|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Idea Factory|
|Pub: Aksys Games|
|Release: Q2 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Steve Haske
When you're in Tokyo's Akihabara ("Electric Town") district, center for all things anime, game, and otaku-related in Japan's massive capital city, it's impossible to go more than a few feet without seeing an ad, poster, or cosplay girl peddling the latest anime-styled games, whether they're advertising sims, erotic titles, or the newest installment in a long running series of RPGs. The market for all of these is consistently pretty popular, and as a result, shops that line Akihabara's corridor-like streets are garishly stocked with every conceivable otaku-oriented game imaginable. The limelight shelf life of this sort of thing is also frighteningly low, with new displays and setups hitting the district multiple times a month, making it all but impossible for anyone but the most die-hard enthusiasts to keep up with the shift. Suffice it to say, to the casual observer it's pretty tough to tell any of these games from one another, but there are a couple of common elements found in most: some variation of the hero's quest and anime chicks with big boobs.
Although sexual content in Japanese games outside of erotic PC titles essentially draws a line in the sand with suggestive T&A, some games like to push the boundaries, such as Atlus' upcoming Catherine or Aksys' Record of Agarest War. Compared to Catherine's psychosexual feel, Agarest War's titillation—the game's ad campaign featured a lot of girls in bubble baths eating…bananas and sausages—may mostly be for show given the game's relatively tame sexual content, but I guess you have to give credit to the developers for making the appeal of their strategy RPG stick out against countless others that would otherwise look about the same. In any case, Agarest War did well enough in North America that the second installment in the series, a prequel to the original game, is being localized by Aksys.
If you're familiar with the original Agarest War, you should feel right at home with Zero, which takes place 1000 years before the events of the first game. Once again, the game deals in generational design, although Idea Factory has dialed it back a bit from the multiple generation approach of the last game. Whereas the first Agarest dealt with no less than five generations of characters—after choosing a companion to "mate" with in the first generation, each successive chapter of the game dealt with the descendants of the family line—Zero only uses two. As you're only dealing with two generations of characters in a game at least forty-hours long, character development will theoretically be deeper and more engaging.
Another issue with the original Agarest War was the way each generation picked who they wanted to woo. Basically after so many battles or missions you would be presented with story scenes that would give you a chance to further ingratiate yourself with the girl of your choice in typical dating-sim fashion. But since you weren't allowed complete control over who had the most affection for you (unlike in, say, Harvest Moon), at the end of each chapter you were automatically paired off with whomever liked you the most. Zero aims to fix that and not just with the lack of generations to assume. Idea Factory is introducing what they're calling the "Free Intention" system, which will allow you to explore towns and interact with your party members (read: women) more so that you have a greater degree of agency when it comes time to settle down with someone. Thankfully, as in the first game, any abilities and experience gained in one generation will be passed on to the next.
Aksys hasn't said much about any changes or improvements to the battle system, but the mechanics in the Japanese version of the game, which hit the PS3 and 360 last year, seem about the same. That means you can expect traditional turn-based strategy RPG gameplay, the ability to team up with teammates to unleash combo attacks when strategically placed at certain squares, and the guarantee that battles will eventually end after building enough special ability points, allowing you to perform moves that will crush your enemies quickly. Based on the single trailer Aksys has released for Zero, it looks as though the topographically-challenged maps of the first game may make a return, though at this point that's uncertain.
The rest of the game's new additions seem like window dressing for the fans: the static character portraits of the first game are now animated, and your girls' outfits will change (meaning their outfits will probably get increasingly sluttier) as they grow more attached to you. After the backlash over only offering the PS3 version of the original Agarest as a downloadable title on PSN, Aksys has made it clear that Zero will be available on both consoles as a disc release, although once again the 360 seems to be getting the better deal, with additional costumes for the ladies, an event gallery to rewatch cutscenes, and unreleased CG that isn't available on the PS3 version. Will any of this be sexy content? Doubtful. But no doubt it'll likely make a number of otaku fanboys pick the game up on Microsoft's console regardless. We'll find out when Record of Agarest War Zero hits U.S. shores next summer.
CCC Freelance Writer