So, here we are again. Another disappointing game from you, Nippon Ichi. Really, I have to ask you guys: what is going on in your studios? I feel like you’ve been on full-on panic mode ever since the first Disgaea’s unlikely critical and commercial success – can’t you just calm down and make another awesome game? Why is it so hard to replicate the original game’s magic mixture of memorable characters, gasp-worthy storyline twists and anal-probe jokes? Come on, get it together!
I enjoyed Disgaea: Hour of Darkness on PS2 so much that I’ve been semi-following Nippon Ichi (i.e. I’ve played Phantom Brave and Makai Kingdom). The first Disgaea is deceptive: the story and tone define the phrase, “so bad it’s good”, but the systems and tactical side of it are just plain GOOD. It’s a game that shouldn’t really work – it’s parodic, with a cast of unlikely anti-hero characters, and a downright silly sense of humour. But, somehow, it works so well. It’s endearing and, particularly towards the end, surprisingly touching.
In comparison, Disgaea 3’s tone is – to use that dreaded tumblr phrase – problematic to say the least. And the systems and gameplay are very off and un-fun to play – honestly, I actually found it unpleasant at times. It is a punishingly difficult game, requiring you to visit the item world to train every few stages of the main campaign just to be in with a chance.
The game revolves around a similar set of themes to those in the first Disgaea, in particular the inversion of good and evil. It is set in a school in the Netherworld called Evil Academy where “good” students play truant, get into fights and excel at failing. Those who are “evil” are kind, obsess over human etiquette and manners, are helpful, etc.
You play as Mao, a videogame and manga obsessed kid whose father happens to be the Overlord. The premise is laughably bad – and not in a good way. Daddy dearest deletes Mao’s save file on his SlayStation console and this – yes folks, this – provides the motivation for Mao to plot his dad’s death (#relatable – and very Freudian). Other characters include “evil” students, such as your nemesis and her cronies, who fangirl over humans and like helping people…yawn, a legendary kung fu artist chef, your morally dubious butler (a far FAR cry from a character as brilliant as Etna), a human who everyone thinks is a hero but isn’t very heroic, an emotionally stunted princess, and a bunch of other random forgettable monsters and demons.
The story is all over the place. You go in and out of Mao’s heart (a separate dungeon structure), up and down dungeons, round and round the school, with none of anything really making much sense. The characters are so badly written I really didn’t care what happened to them, and I found the whole school scenario very Harry Potter 2007. Genuinely, it’s like Hogwarts meets Persona meets the most anime of animes. The lack of effort that went into this game made me feel actual disappointment. Makai Kingdom may have been underwhelming, but I found Disgaea 3 offensively bad.
The premise is trite. The characterisation is terrible. The story is wack. What about the gameplay?
As I noted before, it’s hard. Now, that’s not enough of a reason to hate on it, except I’ve never played a game which paces itself so badly that I had to spend the majority of my time with the game grinding in the Item world to level up. It has none of the elegance needed for a difficult game to feel satisfying. In previous entries to the series, the main campaign is just the starter – the post-game extras are the main course, dessert and palate cleansers. That was helped by the fact that the story was always relatively easy to breeze through, and there were specific missions seemingly made solely to grind on if you needed a boost. That was the genius of the first Disgaea – it’s the only game I played twice in a row simply to play the extra mode with my now super powered characters, attempting to defeat seemingly impossible opponents. Why mess with this formula, Nippon Ichi, why?!
Who knows what they were thinking. What I do know is that I doubt I’ll be returning to continue with Disgaea 3. The game is only “good” by following its own twisted logic. Good = BAD.