Gladius is an underrated and almost forgotten RPG.
When you start the game, you can pick between Valen's story or Ursula's story. I was planning on playing them both for the review, but Ursula's story was alot longer than I had expected. I wasn't expecting no more than a 30 hour game, but I well exceeded that deadline.
Just based on Ursula's story, I really enjoyed this game and the game play. Just the fact that there's two storylines, Co-Op AND Versus mode boosts Gladius' value up 100%, to bad the story and dialog just wasn't all that engaging. I never felt any major 'world destruction' or any thing I had to stop til the end of the game. This made me not want to rush to the next land or progress the story because the battle system is pretty good (although not the best Turn-based Strat. I've played).
Gladius seems a bit influenced by Lord of the Rings movies, but I find nothing wrong with that.
Gladius is a Turn-based Strategy / RPG, the closest thing to compare it to for the Gamecube is Fire Emblem. Your goal in the game is to win the High Tournament. To do that you have to win a talisman that proves your rank as an Amateur, Semi-Pro and finally Professional. Once you get your rank, that means you can fight in the those leagues. Each league has their own Tournament. To enter that tournament you have to win a certain amount of cups, it varies with each league. To win cups you have to win each league battles within the leagues. They usually have their own requirements to entire, like Rank, Popularity, Money and Badges. Once you have those requirements filled you can enter those battles to win points. When those points reach the desired max, you will win a cup. After you win all the tournament within each land, you can finally prove yourself by winning the Championship and move on to the next land, then win their talisman and rinse, wash, repeat until the game ends. Does this all sound confusing? Well I sure was before I started this game, but it's a pretty simple concept once you have the controller in your hand and the game in front of your face.
I had a few problems with the battle system, but its fairly easy to adapt to. The biggest problem I had was you can't run up to an enemy and then attack him with a special attack. You can run up to him and attack but that's only it. You have to wait until the enemy gets to you, or you get next to the enemy before you unleash a special attack (this is of course limited to low-ranged attackers). Once I got an archer in my team the game got pretty simple, since all I had to do is sit back and snipe all the characters off.
Your skills are attack (melee attack, defend, run), Combo (you can have up to 4 combo attacks), Innate (a status or helpful skill you can't control like a defense boost or counter), Special (a spell type move) and Affinity (an element attack). Most of these skills use up skill points between 1 - 6. They only give you 6 skill points at the beginning of a match, but after each turn you gain a skill point back. If you use an attack that uses up 6 skill points, you'll have to wait until your skill points are back up before using another high end attack like that. Your weapons are also equipped with elemental traits, so when you attack you gain Affinity points as well. You can only use these Affinity points with your Affinity skills, and they're only limited to 4 skills per-element and you can only use your weapons element too. This is useful incase you're fighting a strong enemy and run out of skill points for your high end attacks but saved up your Affinity points for one last blow, then gain a skill point after that for the next turn.
When you attack you use a meter, similar to a golf simulator. When you use a normal attack, a countdown starts 1-2-3 and then a bar goes across a long orange meter (normal attack), then to a small red bar (critical attack) and finally to a blue car (weak / miss). The speed of the bar varies between characters and that can throw you off. If you use a combo attack you can use up to 6 bars on the screen, and the harder it gets to do. If you're an archer you have to stop the bar in the middle or beginning of the meter in what they call "aiming". In some you have to match the buttons that appear before the bar goes past the red or orange meter. Another one you have to alternate between the A and B button until you reach the red or orange bar to before the meter stops. There's not a lot of meters to use, but you have to be quick with them or you'll screw up. The battle system reminds me a bit of Paper Mario to an extent.
