Nippon Ichi has crammed as much gameplay as they can onto the Blu-Ray that Disgaea 3 calls home. The levels are laid out in an isometric fashion very similar to Final Fantasy Tactics on the PSP. It follows a turn-based structure that allows you to chain and execute your attacks together in whatever order you choose. After you have placed your characters and chosen their attacks and in what order they go in you can then select the execute command from the menu. Each character can move once and carry out one action (attack, use a special move or item or defend) per turn and you can use the position-execute cycle as many times as you have active characters in any given turn. This leads to a great amount of tactical flexibility in the game especially allowing you to combine your character’s attacks together for the maximum effects.
There are also level-specific features that can be used for maximum advantage. These are called geo-cubes and geo-squares. Geo-squares are glowing squares on the level map that have certain effect on the characters or their actions when they are occupied. Geo-cubes when destroyed in an area of geo-squares can change what effect the geo-squares have, or nullify them all together and will also damage anyone standing on the geo-squares of the corresponding color. This sounds fairly complicated but it is a very simple system to master allows you to boost the items and experience you gain from each battle.
Mao’s quest takes you all over the Evil Academy in his pursuit of a way to defeat his father and assume his throne as the ruler of the Netherworld. The story is populated by some crazy characters and it has a sense of humor all of its own. This makes quite a welcome change from the large amount of JRPGs that take themselves far too seriously and often descend into melodramatic farces.
This is where the game is let down severely. The cut scenes are beautifully hand-drawn and nicely animated but when you get into the meat of the game, the isometric levels, whist they would look excellent on the PSP or PS2, they really show that the game has failed to take advantage of all the power that the PS3 has hidden away.
The game is realized in its own visual style but it does look very dated, especially when standing next to most of its Square-Enix stable mates.
Sound design is something that is often neglected in games. Where Disgaea 3 has slipped in the visuals department it does regain ground in the sound. The music is fiendishly catchy and enhances the quirky nature of the game entirely.
The voice acting is also superb and given that the game is very dialogue-heavy in between battles it is remarkably consistent.
Disgaea 3 is a vast game. Each level can be replayed any number of times but the real value is added by the Item World. The Item World allows you to improve your weapons, armor and magic items by playing through dungeon battles generated from the items themselves. This creates a huge number of new levels to play through. Not only does this give you access to improved items but you also gain valuable experience points in completing the levels and so your party levels up as well.
Playing through the Item World is a must as the battles in the main quest become very tough, very quickly and so the extra experience and more powerful weapons and armour will make a significant difference. It is a clever addition to the game and one of the most innovative and enjoyable item enhancing methods I have ever encountered.
Disgaea 3, for all its off-the-cuff humor, is actually a game with a huge amount of depth to it. It will reward fans of tactical JRPGs very highly for persevering. Given that good JRPGs for the PS3 are very thin on the ground at the moment this title is a welcome addition. It is let down by the dated graphics but if you can get past looks you will find a colossal, highly entertaining and challenging game.