Many a Japanese game enthusiast knows about the Agarest Wars series and how Idea Factory and Aksys make light of and use the fanservice elements from the series to draw attention to the strategic RPG. While Record of Agarest War Zero does have fanservice, it’s also a rather dramatic and occasionally comedic game that will require you to think ahead when taking part in battles to ensure you not only succeed, but get the most out of each one. There’s more to the game than just the occasional scantily-clad woman.
If Record of Agarest War Zero is your first Agarest War game, don’t worry. You won’t be left out. It’s a prequel with an original story. All the people of Kraltarla are trying to save their world from darkness, Larva and wars the gods started. Sieghart is initially a commander who, with Eugene and Friedelinde, was supposed to defend a small town. While chasing dark enemies away, he comes upon a young girl named Mimelle who is being attacked by a Larva.
Sieghart attempts to save her, but ends up beaten and dying. She uses her powers to save him, but unintentionally uses too much of her power. She ends up an amnesiac and without the powers the Armies of Light were relying on to help win the war. Since she’s developed an attachment to Sieghart, and it seems he now wields the power she originally had, the two are paired together to work to find a way to tip the odds in Kraltarla’s favor and save the world from darkness.
Record of Agarest War Zero‘s game bits are split into two parts. The story is a rather straightforward visual novel with dating-sim elements. You’ll see the animated character portraits (which do that eerie breathing/blinking/subtle movement thing) while they talk, and you can have the text autoplay, skip, fast forward or even check a backlog if you missed part of the conversation. You’ll occasionally be able to help Sieghart, and later Leonis, make choices which will then affect how the female characters feel about him. These choices can also influence whether or not you end up with the true ending.
The bulk of gameplay is made up of strategic RPG battles. You pick six characters to go into battle. Battle is then split into phases. First is a movement phase, where you choose characters’ positions. Each character has an extended area sphere of influence, where parts of the grid around him or her allow other characters to step into them so they can unleash chained attacks during the action phase. Movement also determines how much AP (action points) are used. After everyone moves, or doesn’t move, the action phase begins.
When the action phase begins, the line of character portraits on the top of the screen dictates who can act and when. Faster characters move quicker, as usual, but how many AP points characters have left and whether or not characters moved during the movement phase also have an effect on when characters act. If characters are in the right positions, you can have all six hurl themselves at a single opponent, dealing as much damage as possible and possibly even combining attacks to execute more complicated moves. While the general goal is to defeat all enemies standing in each battle, it’s even better to try and overkill all enemies standing so you’re guaranteed items to use for crafting.
Idea Factory strategic RPGs are known for having a fairly high difficulty threshold, not just because they’re actually difficult, but because they can also be quite complicated. This, in turn, can turn a lot of people off on them. Record of Agarest War Zero isn’t like that. Yes, it shares much in common with other IF RPGs. There are overkills, you can chain together characters’ skills for massive combos, there’s a true ending that can only be seen if you make certain choices and do specific things and there are also titles to earn and equipment to forge. The difference is that everything still involves quite the intricate processes, but Idea Factory did a much better job of explaining how things work. You can check to see what skill combos are possible before starting a chain combo, for example. You can turn tutorials on and off, if you want explanations of new concepts before a battle. They’re little changes and additions, but they make such a big difference when it comes to enjoying and being successful in the game.
There’s another boon for Record of Agarest War Zero players who are still having trouble, despite the improved tutorials and simplified gameplay, battle and crafting systems. There’s the cavalcade of free DLC. Since the game was released, Aksys has been releasing free and paid DLC on the PlayStation Store. I haven’t sampled any of the paid items, but the free items give free points to further strengthen characters, incredible equipment, valuable crafting materials, extra money and resources and extra dungeons. It’s fantastic. The only possible downside is you can end up earning trophies instantly just for downloading and installing this DLC.
Speaking of Aksys, they’ve done a phenomenal job with the translation and localization process. The script is just great. It’s very well written and even though the overall tone of the whole "saving the world" thing is quite dramatic and serious, they still managed to add in some lighthearted moments and ensure each character’s personality successfully shines through with each line. Even when I go back and replay Record of Agarest War Zero, since I’ve blown my chance at earning the true ending now, I’m not planning to skip over the visual novel story segments because the game is well written.
Another issue that comes up with a game like Record of Agarest War Zero is the fanservice. It is there, but it isn’t overbearing. You’ll spend more time in ordinary conversations with characters and much more time battling than you will oogling scantily-clad women. (Unless you decided to turn on the option where female characters’ outfits change depending on how much they like you, in which case the ordinary conversations’ fanservice moments greatly increases.) I haven’t played the original Record of Agarest War, but I’d say I’ve seen more here than I did in Hyperdimension Neptunia. (Though Hyperdimension Neptunia did have more innuendo written into the script.) If you avoid games that involve fanservice but are still interested in Agarest War, it’s pretty easy to skip over any scenes you don’t want to see.
This makes Record of Agarest War Zero a more substantial game than it started out being. While there are only two generations here compared to the five that appeared in the original Record of Agarest War and you’ll have fewer party members to choose from, it didn’t bother me in the least. The story is great and you’ll spend plenty of time battling, exploring and spending vacation points in town to build up relationships between Sieghart and the female characters.
Food for Thought
1. Always make sure to check to see if you earned any titles after each hour or two of play time. You could end up earning some good equipment or extra cash.
2. I liked the first generation characters best. Especially Eugene. Eugene was hilarious.
3. There’s no English voice acting. It’s no big deal though, as the Japanese voice acting is phenomenal.
4. Don’t worry about any entry barriers if you’ve never played an Agarest War game before. This was my first encounter with the series and this prequel is so well set up that you won’t miss out at all.
5. Play it on an HDTV if you can. The character sprites look much better in high definition.
6. I liked that you could check and see how Leonis would turn out with the first three marriage candidates with the oracles, to help determine which direction you want to go with for the next generation. I went with Friedelinde, since it meant Leonis’ strength and vitality states would both be S rank.
7. The Free Intention system is nice, since it makes it seem like you can do more in towns and when roaming around than you usually do in Idea Factory games.