Each battle can have up to 16 players at a time. You can choose at a maximum of 8, but that's rare when you can. Before each battle you have to choose the fighters you want out of the requirements stated before the fight. Some fights you'll only have to fight with Fire Affinity players, or some with only Female players, or some with only Heavy characters. This mixes up the game up so you use characters you otherwise would ignore. Before the fight begins you have to pick your characters positions on a map. Sometimes you get a choice of anywhere on the map, or they can place you in certain spots you can't get out of, this makes the game more of a strategy based than power / experienced based like some games. There's some odd leagues within the game too. There's some where you have to break the most barrels, or see who's team can stand on box or hill the longest, or who's team can make the most damage and so on. These levels usually take more skill than your average "kill everything first" melee fights. Most of these are at the beginning of the game too.
In the battles you'll sometimes find treasures, or exploding barrels, or statues that breathe fire at you. There are also boxes and stones and steps you can get on that will give you a height advantage over some enemies to increase your damage. If you attack an enemy from the side or behind that will also increase damage. If you're doing really well in the fight, the audience will get behind you. The more the audience gets behind your team the better you'll do, your Initiative, Move or Critical will boost varying how high they like you.
You gain experience after each battle is won and the experience is separated equally between the fighters that fought the battle. The characters you didn't use also gain a fraction of that experience too so they won't be left behind to much. After you gain a level, all your stats will boost and they'll give you 15 job points. With these job points you can use them to buy new skills at your schools menu screen. Within each Rank they will cap your experience. If you're an Amateur, you can't go over the 5th level, Semi-Pro you can't go over the 10th level, and Professional at the 15th level. As you get your last rank you can go up the to 30th level though. This makes the games within each rank a little more challenging and fair. I thought it was a bit stupid at first, but it makes since. The ranks also cap how many recruits you can accept at a time as well. You can have up to 20 characters at a time by the end of the game.
There's a huge variety of fighters in the game, from bears to barbarians to archers, casters, zombies, goblins the list goes on. They're separated into categories like Heavy (Yeti, Ogre, Minotuar), Medium (Barbarian), Light (Berserker, Mongrel, Secutor), Support (Archer, Gungnir), Arcane (Summoner, Caster), and Beast (bear, wolf, scorpion). The only problem is there's not a lot of skills in the game and alot of the different classes use alot of the same skills.
At each League they have a recruitment center where you can buy characters to join your team or rent them out for just one match. You'll need to do buy and expel characters often if you want to complete a few levels that have crazy requirements.
----------Characters / Story----------
Gladius is more about game play than it is about story. With that said, the intro to the game really sucked me into the game. It told a great back story about how the events started and talked about the Affinity Gods and other important plot points. After that though, Ursula's story just doesn't hold up to the intro. She just wants to prove herself to her father and her brother. The storyline goes in a familiar fashion. Each land starts with a little bit of dialog with the main characters, you'll be introduced to a new character, she'll have a dream or nightmare, then they'll hint to something related to Ursula's power and then you finish the tournaments and go to the next land and repeat. There's dialog each time you visit a new arena and there's some before a few battles, but it's mostly forgettable stuff that rarely is important to anything. Towards the end of the game they hit you with a ton of storyline. If the whole game was like it was at the end, then I might of enjoyed the storyline a bit more.
The three major characters from Ursula's story don't exactly progress their personalities much since the start of the game. Urlan doesn't trust anyone, thinks his sister is stupid, borderline racist (or maybe nationalist) and thinks he's the strongest person alive. Ursula is way to naive for her own good. Usus is the old know-it-all manager type. I doubt Valen's story will be alot different.
The style of the pre-rendered cutscenes are extremely beautiful. They mix still drawings with cgi to make it almost look like a messed up-crazy pop-up book. The main characters look ok and have a decent amount of variety to them but when they show them up close during a cut scene they look like corpses. The in-game cutscenes look a little blocky. It's not exactly on Final Fantasy X or Xenosaga's level of graphics performance, but it's better than most games. The main problem I had with the in-game cutscenes was the bad editing between scenes and how the mouths didn't match up with the voices to well. Sometimes they would reuse the same characters in the exact same positions and camera angles but with different backgrounds. That seemed a bit lazy to me.
