Monday, June 25, 2012

Record of Agarest War Zero - Review

Recently we took a look back at the original Record of Agarest War, a game that I enjoyed quite a bit despite some shortcomings.  Record of Agarest War 2 is slated for release later this month, which sets us up nicely to talk about Record of Agarest War Zero.

For those familiar with the original Record of Agarest War, this game will be very familiar.  This title is a strategy/RPG hybrid focused on turn-based combat and growing your characters through experience and other forms of currency.  Zero is actually a prequel to Record of Agarest War, set well before the events of the first game.  One very cool feature for those who have not played the original game, Record of Agarest War Zero provides a 'digest mode' for those who have a beaten True End save from the first game on your system or if you beat Zero and replay it.

I enjoyed that feature quite a bit because it allows you to replay the events of the original game, skipping to the main plot points and pivotal battles but skipping the grinding of the lesser fight points on the map.  This also allows you to unlock characters from the first game, including a couple of my personal favorites to use in Zero.  The downside is only about half of the roster becomes available for free - the rest can be purchased as DLC.

In Record of Agarest War Zero, you advance through the game by traversing a map with points of interest on it.  Some of the points are battles, others lead to events or towns as well.  There is a lot of gameplay to be had here, but a good portion of that is of the grinding variety.  I have never particularly minded grinding in RPG and strategy games, but I know that it can become repetitive for some people and that is one of the primary complaints I see from people who dislike this series. 

Combat then takes place on a grid where you set up your units and then move them around on the map just as your opponents units will as also.  Then you take turns using commands at each character's disposal.  Each command consumes action points, and can help to generation an additional stat called SP which can build up to allow you to unlock some truly awesome special attacks.  Even better, you can often combine attacks and special attacks with other members of your team, making them even more powerful.

There is a lot to do here, not just in going through the hundreds of battles but in side activities as well.  You will earn experience, gold and other currencies you can use to buy new items, craft new gear and skills, unlock titles (which provide more rewards as well), try to raise the affection of party members for the dating simulation aspect of the game, level your characters (where you can customize how to spend your skill points) and there is a True End, which for me is a slightly controversial point.  It is easier to Reachi in Zero than it was in the original game, but it still can be annoying to realize that you can make a single mistep and not see all of the extra endgame content.  It also takes away from the game being a true RPG to some degree, because I found myself making choices that I did not necessarily want to with my character, because I felt like I had to make specific decisions in order to reach the game's True End.

The graphics are hit and miss, as the characters are represented in pixelated sprites that have a certain charm to them, but are nowhere near as pretty as the vivid, stylized character drawings and backdrops.  The sound effects are okay, though the voice overs are only presented in Japanese and the music feels as out of place here as it did to me in the original Agarest War.  Truth be told, I actually liked the music in the original game here.  In Zero a lot of the music from the first game was reused but tweaked and I did not enjoy it as much personally.  In general, I found myself enjoying the game (though some of the endgame content was ridiculously hard, and if you are not a fan of grinding, you will probably hate that.  Also?  Getting every single title is pretty much impossible without 20-30 hours of grinding) of Zero, but something about it or its characters never quite clicked for me the way they did in the original game.

On a technical level almost everything was improved upon.  The tutorial information was better, the battlefield squares better identified, the ability to see your affection levels with other females, very slight animations added to the character portraits and more makes Zero more accessible to new players than its predecessor.  One major difference however, is that there are only two generations in this game as opposed to five, which for me was something of a disappointment.  Also, while I could appreciate that the Digest Mode offers value to those who never played the first, it also felt like a lot of padding as beating it is required for the True End, and I had beaten the original game three times.  I cannot quite put my finger on why, but something about the first game charmed me a little more, even though I can appreciate the incremental improvements found in Zero.

Record of Agarest War is a very niche experience and some of the shortcomings in audio and visual or the quirky humor and conversation will turn some users off.  Others may struggle with the often repetitive nature of the game's combat over the course of hundreds of battles combined with a difficulty level that can be trying for those new to the series.  However, like the original Record of Agarest War, Zero hits several sweet spots for me and I happily dropped about a hundred hours into the game and am looking forward to the impending Record of Agarest War 2.



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