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Disgaea Infinite Preview

Chris_Hudak By:
GENRE Strategy RPG 
DEVELOPER Nippon Ichi Software 
T Contains Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes

What do these ratings mean?

Dood ain't here no more.

Well, that's what the denizens of the Disgaea universe would be saying—if an unknown person or persons had actually succeeded in offing the arrogant (and issue-riddled) Netherworld overlord Leharl.

click to enlargeInstead, it turns out that the person or persons involved actually botched the assassination attempt—and infernal overlord Leharl is understandably pissed off about the whole business: The investigation of the outrage has now fallen, inexplicably, to a lone, lowly, peg-legged, demon-winged (and literally/potentially explosive) slave-penguin—or, as such creatures have become known to a respectable segment of video gamers, a 'prinny'.

This was one of those Tokyo Game Show sparkles we initially weren't sure was going to reach American shores—or any shores outside Japan for that matter. While previous games set in developer Nippon Ichi Software's Disgaea universe have followed a consistent formula—namely that of the turn-based strategy game, infused with hardcore complexity, oft-bewildering depth, and a fairly merciless learning-curve that belies the series' pervasive goofy humor and unassuming, old-school visuals—Disgaea Infinite veers off on a gameplay tack entirely new to the series: That of the 'visual novel', so elsewhere prevalent in the Japanese PC gaming scene.

The form isn't unknown to North American gamers, of course, but it certainly isn't what you'd call 'popular' here. For Disgaea Infinite, imagine the console-game incarnation (PSP, in this case) of a graphic novel—heavy on the anime-esque static visuals, interactive dialogue, and scattered decision-points—and you're basically in the right ballpark. The mechanics of what one might normally call 'gameplay' are kept to a minimum, the emphasis instead being on the immersion in and advancement of the story.

Disgaea Infinite also has the distinction of being the first title in the series proper to let players take the role of a prinny as an actual, main character. (Prinnies, alas, have hitherto been relegated to lowly, doomed, sacrificial roles—roles vacillating in survival-likelihood somewhere between those of Stalingrad front-liners, Hussein's 'elite' Republican Guard cannon-fodder, and garden-variety Al-Qaeda vest-testers).

click to enlargeOf course, our prinny protag has no choice but to obey orders: The hapless demonic penguin needs to try and ferret out the weaselly dog who tried to—okay, I'll stop...

Anyway, to aid his investigation, the prinny/player employs a special clock called—wait for it—Tick Tock. Through a combination of traveling back in time and 'possessing' different characters, players will be able to see through the eyes (and read the secret thoughts) of those who have become suspects in the attempted assassination. Watch out for those whose thoughts are increasingly different from their dialogue as they talk to others, and you can start to unravel the mystery of who tried to take out Laharl.

Visually, Disgaea Infinite looks like it'll make fans of the series right at home. It's like an expanded volume of the story/dialogue segments from games like Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness or Disgaea 3, layered with some of the surreal craziness from the game's more absurd, over-the-top combat animations.

Disgaea Infinite is slated for a North American release in May 2010. Expect to see the return of Laharl, Etna, Flonne, and Gordon, as well as some other TBD “notable characters” from the series... not to mention a buttload of other prinnies (what, you think just because you're the star character, you're all Special, Dood?!)

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