Saturday, May 1, 2010

PS3 Look - Disgaea 3

The hardest question to ask about a game for me is "Was it worth the time?". This comes up very rarely but chances are if I ask myself this question I quickly become overwhelmed with guilt. It's not like I'm in a situation where playing certain games is harmful to people besides myself and even then I do well enough to maintain a steady job as well as pay all of my bills. This question tends to pop up in regards to online videogames whether they be MMOs, competitive, or action-rpgs. More often than not this guilt is tied to the amount of time sunk into the games. It shouldn't matter though should it? If I was enjoying the game I should have no regrets. Then again if I thought like that this entire paragraph wouldn't exist would it?

More than likely however I'll say that there's never been a time where I feel like I have wasted time with a game. With good games I'm having fun and with bad games I'm...learning something. Sometimes there are true classics that I can go back to time and time again while there are others that most will think are horrid(and they'd be right) but I find some level of enjoyment from that just can't be matched. Nippon Ichi's Disgaea 3 is one of those games that I can't give a straight answer on.

I'm a bit familiar with this series as I've played through the first game and about halfway through the second. I also spent about an hour on LaPucelle Tactics which I dunno why I brought that up cause that hour didn't even get me through the tutorial. Anyway these games and many others by the same company are commonly referred to as SRPGs. I on the other hand consider them something else. While it's true that they have all of the trappings of the genre as they share the perspective of Tactics Ogre as well as many other trappings they're lacking the most important aspect and that is the strategy.

Actually I take that back a bit. There is strategy to Disgaea but it is not the kind you'll find on the battlefield through proper placement of your allies which'll lead to the destruction of your foes. The strategy of Disgaea is in maximizing gains. With RPGs we've grown to accept numbers as a constant and vital tool for measuring our progress. We have numbers that determine the strength of our party, how much damage they do, how much money they're carrying, and so on. All of these numbers rise and it is a part of what gets us through RPGs. We associate these rising numbers with progress which is natural because practically every videogame ever made does the same thing. Given enough time we can achieve anything but what if we could shorten that time so that we get what we're working for earlier? Becoming better at Disgaea is in developing a strategy that'll maximize the player's stats in as little time as possible. It's a game about efficiency, planning, and creativity that hides all of its secrets under a layer of cutesy characters and budget production values.

The story mode in Disgaea 3 is pretty standard. A demon-nerd with daddy issues decides to become a hero so that he can beat up his father for accidentally smashing his game console with over 4 million hours of save data from his favorite SRPG. From the get-go you learn the most important thing and that in the end numbers are meaningless. It is all in the journey and though the game provides a seemingly infinite number of carrots to go after that's really all it is. The storyline reflects this aspect as the journey to becoming a hero is not in the numbers but in the heart...sometimes literally. Make that of it what you will but thankfully if that story nonsense annoys you it's very easy to skip past it.

In-between these bits of story are the actual campaign levels. The goal is simple as it boils down to killing every enemy on the map. The maps are designed in a variety of ways with many hills, pillars, and all sorts of objects to navigate over and around. All told they're pretty simplistic and on their own they are little more than something to keep everyone from looking like they're fighting in a void. What makes the maps unique is their usage of geo-stones. Geo-stones are objects that can be manipulated like the monsters to work to the player's advantage. Every geo-stone has a certain ability like "ATK +50%" or "Invincibility" and if this geo-stone is resting on a colored tile than all tiles of that color will have the effect of the stone. Characters that stand on these tiles have the geo-stone effects transferred to them. Learning how to properly manipulate these stones gives the game a sort of falling block puzzler aspect as at times you can't even approach the enemy if the puzzle isn't solved. Still like any puzzle once you find the solution the battle comes down to who has the higher numbers.

It's not always that simple since as I said earlier the strategy is in maximizing gains. The most common gain from defeating foes is experience. All foes have experience levels just like the player's party which means fighting higher leveled foes leads to faster level gains. How the player wants to go about this is entirely up to them and the game offers numerous possibilities. Through the use of a Home Room rules can be debated on and then changed to fit the player. One of these rules is making monsters stronger which simply put raises their level. Players can also throw monsters into other monsters to create higher level monsters. Since almost all story levels can be played repeatedly strategies can be developed so that the player can gain the most experience in the shortest amount of time.

There are other ways such as the Item World. The Item World is a bit of an odd place because on the surface it's a series of random stages with lots of geo-stone effects and the effect of the Item World is that it levels up items. So that amazing weapon you have can become even more amazing after enough time in the item world. Course the catch is that there is seemingly always something more amazing just around the corner which for a lot of gamers doesn't leave much of an incentive to poke around the item world for too long. Still the Item World is a place of limitless possibilities and experience as all of its inhabitants gain in strength as the party progresses. There are also many secrets for the most elite of Disgaea players (or the ones who spend the most time) so there's that to consider as well. It's certainly a lot to absorb but think of it this way: as long as numbers are rising and bars are getting filled you're making progress.

Like numbers, the filling and emptying of bars is one of the things we as gamers tend to obsess over. World of Warcraft is one of the biggest games around and it's just a constant barrage of bars. Bars for crafting, bars for monsters we're trying to kill, bars for experience, almost everything we do has a bar tied to it and we will not consider quitting until some bars get filled. The bar you'll see the most of in Disgaea 3 is the one that determines the character's level. Now while ten party members can be deployed at a time in battle it's likely there's over a hundred in your roster. That's a lot of bars to look at and if one of them looks like it's almost full you're going to want to finish the job to get that level-up. Your reward for filling those bars is more often than not nothing more than higher numbers. You may need the higher numbers for a battle but usually it's all just because it's a bar and it exists to be filled.

Somewhere in all of these numbers and bars the player will lose track of time. Hours will pass and that little excursion to build a few levels will have cost a day-off or worse, created a day-off where there originally wasn't one. The thing to keep in mind here is that the battles in this game usually take about 10 minutes or less. So you can easily play this game for about an hour a day and still make some decent progress. At the very least you'll get quite a few bars filled and you could use that time not spent on the actual game developing strategies for getting the most experience out of certain battles. I guarantee that by doing this you can actually make more progress in the game.

Because I've been down the alternative path and let me tell you there is rarely a worse feeling than slumming away on the same mission for so many hours and not really seeing that much of a gain out of it. If I had taken the time to think things out and plan a better method I could accomplish things in one hour instead of ten or more. In other games playing poorly wastes your lives but in Disgaea 3 playing poorly will waste your life. Still the same could be said about any other game. The only other determination that can be made at that point is whether or not the game is fun. In that case I say yeah the game is fun but I'm not sure why that is. Maybe it's the bars, maybe it's the numbers, or maybe I just like that constant feeling of progression. It's possible all of these maybes are me just not realizing that I'm taking a videogame seriously. Your best bet is just ignore all this and give the game a shot. It's very accessible and if you reach the point where the difficulty actually picks up chances are you've already forgotten about the other games in your library and possibly what day of the week it is as well. I should also point out that I'm not done with this game. I figure not dumping this game immediately after writing about it is a pretty glowing recommendation.

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