Record of Agarest War is a strategy role-playing game (SRPG) developed by three studios - Idea Factory, Red Entertainment and Compile Heart - and originally released in Japan three years ago. The game was recently brought over to North America by Aksys Games. Aksys clearly had a specific audience in mind when marketing Agarest, placing an emphasis on the dating slim elements and skimpy anime girls, hence the "Really Naughty Limited Edition" for Xbox 360. Strangely, the actual game places less focus on the dating ("Soul Breeding") portions than players might expect after watching the trailers, or looking at the cover art. Instead, Record of Agarest War puts players through an extremely long, drawn out campaign full of random, unavoidable encounters, an awkward battle system, and a convoluted story that ultimately amounts to little in the way of fun.
Record of Agarest War is set around the classic struggle between good and evil, light and dark. Once upon a time, a group of light gods sacrificed themselves to defeat evil, and bring life back to the world of Agarest, or something along those lines. The protagonist is Leonhardt, an army general who leaves his post after questioning the morals behind his cause. Shortly after quitting, Leonhardt is killed in battle with one of his former allies. He is saved by a mysterious women, Dyshana, who promises to resurrect him if he pledges his soul, and the souls of his descendants (queue soul breeding) to her. They embark on a journey that will span five generations in total.
The main problem with the story, besides the clichÃ©d premise, is the lack of character development. The game introduces new characters constantly, the majority of which will ultimately play a very minor role in the overall story. It's rare for a new character to be featured in more than three or four scenes, most barely get there. This overload of distracting introductions makes it hard to discern what the meaningful plot points are. Even the main characters feel underdeveloped. There isn't much reason to care about them because they all fall into typical anime roles, with little backstory to explain their actions. The uninteresting plot could be somewhat overlooked if the gameplay was top notch, unfortunately that's not the case.
The battle system places the party on a grid and features two distinct phases - move and action. During the move phase, players decide where to place each member of their team based on the amount of AP (Action Points) they have - moving one square in the any direction costs one AP. Each character has a set range of movement and AP regeneration per turn, which must be carefully considered because AP is also used during the action phase. After each character has moved, the opportunity to act is determined by a lineup that takes into account a character's skills relative to the rest. The best way to maximize damage is to chain the team's attacks and generate combos. There's a book which reveals which combination of attacks will produce "Special Arts" - group attacks or special moves.A few design choices in the battle system limit the amount of strategy and versatility in combat. For example, the movement system is designed in such a way that players must decide where to move all their characters without knowing what the enemy will do. All players move at the same time once the decisions have been made blind. This makes positioning party members in an effective, offensive position completely hit or miss. It's generally best to play it safe and set up defensively. Another puzzling feature is using AP for both movement and actions. This is also an incentive to limit movement and focus on defense because it'll save AP for attacks. These design choices narrow the effective strategies.
Leonhardt committed the souls of his descendants to Dyshana, so he'll have to produce some to fulfill his pledge. After winning the affection of one or multiple female characters, it's possible to get married and have children with one of them. This process repeats itself at the end of each generation. Overall, the dating system is poorly executed, which is strange for a game that promotes its Soul Breeding so prominently. A good example of this is the choices that determine affection. Record of Agarest War will frequently give players two choices that will affect the girl's opinion of them - similar to inFamous' binary morality system. The problem is that the game doesn't properly inform players of what each girl's preferences are, and some of the choices aren't even related to the relationship. It's common to be completely stumped as to why a choice caused a certain girl to suddenly lose favour.
Record of Agarest War has gone through multiple ports and re-releases so the visuals are definitely showing their age. Even when the game debuted on PS3 in 2007 the graphics engine was only smoothing PS2 visuals, so its no surprise the game looks dated. A good art style would have made up for the lack of technical prowess, but unfortunately there isn't much worth noting about the art direction either. The battle animations are the only exception - each combo or chained attack features some over the top choreography and effects which are generally interesting to watch the first time. However, they don't save the game's overall bland visual presentation. The sound doesn't fare much better either. For some reason games feel obligated to have metal playing during battle scenes when it doesn't match the tone of the game.
Lackluster presentation also extends to the game's dialogue. Certain fans will appreciate the authentic Japanese voice acting, but the omission of an English dub will alienate many gamers. Reading through the subtitles is made worse due to poor localization. Robotic, awkward phrasing makes it feel like the translation was rushed. Overall, the game's presentation is rough around the edges.
Record of Agarest War's campaign is extremely long, easily clocking in at over 50 hours. Depending on what side quests players happen to run into, it could be even longer. In terms of replayability, it's doubtful many people will be eager to start fresh after investing over 50 hours, especially considering that much of the length is due to random, unavoidable encounters, and mandatory battles in between each plot point. These unavoidable, insignificant battles make the game feel like a brutal grind no matter how it's played. It just feels like the campaign is artificially extended greatly, and there's little incentive to go back.
Record of Agarest War is a game that seeks to draw in fans of seductive anime and SRPGs, but ultimately doesn't succeed particularly well at either. The dating slim elements feel tacked on, which is odd considering the significance to the plot. The design of the battle system is not very versatile, the story is convoluted, and the length is extended significantly due to unavoidable battles that don't advance the story. In the end, Record of Agarest War is a game for an extremely niche audience who probably won't be swayed by this review, for everyone else it's hard to recommend.