#1 Quick Fix: Agarest Zero

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It’s been a while, but it’s time for #1 Quick Fix! Today, I cover a game whose title differs by region and platform. If you’re in North America and are playing on any platform other than PC, the game is titled Record of Agarest War Zero. If you’re playing on PC or in Europe, it’s titled Agarest: Generations of War Zero. If you’re in Japan, it’s simply Agarest Senki ZERO (literally “Agarest War Zero”)… unless you’re playing the 360 version, which is an enhanced port in Japan named Agarest Senki ZERO: Dawn of War. I’ll just refer to it as Agarest Zero for convenience.

This game is the prequel to the rest of the Agarest series, and actually the second game released in it. It was developed for PS3 and 360 by Compile Heart, the developers of the Neptunia series (which frequent readers will recall is actually my favourite game series) and Red Entertainment. It was localized on PS3 and 360 in North America by Aksys Games, and in Europe on PS3 only by Ghostlight, but was ported to PC by Ghostlight, so Ghostlight is the sole publisher of the PC version (which is why North Americans get inconsistent series titling).

I’ve previously played this game on the 360 a few years ago and hated it – it was nearly put on Did Not Finish. However, I decided to give the game another shot when Ghostlight handed me a press copy of their PC port of the title. For any who think I’m going easy on it due to Neptunia (a concern I hope I’ve dispelled by now with my negative review of the Neptunia anime), there’s your answer.

Agarest Screenshot 5

Agarest is a tactical JRPG series with light dating sim elements. The games typically open with some manner of war going on, and you’re given a hopelessly opaque character creation screen after a tutorial, where (unless you look up what others have found success with) you’ll be blindly picking for most of the way. Your selections decide just about everything about the player character, and every entry has you going through several generations, picking a love interest and continuing the story as your child, whose stats and weapon are also largely determined by your selections in the character creator, but also influenced by the love interest. Agarest Zero has less of this than other games in the series, however, with only one generation to play as after the starting one.

Agarest Screenshot 1

As such, Agarest has two parts to it – cutscenes and combat. There are other, minor systems, but they’re pretty much the expected. Cutscenes are simple – you get to listen to long-winded conversations and occasionally make a selection for the character to say or do that affects the affections of all of the heroines. There are also “vacation days”, which also mainly serve to affect the heroines’ affections. They need to be at a certain point to choose them at the end of the generation, and all heroines need to be high in terms of affection to get the true ending (which unlocks a truncated version of the first game of the series), so you generally want to follow a guide, however.

Agarest Screenshot 7

Also, cutscenes can be drawn-out and dull, due to how slowly the conversations move, making the story a chore to pay attention to. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the story is about aside from the absolute basics, as I find myself more pre-occupied with wanting the scenes to end rather than the scenes themselves. Compile Heart has gotten better with this in more recent years, with scenes that are either over more quickly or are entertaining enough to command your attention even when long, but this is a 2009 title and not as good at such things.

Agarest Screenshot 4

So you’ll want to derive all of the enjoyment you can get from this game out of its gameplay. In which case I sincerely hope you aren’t playing the 360 version. Compile Heart is known for making their games needlessly difficult to the point where you want to either grind or shell out for some of their DLC (and their games always have an obnoxious amount of it). However, they at least tend to give some free DLC among the avalanche of paid DLC over the course of a few months after release. Heck, the PC version gives you all of the free DLC from its console versions automatically. However, if you’re playing on 360, all of DLC that’s free on other consoles costs you $1 each, and there are a ton.

I wouldn’t be making such a big deal about the free DLC, which I’ve done fine enough without on many of their other games, if it weren’t for how difficult the bosses of Agarest Zero can get, and they get difficult very quickly. By the second non-tutorial boss, the game expects you to grind. And, to make matters worse, the game’s battle system makes grinding extremely inconvenient.

Agarest Screenshot 2

Yes, its battle system. If it weren’t for the grinding, I’d actually be praising it for  its depth. Unlike most strategy RPGs, both sides move all of their characters at once out of a pre-set movement distance and a pool of action points per character. For example, if a character has 17 action points and can move 4 squares, they can move up to 4 squares at the cost of once action point per square.

Agarest Screenshot 6

After this, depending on the remaining action points and your speed, the turn order for the next part is decided, where everyone attacks. However, there’s a bit more to the attacking, as the positioning and directional facing of your characters can allow other characters to join in on your attacks and extend their range (but your attacks can move them, breaking their link to your other characters). Every attack takes action points out of your remaining pool, so you have to carefully decide how much you move, and plan the placement for all of your characters. In addition, certain attacks can merge into one larger attack if performed in the right order.

Agarest Screenshot 3

This leads to a battle system with a high amount of depth and forethought needed for each and every move, which is nice. What isn’t so nice is how long these fights are, even longer without the free DLC weapons that raise your stats tenfold at the start of the game, and the experience they give doesn’t justify the length of said fights. Yes, this means that all of the grinding the game expects you to do takes an impractically long time.

Those are the main systems of the game. In short, if you can get this game on any non-360 platform and are able to make shameless use of the free DLC, this game’s combat can have a surprising amount of depth and be quite interesting. The story, however, is presented in a very boring manner. As such, this is not a game everyone will enjoy, and I am not about to blindly recommend it. If it sounds like it’s up your alley, feel free to try it out.

Agarest Zero is currently available on Steam for $20.

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