Record of Agarest War ReviewGreg Knoll
Though it saddens me to say, there arent a lot of games out there that I must have. In fact, the last one was Arkham Asylum. And since then I have only read about games, made an educated opinion on them once they were out and bought them, fear of wasting what little money I had on a bad choice. But when I read the premise of Record Of Agarest War, I wanted it the moment after. This was what Id been hoping for when I bought games like White Knight Chronicles, Enchanted Arms and even Final Fantasy XIIIan old-school, deep, RPG epic that was as entertaining as it was moving. And after playing it, I can only say
Its far better than I ever expected.
Its sad that developers no longer take the time to tell a story, or immerse the gamer. They only seem to be growing shorter in lengthmore shallowso I am ever thankful that Compile Hearts has opted not to follow that same trend. Record Of Agarest War spans at least forty hours if you rush, more if you take the time to appreciate it.
And before you scoff, or roll your eyes at the thought of enduring something so involved allow me to mention one thing: Record does not simply follow one main character, but five. That is the games major draw, and biggest selling point. It starts with Leonhardt, a warrior seemingly like any other, but when he falls on the battlefield he is given a second chance by the goddess Dyshani. If he accepts, he is given new life but in exchange he must surrender his soul and any destiny he would have had prior to commit to the single goal of sealing away the greatest evil his world has ever known. Its a task that is far too grand for his lifetime, so he must forfeit the lives of his children as well, cementing his unborn offspring into an inescapable fate. Like many in such detrimental situations, Leon accepts. And so begins a tale that covers five generations and continents, one that shows the gamer the rise and fall of more than one kingdom, war and love, heartache and loss, and the impact of a very twisted, incredibly dangerous evil.
Records story is powerful and involved, but Compile further immerses the player by implementing a sim-style mini game to win over the affection of one of three women and then choosing who you will inevitably marry. So rather than a strict linear arc like other RPGs, Record allows the gamer some amount of freedom in how the tale unfolds. Depending on your bride, your next generations character will change in appearance, equipment and stats.
Yet that leads to one of my issues with the game. Though the sim option is present, it sometimes feels a little thin. Most of the opportunities to shift someones affection dont appear until much later, in one overwhelming final scene. That seems to weaken the actual bond between your character and his potential soul mate, often leading to you choosing a bride based on stats as opposed to which of the characters you actually like the most. Each characterbe it sub or mainhas their own style and personality, and helps build the epic, but the bond between them would have been more solid had Compile done more with the controlled interactions.
Thankfully, they more than make up for it with the mechanics and well-built battle system. Five generations is a lot to endure, and had they used a fight system like that of Final Fantasy VII, Lunar or Shining Force I most likely would have grown weary. But theyve meshed all three in a strategy/turn-based hybrid that was still impressive even by the act. Battles take place atop a tiled field, and one round is given for both the characters and the enemies to move into place, restricting them to blocks only within their range. When the second phase begins, each characterorder determined by their agilitytakes their turn. And its not one that will end with a single attack, magic spell or use of an item. The length of their time is determined by skill points called AP. Everythingusing attacks, items or magicwill subtract AP, based on how potent it is. The higher the AP, the more moves that character is allotted.
Battles become a mix of quick decisions when choosing the attack, and strategy when deciding where to place your characters. Each attack has a different range, as do the items, and when your teammates are in specific areas their attacks can be linked with yours. Its involved, but its not overly intricate. It brilliantly treads that line between boring and lazy.
Compile Hearts obviously put a lot of thought into the battle system, but some of the other mechanics they failed to address. My major complaint with the game is their disregard for some of the little things. Believe me, I understand deadlines, and when youve set a date on something its important to adhere to what you promised. Thats the only excuse I can surmise for them translating the written dialogue but leaving the voice-overs in Japanese. While I can still read and enjoy the story, it would have been nice to hear it.
They took the time, also, to implement some other mini-games like Alchemy, Blacksmithing and Monster breeding. They can be a welcome change from simply battling enemies, and while I appreciate them trying to make it intricate, its more than I would have liked. Certain attacks have to be built by combining weapons, armor and items. The game tells you what it requires, but if you dont have that certain item you need to go to the blacksmith to make it. If you lack the essential ingredients there, youre required to make those as well. Unfortunately, its a lot of going back and forth between stores until everything fits, when I would have preferred the option of buying them in one place, or the system Ogre Battle 64 used where you could purchase them outright.
Yet that really doesnt detract from how magnificent Record Of Agarest War truly is. Its epic, its involved. Its a much greater effort than I have seen in almost any RPG in the last ten years. With its style, story and structure it comes across as retro, yet Compile Hearts has built it in a contemporary fashion to adhere to the stipulations of a modern gamer. Its the perfect blend, and a true testament to the belief that independent publishers make great games. They have more heart. And if, when, they opt for a sequel, so long as they address those little things Record Of Agarest War could very well be the next big thing.
Its already so close.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
May I have the strength to lead with compassion. May I have a resolve strong enough to inspire it in others. May my heart be true, my motives virtuous, my spirit valiant. And whether I fail or succeed, may I at least be brave in the attempt.
About the Author: Greg Knoll
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