Review by Amniculus
Who killed Julius Caesar?
First off, I've never been one to write long reviews. Thusly, when categorizing certain elements of the game, I like to go directly to the point. Quick history: Shadow of Rome was done on a whim by Capcom, so to speak; that is, the great King Inafune (producer/creator of the Mega Man and Onimusha series) wasn't quite sure how a game centered around ancient Rome would perform. See, from what I've read, Japan (which, let's face it, is usually the first country to see released games nowadays) doesn't have a huge fan audience toward Rome, Greece or some of Europe's most compelling ancient empires. So Inafune decided to see how SoR here would handle in America (truth to tell, I'm not sure if it ever got a PAL release).
Shadow of Rome is an action-based game rated "M" for a very good reason; there is a lot of gore when attacking enemies via a sword, a halberd, or other weapons of cleaving pleasure. Since I've never been one to appreciate one long paragraph-of-a-review, I'm going to break it up into sections.
You assume the role of two characters; Agrippa, a former centurion-turned-gladiator, and his young friend Octavianus, the nephew of Julius Caesar. The game starts directly after the unusual and brutal murder of Rome's greatest hero and leader, Julius Caesar, and centers around Agrippa and Octavianus working together from different scenarios to expose the conspiracy behind Caesar's murder and clear Agrippa's father's name, as he has been framed for the crime. Despicable badguys, fast-paced action and just enough slow points to develop a good understanding of each of the characters is what makes this story shine, along with its suspense and plot surprises.
Considering you play two different characters, they're each going to have their own forms of gameplay. For the most part, you play Agrippa, a muscular powerhouse who must fight his way through the devastatingly bloody gladatorial games. He'll use gladius (swords), halberds, giant maces, and more to literally cleave off the limbs, heads and more of his bloodthirsty opponents who want to do the same to him. He'll have to outsmart powerful bosses, use various tactics to get through mock fortresses and other obstacles on the field, and even get to race chariots in some challenging races at the famous Circus Maximus. Again, the battles actually surround the story, so it may sound simplistic, but it's all bloody good fun.
Next, there's young Octavianus, who will be performing the "stealth" missions. If Agrippa was the brawn, this guy is definitely the brains. In Octavianus's mode of gameplay, you must guide the boy through perilous territory without getting caught by Roman guards who will kill you on sight, shady senators, and otherwise anyone. At your disposal you can find water jugs to knock out guards and senators and steal their clothes to disguise yourself. You must be careful and be able to run, quietly walk, crawl and hide out the right moments, you must be able to outsmart guards and even rally up civilians to go riot! The stealth parts of SoR here were genius, but I don't need to tell you that; I think I've been praising this game enough ^_^
The music in this game is pretty good. While nothing memorable, it fits the scenario. For example, in Octavianus' stealth missions, the music is quiet and creepy, and literally stops when Octavianus himself gets nervous like when he's sneaking by a guard. You can hear his heart pulsating in his anxiety. The gladatorial fights and other scenarios of Agrippa's involve action-y styled music. If I were to compare the music to another series, I'd say it's reminiscent of the Onimusha series in its own unique way. I'm going to be honest though; it will take some time to get used to the SoR theme music. However, if you immerse yourself in the game, you'll find the music to be very enjoyable.
This game has a ton of unlockables, but like any game, the replayability comes from how fun you actually found the game to be. You can unlock gladiatorial matches, hidden costumes and hidden difficulty modes, along with accessing new items acquired only from a new game+.
This is the part of the review that most people skip to, I'm sure. It points out the negative aspects of the game, ultimately deciding for them whether or not this game is worth it. There are two problems I found with the game, although they're not flaws by far. First off, the gore factor can be a major turnoff to some. While this wasn't the case with me, the fact that you're literally disarming enemies and destroying them in sadistically inhuman ways can disturb some. The second, and by far the biggest from what I've read, is the challenge. New players may find this game to be extremely challenging. To me, this makes a game all the more admirable, as you'll be playing it longer. As a forewarning, be prepared to be frustrated a number of times.
Rent or Buy?
Buy. Although having said that, it's still for rent at some places, so I also suggest renting it. It's an elusive game; due to a lack of any localization whatsoever, limited copies were made and few seem to be around. If you do find it, it's only around $20, and considering rentals nowadays are easily around $10, shelling out an extra ten bucks might be worth it.
I hope this review was helpful. Again, considering it's a game I have a ceaseless love to, I may have overpraised it without pointing out certain flaws that might have been necessary. If you like battles of ancient Rome and an intelligent story, I seriously suggest you try this.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
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