I feel like Record of Agarest War Zero is trying to cheat. The market is supposed to incentivize creators to make great creations. More people will watch a good movie than a bad movie, more people will play a good game than a bad game. Record of Agarest Zero is not a good strategy game. The interface is clunky, the music is grating, and even unimportant fights drag on WAY longer than is fun. The story is painfully generic.
But I don’t think that’s the point. Record of Argarest Zero aims to sell not based on the strategy component, but based on the many girls in the game. Young innocent girls, shy childhood friend girls, dark mystical girls… any type of anime girl you could desire is present and available for dating and mating.
Agarest is not alone in taking this shortcut. We’ve all seen the other games that take the exact same fanservice-over-substance approach. And all of these games have found themselves an audience despite scathing reviews and derivative mechanics. Why? Because they have waifus and there’s always an audience for waifus.
So, if you enjoy strategy games, let me be clear: this is not a game for you. There are far too many unimportant combat scenarios and they take far too long to clear. Especially in the beginning of the game, the miss chance on attacks is so high that misses alone tack on an additional couple of turns per battle. There’s also a noticeable and increasingly annoying delay as the computer figures out opponent’s turns. The skill animations are far longer than necessary and get especially tiresome during extended battles.
The most effective strategy in Record of Agarest Zero is to place your units on designated “combo tiles” from which they will be able to participate in other units’ turns. This is necessary in even small scale battles, so the player is going to find a formation that works well and stick with it until the game forces a party change on them. Not only is it counterintuitive to be sending units far away from the enemy to stand on a combo tile so they can participate, but the same formation works in every single fight.
Ideally, a strategy game offers a variety of viable tactics and rewards the player for a thoughtful approach to battle. In Record of Agarest Zero,the only meaningful choice the player makes on a tactical level is what weapon type to equip to the protagonist. Whatever you bring to battle, though, the strategy remains the same. Sit still on the first turn to build super meter and AP, spread your units out into formation onto combo tiles, and then unleash 20 hit skill strings on any enemy that comes into range. It’s a one-size-fits-all strategy, it requires almost zero thought to execute, and it leaves the player sitting through similar skill strings over and over again.
There’s no shortage of quality strategy games on the PC, and Record of Agarest Zero does not impress comparatively. XCOM makes the player feel attached to the characters through close calls and mechanics rather than promises of panties. Banner Saga presents a mythological/fantasy strategy setting that is far more distinct than the warring light gods and darkness gods in Agarest Zero. Company of Heroes II is quietly the best RTS game to come out in the last two years. I genuinely cannot think of a compelling pitch to try and draw a strategy game enthusiast to Agarest.
The outlook is definitely better if you’re interested in Agarest for the girls, though. Trips to the beach to get the girls in swim wear, accidentally walking in on girls wearing their undies, and naive male protagonists who get impossibly confused when girls indicate romantic interest are all present and accounted for.
The dating-sim content is solid for the fans that are being served, but I think that the plodding strategy game portion of Agarest Zero isn’t a great fit for that content. When the main attraction in a game is the girls, then the actual gameplay should revolve around the girls. Senran Kagura is all girls all the time and incorporates disintegrating clothing and 3D bouncing boobs right into the gameplay. By comparison, Record of Agarest Zero has a lot of girls in the cutscenes between battle scenarios but in battle there’s precious little. The girls fight, but their sprites and abilities aren’t significantly different from any other character.
Record of Agarest War Zero is mostly strategy battle scenarios. These scenarios are not only tedious, but they don’t focus on the girls. The girls are the only part of the game that I think anyone is going to like about it. If the majority of the game is something the player has to endure just to get to the good stuff, that’s a problem. Also, combat can get tough in this game! There’s no just rushing through the bland gameplay in Agarest; you’ve got to pay attention.
One upside is that the game is on Steam. There have been a good number of girl games on other platforms these past months but Steam doesn’t have particularly strong genre representation. Even though I don’t think this is the best game of its type, it might just be the best option on this particular platform… for now anyway.
I’m not sure who Record of Agarest War Zero is for. The strategy is too clunky to compete with other strategy games and it also gets between the player and the girls. To really enjoy this game, a player would need to have really limited strategy game experience or just really low standards. He would need to be into romancing anime girls, not mind grinding though a lot of subpar strategy RPG to do it, and not mind if some of the girls in question look distinctly too young for such relationships.
Food for thought:
1. You can get Steam trading cards for playing Record of Agarest Zero. I’m not sure why this surprised me, but it did. I don’t expect to see too many others to trade my girls with, though. Which is a shame, because I got three of the same girl. Typical.
2. For the record, I think that not providing English voices was the right choice in this game. The folks this release is aimed at are likely to look down their noses at a voice track in their native language and demand the original Japanese anyway. Why waste all that time and money for a dub?
3. There’s a real strange breathing animation applied to all the talking head portraits in this game that makes the chests heave ever so slightly more than they really ought to. This is applied to both male and female portraits, but let’s be real—it exists to draw eyes to the boobs. I was originally going to rip on this, but it turned out to be one of my favorite features. The up and down and up and down of the various chests is strangely hypnotic.
4. One of the central ideas in this game is that who the player mates with alters the next generation’s stats (the game is quite long). It’s a good idea that ties together the date sim content and the strategy content. Except that the strategy content is bad. If there was ever a game that had compelling romantic content and also compelling strategy RPG content, I think that idea could really blossom into something compelling. (You know, like Fire Emblem Awakening.)
5. There is an awful lot of content in the game. Item crafting alone could add 15 hours to completion time. I’m not a fan of how this game turned out, but I don’t think it was because of an incompletely realized vision. There are tons of skills, areas, and side quests. Even without straying from the beaten path the game takes a long time to beat. Anyone who does get into this game will be well served for 70 hours at minimum.