Record of Agarest War‘s path to U.S. release was a strange one. Released in Japan a few years ago, Agarest saw an English release in Europe pretty quickly (as Agarest: Generations of War), but no one seemed to be moving to bring it to America. Why? Well, for one thing, it’s a classic Compile Heart game, with lots to do, an emphasis on flavor over mechanics and very little in the way of mainstream appeal. So what does Aksys do? It releases Agarest in a not-so-mainstream way: a super-limited, super-creepy box set on 360 and a digital release for PS3.
I promised myself I’d leave the creepiness of the special edition out of this equation, as it really doesn’t have anything to do with the content of the game.
So, given that the game appeals to a niche audience, how is it? There are certainly some promising elements to the game. The battle system is similar to tactical RPGs like Disgaea, Vandal Hearts and Final Fantasy Tactics, though it uses a series of simple boards rather than interesting levels to traverse and fight on. It emphasizes staying in formations to “link” attacks, allowing everyone to execute all attacks for the turn at once if planned correctly. Waiting, though, gives you a few more Action Points to use, letting you use stronger moves, and most attacks can only be directed at one enemy, so the challenge is using moves most efficiently and staying in formation after executing attacks.
Characters are somewhat customizable. You can equip different moves depending on the character’s move slots and weapon slots, and you can choose what stats to increase when leveling up. (You get 10 points to spend when you level, and stats a character is “better” at cost fewer points, so it’s up to you but certainly guided in a particular direction.)
You get more characters than you use, and you can capture monsters and use them as well. (Monsters have limited movesets, but special qualities.) The game emphasizes story, but the characters themselves are never really that endearing. It’s a good thing, too, because you only use them for a few hours.
The game progresses through 5 generations of characters, each with their own stories, protagonists, enemies and worlds. Oh, and love interests. This is where the game takes the decisions you make in each era and makes them affect the next. Three girls each generation are potential brides, and the decisions you make and branching paths you take appeal to certain ones over others. At the end, you marry one, and the next generation’s protagonist takes on a bit of the look and some of the battle characteristics of that person. (The mage girl makes your character into a Magic Knight, while the fighter girl makes your character a tough Warrior-type.)
Of course, this game is long and, at times, tedious. To combat that, Compile Heart threw in “titles” to earn. These are essentially achievements separate from the game’s Trophies, but earning these gives you little item packs. Many times, the items are used at the Blacksmith as part of Agarest‘s in-depth forging system.
Graphics and sound were an afterthought, for them as well as me. The engine uses Disgaea-style sprites (which feels just a bit lazier every time it crops up on the PS3), and there are really only about four or five songs in the game. It’s really repetitive. Run your own soundtrack with it, and you’ll be fine.
Ultimately, Record of Agarest War is not the dating-sim game it’s marketed to be, but that’s probably for the better. It’s actually a solid, way-too-deep-at-times tactical RPG with a charming look and free DLC. (The DLC isn’t much…just some item packs and extra dungeons. It’s hard to argue with free, though.) It’s completely without crossover appeal, but it’s worth it if you like what it has to offer.
Pros: Crazy-deep systems (and lots of them), hours of replay value
Cons: Not at all polished, audio and visuals leave a lot to be desired
Plays Like: Vandal Hearts, Disgaea