You will agree with me if I say that Disgaea is a niche franchise with a hardcore following. Yet the SRPG series has made quite a name for itself thanks to extremely deep gameplay and amusingly ridiculous storyline. Disgaea Infinite is a new spin-off that completely abandons the tactical role playing genre for a story based adventure with interaction comparable to the Phoenix Wright games. In this way, Disgaea Infinite is set to separate the dedicated Disgaea fans from the very dedicated Disgaea fans because much of the appeal is lost in the crossover. Even those who are interested in this type of gameplay will find things to gripe about.
The star of the game is an exploding demon in the form of a penguin known as a Prinny. Sentenced to lives of ridiculously tormenting servitude, Prinnies only live for their salaries, which decrease in line with the amount of time they spend as slaves. One day their entire salary is taken away after a failed assassination attempt against Lord Laharl, who blames the Prinnies simply because it is convenient. In order to clear his name, and get back on the track to possibly earn his freedom, Prinny decides to find out what really happened, with the help of a magic watch that allows for time travel.
Utilizing time travel is a key component of the gameplay. Because Prinny did not witness the explosion he must journey to the preceding hours to discover what really happened. To accomplish this, the magical watch also allows Prinny’s soul to possess anyone the player encounters while trying to unscramble the mystery. Mind control is done with the tap of a shoulder button. This way you can follow any character and discover what they have been up to and who they were talking to before the attempt on Laharl’s life. If that sounds convoluted, that's because it is.
Most of your time is spent in conversation with other characters, sifting information from the dialogue. It comes down to constantly pressing the X button to move the talking forward, or switching character perspectives until you come to a choice that Prinny can make for the person he is possessing. The choices sort of function as dialog trees and your actions affect how the story will (or will not) progress. For some reason the choices come with a time limit, as if to increase the urgency, instead it makes things only more annoying because bad decisions will often force you to play through entire scenes over again. Watching the segment over again is inevitable, so the developers added the option to speed through conversations or skip them entirely, but doing so will probably cause you to miss important details or the ability to take control of someone else. Basically, everything comes down to the decisions you make while in control of the cast, which are either categorically right or wrong.
Also, to ease your muck-raking mission, is a diary that keeps a running log of important clues that guide you towards the solution and, if you pay enough attention, influence your next move. Additionally, Prinny can go back to any stretch of time where you saved the game to further expedite the numerous occasions where you will have to experience the same slices of story. Therein lies Disgaea Infinite’s greatest folly - it can be such a slog to get through, even for diehards. There is so much to wade through and small slip-ups lead to even more repetitious doldrums.
For Disgaea games, and visual novels especially, a strong story is a must. Disgaea Infinite definitely has a strong narrative, infused with humor and all-out ridiculous shenanigans that appeals to a very specific audience. Never has so much drama occurred over secret pudding in a videogame, at least to my knowledge. Characters from Disgaea 1 and 3 comprise the overall cast of about a dozen. Etna, Laharl, Gordon and company are as brash and infused with personality as you remember. Much of the dialog features cheeky references to previous Disgaea games and titles outside of the series that the characters may have appeared in. There are even a few jabs at the advent of Blu Ray. I want to say that playing the other Disgaea games is not necessary to enjoy all of Disgaea Infinite, but the reality is that gamers who have will get more out of the experience. Overall I am still a fan of the story, though I prefer the straightforward narratives of the mainline games to the fragmented 'choose your own adventure' approach found here.
Visually all you are looking at are hand drawn characters that change expressions and poses from time to time. To better illustrate what is going on there are short vignettes featuring sprites that showcase the action. I am happy to report that the 2D hand drawn characters and sprites are the best they have ever looked on the PSP thus far. Every so often you are treated to stunningly beautiful and awesome drawings that punctuate the drama. That said, you are in effect just strolling through the same environments and character animations throughout your playtime.
Disgaea Infinite is fully voiced in both English and Japanese to the same satisfying degree as every other Disgaea game. Prinnies still say Dood way too much and sometimes the cheese is laid on too thickly by the rest of the characters. Chances are you will skip through dialogue, either because you tire of the voices (you can turn them off if that is the case) or just want to get on with the plot. The soundtrack re-uses many songs that are now synonymous with the property, but also sneaks in a few catchy new jingles to mix things up. The music is not likely to hold your attention, as you have to really concentrate on the story, but it won’t distract you much either. There are a few zany sound effects: explosions, brawls, glass shattering etc., which bring things to life on screen and neatly fits the package.
Overall there are 14 different endings to unlock in Disgaea Infinite that take varying amounts of time to achieve. One can be achieved in a matter of moments due to the player’s inactivity or a slew of bad choices. This ending is unsatisfying to both the gamer and the Prinny protagonist thus, after the credits roll, the quest for more complete and satisfying endings resumes. Conversely, all it takes is a string of uncanny right decisions to get a good ending. Unlocking all of the endings does take a good deal of time, but I suspect most will tire of the plot, the setting, the characters, and especially the gameplay before that is achieved. Luckily the game retails at a budget price of $19.99 that should be easier for fans to swallow.
Disgaea Infinite is a tough game to sell to all but the dedicated few who know they will play it regardless. The time, effort, and patience required outweighs the rewards of a mostly funny storyline and pleasing visual presentation. I love that this series constantly brings its world and characters to new genres, but the visual novel has proved to be an uncomfortable fit.