Ah, the strategy RPG, the most hardcore of old school gaming genres. For the uninitiated, the unforgiving difficulty, basic visual style and seemingly never ending grind can seem like a wall to entry that simply isn’t worth climbing. In the case of Agarest: Generations of War Zero, sadly, that is very much true. Yes, there are high points and positives to be found amidst this extremely uneven package for fans of the series, and perhaps, even the genre fans at large, but for any newcomers thinking of dipping a toe, you’d be better off testing the water elsewhere. Simply put, Agarest: Generations of War Zero is hardcore to the bone, but probably of greater importance, really isn’t all that good.
Well, I say that it isn’t all that good, but that is perhaps a little unfair. The battle system, inarguably the most important aspect of an SRPG is actually really rather brilliant – the problem arises from the fact that just about everything built around is either poorly implemented, poorly conceived or just flat our lazy.
First the good – the battle system is as tight and exhaustively deep as ever. Playing out more like a game of chess than a traditional RPG, Agarest: Generations of War Zero demands a commitment from the player that few games would dare request. With 80+ hours of largely unrelenting battle, an array of deceptively unforgiving enemies and a currency system that punishes even the most subtle of battlefield failures with a harshness surprising even by SRPG standards, Zero is nothing if not challenging.
While experience points are dished out on a pleasingly regular basis after each and every battle, actual currency is much harder to come by. To make matters worse, each time a member of your team dies on the battlefield (something that will happen on a relatively regular basis), you have to use your hard earned currency to revive them. Not only will this leave you with a pitiful amount of spending money, but will more often find you having to sell items just to rummage up enough scratch to get your team back to full strength. Now, I’m all for a challenge, but sometimes Agarest: Generations of War Zero seems to go out of its way to be a complete pain in the ass.
As much as I found it annoying though, some will inevitably rise to the additional challenge. Zero is an already difficult game, one in which careful placement of your troops across the traditional grid-based battle screen is absolutely paramount to success. Add the additional currency-based challenge to the already highly challenging enemy design and you’re left with a system that will infuriate many, but surely delight a small hardcore fanbase who will love nothing more than the additional tactical challenge that these design choices pose.
Still, preferences regarding difficulty aside, the battle system is unquestionably Agarest: Generations of War Zero’s trump card. It may be overtly traditional and largely unchanged from its predecessor, but with its nuanced combat, cool combo attacks and highly tactical gameplay, Zero’s battle system is something one could get easily lost in, providing endless hours of extremely challenging, but nonetheless highly rewarding gameplay.
As I said before though – the battle system isn’t the problem. The problem is that Agarest: Generations of War Zero provides almost the exact same experience as its predecessor, that the menus and inventory screens are a confusing mess, that the story holding the whole experience together is utter mince and that its art and visual design is, to put it simply, all over the bloody place.
While it does dilute the outrageous sexuality of its immediate predecessor to a degree, Zero is still in somewhat bizarrely eroticised territory. With an emphasis on dating-sim-esque design, your character, Sieghart, will have more than his fair share of scantily clad ladies to choose from. In fairness though, Idea Factory have at least attempted to explain away the reasoning behind all of these eager lassies knocking about – you see, Zero’s story is set over numerous generations with each one being defined by the relationships you build and peruse in the one that came before. Via the simplistic dating-sim gameplay, you essentially build the teams and relationships that will become the focal point of the next generation of warriors. It’s certainly an interesting concept on paper, but sadly, too many choices and dialogue options feel completely removed from your previous decisions, giving the whole experience an air of complex but ultimately shallow window dressing. It’s also strange how the light hearted nature of relationship building clashes against the darker tones of the mostly archetypal core story….land in darkness, save the girl, find the thingamajig, etc, etc, etc.
Speaking of clashes, the visual design for Agarest: Generations of War Zero is a strange mix of 3D backgrounds and bosses, and jagged, old school 2D character sprites. It all works individually and nothing is in any way particularly ugly, but like in the case of Disgaea 3, the low-res 2D characters and hi-res 3D visuals don’t really work together. Then there are the 2D, hand drawn cut-scenes – as is so often the case for games of this ilk, any meaningful conversation is achieved via screen filling hand drawn character art with extremely limited animations. Again, it all looks fine (as long as you like cleavage), but again, it’s just another distinct visual style to clash against the others. As I said….it’s a bit of a mess. Still, if you can get over the disparate styles, individually, everything looks rather nice, even if the battlefields are a boringly flat combination of grids…..and nothing much else.
I’m sure fans of the series will find plenty to like in Agarest: Generations of War Zero, but for anyone looking to take those first tentative steps into the unforgiving world of SRPGs, I would suggest the more even tone of a Final Fantasy Tactics or the simply superior Disgaea series. Despite its many flaws, Agarest: Generations of War Zero isn’t a bad game, it’s simply an uneven one. The battle system is great and individually, there is a lot to like about the visual style, but when it all comes together, Zero often feels less than the sum of its parts. Be it poor design choices or a lack of any tangible evolution, Zero is only likely to interest the most committed of Agarest aficionados.
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