Koei is finally branching out and tackling events that don’t involve Feudal Japan like the Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors series. Though this attempt at something new is admirable, Colosseum: Road to Freedom seems to be built upon one part past experience and one part stumbling blocks. A meaty fighting RPG/Action game in the times of Gladiators is welcome, and Colosseum has a deep enough battle system to keep players fascinated with the Roman Empire for some time.
A Steep Learning Curve
Unfortunately, not everything is as well engineered as the fighting system. Difficult AI early on, a brutal punishment system for losing, and heaping doses of repetition will retire most players before they earn their coveted freedom. Less resilient players may find their freedom by turning off the power halfway through.
Players will strive to become the ultimate fighting machine in the Roman arenas, and when they’ve become the best of the best they can retire to a life of peace in the Roman countryside.
Deep Systems Make for a Challenging Experience
Colosseum: Road to Freedom places heavy emphasis on building your character’s attributes through training. This is absolutely essential to progress. But be warned that Colosseum is an unforgiving gaming experience. If you are a card-carrying button masher you’ll want to pass; Colosseum’s deep battle system isn’t for the weak of heart. It may seem clunky and unintuitive at first, but if you stick it out, you’ll find a lot to love. It’s just a hard battle to get there.
Colosseum: Road to Freedom is touted as an Action/RPG and that’s fairly accurate, although that primarily describes the point management/ experience system that players will use to increase stats to gain power and more fighting moves. Players who win fights will earn money to use towards new armor and weapons. The thin plotline, which attempts to give the situation some gravity, fails to draw you in, which doesn’t really warrant the RPG moniker. It’s very possible to go through the motions and never emotionally invest an ounce of care into your nameless warrior or his situation.
The melee battles which will see a few Gladiators onscreen at one time can be fairly intense and definitely worth the time and effort it takes to get there. This is the biggest payoff the game has to offer. You will notice that the framerate barely manages to hold it together when more than three characters are on screen at one time which can lead to some frustrating moments and lost battles. But even still, dedicated players will be invigorated enough to go back for seconds, thirds, fourths and more. It’s the game you sometimes love to hate.
Koei has done an excellent job in the fighting animations and character models, but the backgrounds are a little sparse – possibly to keep the framerate from jumping completely out the window. It’s not the prettiest game around, but far from the worst.
A Great Step in a New Direction
Koei has the makings of a new franchise that just needs a fair amount of tweaking to bring it up to code. I have no doubt that Colosseum could truly become a valued series on next-gen systems. The makings of a classic are all there, but the recipe is a little jumbled right now. If Koei can balance the difficulty, streamline the learning curve to make it more accessible and iron out little kinks here and there, Colosseum II could be a dynamite offering. As it is now the steep learning curve will reward less talented gamers with incessant losses; but those who persevere will eventually discover an entertaining product born from your own blood, sweat, and tears.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Koei Tecmo.