Agarest: Generations of War- Wish There was More
Strategy RPGs like Nippon Ichi's Disgaea and Phantom Brave have a firm hold on my heart. That was a long, long time ago. It's been years since I branched out into other types of genres, and Agarest Generations of War is my first stint into JRPGs since, well? Longer than I can even remember.
Agarest: Generations of War is known in Japan as Record of Agarest War. It was originally released in 2007, but was ported to Steam on October 3rd, 2013. It was developed by Idea factory and Laughing Jackal, and was published by Compile Heart, Red Entertainment, and Aksys Games. It was localized by Ghostlight.
The tale of Agarest takes place over the course of five generations. You begin with a lone hero named Leonhardt. After a terrible defeat at the hands of a Dark Knight, Leonhardt is fatally wounded, and is visited by a young woman named Dyshana. She allows him to become the Spirit Vessel, which grants him the ability to wage war over generations. Hence the name, Generations of War. Get it? Over the course of the story, you'll meet allies, and villains turned allies, along with a trio of young women that you can fall in love with, bear children with, and ultimately have your offspring grow into another hero. Thus, the cycle continues.
At the dawn of time, the world of Agarest was plunged into a terrible war between the forces of good and evil. Entire races fought and died for their divine masters, ending in the total destruction of Agarest. The victorious Gods of Light unified the decaying bodies of the Gods of Darkness and created a new world, sealing the Dark Gods' spirits into an eternity of darkness. -agarest.ghostlight.uk.com
In cut scenes, the characters either speak via large, wonderfully drawn portraits with a static background, and on rare occasions the character sprites move about, while the portraits narrate over them. Cut scenes then move to the bulk of the game: battles. Once combat is initiated, a lot of strategy and thought goes into play. You fight on grid based terrain, much like that of a chess or checker board. You and your allies are only allowed to move and attack on the grid.
The battle begins with the Movement Phase, where you take your small soldiers and put them into position. Each character moves on by one, over a diamond shaped radius that they can move along. Warriors have a larger range, while magic users tend to have a smaller distance that the can cover. This is usually made up with the fact that they can attack targets from further away.
Once every character is in position, the enemies move to their ideal spots, and it's time for combat! Once in Action Phase, as with the Movement Phase, you move each character individually. There are four different commands to choose from: Skills, Item, Esoteric Book, and Standby. All self explanatory, while Esoteric Book tells you how to combine Skills. Some Skills, when combined, create a newer, greater attack that can cause massive damage.
The biggest draw, which sets Agarest apart, is the ability given to you as the Soul Vessel. As the Soul Vessel, in a kind of dating sim, you can choose from three potential partners to marry. You'll have a son with them, and that child will inherit some stats and abilities based on the union. The game chooses which three young women you can choose from, while who you decide to marry depends on answers given to certain questions.
The graphics in Agarest are a mix of 2D and 3D. Or is it 2.5D? On the 2D side, you have brilliant anime inspired artwork, and a whole range of varied character designs. Heroes, heroins, and villains, all in fantasy inspired, over the top anime uniforms, all have their own overall look. There's a lot of shading and detail, while a great amount of time and effort went into their portraits, which show up in cut scenes and the individual battle icons. The 3D, or 2.5D, makes up the majority of the backgrounds. Backgrounds are decent, although the textures are usually muddy, and lack any real detail.
The artwork is really nice. If you enjoy anime, and anime-inspired fantasy characters, there's a lot to love in Agarest. If you don't, you won't find anything of interest here. Thankfully, I do! From the wild hair and clothing, multiple colors, wild uniforms, sweet, youthful faced heroes and heroins, and large doe eyes, it's everything you'd expect from a game like this. So yes, there's a lot of detail and variation to the designs, and the costumes are great, albeit impractical, and often times pandering, in most cases. Cough, cough, females! Still, drawn very well.
Battles are slow going in the beginning, but once you gather a full party, things progress a little faster. I liked the strategy that went into each encounter. There's also a whole host of special attacks to find by combining skills, while the ability to combine maneuvers with nearby allies makes for some pretty impressive battles. It was always fun to get four or five characters together in one move, devastating the opposition with some their their highest attacks. I have to say that this was by far my favorite part of the whole game!
The music is great. The opening theme Onigokko by Kei Kamakura, is catchy and upbeat, while the visuals are stunning, and beautifully drawn. The quick flashes of all the characters, set to the energetic tone of the music, makes you want to know more. Who are those characters? When do they show up? And what impact will they have on my party, my bride to be, and the offspring that will eventually help save the world? The animation and effects are really nice, too. Battle themes, town music, and over world tunes also set a nice tone.
You watch, instead of play. Everything is linear. You can't really deviate from the path ahead, or from the story, except for a few places where you're allowed to make a decision. There aren't any side quests, no places to explore, and nothing to do, except the main quest. You can't move very far on the map, since the dots are so close together, and you can't open up new paths until that one dot is conquered. Towns are also nothing more than menus, that you read through instead of experience.
You also can't avoid or escape from battles. Just as the story forces you to be a spectator, the game forces you into battle, with little variation between. So battles, while fun and entertaining, begin to feel like a chore when you have several dots with nothing but endless fighting, and little to no other alternative.
The unique draw comes in the form of choosing a character to marry, and having children with said person. Like the linearity of the over all game, choosing your potential mate just sort of happens. During your adventure, you'll be given a choice with several answers. Each choice will make your potential bride like you more, or less. And that's about it. You don't build a relationship with any of them. You choose a person based on a few arbitrary decision. It would have been nice if you gained favor by taking them into battle, having conversations with them, or maybe by giving them armor, weapons, and special gifts.
This game has some unique ideas, and had a lot of potential. The combat is solid, and can be pretty deep once you begin leveling the characters, and you get a larger party. The translation and story are interesting enough, and the ability to Soul Breed is a pretty intriguing mechanic, but I do wish that you could explore more areas and that there were more segments where you could interact with NPCs. I'd recommend this game for the pretty visuals, decent battle system, and for anyone that is really into JRPGs. It's available on Steam for $19.99.