|System: X360, PS3 (PSN)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Idea Factory, Red Entertainment, Compile Heart||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: AKSYS Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 27, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
It would have been great if Agarest had been balanced with half of its focus devoted to tactical gameplay, and the other half devoted to character interaction in between large-scale battles. Unfortunately, it's more like ninety percent random encounters, with ten percent left over for everything else. Plenty of Japanese RPGs are also balanced with the same formula, so this disappointment is nothing new. But on the other hand, are we not done level grinding yet? Is gaming culture still in love with the sacrificing of afternoons to level grinding through random encounters, rather than sticking with stories told through unique characters, and epic tactical battles that make sense because the story led up to that battle in a sensible way?
Character designs are very nice, though. Conversations play out with a large display of the speaking character (typical of dating sims, not-so-typical of standard RPGs), all of which look exceptionally cool. Even better, each subsequent generation of hero produced through "soul breeding" takes on some physical characteristics from his parent characters. So depending on which lady you end up "soul breeding" with in each generation, your new hero's hair and armor could look completely different with each playthrough.
But when I say the character designs are exceptionally nice, I'm speaking strictly of the avatars used during conversations and within the menu system. Character design during combat is an entirely different matter. Even on my huge television set, which is practically the size of an IMAX screen, in-combat characters appeared squat and mushed, like some kind of Japanese "superdeformed" style of design often used in parodies. This sort of design choice would be fine for a PS2-era tactics game, where your characters were little more than visual markers for glorified chess pieces, but we've kind of gone beyond that. When battles occur on very small, simple maps, we need something nice to look at, something like characters who are taller than they are wide, or who at least look half as nice as their 2D counterparts used during dialogue sequences.
The voicework is presented exclusively in Japanese (with text in English of course), which is perfect for the purists or for those who find it distracting when English voice actors are reading off the same text that the player is also reading. Music is a mix of standard JRPG "mood setting" tracks and hair metal-meets-power metal to spice up combat. (Sorry, but the JRPG that incorporates death metal into its soundtrack is still nowhere in sight). The soundtrack sits in the background and does not make any glaring mistakes in terms of annoying the player, but it also does not particularly stand out, either. Gamers who own soundtracks by Nobuo Uematsu, or the Mass Effect soundtrack, or anything by the Minibosses, will probably not be hunting down the soundtrack to Agarest anytime soon.
Kyle B. Stiff
CCC Freelance Writer