You can adjust or edit your characters looks the school menu. This gives you a little control over what your characters look like. You can change their skin, hair and clothes color. When you equip a new item, it will show up on your character, even in the in-game cutscenes. Special attacks are very minimal, just sparks or flares will show up. I love when you kill something and they over act their deaths. There IS blood in the game, when you slash at a character blood will splatter. There just isn't a blood puddle after they fall to the ground. A blood puddle just sounds like overkill to me, although I did see one blood puddle after I killed a tiger or lion once. That must of been a mistake by the programmers. The characters only stay dead for a turn or two before they disappear, there's really no lose.
Every league has a nice personalty to it, but out of the 4 lands there's only around 18 leagues. Each League looks different but they're very small and you'll be fighting in the same league over and over again. It can get bland after a while.
There was only a few bugs I encountered. One was if you had to many people on screen there would be alot of slow-downs. Slow-downs are really bad in a game like this where you have to time a meter to win. Another small one only happened once to me, but I got against a wall and the screen started to scramble and distort to where I couldn't see the meter to well. After I moved away from the wall it cured. The camera is really bad at times, it can turn against you at anytime. Sometimes a character may run off screen, and it will take a second for the camera to catch up.
The loading times are extremely bad, even just to my school's menu feels like a chore. Luckily they place a nice random Q & A to read while its loading. This can help out alot early in the game. You can view a list of the next possible turns, but you can't see whose turn it is until you have control of your character, by that time you don't care whose turn it is. If there's a small gap, pit or pillar, your cursor won't go through it, and you'll have to move it all the way around until you're past it to select your mark. Once you start to attack, your character will start to animate while the meter is running, and sometimes the character you're attempting to attack will react before you hit it (mostly wolves). This can really throw you off your timing, and you rarely get to see your animations. This speeds up the action though.
The voice overs are pretty damn good overall. The two main characters Ursula and Valens are voiced by a pair of semi-celebrities like Linda Cardellini of E.R., Scooby-Doo (Thelma) and Freaks & Geeks fame and Michael Rosenbaum of Smallville (Lex Luther) fame. All the characters have their own personal catch phrases and battle cries within battle. This also includes the mercenaries and enemies you fight. Everyone has a few of them and they play them at random, not every time you use a move so it doesn't get over done like in some RPGs.
The music is good, but there's not alot of variety and you'll often hear the same battle theme over and over again for each land.
The world map is separate into four sections, Nordagh, Imperia, Windward Steppe and Southern Expanse. Each land has between 2-7 arenas to fight in. You can walk across the world map to move between arenas. The world map is the only place where you can optionally talk to people or buy accessories. You can run into random encounters on the world map, and similar to Fire Emblem, if your character dies in a random battle, they're dead forever. It also takes forever to run into a random encounter. I walked around for 10 minutes once to finally get one. The camera is fix on your character the whole time, so you can't rotate the camera at all. I only found a couple puzzles while on the world map, so there's not to much of a point to go around looking for secrets.
There's really no towns to visit, and the people you talk to outside don't help you any. So the only person you optionally talk to that tells you rumors, hits or secrets is the owner of the weapons / armor shop you find in every League.
When you're in one of the lands for the first time, you can't exit it until you beat the Championship in that land. Once you leave and enter the next town, you can't go back to the previous one. After you beat all 4 championships in the game, you can freely walk across the whole world map and revisit any league. There's also boats you can rent that will take you to your desired destination a little faster.
----------Time to Complete Game (first run through, save after final boss)----------
52:51 (89 in game Days)
There's no bonus for beating the game, but after you finish your game you can re-start it as Ursula or Valens (whoever you didn't start the game with) and get a different storyline and I think unlock some different tournaments you couldn't reach in the previous storyline.
There was alot of sidequests and leagues I didn't finish before beating the game, just Ursula's story might be around 70-90 hours long if you finish the game 100%.