Review by SupremeWu
"Vastly underrated and overlooked gem"
Gladius is a turn-based strategy RPG based loosely on historical elements but with a decided fantasy tilt. It's also an incredible experience which unfortunately was overlooked by the vast majority of gamers this past generation - gamers all across the board as it was for all the major consoles.
Story - Very basic, but not poorly told. The story is serviceable but takes a long time to pick up, and suffers from an unfortunate deluge of unlikable characters aside from the two main heroes. Many of these characters are forced into your party at some point, and the only saving grace is that you don't really have to use them if you don't want to. You still have to listen to their inane pattering though, which is a little frustrating because it is guaranteed you will have many, many characters you genuinely like just for how they perform in battle. Ironically this means that you care more about storyless gladiators you hired, than you do for the central core. In the sequel that will never happen, it would have been great if the developers made a core of stories and applied them to heavily used gladiators based on play time. When you have up to 20 fighters to choose from (some of which have been with you from the first few fights), it makes little sense to focus more on the late arrivals. 6/10 for story.
Gameplay - This is what matters, and this game has it in spades. It's basically a strategic turn-based gameplay but with a unique feature (swing meter) which serves to make the fights more hands-on and emulates real time fighting to a degree. This is one of those games you actually have to plan ahead, think a few moves forward, etc. so people looking for Ninja Gaiden should move on, they will be bored and frustrated. Those who enjoy these types of games (Advance Wars, FFTactics, etc) will be perfectly at home with 'battle chess' as one reviewer called it, which is a perfect description. This is battle chess.. except you get to kill the other pieces in all manner of amazing and violent ways. The linear quest is broken up into numerous goals, all easy to follow and keep track of, which you can do in any order you choose for the most part. There are some fights that are just for the sake of fights, rewards being equipment and gold and experience. Others provide you with necessary credentials to progress. There are also numerous side-quests and random encounters, which should need no explanation. Random encounters are handled very well - you muck about on the world map too far into the wilderness, and a random band of thugs/animals/monsters will eventually accost you. These fights are very tough, and the rewards and experience-points are much greater than arena fights. However the risks are also great, since these deaths are permanent in your party unlike arena fights, and you CAN get a 'game over' if you're not careful with saves. Of course you can choose to simply flee these encounters with no penalty, so the game doesn't force these risks upon you. Very varied gameplay, from massive battles between multiple schools or grueling one-on-one death fights.. lots of things to tweak for the stat nuts, interesting fights, do as little or as much as you want.. It's brilliant. Be sure and check the manual because a lot of the features are overlooked. Like the button that shows you the order of turns, or the one that shows you the 'line of sight' for projectile characters, small things which take the guesswork out and further refine the amazing strategic elements. Oh there's also about 40+ hours of gameplay here, for the average gamer. If you rush, 20-25, and if you are a completist.. easily 50 or more. 10/10
Graphics - One of the things I think is underrated. It's 'battle chess' but the models are very well done - flowing capes, many different animations for various moves, stunning particle effects, etc. The customization feature is terrific - you know you want an all-black-wearing school. Do it. Heck you can even change the color of the animals' you recruit, and the topper for me was turning my all-white-skeleton Undead Summoner into a charred black one -- he looks genuinely frightening and I'm glad he's on my side. Equipment makes a difference and can be seen when used or worn, a small touch but very welcome change from most RPGs. The weak element is the world map, which are very barren and bland. Not an eyesore, but just not very fun to navigate. The arenas are mostly GORGEOUS. There are beautiful forest levels, stunning castles, ominous pits, and of course massive arenas. This isn't counting random encounters which can occur anywhere and have appropriate backgrounds also fairly well done (but nothing compared to the arenas). Animations are for the most part very good, there are the rare delays between movement and sound or scorekeeping, but when it does happen it's minor, and forgivable if there are upwards of a dozen combatants in the fight - which happens frequently. 9/10
Sound - You don't notice much in Gladius except the satisfying thump of your Minotaurs mallet as it squashes a Cyclops' brains into mush. Good sound effects... they're kind of hard to screw up aren't they? Music is great, and varies from arena to arena with a regional sound for each. It actually gets better and more epic the further you go, a small touch that reflects the higher stakes in every new fight. Repeated sound bites are annoying in battles though.. certain characters are very fond of never shutting up about what they are doing, but this just makes you feel even better when you kill them. 7/10
Tilt - This is one of those games you have to be 'into' certain things to enjoy, so definitely not for everyone. You have to be into strategy, you have to be into fantasy characters, you have to be into the feeling of patiently arranging the situation until the perfect time to spring your attack and crushing your enemy before he knows what hits him. If your into any of that, you might enjoy giving Gladius a shot. Just please don't expect a gladiator beat-em-up, this game is so much more. 10/10
One of the best in it's genre, going criminally cheap these days. This suckers long, so don't bother renting (it can be had for about the price of 2 rentals anyway!)
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/28/05
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