When most people think of Agarest War, they think of fanservice. The fact that these are stories with deeper stories concerning political strife or justice over generations never seems to come up, which is why people are probably more preoccupied with the lol-tastic and bathhouse mini-games of Record of Agarest War 2 rather than the fact that it attempts to streamline the series with an entry that looks and plays better than both Record of the Agarest War and Record of Agarest War Zero.
Record of Agarest War 2 begins with Weiss and an archeologist named Fasti entering a rather large and extravagant temple. A terrible fate has befallen Weiss and those he holds dear, in particular a woman named Leina. We don’t get an opportunity to know what happened or why, just that Weiss holds the gods responsible for not stepping in with a miracle to help and immediately sets about killing a god named Chaos. As he does, a huge beam of light appears.
Weiss then wakes up on another continent, alone, with only a memory of his name. A young woman named Aina found him and healed him up again. She claims he appeared there on the Day of Light, when a whole continent was destroyed and monsters started getting more violent and aggressive. As the two head towards the nearest town, an agent of the divine named Eva appears before them. She tells Weiss that he is now the Vessel, who must seek out the Pillars to support him and the Key, all in an attempt to atone for killing a god. If he can’t set things right, then his offspring will also be forced to help in an effort to eventually set things right.
If you’ve played Record of Agarest War 2, you’re in for quite a shock when it comes to gameplay. While some mechanics, like crafting and the hunters guild, remain pretty much the same, the rest of the game has been altered to make it feel more like a traditional, turn-based JRPG than a strategic RPG. You can actually roam around the world map, though the segments where you proceed through a mapped out area taking part in one battle after another remain. You can explore everywhere. Most importantly, the battle system now feels like it was inspired by Square Enix’s Valkyrie Profile games.
Each character still learns multiple attacks and skills from books. Only now, before battles, you assign them to the action buttons. Once a battle begins, players are laid out on a grid. This grid formation assigns stat boosts depending on the leader and allows party members to team up for group attacks if everyone is in the right position. Group attacks can be stronger and, if an overkill occurs, can result in a super attack that allows all four characters to take turns whaling on an enemy. Attack efficiently and after an attack is over, you’ll get points that can be used to unleash a super attack on the next turn.
As for individual skills or spells, after a character is selected either automatically or by pressing his or her respective direction on the D-pad, pressing the O, X, square and triangle buttons can start attack chains. Special combo attacks can even be triggered if they’re set ahead of time in the menus and players have both characters using those attacks in the formation. While formations can be broken after an attack, players can shift party members back into formation immediately by selecting the Leader icon to make someone else the leader.
This is going to sound odd as a die-hard fan of Valkyrie Profile and its battle system, but I there were times when I preferred the strategic battle system used in previous Agarest games. Record of Agarest War 2‘s turn-based battles can drag. It feels like they carry on far longer than they should, unless you’re playing on the easiest difficulty level or have over-leveled characters. Perhaps I’m spoiled by games that let you off an enemy with one hit or eventually turn on an auto-battle. Maybe it was the constant battle-after-battle that came from the separate map segments, but there were times I needed to take a break and go do something else when I was faced with an onslaught of battles. At least, until I switched to the easy difficult level so I could relax and focus on the story.
One thing that’s beyond dispute is that Record of Agarest War 2 looks worlds better than the previous two games. The lead characters and most enemies are rendered in HD sprites. They’re detailed and look quite nice, especially if you have an HDTV. Larger monsters are rendered in 3D and while they look good, I wish Idea Factory and Compile Heart had gone the HD sprite route with them as well. It would have been more consistent and looked better. It’s a minor qualm though and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear I’m the only one complaining about it.
Then, there are the mini-games. If you’re wondering why Record of Agarest War 2 has a Teen rating,this is part of it. You can help the heroines bathe, provide a massage or do shiatsu. All three involve little clothing, the sound effects you’re probably expecting and optional PlayStation Move controls. These games aren’t forced on you, which I was glad to hear because they aren’t my kind of thing. The thing is, I did them anyway because the boosts each provides is really helpful. The massage especially, since it raises all of the stats of the character if done correctly. In case you’re curious, shiatsu raises battle stats and the bath just makes the character like the hero more. I’d say the massage and shiatsu are most helpful, overall. Save the tickets you get to use with the characters you use most in battles.
Some characters’ portraits are also another example of Compile Heart fan-service at its best/worst. Part of this is due to the optional costumes you can unlock and apply to female characters, but even the standard character portraits are proof of it.The best example is Eva. What I want to know is, why does everything have to jiggle when she slightly inclines her head. She doesn’t even vigorously nod or or move. She just tips her head, but the rest of her body moves like she just did a jumping jack or something. I did some tests on my own. (Read: Asked a friend to watch while I nodded in the same manner.) The only thing that moved when I did the same action was my head. Of course, I doubt realism is what people are really looking for with Record of Agarest War 2.
The only kind of fan-service you can’t skip over are the CG images that show up occasionally during certain events. While these are almost always very suggestive, the fact that they aren’t happening very often helps make Record of Agarest War 2 more palatable for people who don’t like fanservice and are more interested in the challenge and story the game presents. So you’re going to see some stuff that may or may not interest you, but it’s definitely overshadowed by the rest of the game, which is pretty challenging and interesting.
Overall, I enjoyed Record of Agarest War 2. It felt a lot tighter than previous entries and the flow of the game and story was really smooth. While the battles did seem to drag a bit for me, it wasn’t as bad after I switched to a lower difficulty setting. The fanservice is definitely still there, but the mini-games and optional costumes tend to make up the most of it. If you want, you can play and enjoy the game and story without being bombarded by innuendo. Even though it feels more like a traditional, turn-based JRPG than a strategic RPG, fans of the series can rest assured that it is still very much a “numbers” game that allows for plenty of customization.
Food for Thought
1. I like that you aren’t forced to marry only the characters who like your hero, and that there are consequences for going into a loveless marriage.
2. You can access every area of the world map in the first generation, which is nice because it means you can go absolutely everywhere.
3. There’s loads of free DLC that adds makes you party stronger instantly. Combine that with the easy story level and you can zip through, focusing on the story.
4. All characters earn experience from battles, even if they aren’t in your party.
5. Events can make all characters, romance option or not, like the hero more or less.
6. There are only 3 generations this time around.
7. If you ever find yourself stuck with no events to advance the story, check the Hunter’s Guild for quests, do a few and then something should open up.
8. Be prepared for a lot of loading. The load times in Record of Agarest War 2 felt about as long as those in Mass Effect 3!