Record of Agarest War is a game that works better in theory than execution, which is why I really ought to play the sequel (prequel?) before writing a review, but I don’t have enough patience to do that.
Record of Agarest War is a Japanese RPG available for the iOS. It’s tile-based — so for anyone keeping score — this is my second attempt to find another Final Fantasy: War of the Lions-esque game. Of course, the problem with Agarest is the same as the problems with The Banner Saga, in that it’s a flat field without changes in elevation or different classes, or obstacles to hide behind, etc. It’s all very surface level… and may be ancillary to – what I thought was – the “secondary” part of the game: the dating sim.
See, what makes Agarest War interesting – and indeed, what sold me on the concept – is that you’re fighting a war… but like, a legitimate “1500s and earlier” type war. The war goes on for at least a hundred years or so – probably more. So you don’t simply play an unaging protagonist, but instead you play as his offspring.
Throughout the war, you come across three heroines, and at the end of your tour, you choose one to procreate with. The heroine you choose has an impact on what types of abilities, weapons, and attributes your son has. This pattern continues through 4 or 5 generations – pretty epic, right?
The problem is Agarest War focuses far more on the sex element than it does on the gameplay or story.
Now I know what you’re thinking, is that a bad thing? Let’s be real here, sexy heroines have existed in video games for… well, since video games were invented (I’m sure there’s someone out there who got their rocks off to Ms. Pac-Man). And the women in Agarest War hilariously appeal to every possible sex fetish (i.e. there’s an S&M elf lady, there’s a leather-clad dominatrix, there’s the blonde furry, etc.). I bring this up however because it works in direct contrast to the RPG format.
RPGs require grinding (double entendre intended). You form your party, you fight the randomly generated bad guys, you level up. It’s repetitive. And when you’re forced to stare at the same image again and again, the sexual allure fades, meaning all you’re left with is the gameplay and story, both of which are SORELY lacking in engagement.
The gameplay is different, which is good, but the execution is deeply flawed. As with other RPGs, you have a turn-order, however Agarest enables you to bypass order if your characters are “linked” to one another; this is done when characters are moved in formation – kinda neat, right? And very military/war-inspired. However, it’s not just a neat feature, it’s required if you want to make any kind of progress in the game.
You need to link your party members together since it’s almost impossible to kill even the most minor of monsters without a group effort. On the one hand, the message is “teamwork”, on the other, it’s incredibly time consuming and tedious as all hell.
You can form a party of six and it rarely took less than 3 characters to kill a monster. What’s worse, monsters have “armor” and “health” – similar to Banner Saga – but Banner Saga made it so you could attack either attribute, Agarest incorporates both into every attack, so even if you have an attack that would do an obscene amount of damage, it’s irrelevant if it has no “armor breaking” ability — which is restored immediately after the failed attack, i.e. it doesn’t accumulate.
So, if the gameplay is bad, you’d expect the story to be something worth writing home about, yeah? No. Good lord, no.
The story lacks imagination – it’s almost as bad as the story in FF:WotL. It’s the same old, same old: War is bad. With the same uninspired characters that say, “How I wish the war would end and we could simply live in peace [and make babies].”
So you may be asking yourself, why did you play through two and a half generations before quitting? I’ll tell you, dear reader. I overestimated the game’s abilities – which is tied to my “solution” to this overarching problem.
The Problem & Solution
The core problem to Agarest War is also the core differentiator: the dating sim. What makes the dating sim interesting is you have the opportunity to change how you play the game. However, that should go beyond “gameplay” and affect the story.
The first generation hero was taxing. He was a stubborn, naïve soldier without a single interesting characteristic, but I wanted to get to the second generation because I thought the character/story would change depending on the heroine I chose.
So, for example, one woman was elf (or something) and her brother was also on my team. I thought, ‘Yeesh, if I don’t pick her, her brother’s going to be pissed.’ Meanwhile, if I do pick her, perhaps my son will be ostracized in towns for being a half-breed – which is infinitely more compelling than my current protagonist. So I picked her.
The choice had no impact on the protagonist and the brother was even less affected. What’s more, the ladies I didn’t choose, leave afterwards – despite being tied to the destiny. That’s even worse! I was hoping the ladies I didn’t choose would stay in the party and become embittered or begrudging to my new protagonist, but NO! That’s the problem! Your romantic choice has no impact on the story or character. It might as well be anyone.
Stranger yet, your son is—it’s like he’s BORN as a 20-year-old, because all your other party members (not tied to your former protagonist romantically) are the same age. Except one, and this is half of what drove me to progress into the 3rd generation before quitting.
One of the characters in your party (from the 1st generation) is a little girl. In the second generation, she becomes a teenager. Why wasn’t there more of that?
Why doesn’t the pervy character slowly grow into an old pervy man? Why doesn’t the hot-headed brother become a wise old man or an embittered rival depending on your romantic choice?
The little girl who grows into a teenager is the seed of an idea that’s never fully realized. And that’s the problem with the game in a nutshell.
Where this game could’ve been great is where other “choice” mechanic-based games, like Fable or Mass Effect, have failed. Your choices shouldn’t simply determine who lives and who dies; your choices should deeply impact your supporting characters.
The third generation at least had your son raised primarily by the pervy guy, so he had more personality than the bricks from generations 1 and 2, but he was still one-note and I could not continue.
But it’s the idea that makes this game worth reviewing (not playing). I want the idea employed in other games, but effectively.
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