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Review #426

Record of Agarest War Zero: Limited Edition
Developers: Idea Factory/Red Entertainment
Publisher: Aksys Games
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release Date: 06/15/2011

I purposely waited this long to review Record of Agarest War Zero as I wanted all of the DLC (along with the pricing) to be out before I gave it my final judgment. I’ll admit to being a bit aghast at some of the prices, like six dollars for a new skin for a female character in a dialogue scene (and we though $5 for a new character in Mortal Kombat or Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 was bad!), but at least more than half the DLC is free, right?

I also outright refused to review Record of Agarest War when Aksys brought it stateside, because to be honest, it was the worst handling of a video game I’ve seen this generation. Unlike Europe, which received a very nice collector’s edition under the name Agarest: Generations of War, which I imported to support new publisher Ghostlight, but Aksys brought this massive epic to the PS3 ONLY in downloadable form and in a big snazzy collector’s box for the Xbox 360. To this day, this decision makes no sense and it was worse that you could import the CE from Europe for less than the downloadable North American version on PSN. (You still can BTW). But if you think that was bad, Aksys came up with the decision to market Agarest as if it was a hentai game, implying that it was riddled with sex and naked anime girl boobies. Which is wasn’t. This is a Red Entertainment game after all. Agarest was nothing more than a fantasy version of Sakura Taisen or a tactical version of Thousand Arms. I was honestly disgusted by how Aksys treated my favorite overseas company and I generally go out of my way to support them for bringing over weird little things like Theresia. The end result was people who WANTED a hentai game for the PS3/360 were massively disappointed and the people who just wanted a nice SRPG eschewed the game because of Aksys’ horrid marketing of the title, causing many to miss out on a really good game.

Thankfully, Aksys didn’t make that blunder with the prequel, Agarest War Zero but once again they did do a very different collector’s edition from Ghostlight and unfortunately where Zero all but requires you to have clear data from the first game, the Aksys version is not compatible with the Euro version of the first Agarest, while Ghostlight’s can load save date from either version. Ghostlight -2, Aksys Games -0

With all that in mind though, it’s all about the quality of the game and whether or not Record of Agarest War Zero is worth your hard earned cash. Be warned that trophies fans will be forced to spend money on DLC to earn some trophies and will outright neat Agarest 1 clear data to earn a few others. Of course, trophies don’t really matter to me (the Euro version of the first Agarest doesn’t have any), but just a forewarning to those who care. Now, on with the review.

Let’s Review

1. Story

Unlike the first Agarest title, which spanned four generations, Agarest War Zero spans only two. There are a lot less playable characters, but the game offers more customization of your main character along with more dialog options as your relationship with characters grows.

When you start the game, you are able to craft your first generation main character, Sieghart by first choosing his class (Warrior, Battle Mage, or Sorcerer) and then by choosing skill cards. Think of the skill cards as the character creation process from Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar as they determine your weapon proficiency, starting stats and growth rate of various stats. For example, my Sieghart became a straight up sword wielding warrior who had S rank (better than A) in Strength and Vitality. He also was skilled in Water and Holy arts (which I did on purpose so he could heal and cure status ailments in addition to cutting things). The interesting thing is that you don’t customize Sieghart until an hour or so into the game. Until that time, he’s just a generic fighter for tutorial battle purposes.

The crux of the story is that Sieghart saves a young, but immensely powerful girl named Mimel (not her real name, but she prefers this truncation) from a Larva (a race of normal incorporeal beings), but he is mortally wounded in the process. Mimel brings Sieghart back to life, but in the process accidentally transfers her “Power of Liberation” into him, and also loses her memories in the process. It’s a bit cliché, but it works. From their Sieghart and his ever-growing group of allies has to gather up a collection of artifacts and items that can be forged into a device that will save the world form the encroaching forces of darkness. At the same time, the older brother of the Larva who nearly killed Sieghart (and who was killed when Sieghart was restored) wants revenge and occasionally does battle with Sieghart to boot.

The first generation story is pretty pain by numbers. There really isn’t a plot except for extended fetch quests in between raising (or lowering) the emotional relationship that you have with the women in your party. Even the end battle for the first generation is pretty anti-climatic. I was kind of disappointed there. What saved the story, in my opinion, was how the dialogue between characters evolved as your relationship with them grew. Character portrait skins also change to different costumes as they evolve as well. I did like the characters in the game, and some of the “dating” moments were pretty hilarious (especially with Linda), but the game was noticeably weaker than the first Agarest storywise and especially weaker than most Red Entertainment titles. Still, I enjoyed the characters (except for the young Eugene) and although the plot was pretty generic, I grew to care about the characters and actually felt bad when I had to say good bye to Sieghart and move onto the second generation, which I didn’t care for as much.

