Disgaea, in case you haven’t heard, is an insanely deep and insanely insane series of strategy RPGs that has graced Sony’s systems through various sequels and remakes. Despite its relative lack of technical prowess in the visual department, Disgaea is looked upon favorably in the gaming community. They’re all great games, but the learning curve is as sharp as that left turn you were supposed to take at Albuquerque.
Disgaea Infinite is no different. Yet, at the same time, Disgaea Infinite is completely different. While maintaining the same characters from Disgaea 2, it tosses its usual genre aside in favor of being a visual novella. Only barely fitting the definition of a videogame, it’s the digital equivalent of a choose-your-own-adventure book. Such an about face, especially in such an elusive and virtually untested genre, is a bold move for the series, but when the credits rolled my general sentiment was not unlike lost cat. The entire experience was mercifully short, but the gameplay and presentation offered little of what could be traditionally interpreted as logic and/or common sense.
The plot opens with an outrageous series of events. From what I was able to gather, I, a Prinny, accidently called Edna flat-chested before I got blackmailed into stealing someone else’s pudding in order to not have to go to hell. Then Lahari literally kicked my ass out of the castle, but I was more concerned about working for negative money, and then Lahari ended up getting assassinated, so I needed to go back in time to prevent most of that from happening…So I could still get paid…I think.
The gist of everything is you’ve screwed up and you need to mend the situation. One would think being dead would be a huge hindrance to this problem, but it actually works out in your favor. As a Prinny soul, you’re given access to this magic timer and you can, for better or worse, go back in time and posses certain characters. Essentially, possession allows you to view events from the point of view of one character while simultaneously granting you the ability to switch character possession on the fly. While that initially seems gimmicky, it’s quite essential with the constantly rotating cast. For example, one hour (read: scene) the Prinny I was possessing was destroyed, so the sequence ended. Had I been possessing Gordon or Thursday in that same sequence, the hour would have continued and lead to a different resolution.
Simple possession and perspective isn’t quite enough to qualify Disgaea Infinite as legitimate videogame, which is where mind control comes into play. During specific sequences of possession you’ll get the mind control prompt, which gives you the ability to interrupt the conversation and select one of three things for the character to say. These dialogues range from weird to weirder, but they do manage to serve an overarching purpose; they fundamentally allow you to change the course of events. Failing at preventing Lahari’s assassination or preserving the life of whoever you’re possessing is essentially considered losing, as it often kicks back to your last “safe time” and then letting you retry from that hour/point.
Your few dialogue options, while funny, don’t often provide any indication as to what is actually going to happen. Sometimes context is present and you might have a hint of what to do, but more often than not you’ll arrive at mind control event, pick a seemingly random choice, meet an unfortunate end, and then have to restart and cycle back to the same sequence in order to choose a different option. The ability to save at any point partially mends this wound, but it’s still flawed on a purely fundamental level and can get quite tedious.
Most of Disgaea Infinite occurs inside conversation, while a few (hilarious) sprite based action sequences are sprinkled here and there, the hook lies in the strength of the dialogue. The series has always been slightly aware of its absurdity, but on occasion it also goes completely Kaufmann and I can’t tell if the game as laughing with me, at me, or at itself. This is also true for the voice acting, which is seems to be awful both intentionally and unintentionally, often by the same actors. Still, the sheer absurdity of what’s on screen and the clever use of mild profanity typically assures consistent amusement; Infinite is damn funny any way you spin it.
The dialogue (“oven roasted Christ crackers!”) is amusing…the first few times around. Infinite’s blessing is also its curse, as its trial and error system mostly favors the latter. There are a few menu based shortcuts that allow you to blow by entire scenes, but doing so is often at the cost of mind control opportunities, which, of course, are most essential to changing the outcomes of various situations. A timeline/web guide is available in your menu, but even that can get convoluted to the point of incompressibility. In the end I wound up making my way through the game through laborious sessions of trial and error, however once I had the right path in place (of which there are more than one) my endgame did make some sense.