Review by jlee123

"Might have been great, but too many flaws hold it down"

I'll start by saying I've never played the previous games. I simply wanted a jRPG to kill some time, and decided to give this a go.

Graphics (5/10): The character portraits and CG images are nice, but the everything else looks like a PS2 game. People tend to give graphics in these quirky little games a free pass because they're 'unimportant', but there's still no excuse for a game this late in the current gen to look like such ass. Monster sprites get recycled pretty quickly, making it worse. Even more lazy, they recycle dungeon maps (changing the appearance slightly such as adding snow). There are some flashy battle animations, but like the Disgaea series this actually works against it as you'll quickly get sick of watching them over and over. Overall they didn't put much effort here at all.

Sound (7/10): Lots of voice acting, but it's all in Japanese so I can't really say if it's good or bad. Music and effects are fine, however because of sheer number of battles you have to fight you'll be sick of same battle themes over and over. Not a not lot to say here really, I didn't have any real issues with the music and sound in this game.

Gameplay (20/50): The game is basically 3/4 jRPG, 1/4 visual novel. I'll cover that part of the game in the story category, and weigh that category more heavily than I usually do. I'll start with the 'RPG' portion of the game. At first glance the game appears to have a pretty in-depth battle system and customization. It starts off overly simple (too simple IMO), but once you get about 1/3 of the way into it options start opening up. You can slot all kinds of different attacks onto your characters, choose formations and leader bonuses, and have various bonuses to consider slotting into your accessories. The problem is none of this really matters all that much. Let me explain; enemies in this game have a 'break' bar aside from their health. You need to do a certain amount of damage before your attacks do full damage, and breaking an enemy completely gives you super moves and ultimate attacks. The problem here is that while you have 4 party members, the break system and overly large enemy health pools basically requires you to use group attacks (pooling all their action points into one character) and alpha striking everything. This would still be okay; you have lots of skills right? Well, no. The game offers no bonuses for mixing up different types of skills, so the best course of action is to relentlessly spam your most damaging skill(s) over and over and over. Worse, it quickly becomes apparent that bothering with elemental attacks is a waste of time, so you quickly learn to just stick to melee and void element spells all game.

Further compounding this is the lack of 'technique points' that are required to teach your party members new skills and buy skill books. In theory you could have various specialists and swap them in and out as needed. In practice, you won't have enough TP to teach skills to more than your 'main team'. These skills books offer stat bonuses too, so the unused characters just become weaker and even less appealing to use as they fall behind. Also because of the 'alpha strike everything' mentality of the game, defensive stats quickly become useless. Worse than usless, as despite combat being on a grid, both you and enemies can just target whoever. Not much point to a tank when the enemies can just ignore them are nuke your mages.

The other major problem with the battle system is that there are way too many battles in this game, and the enemies have way too much health. Until you get access to the best equipment or resort to DLC items, battles can take several minutes a piece. You usually need to fight 10-20 battles per area to fill all your quest quotas (which are needed to open new events), so you're looking 30-60 minutes to clear a single minor area. Heavens help you if you get ambushed; enemies get like 3-4 free combat rounds, eating another couple minutes before you can even act. Even when you're vastly stronger than the enemies, it can still take a minute to kill off trash mobs. There's an item to repel random battles, but it lasts for literally about 10 seconds of walking. As another reviewer said, it doesn't even seem worth opening the menu to use it. The only break they give you is that health is restored after each battle and there is no mana resource in the game for your mages.

It's a real shame, because they did put some effort into the customization options in this game. You can forge new equipment, upgrade old ones, and convert old equipment back into an item or add-on. Then you can go further and slot in various bonuses to your equipment, getting bonuses from stacking bonuses of the same type. There are combo attack your team can do, requiring each character to be equipped with a certain skills. Setting this all up is very interesting...until of course you realize that all your really need to do is set up maximum damage output and spam spam spam.

