The latest RPG/dating sim from Red Entertainment and Compile Heart has landed in the USA, thanks to Aksys. Record of Agarest War Zero is the prequel to last year’s sleeper SRPG hit, which was available in a retail version on the 360 and online-only on PS3. This time around, both the PS3 and 360 versions are available at retail.
The world of Agarest is a world where the gods of darkness and light, and their human servants, are engaged in a never-ending war for control of the entire world. One day, Sieghart, a soldier for the Light Armies and the hero of the story, happens upon a young woman being pursued by the Dark Armies. Sieghart attacks her assailants, but is mortally wounded in the process. The young woman, whose name is Mimel, heals Sieghart, but in the process, transfers her immense magical powers to him, essentially making Sieghart a super hero for the Light Armies. Agarest War Zero follows the story of Sieghart, and later his son Leonis as they battle fierce monsters and fall in love with beautiful women.
The battle portions of the game will be familiar to anyone who’s played a grid-based SRPG such as Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea. You place your soldiers on the battle grid, and the battle plays out as you position your characters and launch attacks against enemies. Positioning is very important in Agarest War Zero. By positioning your characters in certain areas relative to each other, which can be determined by highlighting them on the battle screen, you can chain your characters’ attacks into devastating combo attacks as well as new attacks that can be only unlocked by mixing your characters’ attacks together. Be warned – like all SRPGs, the enemies have the same abilities as your party and will take advantage of their own combo attacks. Poor planning and execution can spell defeat. Agarest War Zero features one of the deeper SRPG engines out there. While the uninitiated will be intimidated away from this system, SRPG fans will have a great time with AW0′s battles. The only hitch is that the game’s controls may take some getting used to, even for SRPG veterans. The controls are not quite as intuitive as those in the better-known SRPG series, and you may find yourself moving your characters to the wrong location or inadvertently cancelling moves before you get the hang of the controls.
In between battle scenes, the game’s story plays out in visual-novel sequences that feature animated talking anime portraits. Like all SRPGs, AW0 is heavy in political intrigue. However, one of the major elements of the game is Sieghart’s relationship with the women in his squadron. The dating sim element plays out in a similar fashion to the SMT: Persona games, or Sakura Wars, of which Red Entertainment was one of the main designers. Sieghart’s responses to certain speech checks will affect the way his female companions feel about him. One response may raise one woman’s affection while inflaming another woman’s jealousy, lowering her affection. Ultimately, your choices of dialogue will affect which woman Sieghart chooses to marry, and therefore the attributes of his son, Leonis. The social links aspect of Agarest War Zero only allows for two generations instead of five as in the original game, however, in Agarest War Zero, these elements are much more detailed and expansive. Dialogue choices will affect the female characters’ overall dialogue as well as their choice of attire.
For those who completed the original Agarest War, Agarest War Zero allows you to import your completed saved data from the original game. This opens an “Door to the Future” mode where you can unlock characters from the original Agarest War for use in Agarest War Zero.
Other than the visual novels and the battle aspects, the game allows you to interact with towns, where events and shops abound. In the blacksmith shop, you can create more powerful weapons and armor using a fairly extensive crafting system. The Adventurer’s Guild allows you to craft new abilities and breed captured monsters. Occasionally towns will have “vacation periods” where you can build your social links or otherwise take a break from the grind.
Visually, Agarest War Zero is a mixed bag. The artistry definitely outshines the technical aspects. Agarest War Zero’s graphics are a low-resolution mix of 2-D sprites on 3-D backgrounds. While the sprites are fairly well-animated for what they are, they will still disappoint anyone looking for state-of-the-art visuals. The spell effects are not spectacular, but well done. Agarest War Zero features very detailed anime art that leans towards the “moe” style with regards to the women. The anime portraits in the visual novels are animated and change expressions.
The game’s sound is a much stronger point. Agarest War Zero’s soundtrack is very high-quality, if typical Japanese game fare, with suitably heroic tunes fitting the theme of the game. Those who purchase the collector’s edition will no doubt want to copy the music on the CD to their iPods. Agarest War Zero is subtitled Japanese, which is the style generally preferred by anime fans, as Japanese voice-acting conventions generally don’t translate well into English. The only downside to the voice acting is that the characters make brief verbalization in Japanese during battles – but there are no subtitles in battles, so you won’t know what the characters are saying when they launch attacks or fall in battle.
Overall, I found Record of Agarest War Zero to be a very worthwhile and engaging experience. Fans of SRPGs as well as fans of the original game will enjoy Agarest War Zero greatly, as it improves on the depth and challenge of the original game, but will provide the same overall experience that they enjoyed from the first game. Although people who are already intimidated by SRPGs will be scared away by Agarest War Zero’s difficulty, the adventurous who are looking for an alternative to the summer AAA blockbusters should also look into this game.