Magic, massacres, and zombie mentors - schools aren't what they used to be. Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention plunges you into the depths of the Netherworld's Evil Academy, an institution where mischief is rewarded and those who help others are labelled delinquents.
Right at the top of the class perches Mao, who wants to avenge his crushed portable console and hours of lost save data by destroying his Overlord father. We've all been there.
Like other entries in the strategy-RPG series, Disgaea 3 encases complex turn-based gameplay in an appealing animé shell. In each mission you command up to ten allies to clear a grid of enemies, using a mix of the obligatory melee and special attacks along with a few tricks that deviate from the standard strategy-RPG curriculum.School daze
Though its cute sprite art, flashy attack animations, and humorous script soften it, Disgaea 3 is near-impenetrable until you've revised reams of tutorials and applied yourself to its combat first-hand. It's worth pushing past that entry barrier - once you can comprehend its intricacies it's difficult to put down.
A few simple opening stages allow some elements to gradually segue in, such as statistic-enhancing blocks, friendly monsters that morph into powerful weapons for human allies, and the ability to hurl characters around the battlefield.
Dabbling in classroom politics, managing your classmates' seating arrangements, and overseeing their involvement in after-school clubs is a surefire way to improve your grade in battle. Characters that sit together in class make friends and attack in tandem if they find themselves fighting side-by-side. There's a lot of room to experiment with different combinations and tactics.Classroom with an odd view
You can also call home room debates to improve the inventory of shops or activate new battle conditions. Your classmates vote on suggestions, and if the consensus isn't favourable you can bribe doubters with items or forcibly persuade them in brawls.
One drawback is that it can be difficult to keep track of the cursor, which often dips out of view thanks to the layered stages. At times you can only locate it by rotating the map with the shoulder buttons or adjusting the camera's height with Vita's touch surfaces, which makes play more awkward than it should be.
NIS's promise of millions hours of gameplay may be slightly optimistic, but there's probably enough content for a couple of hundred if you're studious enough to go beyond the main campaign to explore the random dungeons - generated by any of the collectable items - or take on its alternative scenarios.