Not Quite a Mash-Up Masterpiece
When you talk about the premise for Chaos Wars it sounds like a pretty cool game. It takes characters from several popular JRPG series like Shadow Hearts, Growlanser, and the ultra-popular Gungrave, puts them all together in a parallel universe, and creates an epic RPG. For the most part, this title works well as a piece fans will enjoy. It has some pretty standard, tactical, turn-based RPG gameplay, and a decent enough storyline. However, there are quite a few elements that keep this title from being the stellar RPG it could have been.
The story in Chaos Wars, as with most JRPGs is incredibly intricate and rather complex. You begin the game as a young man who is haunted by a dream about a cave that serves as a portal to an alternate dimension. He decides to play hooky from school to investigate it, and lo and behold, he is transported to the alternate dimension. What follows is a crazy journey through the land of Endia, which is rife with monsters and cameo characters from several JRPG series (Shadow Hearts, Growlanser, Blazing Souls, Gakuen Toshi Vara Noir, Spectral Force, Spectral Souls, Hametsu no Mars, Gungrave and Shinsengumi Gunraw Den).
One of the issues I have with the Chaos Wars’ story is there are far too many characters. Most of them are cameo characters from the games listed above, and more than half of these games were never released in the US. Unless you are already familiar with the characters, it is really hard to keep track of everyone. The massive amount of unfamiliar characters also leads to the plot getting rather convoluted about half way through, and the story really becomes a little too much to keep up with. It is also difficult to form bonds with all the characters because you don’t get enough time to know them as individuals. Any RPG fan will tell you that when there’s no emotional investment in the characters, it is really difficult to care about the story.
Of course, the situation is completely different if you are a die-hard JRPG fan and have bonded with these characters from previous titles. Then it might be right up your alley. But with the small percentage of these games that made it to the US, the chances of you being among this niche category are rather slim.
Aside from the shaky story, the game plays rather well as an RPG. The battle system is primarily menu-based, but allows for tactical movement around the playing field. One very interesting feature of the battle system is the way movement is incorporated. Instead of using the tried-and-true boxes, you actually have completely free movement around the board. Your character will have a set number of steps they can take inside a circular range of motion. It’s a fairly cool facet to an otherwise strictly menu-based battle system.
Graphics in Chaos Wars are sub-par, even for a last-gen console. Characters are represented in battle scenes as sprites and during story scenes as inanimate drawings. The whole thing looks like it should have been a handheld title and just doesn’t look good. Battle environments look incredibly similar, and the whole game lacks any sort of graphical polish.
Even though the graphics rest pretty firmly in the poor category, the sound in this game is just deplorable. The English voice track has to have the worst voice acting in any localized title. Young kids sound like they’re middle aged, and most characters sound disingenuous or even worse, bored. Aside from the actual voice acting, the quality of the recorded track is very poor and sounds very low budget and grainy.
Yet another issue I have with the English voice track is it was only translated half-way. All the dialogue that takes place during battles is still in Japanese, and it’s a little weird getting used to a character sounding like one voice, just to have another voice replace it during battles. Not to mention the fact that it is in Japanese, and as such, will be incomprehensible to the average American gamer. It’s a real shame the localization went so wrong here because the opening music is rather good, and the background music is not too shabby either.
Like most RPGs, Chaos Wars doesn’t offer much beyond the one-player story experience. However, the story mode is quite long, which is great for those who might be interested in this title. For the niche JRPG fans, Chaos Wars holds a lot of promise, especially for those who have played or imported most of the games this title draws from. I am always a fan of mash-up games, and I really respect what Chaos Wars set out to do as a nearly fans-only title.
It’s really great when you get a game you feel is created specifically for your fan community, and I’m sure, to some extent, fans will appreciate this title. But I wish more effort was put into making Chaos Wars the quintessential JRPG fan game. If the game could have been more discretionary with the implementation of all the characters from the other RPGs, improved the visuals, and severely upgraded the dubbing, this might have been a game die-hard JRPG fans could look forward to. As it stands now, Chaos Wars is just a missed opportunity.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.0 Graphics
The sprite-based graphics just don’t cut it, even on the PS2. Battlegrounds are colorful, but very repetitive. 3.7 Control
Controls are easy enough and generally consist of moving around battlefields and selecting battle options from menus. 2.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The background music is pretty inoffensive, and the main title music is actually quite good, but the voice acting is probably some of the worst stuff you’ve ever heard. 3.3 Play Value
The game is fairly long, and die-hard JRPG fans will have to pick it up for all the character cameos, but like most RPGs there’s nothing beyond the initial story mode. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.