Review by JukkaCanola
"Better than Fire Emblem"
Gladius advertises itself as an epic, gladiatorial RPG featuring a unique battle and recruitment system. The back of the case isn't just tooting it's own horn either - the game presents a fresh RPG that was sadly overlooked by customers despite great ratings from the media.
Story - 7/10
Okay, so Gladius is no Tales of Symphonia or Skies of Arcadia when it comes to storytelling, but that doesn't mean it does a bad job. You pick your protagonist. One choice is Valens, son of the late Imperial Champion Munio. As the son of the fallen warrior, you're set up to rebuild his gladiator school with your life long friend Ludo. Your other choice is the daughter of the Barbarian King of Nordagh, Ursula. Sheltered all her life in the Nordagh castle, Ursula finally sets out on her own with twin brother Urlan to take their gladiator school to the Imperial Championships.
A little background information - the world is divided into 4 lands. Nordagh, home of Barbarians and other "ruffians". Imperia, home to a strong military and more civilized classes. Windward Steppes, a rough region, home to archers and bandits. And finally the Southern Expanse, a desert area with little known about it, except for their exceptional Dervish warrior class.
In order to qualify for the championships, your school must win each regional tournament by winning each town tournament in that region. The story sounds a bit basic, but it fleshes out as you get closer to the championships.
Gameplay - 10/10
Ahh the real section of the review. 90% of your game time will be spent in battle, which is an excellent thing indeed. But we'll get there. First, I'll explain the process of getting into battles. Battles are held in leagues in towns. So, walk to a town on the world map, enter town. Here you'll be greeted with a few choices. You can either enter the local shop, enter your school to make changes to it, or head into the town (which is really just another series of menus) to enter battles. Towns, shops, and your school screen are all menu driven and look and function great.
In the Town menu, you'll have a few more options. Town Tournament, League Battles, and the Recruitment Office. In order to access the town tournament, you need to win a certain number of golden cups. How do you get golden cups? Go into the League Battles menu. Here will be a number of leagues, all containing different themes or battle requirements. Each League is worth a certain number of golden cups, and once you have enough, you can enter the town tournament, conquer that and be on your way to the next one.
Now, in depth info on the battles. You'll start off choosing who from your school will compete in the battle. This might be restricted to certain classes based on the League requirements. It's different for every battle. Anyway, once your combatants are chosen, place them on the map and enter the battle.
Battles are turn based. Think Fire Emblem, only with added depth. Turn order is based on the speed of each unit, so not all player characters will get their turn before enemy characters. It's all based on their speed rating. In fact, some quick characters can get in two turns before a slow character even gets in one. Anyway, the battlefield is set on a grid. Each unit can move and do a basic attack. Or if the enemy is already right next to them, they can perform a special attack, which are unique for each class, or pull off a combo move. Here's the real fun part.
Whenever you initiate an attack with the enemy, depending on what type of attack you chose, a "Swing Meter" will pop up at the bottom of the screen. This challenges you to enter in a sequence of buttons in a certain amount of time, stop a meter in a small red zone, or even button mash your way to a critical hit. Depending on how well you perform the swing meter, you'll land a critical hit, regular hit, weak hit, or miss. This is the action part of the game, and is nice because for once the computer is not rolling the dice for you to see whether you get a critical or not.
Another layer of strategy is added with the terrain of the battlefield. Attack from above? Awesome, you get higher damage and less chance of being hit. Attack from below? Good luck with that. Also, melee classes are divided into three weight classes - heavy, medium, light. Heavy beats medium, medium beats light, light beats heavy. This can greatly affect a one on one battle, but of course if you can score criticals all the time, its easily possible to reverse the triangle.
Battles end when the requirements for that battle are met. Some battles require you to defeat all the enemies, others to defend your own statue and instead go break down the enemies statue. There are also King of the Hill matches, and matches where you can win by simply taking down the commander. There's not always just two teams either - there are times when there's 4-5 teams on the battlefield.
Now onto another great part of the game - building your school. Your school will start out at Amateur tier, meaning you're limited to 7 members and a level cap of 5. Each time you win a regional tournament, those caps expand, eventually allowing you to level up to level 20 and have a total of 20 characters in your school. Who's in the school? That's completely up to you! Recruitment offices in each town offer different types of warriors. These warriors each have their pros and cons, and no specific one is really required to win the game. You can have a school full of historically accurate gladiators, such as battlefield leader Centurions or spear throwing Peltasts, or go for the more strange characters, such as Berserkers, who in the midst of battle can enter a state of rage, making them much more powerful. Animals are also recruitable, from wolves and bears to scorpions and yetis.
Overall, the gameplay is really outstanding, allowing tons of options with how you build your school, and presenting a innovative way to throw in some involvement with turn based battling.
Graphics - 9/10
I'll say it right out - graphics are not a big deal for me, so this score could fluctuate quite a bit from others. But I know good/bad graphics, and these aren't bad. The characters are all designed great, and if you don't like how they look, hey just go ahead and change their outfit in the customization section. The arenas look great as well, and there's no real problems (such as characters going through each other, arms going through walls etc).
Sound - 8/10
The voice acting is there, and it's not terrible, but it's not great either. Either way, it's not a big deal as theres not a whole lot of talking anyway. The thing that really brought the sound score up was the music. Each region has their own battle music. So obviously you're gonna hear it a lot when you're in that region, making it a tad repetitive. But it does sound great! And when you enter a particularly epic battle, such as a tournament championship, a more exciting and intense battle theme will begin to play, creating a pretty intense setting.
Replayability - 10/10
You have two quests to go on, one with Valens and the other with Ursula. Yes, they intertwine, but it's neat to see little things from the point of view of one character when you've already played it from the other. Also, you're limited to 20 characters in your school. There's no way you can get every class in your school in one play through. Playing the game again and experimenting with different classes gives the game a fresh spin by offering you new attacks and new Swing Meters. I've played this game at least 6 times and still love it.
Go seek this game out (it might be a little hard to find now) and buy it! Especially if you're a fan of the Fire Emblem games - the battles are similar but have much more depth and customization is outstanding. It's a sadly overlooked game that should have been recognized by much more, so go spread the word and enjoy the game for yourself.
Review Written on Friday, June 27, 2008.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 06/30/08
Game Release: Gladius (US, 11/03/03)
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