NIS has really been churning out the Disgaea-related games lately, it seems. It wasn’t too long ago that I played Prinny 2. Fortunately, Disgaea Infinite fills in a whole different niche in terms of gameplay — visual novels. Admittedly, I’ve had my patience tried a little by the sheer lack of a serious story in this series, but Infinite was different enough in its singularity that it kept my attention.
The story behind Disgaea Infinite was simple. Prince Laharl has been assassinated and you, as one of the thousands of nameless Prinnies filling the Netherworld, must stop it! …Of course, your main motivation is that Laharl was furious at the assassination and cut all the Prinnies’ already meager salary into a state of nonexistence.
Yes, you read that right. Apparently, assassination does not equal death, as the Netherworld Database on “assassinations” nicely pointed out, because Laharl was still standing and breathing, albeit a little sooty and toasted because of the explosion.
Technicalities aside, Prinny will not stand for this injustice because their salary is their monetary way out of the afterlife, but he’s powerless to stop the explosion … until he finds a small pocketwatch that calls itself TickTock. This thrown-away piece of Netherworld fashion was lying in the junk from Laharl’s bedroom (which is perpetually messy, so no one bothers to clean it) and responds to the user’s desire to go back in time. It nicely takes Prinny back in time to several hours before the “killing” and allows him to leave his body in the form of a soul. This allows him to possess others and sometimes even mind control them into doing extremely out-of-character things.
You’d never think it was possible for Laharl to pop hearts out of his eyes and glomp a Prinny until now. And, gasp, Laharl being nice?!
The story continues with you, as the Prinny, jumping from people to people and trying to figure out what in the world caused the explosion in the first place. Once you’ve worked it out, the next step is mind-controlling people so that their actions differ from before, making them go to different places or give different things to different people.
The game included characters from the first game — Laharl, Flonne, Etna, Gordon, Thursday, and Jennifer — although two characters from Disgaea 3 showed up as well to add to the chaos. Infinite also played off my nostalgia by keeping all the same music from the first game. It even had a little jukebox option in the Extras section so that you could listen to the songs whenever you wanted. Although this has come to be a staple of many visual novels, it was still nice to have, especially for those who don’t have the original Disgaea soundtrack handy.
Other extras include the various CGs (of which there were very few) and the character portraits. My favorite extra was the Netherworld Database, which was kind of like an encyclopedia about various terms used in the game. Entries are added when you come across them, either by meeting a character, visiting a place, getting a certain ending, or just coming across it in the dialogue. This last option was especially messy since there were so many entries and obscure ways of acquiring said entries that I don’t even realize how I could have missed anything. Sometimes, it was just a matter of possessing a different person, and others it was choosing different options when I was mind-controlling them. Almost every choice resulted in a different entry. If you’re a player who aims to complete of this compendium, good luck.
But gathering entries aside, the information in the guidebook was really interesting and written cleverly. Some of it was completely filler (did we really need an explanation about what a crab brain was?) but other times it helped to fill in what happened in the past games. While I don’t really think this game is for people who’ve never touched another Disgaea game, the few that do will certainly appreciate all the background information hidden in this database.
I especially liked the art and character portraits in this game. The background was beautifully drawn, and they even included the (albeit slightly useless) function of panning the camera a little with the analog stick so that you could see more of the surroundings. The portraits were mostly static, but when they transitioned, they seemed to move seamlessly from one stance to another sometimes, and as always, they blinked and breathed a little to make it seem as though they were alive. I loved the attention they put into little details in the actions and I actually had a lot of fun scanning the character portraits in the Extra section for a while.
Scattered throughout the game, especially after each of the choices during mind control, were CG animations that looked like they were taken straight from the original strategy RPG. The animations are kind of out-there humor, such as Laharl jumping into a submarine that appeared out of nowhere to help Flonne (I did mention that their actions are extremely abnormal, right?) or later Laharl and Etna duking it out a-la Guilty Gear. Etna may throw community service posters (Raspberyl’s idea) up into the air, and then martial-arts them onto the walls. While the images were all pixelated, especially if there was a zoom-in to one of the characters (like Prinny when he got tossed out of the castle), the style was extremely familiar to a fan of the Disgaea series. At the very least, I found them amusing.
The dialogue for the game was nicely written, and the voice-acting only added to it. Admittedly, I had the voices set on Japanese, but the English voices weren’t bad either. The only problem I had with the voices was that it seemed like they didn’t quite match up with the written dialogue sometimes. The writing would be in two windows, and when I pressed X to go to the next window, the voice-acting would stop because the game thought I was impatiently trying to shut them up rather than continuing to read what they were saying.
So far, all of the points I’ve addressed are constants of the visual novel genre, so let’s go into what’s different about Disgaea Infinite. As I stated pretty extensively above, Prinny time-travels with the help of TickTock. Traveling was done automatically either when I reached one of the many endings or Laharl got blown up again. It was also possible to manually set myself back to the beginning by going to the Timeline option in the menu. This saved me the effort of having to save and load every time I needed to restart in case I did something wrong. The Timeline also showed me where different characters were at any point in time and would change in accordance to what actions I took.
I guarantee that the first few times will be a bit tricky. It took a bit of effort for me to get used to the possessing and the mind-controlling, especially because for almost every scene, there were at least two characters on screen. This meant that I had the option of controlling two characters, and if I wasn’t careful, I actually missed the Mind Control option in that scene simply because I wasn’t in control of the correct character. Missing it could be the difference of a line or two, so it required some practice to get the timing right, especially if I was using Auto-Skip.
Actually taking control was easy. Just press the L and R buttons when they appear at the edges of the screen and you’d cycle through the available characters. The problem was when to take control of whom because when that character left a scene, you’d be following him or her. This meant that you’d meet different people and find out more behind the assassination from many different points of view.
Of course, if you mind-controlled them, things changed. For example, keeping the Prinny in the bedroom instead of kicking him out of the castle was a big part of figuring out the mystery. Luckily for all those auto-skippers, mind controlling opportunities were pretty blatant. When you arrived at a choice, the dialogue deliberately slowed down and you got the option to control by pressing triangle. Of course, you could also just press X to bypass it. If you did take the chance, three choices would pop up. If this wasn’t your first time of coming to that choice, the previously selected choices would appear black, while never-chosen choices would be in green. This really helped for collecting all the compendium entries, as well as beating the time limit if you couldn’t decide what to chose. On the bottom of the screen was a Prinny (not you, but just a random one. Don’t worry) and a bomb that slowly approached it, and you must make your choice before the bomb reached the zombie penguin. Otherwise, the poor panicking penguin blew up and the dialogue continued on as normal.
As I said before, actually taking action was easy. The timing was what was difficult. Depending on whether you managed to catch the mind control options, the story diverged, and it was with these deviations that the Prinny discovered what happened. His notes were actually available from the menu and provided hints to get different endings, which would also differ depending on who was in control of as you approached the ending scenes.
The game had a total of 13 different endings, plus an extra one that was appended to the end of almost every ending if you’d watched all of the others. The sheer number may be intimidating, but often it was just a matter of going down the same route and changing who you were in control of. Still, the difference in perspective was amusing and the small homage to other NIS games was interesting as well. Out of the different endings, some led to Disgaea 2 (which essentially places this game between Disgaea 1 and 2), and a few led to Phantom Brave as well. One actually led to Disgaea 1 itself, introducing an odd time paradox that … admittedly confused me.
Disgaea Infinite was relatively short, especially if you love Auto-Skip, but the exploration between different perspectives, choices and the background behind the various aspects of the Netherworld certainly made the game interesting for me, even though I was a hardened, jaded veteran to Disgaeaen humor.