After playing countless Japanese and Western RPGs throughout the years, I have always appreciated the art of RPG design. I also enjoy what many companies bring to the table in terms of character design, battle system, music, and storyline. Fond memories I have of Japanese RPGs and their fantastical approach to storytelling, shoehorned in with the anime aesthetics that had put Japan on the map for their comic and animation art over the past sixty or so years. Over time, the Japanese Role Playing Game would evolve past the Dragon Quest/Final Fantasy system that would just focus on the offensive and defensive act of battle. This evolution would end up being the advent of the Strategy Role Playing Game, by which movement of your units was just as important as the act of attacking or defending. The newest addition from the land of the Rising Sun being brought to west, thanks to publisher Aksys Games, is a really cool SRPG called Record of Agarest War.
Now, before I go any further, I would like to talk about a small marketing issue with the game. The retail version of Agarest War for the 360 comes in a package called the Naughty Edition, by which images of just the female characters are plastered all over the box in very suggestive fashion. This version is packed with a pillow case depicting one of the female characters along the length of the case, as well as a computer mouse-pad that simulates a female character’s bursting cleavage while strategically giving you a wrist rest on the pad. However, with all of the implied naughty-bits, this game only gets to be about as much erotic as the very box that the game comes in. Sure, every girl looks like she about to lose her top, and there is an anime clichéd steam bath scene by which is only playfully suggestive, but the game never enters into an adults-only territory. So for all you girl loving otaku out there just know that this game is not nearly as erotic as it seems.
Now that we have the creepiness out of the way, onto the game itself. Agarest War takes place in an anime inspired fantasy world full with enough gods to make Clash of the Titans cry. The beginning of the game depicts a great battle involving twelve different gods, the origin of evil, and how all of the gods ended up dead or sacrificed themselves to restore order to the broken land. The main story starts with a soldier named Leonhardt, who is you typical nice guy lead character. Leonhardt is preparing himself to go into battle when he stumbles across a group of his comrades cornering a female elf with the intent on murdering her due to the fears of an on-coming evil.
Leonhardt rushes to the rescue and battles his own solders, thus committing insurrection to his own kind. After Leonhardt almost kills off all of the men, a “dark knight” approaches Leonhardt and makes short work of him. Just as Leonhardt is about to die, a beautiful mystical girl appears before him and offers him the strength to make even the god’s themselves afraid. Leonhardt is so adamant about saving the life of the elf girl that he accepts the offer at any cost. The cost is that of Leonhardt’s soul and the soul of all of his offspring. Thus begins an adventure that will span five generations.
The gameplay of Agarest War can seem very complex and convoluted at the beginning. However, with enough patience and watching the included tutorial you will be battling tyrants in no time. The basics of battle take place on a battle grid in the environment, by which your heroes and the enemy party are placed staring at each other in two battle formations. Now this is a turn based strategy game, however characters that have higher agility will get their turn before a character with low agility. Each turn consists of two phases, the move phase and the action phase.
The move phase is when you attempt to move your heroes into positions on the field that will be beneficial to victory. The action phase is when you can attack the enemy or use items. One thing to keep in mind is that each character has a set number of AP or Ability Points, and as you move your characters or perform any action the AP for that character will decrease for that turn. This makes the battle system very enjoyable due to the fact that you can save AP by not moving so much and forcing an enemy unit to deplete his AP, thus giving you a high margin advantage that could lead up to attacking the enemy multiple times in the same turn, great stuff.
Another interesting mechanic in Agarest War is the fact that the story is divided up into multiple generations. The soul breed system is kind of like the dating-sim portion of the game by which the lead male character will date and fall in love with one of three female characters of that particular generation. You have to know what the girl likes and know what to say to her, what happens next is what defines the theme of the game. The main storyline continues from the perspective of the male offspring of the last generation. You see the adventure through new eyes as you re-amass another group of heroes and so on and so on for a one hundred plus hour game.
Now, when I first started to play this game, I felt like the graphics were a relic of the past decade of gaming and would have been a much suitable addition on the Playstaion 2 about eight years ago. However, between the very nice HD anime portraits of the characters and the overall charm of the game, I began to drink the Kool-Aid if you will. One thing that this game does have is heart, despite the fact that this game was marketed as being “naughty.”
The sound of Agarest War also has a nice style to it. The soundtrack is very whimsical, by which is invoking the fantasy theme. The music ranges from the average JPOP, some almost X-Japan styled metal, to almost new age landscape. Most of the character to character dialog is spoken in its original Japanese, which is a very good thing that most fans will appreciate. However, the audio for the voices does seem to be a little bit low, but that’s a minor grip.
Overall, Record of Agarest War is a nice quality title for the next generation consoles. The graphics and sound might not be very impressive but the gameplay and the heart of the game just might creep up on you and make you a fan, I know it did me.
Note: If you get the downloadable PSN version, prepare yourself and your hard drive for a ten gigabyte install.
Review copy provided by publisher.