Agarest: Generations of War – Initial Impressions

By: NegativeZero

Nov 27 2009

Category: Games

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It’s kind of bizzare, really. I can’t think of any previous instance where a Japanese RPG of any description has been available to PAL gamers months before the game is released in the US. Generally it’s us in PAL land that end up getting the short end of the stick. My understanding is that the US release of the game was scheduled for digital-only release via the Playstation Network, but it seems that it’s been held up while the game gets ported to the Xbox 360 for a multi-platform release. But I digress.

I picked up the Collector’s Edition of the game as an import from the UK. The game has a different publisher in the UK, to the US. Whether this means that the localization is different between the two is not known yet but I would expect that Aksys and Ghostlight probably shared the same translation between themselves. The release itself is puzzling. It’s a full disc-based release (which I don’t mind – to say that the state of broadband in Australia is primitive is an understatement) where the US release was set to be digital only. Yet the odd thing is that I could find no mention of the game at any Australian retailers. It carries an Australian ratings sticker: MA15+, which is currently our highest ratings bracket because of the actions of an odious little man from South Australia.

The collector’s edition came packaged with a hardback artbook, about 30 pages, all color. Form factor is the same as a PS3 case, so slightly shorter than a standard DVD. The artwork contained in there is what you’d expect. Some concept art and a bunch of CGs. The package also came with a set of six postcards, and what was billed on the packaging as an ‘A3 poster’. Apparently someone at the publisher needs to learn some basic print terminology, because as it turns out the poster is closer A5. Paper sizing works such that A1 is half the size of A0, A2 half the size of A1 and so on. EDIT: It is actually A3, and I am blind or something.

The game itself is fairly mediocre. The interface is fairly clunky around the menu systems and there is an extremely irritating half a second lag between a line of dialogue displaying and the character’s voice actually playing. The dialogue itself is completely in Japanese – there is no English dub. Which honestly is how I prefer it, but this will probably limit the game to a fairly niche audience.

That said, the content of the game is already pitched at a niche audience. The coverage its received might trick you into thinking that it’s an eroge. This isn’t true, though it’s not entirely false either. It’s hardly the first game out there to have merged Strategy RPG and Visual Novel / Dating Sim elements – prior art runs the gamut from Ar Tonelico to Dragon Age. This one’s main gimmick is that the game progresses over multiple generations. The initial generation’s hero signs a pact with a spirit, which also ties his bloodline to her. At each generation there are three heroines. The conclusion of each generation involves hooking up with one of them, and the hero of the next generation will be the son of the previous generation’s hero and the lucky girl you ended up with. At least that’s my understanding of the system. Honestly I think it’s an interesting concept. I haven’t played nearly enough of the game to get an idea how well the idea actually works yet, though.

The actual battle system seemed initially extremely clunky to me, primarily because the bulk of my SRPG experience is limited to NIS games like Disgaea, which are arguably the pinnacle of that particular subgenre. Each character has a number of action points (AP), and a turn order that is affected by their agility stat. Each turn is comprised of a move step and an action step. During the move step, you position your characters one by one – each square of movement costing 1 AP. There’s no diagonal movement so the cost of movement is the simple Manhattan distance between the initial and final positions. After locking in your movements, the AI does the same and all the characters will simultaneously animate moving into their new places.

During the action phase, each character has a set range. You can select any target inside that character’s range, and perform an an action on them. Fairly standard. Every action requires AP, the basic attacks taking between 8 and 10 AP depending on their type – casters attacks are generally more expensive in AP, but have range, where melee attacks are cheaper but short range. You can perform as many actions as you have the AP to do in a single attack, and once you’ve queued them up, you execute them all at once. If your character is out of range for a given attack, they will move into range as necessary (at normal movement cost). You also can perform actions on as many targets as you wish, again limited by your AP.

So far, so standard. But there’s a lot more depth to the system. Every character has a special pattern of squares. These are always relative to the position a character is at and the direction they’re facing, eg one character may have a tile directly behind them, or two squares in front of them. Any allied character standing in one of these special tiles is linked to that character. When either of them makes an action on a target in range for them, any linked character (or character linked to a linked character!) can also spend their action points to perform attacks, moving as necessary. Essentially you can unload dozens of attacks on a single target in a round – though the downside is that the AI can do the same to you.

What this means is that positioning your characters so they all link together is essential. Given that each character takes AP to move, you also want to make sure you move into linking positions with as few wasted AP as possible, to optimize the amount you have left for skills. You keep your squishy magic users in the back, linked to your front line characters so they can perform attacks from distance during the melee characters’ actions. Some skills when combined together will form a different, more powerful combination attack. It’s a fairly simple idea and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s not an original one, but it works really well and I was finding the battle system highly enjoyable.

The game itself isn’t anything special, graphics-wise. The battle system is basically 2D sprites on a 3D background using 3D graphics effects for the skills. If you’ve played Disgaea 3, this is about the same par. The character art and CGs are naturally in HD. I think the game is running at 720p rather than 1080, but I play on a monitor that only supports 720p over component anyway, so I can’t test this. The character art and CGs are fairly nice, provided you aren’t terribly put off by generic Japanese fantasy art with a fairly liberal dash of moe. I actually find the art vaguely familiar, and wouldn’t be surprised if the artist has done other things I’ve played or seen. But it could just be the fact that it’s quite generic. Voice acting is reasonable, with a few recognizable voices so far (eg Ami Koshimizu, Michie Tomizawa, Kana Ueda).

Overall it’s a fairly mediocre game so far, to be brutally honest. I’m enjoying it despite this, and honestly I wasn’t expecting much from it in the first place.

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