All in all, I quickly got bored of the battles in this game and could only play in short play sessions. It's just too long and tedious. That's not the sign of a good game to me.

Story and Plot (12/20): The 'other' part of the game is essentially a series of events between dungeons, some of it main plot and some of it just getting to know your characters and NPCs. This series uses a somewhat interesting gimmick in that it takes place over three generations. At the end of each generation, you basically pick on of the female leads to marry and the next protagonist will have traits based on this. The main plot writing is extremely dull. Blah blah gods, demons, the other towns never help us, repeat x200. No, really that's pretty much all the writers did with the main plot. You looks for demon to kill, you go kill them, the party talks about killing more demons. Nothing else of interest ever happens. The side events are quite a bit more interesting, and IMO the main reason anyone would want to play this game. The character writing is a bit uneven. Some, like the generation 2 lead are incredibly deep and interesting. Others are either dull, or not developed nearly enough. This is particularly glaring with the various female leads, as just as some finally start to get interesting the generation comes to and end and they disappear for the rest of the game.

The real pain with the events here though are the choices you have to make. In true jRPG style, these choices don't affect the plot at all. If someone asks for help and you select 'get lost' or something, the event continues the way the writers wrote in anyway. The only thing it impacts is affection values. These values are important for seeing more events, and give you a better marriage event with the female leads. The problem is this is pure trial and error, as characters who have nothing to do with the scene can get pissed off for no real reason. The bigger problem that bears special mention is the game's True Ending requirements. In short, these requirements are utterly insane. Even WITH a guide it is very, very easy to miss a required event and you have NO way of knowing you blew the true ending until the end of the game. There's no sane way anybody could have gotten this ending on their own, as while there is a generous new game plus system the amount of time require to run through it again isn't trivial. They obviously wanted people to play through it multiple times to see everything like a true visual novel, but visual novels don't have hours and hours of random battles to trudge through.

I'll put special mention here to the game's fanservice bathhouse mini-games here. Basically you, uh, rotate the stick to various prompts as you do things like massage the girls and, uh, rub various foodstuff on them while they wear skimpy outfights. You don't have to do any of this if you don't want to, but you get affection points and other bonuses from these games that really help you out. As an adult male, I didn't mind the fanservice in the slightest but just a fair warning that it's in there. I don't know what magic Akysys pulled to get this released under T, but I'm not sure I'd want a 13 year-old playing a mini-game where they rub someone's breasts with a hotdog with a Move controller. No, I didn't make that last part up. That actually happens.

Overall the events and characters are generally decent, but the main story is poorly written.

Replay Value (2/10): There are generous new game+ options, allowing you to pick and choose what you want to carry over. The problem of course is do you WANT to play it again? The battle system is more tedious than fun to me, and while there's a text skip there's no 'skip this event completely' button. Other than trying for the true ending path if you missed it (and you will), I can't see myself playing this again.

Final Verdict (5/10): This game had potential to be really interesting. The mechanics are there for a really great battle system, and there's an interesting world and characters. Unfortunately the battles degenerate into spamming 1 or 2 attacks, there's way too many battles that take too long to fight, and the writing is weak overall. Combine this with nothing special on the graphics and sound front, and you have yet another forgettable jRPG in a gen known for some really awful jRPGs. It's not Cross Edge bad, but Argarest War isn't a franchise I care to return to again unless major improvements are made.

+Lots of tweaking you can do with the combat and crafting systems
+Some interesting, well-writeen characters
+Character art and animations are decent
-Battle and world map graphics are really ugly
-Combat favours spamming over tactics
-Too many battles and battles take too long
-Very weak main plot, some characters get very little development or are poorly written
-Getting the best ending is simply insane
+/- Minigames and fanservice can be a turn on, or turn off for some
--Insane amounts of 'cheat' DLC to get around the grind; a bit too blatant and greedy IMO

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 08/13/12

Game Release: Record of Agarest War 2 (US, 06/26/12)

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