Overall, the story is a bit simplistic and it is nowhere as deep (or as long) as the first game in the series, but Agarest War Zero still has a cast and crew of enjoyable characters that you’ll want to get to know, especially if you are a fan of SRPGs. My Sieghart ended up marrying Sayane, by the way. Routier made me feel too much like a pedophile if I chose her and although Linda would have given me a better overall character, she was totally nuts.

Story Rating: 5.5/10

2. Graphics

I was a bit disappointed to see that Agarest War Zero’s battle graphics were almost all rehashed from both the original Generations of War game and several Idea Factory titles like Trinity Universe and Hyperdimension Neptunia. They didn’t even bother to change the coloring of most of them, but the imported Idea Factory monsters did get different names since those games are published by Nippon Ichi. I was hoping that the game would bring a little more to the table visually than it did in battles, but even the same exact skills, spells and visual effects were reused save for a scant few new things. It also doesn’t help that the battle graphics would look more at home on the PS2 rather than on the PS3 in the tail end of its lifespan.

With that said, the story visuals are almost all new, and unlike the first game which featured static visual portraits, Agarest War Zero has animated ones similar to those in well…Trinity Universe and Neptunia. Something else taken from those games. Oy. Still, the character designs all look great and I like that there is SOME animation. Even better, there are multiple skins for characters that can be seen, based on your main character’s current affection rating. Some of the skins might seem a little out of place in a tactical war game, but no one ever said Agarest wasn’t full of fan service.

So, quality character art, but battle graphics that look a generation old and either used the same art from the previous game or scaled down imported versions of monsters from other Idea Factory games . I personally find this lazy and sloppy, but it also is most likely done to keep development costs down. Basically what’s here is decent, but you can definitely tell just from the graphics that the time, energy and heart wasn’t placed into this game compared to the first.

Graphics Rating: 5.5/10

3. Sound

When Ghostlight first localized Agarest: Generations of War for Europe, they did a straight port of the game: No trophies, no English language dub, etc. When Aksys brought it to the US, they did did a straight port of the director’s cut of the game, which again lacked an English language dub. This bothered some gamers but the only place where it annoyed me was in battle sequences as there was talking but no translation of what was being said, so if you didn’t speak Japanese – you were missing out. This same aural issue shows up in Agarest War Zero and since some enemies give a speech once you’ve killed or captured them, you’re left wondering what was just said. This is a minor annoyance in the scheme of things, but this combined with the lack of an English language track will continue to annoy gamers that had a problem with that in the first and could be a deterrent to purchasing the game depending on what side of the “sub Vs. dub” debate you are on.

All that being said, I really enjoyed the voice work in the game. I know enough Japanese to get by and so I could play through the game without being perplexed. The core story is in English and that’s all that really matters to me. Yes it would have helped the game to have English vocals but the cost for that might have been more than either Ghostlight or Aksys would have made from profits on this game. It is a business after all.

The soundtrack to Agarest War Zero is also well done. The Limited Edition comes with CD featuring thirty-four tracks from the game. It makes those four to ten track soundtracks Atlus occasionally puts out look chintzy by comparison. It’s eighty minutes worth of music and it really highlights how wonderful the music in this game is. What you WILL notice though is like much of the game, several tracks from the original game are reused. Again, this kind of reeks of half-assing the game to me, but at least the tracks are remixed…somewhat.

I enjoyed the music and voice acting in the game, but due to the battles game being in Japanese without subtitles and the rehashing of some tracks, I can’t give it higher than that. If you’re fine with Japanese vocals, you’ll be impressed with the auditory quality in the game, but if you are the type of gamer who wants things to only be in English, you’re going to need to look elsewhere

Sound Rating: 6.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

For all the other issues that Agarest War Zero suffers from due to its being mostly a rehash of the first game, I still absolutely love the engine that powers it. The game still uses the same grid based combat like any tactical RPG, but like the first Agarest it uses something called “fields” to help characters chain their attacks together, change when they attack orderwise, and even grant positive or negative status effects based on where someone is on the board. You can switch out fields from the collection you obtain throughout your progression through the game and it’s fun to see how each field changes the battle area. Since SRPGs are my favorite form of the genre, this was a lot of fun for me and I enjoyed seeing how I could chain all my characters together with the least amount of movement.

