JRPG’s come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but Record of Agarest War Zero is one that wears a variety of hats. Dishing up hardcore tactical RPG gameplay, visual-novel-esque storytelling, and a heaping helping of fan service, it’s a unique title even in today’s diverse landscape.
Ghostlight’s latest port from the PS3 is Record of Agarest War Zero, prequel to their recently-ported Agarest: Generations of War, both of which are now available on Steam. Having already played through Agarest War Zero back in 2011 when it was first released in North America, I took a brief nostalgic spin through the PC version to refresh my impression and see how Ghostlight fared with this one.
Record of Agarest War Zero, like its predecessor, is a tactical RPG with a heavy emphasis on character relationships. Featuring the same combat system and an updated story, Agarest War Zero has a ton of improvements but still falls short in several areas.
For a series with such a heavy emphasis on dating-sim elements Agarest War Zero finally creates a gameplay experience closer to their traditional look’n’feel. Gone is the Light/Dark meter from Agarest: Generations of War. Filling the void are “Vacation Days,” breaks from the battles and trials where the player has a chance to interact with the various members of the party.
These days are tied into the rest of the game as well. Seeing certain events by hitting certain points on the map add more actions to the vacation, allowing the player to see more conversations. In addition to choices made during cutscenes, vacation days provide a way to balance out the affection between party members – as well as see some pretty hilarious conversations.
Agarest War Zero maintains the delicate balance between grave storytelling and chortle-inducing tongue-in-cheek humor. In a plot rife with political intrigue, worldwide conflict, and racial themes, the breaks from the action are most welcome. The frequency of these, however, sometimes seem too few and far between the dungeons and battles that define the game.
The characters are easily the highlight of the game. With a wide range of personalities and quirks, each member of the player’s party has their own unique story and tragedy to tell. Early on, the party may seem sparse, but past a certain point, the party explodes with variety. While the sheer quantity of characters late-game can seem overwhelming, six can be active in the party at any time and all gain experience together, albeit somewhat inequally.
Keeping the turn-based-strategy system of the previous game, Agarest War Zero doesn’t change much from the previous title. Characters equip skills, spending Action Points to use them and potentially combo with other characters to create devastating effects. The battles drag on and on; no more will the main character get to free-roam dungeons. Instead the party moves from point to point in battle after battle. Even the truly dedicated may tire of the unchanging battle system.
What does change is the way the protagonist and his descendants are handled. More accurately, descendant. Agarest War Zero does away with the numerous progenitors of the first game, opting for only two main characters to carry the narrative. The first, Sieghart, is also highly customizable from the outset using a new, completely obfuscated card system. Getting the right balance of stats, weapon, and abilities is a process that can take quite awhile as experimentation (or the Internet) is necessary to figure out what makes the Weiss best for you.
The inheritance of skills and abilities by the child based on the match made for Weiss also returns. The dating-sim element plays a role here as well, granting a stronger set of stats proportional to the affection the heroine feels for Weiss. Should a heroine not like Sieghart enough, they will not be able to be matched.
Agarest War Zero paints a pretty picture. Featuring gorgeous character designs and vibrant battle effects, the game is beautiful to behold. None of these qualities were lost when moving from the PS3 to the PC, and the game runs smoothly, possibly moreso than the original.
The difficulty, however, remains unchanged too and its incredible ramp-up in the endgame can easily leave a gamer feeling frustrated and helpless. Once the path towards the “true end” is locked in, the battles swiftly become tactical nightmares. It’s a bit of a slap, especially if the characters that the player developed most don’t work well enough together to fight the incredibly powerful bosses of the endgame.
Overall, Agarest War Zero is a solid game. The fanservice might put a few off, and the battle system might grow stale, but the story and characters will keep a player coming back for more. With character development being the highlight of the game, Agarest War Zero falls a little short of being a perfect title by recycling too much of the same thing over and over again, though its star cast of characters and the stories they tell keep it from being forgettable.
However, Record of Agarest War Zero is still a very fun game to play. Its target audience is not wide, but for the turn-based-dating-sim-RPG players out there, this is a very good game to play.