Developer: Compile Heart
This is a niche game. There, I said it. But then again, most JSRPGs (Japanese Strategic Role-Playing Games) are these days. They're a dying breed with perhaps the best years of the genre way behind, embodied in such titles as Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea. We loved the former with its incredibly robust, ridiculously deep combat system, and one of the finest (and most messed up) stories a game to bear the Final Fantasy name has ever told. It was a mature story, fed into a game for mature minds and it was absolutely fantastic.
This latest instalment into the strategy RPG genre is almost indistinguishable from the four year old Agarest: Generations of War. Indeed, one would think that they are almost identical, except for a few key story differences. For starters Zero takes place 1000 years before its predecessor and tells the story of a young lieutenant named Siegfried, who fights for the armies of Light, against the forces of Dark. So far, so stereotypical. Anyway, whilst wandering through a forest he chances on a powerful young girl named Mimel, who's being attacked. Being a strapping, young, and fairly ignorant lad, our Sieg attempts to rescue her, only to be utterly broken by her assailant. A few minutes later and Siegfried finds himself miraculously alive, but poor Mimel has been struck nearly dumb. Bereft of their would-be weapon in Mimel, the armies of Light are forced to send Sieg along with a motley crew of adventurers to find the means of waking a god and turning the tide of the battle and so on and so forth.
Here, in the early stages of the game, you'll be led through the battle systems with a helpful tutorial that will no doubt be of use to anyone who didn't play the previous game, and a simple refresher to anyone that did. There are two main phases of battle: Move Phase and Action Phase. Move Phase is essentially all about strategic deployment on a giant grid. Your characters can move a certain distance at which point you can determine which direction they'll be facing - an important consideration, as enemies will do far more damage if they attack you from the back of sides.
Once you're happy with everyone's position, the battle switches to Action Phase, where you can queue up attacks. All attacks and items use up Action Points (AP), but stoically waiting a round out can increase a character's AP exponentially, so you'll find yourself reading battles and often alternating action with inaction to allow for massive attack chains. Speaking of which... it's also worth noting your party's formation as each character can be linked to in battle depending upon where you place them. Not only will they do more damage naturally, but you can then chain attacks together across characters. Do twice as much damage as your opponent's remaining hit points and you'll trigger an Overkill, which yields double the loot.
There are a huge variety of attacks, special attacks and 'Arts', as the game calls them. Moreover, above each character's HP bar there is a 'Break' bar that decreases with damage taken too. Drop that to zero on an enemy and you'll be able to do more damage to them, although bear in mind that the same can be done to you too. At the end of each battle you get ranked on your performance, higher ranks obviously giving out more XP to be spent across a range of standard attributes such as Strength, Agility, Intelligence and so on. All of the usual RPG staples.
And that's the thing really. Agarest: Generations of War Zero won't convert anyone who's not a fan of the genre. If you are, particularly if you enjoyed the original, then this title is right up your street. But anyone else will be left pretty cold.
Part of the reason for that is that the game takes ages to get into. You can play along for five hours and still not realise that there are dating sim elements and the horrifically titled 'Soul Breeding' still to experience. That said, the number of doe-eyed, inappropriately-attired anime girls throwing themselves at Siegfried will probably give something away. As it turns out, Soul Breeding isn't the incubation and nurturing of the undead or anything like that, but a dynamic system in which whoever you shack up with in the first generation (wow, that's in the title!), will directly influence the protagonist you play as in the second generation. That doesn't get away from the fact, though, that for the most part, the game simply follows the standard JSRPG equation of Long Winded Dialogue + Isometric Battle + Long Winded Dialogue + Isometric Battle + Long Winded Dialogue + ....you get the idea.
An additional complaint is that the game looks horrible outside of the anime dialogue slides. The low-res 2D blobs that make up the characters on the battlefield look utterly out of place in the 3D world around them, especially when most of the enemies are actually rendered in 3D too. As for the dialogue screens, the characters have the bare minimum of animations - blinking eyes and slightly ruffled hair a throwback to last-gen games. And that's how this game feels: last-gen.
At the end of the day, it's difficult to recommend Zero to anyone but the most hardcore of JSRPG fans. It's not a bad game, and it plays to the strengths of the genre pretty well, with a generations-spanning story that's genuinely engaging...once you've played the game for several hours, that is. But there are better exponents of what is, in all honesty, a slightly out of date form.
- Pretty anime art during dialogue
- Some nice features when battling
- Suitably epic story - Soul Breed a nice touch
- Pretty clunky in places, particularly when it comes to the interface
- Horrible battlefield presentation
- You have to dig for hours to see reward
The Short Version: Don't expect a huge amount of innovation from Agarest: Generations of War Zero, and don't pick it up if you're only in it for the short haul. If you really need a strategy-RPG fix, then this will do the trick, everyone else will probably give it a miss.