In battle, characters move and attack based on their Agility rating. However each character also has an extended area around them and if another character lands in one of the extended area boxes, they link together and can attack together. This also lets a character with a low agility move up its attack turn if it is linked to a high agility character.

Attacks for each character are based on what skills you give them. Each character has four to six skill slots in their person and up to another four in their weapon. So if a character has two “power” skill slots, a “water” and a “holy,” but you really want them to have a fire or “extra” skill, you’ll need to equip a weapon that will allow them access to those types. You can also link certain skills and together to make new more powerful ones known as “arts.” Once you unlock an art combination (either by sheer luck or by obtaining a Secret Arts book which containing some “how-to’s”), it will go in your Esoterica book that can be accessed during battles or on the field. Characters can also use EX skills, which are only accessible as the battle goes on and you can even combine EX skills to form a “Special Art.” I’ve only found about half a dozen, but there are more.

Like any Red Entertainment game, Agarest War Zero has some dating sim elements to it. In some story or event scenes, your character will be given a choice of actions. Based on those actions your emotional connection to a girl (or girls) might go up or down. As mentioned earlier, this can also change a female character’s outfit.

I really loved the engine in the first Agarest game and this was no exception. Unlike the rehashing of the general plot flow, graphics and music, I can understand reusing a battle engine as every RPG franchise does this, especially when the games are on the same generational console. Gameplay is exceptionally solid and the only complaint I had was that some times, the game would go into “auto-play” automatically and I’d have to watch my characters move and act in ways I neither told it to, nor that anyone with a brain would want them to. This was frustrating and I’m not sure if it is a bug or something weird with my primary controller.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

The replay value in Agarest Zero isn’t as high as the first game, but nearly everything about this game is a step down from the original. As there are only two generations here, instead of four like in Generations of War. That means there are only three wooable characters in the game and thus three possible offspring choices. Still, based on how you choose to design Sieghart at the beginning of the game and the character class you choose for him, the first half of the game can play out quite differently. As well, the child you have with one of the possible romantic interests will have very different stats based not only on who you marry, but also how strong your emotional connection was to them.

There is an Extra Mode that can be unlocked if you A) have clear data from the first game and B) have beaten the game and then play it on hard the second go-around. This is also the only way to earn certain trophies, which I find a bit distasteful. There is also a “true ending” which is pretty out there in terms of how to achieve it (this is true of most Idea Factory titles), but it’s actually much easier to get than the first games (or Cross Edge’s for that matter…).

As many of the trophies will require to replay the game more than once or play for a VERY long time (unless you want to buy some trophies outright in the PSN store), there is a good amount of replay value here. Again, it’s not as impressive as Generations of War, but there’s still a lot of reasons to come back to this game, from unlockable events to see how the game plays based off a very different Sieghart.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Balance is a hard thing to judge in the Agarest games, mainly due to the DLC. Without the DLC, the game can get quite hard and you’ll have to replay several battles over and over again for the experience points so that your characters can be high enough to get through some of the late-end battles for both generations. WITH the DLC however, the game is almost entirely a cakewalk. If you buy it all, you’ll have access to insanely powerful weapons and armour, a ton of money and various points that will improve your characters stats. It also doesn’t help that some trophies can only be obtained by purchasing this DLC, or alternatively, putting over 100 hours into the game. That’s kind of insane. In the same time it takes to earn certain bronze trophies in this game, you could earn several platinums in others. It’s not the challenge of the trophies that bothers me, but the fact you can outright BUY trophies. Somehow that feels borderline unethical to me, especially in this day and age where people are playing/buying games simply to get them. Doubly so when some trophies all but REQUIRE you to buy the DLC.

DLC aside, Agarest War Zero is pretty balanced as a whole. You don’t HAVE to buy the DLC and a good portion of it is free, so it’s just a matter of if you want to get it or not. Without the DLC, the game can be hard, but not hard in the “OMG, I’ve done this battle eight times. I just can’t win.” way. Hard in the, “I’m only getting As and Bs for my battle results and I might lose a character in a boss fight” sort of way. It’s challenging but not insanely difficult. Most SRPG fans will enough the battles, but not the grinding, while RPG gamers not used to a grid based battle system might find the sheer amount of work to obtain items, skills and the like to be an uphill battle rather than something enjoyable. If you still need a challenge, well, that’s what Extra Mode and trying to get trophies like the “650 hit combo” are for.

