Record of Agarest War: Not So Naughty, But Nice
Initially downloading the game from the Playstation Network, I ran into a few hiccups. After sitting through a slew of system updates, it seemed as though I might be on my way to jumping into the game feet first. This proved to be a naïve assumption as downloading the game proved to be a challenge in and of itself. Failing twice due to poor connection to the PSN or because the PS3 would shut off mid-download, the game finally seemed to make it on the system sometime around day four of my attempts. Barring all of that, launching the game ultimately came off as more of a relief than anything else – my anticipation somewhat dulled by all the hoops I had to jump through. [note: the game download is about 8gb, and your PS3 must have 18gb of free space to perform the download and installation]
The game kicks off by allowing players to select one of three standard difficulties (Easy, Normal and Hard), all of which minutely change the overall course of play without drastically shifting the presentation of the story. Regardless of the chosen difficulty though, the game goes out of its way to remind players that any experience and items garnered during an initial playthrough can be utilized during a second course of play at that same difficulty setting. The only exception being for players who opt to go through the game on the hardest setting, which then allows them to carry items over to a subsequent playthrough on any difficulty. However, this assumes the player will want to play the game a second time after their first one-hundred hour romp.
Echoing other titles in the genre, general gameplay is divided into two phases, the ‘Movement Phase’ and the ‘Action Phase’. Movement occurs on a grid as is the modus operandi of SRPG titles with characters possessing the highest agility granting the ability to go first. Action follows with combat occurring in order determined by agility and action points, which delineates what skills a character is able to mobilize against enemies. Skills, whether for attack or support, only work within a certain range of enemies and require action points to be activated. Moreover, characters are able to ‘Stand by’ in order to accrue action points to execute larger, deadlier attacks. Additionally, the turn order bracket will seem relatively standard fair to anyone who has played Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea, so don’t expect to be shocked with anything new.
Visually, however, it should be noted that while the game isn’t necessarily pushing the cell processor of the PlayStation 3 to the edge of it’s limits, the game is exceptionally pleasing to the eye. The hand drawn artistry of the high-def cutscenes offers an anime-flavored deference to the battles, which take place amidst 3D environments with 2D sprites. Admittedly, the art style becomes vastly enticing over the course of the game and will certainly rub off on just about anyone, regardless of how many SRPG titles they have or haven’t played. Despite a relatively low amount of gameplay similarities to other games amidst the genre, Agarest War’s artistic prevalence is without a doubt what sets it apart from its contemporaries.
Following every battle, players will be treated to a post-battle report of sorts. Clear bonuses will be detailed illustrating how fast the fight was cleared and award a rank between A and S. On top of the clear bonus, players will see the typical RPG-fair of gaining experience points and then be asked if they wish to save. On the off-chance of a character leveling up, players will be able to allocate points to strength, vitality, agility, intelligence and luck. Thus, overall serving up a relatively standard experience to just about any veteran role-playing gamer.
The story follows Leonheart, a hero who must give up his soul and those of his descendants to be able to fight an ancient evil that has awakened and must somehow be put back to rest. It is amidst the story that players will become intimately acquainted with a plethora of various personalities. However, the unique dating mechanic in the game will determine who your character will mate with, creating a descendant for you to assume the role of in the next chapter of gameplay. As interesting as the mechanic is though and as ‘naughty’ as the game purports this to be, you are never really treated to any sort of visual feast of flesh, so any expectation of seeing bare skin best be put to rest lest you set yourself up for disappointment.
Naughty or not, the game perpetrates itself as something that it really isn’t – and that is where a majority of the disappointment lies. Truly serving up an experience that is closer to an exceptional strategy-RPG as opposed to an opportunity to ogle some digital assets, that’s where the real power of Agarest War lies. The dialogue comes off solidly written, if not a bit cliché at time. The same goes for the music, which seems to fade into the background, remaining unexceptional throughout the entirety of the game. But where these flaws are glaringly apparent, the solid gameplay is a doubtless equal of any other title in the genre.
The only remaining concern, however, is if genuinely strong gameplay can be enough to carry a player through a 100+ hour game. Certainly, the narrative fluctuates between exceptional and expected at times, but this merely serves to reinforce the overall importance of the gameplay. For the players new to the genre, the game has more than enough tutorials to not only ensure an understanding of every aspect of Agarest War, but to keep it’s claws in anyone who might find themselves losing interest early on. Succinctly, anyone who has an interest in the genre will enjoy the game while those picking up or downloading the game on a whim may find it to be hit-and-miss. Though it can keep the most dedicated busy well beyond a hundred hours, few will have the fortitude to endure two playthroughs as I found the first to be more than satisfying.
Record of Agarest War is available on the 360 in a special collectors edition for around $60, and is available as a digital download-only title on the Playstation Network for $45.