Generations of Love and War – Record of Agarest War Zero Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
It’s not very often you come across a game that spans multiple lives and generations. In fact, I believe it’s rare enough that you can count the number of games on one hand. Record of Agarest War Zero is one such game. A story of duty, honour, deceit and full of sexual innuendo, the prequel to Record of Agarest War takes place about 1000 years prior and explores events mentioned in the first game. Spanning two generations (unlike its predecessor which had 5), and feeling akin to watching a play, this strategy JRPG is different from many of the Eastern games on the Xbox 360, but that’s in no way a bad thing. You might want to book time off from work though, because this one has over 60 hours of gameplay. While I’m a fan of long games, this felt almost too long. Almost.
Agarest War Zero is unique in the fact that instead of one protagonist who sticks it out the entire game, it features two. The story follows Sieghardt, and eventually his son Leonis, using the “soul breed” system. The concept of Soul Breeding is simple: win the affections of a given female character, and ‘breed’ so that your successor (i.e. your son) comes to fruition, carrying some of your traits/attributes à la the genetic lottery. In this game, there are three women and your choices and actions throughout the game will determine their affection for you. There are 6 stages of affection: hate, dislike, neutral, like, affectionate, love. Whoever has the highest affection at the end of the generation marries Sieghardt and they have a child who then takes over Sieghardt’s task. For Leonis, the six women you may choose from will impact the ending in each of their respective ways.
The plot is not entirely novel: the gods of Agarest are at war, between the light and dark sides. Sieghardt is a captain for the forces of light whose goal is to end the war so people can live in peace. His life is saved by a mysterious girl, who transfers her power to him in the process, and their fates become tied together. The story reaches a point where Sieghardt is unable to continue and the burden falls onto his son Leonis. Leonis’ appearance, weapon of choice and stats will vary, depending upon which girl his father marries, the choices you make throughout the game, and what stats you chose for Sieghardt at the start. In a way, when you create Sieghardt, you’re also starting to shape Leonis, so forethought is an asset from the get-go.
The actual gameplay consists of three components: exploration, battle and events. Exploration takes place on the world map where you can save your game, customise your characters (e.g. stats, weapons, skills and accessories), change formation and which units are in battle (up to 6 characters). Remember to drop into towns, as they have shops, the occasional event, and sometimes ‘vacation days’. Vacation days are exactly how they sound: a break from travelling and war for you and your battle-weary character. Points you receive from certain story events determine how many conversations you can have in a vacation day. You then pick areas from a list to explore with the hope that there is someone of importance to talk to. These vacation days aren’t necessary for story-line and are only there for fun, but are nice little breaks that often bring a laugh or two.
Battles take place in a strategy mode not unlike Final Fantasy Tactics, where your characters fight on a grid whose size and shape are determined by starting formation (unless the story calls for a fixed grid). Events progress the story, unlock new areas or pictures for your gallery, change the affection of the women, or just give you a good laugh. All three aspects seem to be balanced so as not to get monotonous, though I did find one point of the game to be extremely battle heavy.
Battling is slightly complex, and as with most of these games there is a learning curve. Each turn is set into two phases: movement, where you move your characters into different positions and have them face a direction; and action, where you use abilities on enemies within range. At the start of each turn, all characters gain AP (action points) which allows you to move and use items or abilities. Each Skill has its own AP count, as well as skill type like basic, fire, thunder, power, etc. Enemies can absorb certain skill types, yet there is no way of knowing who absorbs what, which I find terribly annoying as it broke my strategy more than once. Strangely, there is no simple “attack” option, as each skill is either an attack, a magic, or a heal/buff that has its own range that the enemy must be in for it to be used (unless you’re in an “Extended Area”). Each character has a formation around them called an “Extended Area”, and if an ally is within this area you can attack a target regardless of attack or weapon range; it also allows you to string large combos between characters and enables you to combine certain abilities into larger more powerful ones. There are also your “willpowers”, which are character-unique buffs which remain active at all times (such as not taking magic damage when under 25% HP).
Interesting enough, the first game is actually included in Agarest Zero. To play it, you need to unlock it by completing a play-through in Zero and loading the “extra mode” (which is a harder version of Zero). Unfortunately, it is only a “digest” version of the game where every choice is made for you towards the “canon” ending. You still play through all five original generations, but everything is extremely limited; you can’t choose which woman to ‘breed’ with nor which paths to take, and battles will only occur if they are story related. Furthermore, each generation is unlocked at certain points as you progress in the Extra Mode, making the Original game more of a flash-forward/foretelling, rather than a game to play through in its entirety.
Now let’s be honest, Agarest Zero’s graphics could have been done on earlier platforms. In fact, it looks much like Xenogears. Battles, the world map, and some events are done with sprites. Not exactly ground breaking beauty, but strangely it works quite well and feels in no way out of place. It actually gives a nostalgic feeling of playing an older game while in battles and the feeling of watching a play during events. A standard event looks like a combination between manga and anime: Two characters, drawn in an anime style, share text back and forth. With the push of the start button, the text will progress automatically with the voice acting, so you don’t have to constantly press the A button to continue. However, sometimes the text scrolls through faster than you can read. Only two characters are shown on screen at a time, and if a third needs to speak then one of the first two is replaced by the new character. Stances never change, but the facial expressions are more dynamic. This might have been boring after a while, but the game saves itself by having 2D characters that are lifelike, in that they breathe, shift their eyes, move their mouths and even adjust their expressions in real time. Any event where multiple characters need to be present, or movement/combat is involved, it uses the same sprite characters similar to battles. The character design is pretty great, no one seems to look ridiculous or out of place. Its graphics overall are nothing powerful, but it’s made to look old-fashioned rather than high-tech.
The game series is sometimes labelled as being erotic, but most of this comes from some of the female outfits and sexual innuendo throughout. There are some unlockable gallery pictures that are pushing limits (but still no nudity), so keep little eyes and hands away from this game. Some character designs seem to outright copy the original though, which seems a little cheap to me. Unfortunately, the digest version of Agarest War does not use the “living art” effect and uses simple pictures. While this was to be expected, it would have been nice to see the original artwork redone to match the new game.
When it comes to the voices, all are done in Japanese. I would have liked the option to choose between either an English or Japanese voice cast, because even though some English voiceovers can be flat out terrible, constant reading can be just as annoying. Battle banter, on the other hand, has no subtitles, so it’s your best guess as to what they say. Although this lacking isn’t a game breaker, it feels very overlooked or ignored. Sound effects, while they do their job, can be wildly out of place or a complete mismatch (for example, someone taking a drink sounds like a large water drop in an echoing cavern). There is only one draw weapon sound, and when more than one character does it at a time it creates an irritating echo. The sound effects could have and really should have been a lot better.
The soundtrack is actually quite lovely, combining pretty orchestral pieces, some upbeat jazzy riffs, and some interesting rock battle themes. However, it can be a little repetitive, seeing as you get the same world map theme for the entire game. While Agarest Zero’s soundtrack isn’t all that bad, its downfall is that it’s pretty much all a revamp of the first game. Great the first time, but I found myself turning on a playlist from my PC while playing long periods of time.
All in all, Record of Agarest War Zero was a great game that I enjoyed very much. It took all of the amazing things from the first game, expanded upon them and made them better. It’s a very long game, one that took me a bit more than a month to get through, so get ready for a long haul. I wasn’t blown away or awe struck from it, and it had some rough spots, but it was a game I could just sit back and enjoy. Hopefully it’s picked up enough of a following that its sequel, Record of Agarest War 2, can hit North America as well! The game is available for the PS3 and the Xbox 360.
Final score: 3.5 / 5
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