Balance Rating: 6.5/10

7. Originality

I felt the original Agarest game was pretty original. I loved the battle system, which was similar to a lot of other SRPGs, but unique enough that it really stood out. It was the same quality Red style dating sim/RPG hybrid bits, but again, it stood out from things like Bloody Bride, Sakura Wars and the like. The sequel still has the same elements that made the first game unique, but as it is almost a carbon copy of the first game with less generations and playable characters, it’s hard to say that there is much that is original in THIS game. The dating sim aspects have been updated and we have new characters, but that’s really about it. Everything else is kind of rehashed and blatantly so. Because of this, I have to give it a “thumbs in the middle here” for this category. The engine still feels fresh to me, but for almost the entire game I had a feeling of déjà vu or that I was replaying the original with a trophy patch.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

As hard of I’ve been on the game for being a weaker version of the first game, right down to rehashed storylines, skills and graphics, I really enjoyed playing it. I loved the engine the first time, I loved the engine here and I loved the engine in Agarest War 2, which I’ve imported. I love the character designs and the combination of SRPG combat with dating sim elements. Much of what I like about Agarest is similar to my love for the Sakura Taisen series. It took me a month to review this game because I spent so much time with it. It was a hard game to put down. I was either creating new items, trying to figure out new skill combinations, working on getting a higher hit count/damage total, and other things that I didn’t need to do, but that I WANTED to do. Did I like it as much as the first game or AW2 (which is the third game in the series and not in English yet)? No. The middle game suffers from a sophomore slump, but it’s still a lot of fun. It’s certainly a game I’ll go back to down the road. Maybe even with a marathon playing all the Agarest games in chronological order.

Addictiveness Rating: 7/10

9. Appeal Factor

Aksys really botched the release of the first game, both in marketing and distribution, and because of that the sequel is going to suffer, especially since a chunk of the game requires clear data from the first game to access it. Even if you put that aside, SRPGs really haven’t been popular in North America. Sure, a series might take hold on occasion like Shining Force or Disgaea, but the subgenre of strategic RPGs is neither common nor popular these days. Just look at Nintendo’s own Fire Emblem series. It has a strong fan following, but it’s nowhere compared to a lot of other big N franchises. It’s a shame that Agarest War had to be originally marketed as “FANTASY GIRL SEX ROMP” here in North America along with the fact one system received the game only as a gigantic download and the other only as a disc based purchase. Aksys learned from their faux pas, but it’s probably too little, too late for this otherwise enjoyable game.

Again, I enjoyed the game, but I don’t have a problem with putting 80+ hours into an RPG (Hello Persona 2, Min/Maxing characters or spending an hour just making items. I know I’m in the minority in that regard though,

Appeal Factor Rating: 4/10

10. Miscellaneous

I thought about using this section about some of the insane DLC for this gaming and wondering who would pay $10 just to unlock the gallery or $7 to score two bronze trophies, but then I realized that a) DLC is optional and it would be unfair to grade the disc based on some of these obscene cash grabs and b)I realize don’t want to know who would buy (or try to justify) these things. Instead, I’m going to talk about what you get in the Limited Edition. Now we’ve already mentioned the soundtrack CD with thirty-four different tracks. That’s pretty awesome in and of itself since the LE version of the game costs as much as most regular PS3 games – but wait, there’s more! The game also comes with a character data guide, featuring information on all the characters in the game and artwork of all the different outfits the female characters in the game can have. There’s also a really nice hardcover box that has Alice, Mimel and Sieg artwork on the inside and contains two boxes of cards. The first box is a regular deck of cards with character art on the face cards. The second box are replications of the skill cards you use to customize Sieghart at the beginning of the game. It’s neat but not something you could ever use in anyway.

So for the cost of a normal game, you’re getting a lot of neat things in a package that is roughly four times the size or a normal PS3 case. That’s pretty sweet and a hell of a lot better than the treatment the first game received for the PS3.

Miscellaneous Rating: 7.5/10

The Scores
Story: 5.5/10
Graphics: 5.5/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Control and Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 6.5/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Appeal Factor: 4/10
Miscellaneous: 7.5/10
Total Score: 62.5
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (ENJOYABLE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Record of Agarest War Zero is a fun game, but it’s pretty much a stripped down and rehashed version of the first game. Sure they’ve improved the dating sim elements, but the story is extremely generic and there are only two generations to play through, where the first game features four. The engine is extremely solid and the game is fun, but it feels like Idea Factory and Compile Heart threw out a shorter, shallower game to fit the release schedule between Agarest 1 and 2. If you liked the first game and you’re fine with playing nearly the exact same thing, the Limited Edition is worth picking up with some neat swag to boot.

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