|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|
by Kyle B. Stiff
The dating sim role-playing hybrid is finally here! First we got Sakura Wars: So Long My Love, and now we have Record of Agarest War, a tactics game with a story shaped by interacting with your female companions, getting them to like you, and then "soul breeding" with them in order to produce the next generation's main character.
Despite some pre-launch internet speculation, the soul breeding aspect of Agarest is not so controversial, nor is it the main course on the gameplay menu. The bulk of Agarest focuses on tactical gameplay, in which you maneuver your group of characters on the battlefield (while the enemy does the same), and then launch attacks which can be linked between characters.
On a battlefield that is otherwise streamlined (more on that later), linked attacks provide the greatest variety to gameplay. Units standing near one another's "hot spot" can attack simultaneously, even if one character is technically outside of his or her normal range of attack. Attack Points dictate how much each character can do, and eventually, once you build up enough high-level characters, the linked attack system can turn every battle into a long free-styling session between teammates. Attacks are stacked up like ingredients, some attacks form their own powerful combos even within the overall linked framework, and it all leads up to a hot serving of DEATH.
But for all its depth, Agarest's tactical gameplay is sorely lacking in a lot of the elements that make tactical games great in the first place. For instance, all battlefield maps are flat. Some of the greatest battles I've ever experienced (in games like Vandal Hearts, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Valkyria Chronicles) involved stealing the high ground from an entrenched enemy and then unleashing hell on those down below. Unfortunately, the news gets worse: battlefield maps get recycled. A lot. Rather than setting up the story in such a way that combat only commences when your team is trying to accomplish something epic, like take down a fort, or break through an ambush at a mountain pass, or kill an enemy general while waves of weaker units are harrying you, the battles of Agarest focus on random encounters that take place on flat, recycled maps. So one of RPG's all-time most annoying features - random encounters - is employed instead of epic, story-framed tactical warfare, which is kind of the whole point of making a game tactical rather than just a traditional RPG.
Agarest's claim to fame, however, is the fact that it employs dating sim elements which are rarely, if ever, seen in mainstream Western games. You see, the game is divided into "generations," each with its own protagonist and story arc. The game begins with one fairly plain protagonist; eventually some ladies join your team of heroes; through character interaction, some ladies will come to like you based on your responses; whichever lady likes you the most can undergo a process called "soul breeding," which will then produce a new hero who carries some of the traits of both characters. (Why do I feel like I'm teaching a remedial sex education course here?)
And this is, by far, the most fun part of Agarest. All of the long, drawn-out random encounter grinds were (almost) worth it just for the opportunity to try to steer the protagonist towards one lady rather than another. This can be surprisingly tense, as you don't actually choose which lady you want to soul breed with, per se, because you can mess up your interactions with the lady that you prefer and end up having to go with Plan B. Agarest is not unlike real life in that respect. But each generation has its own set of ladies, each with their own distinct personality, so you can't strike out every time.