Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Record of Agarest War

I bought Record of Agarest War with the understanding that it is a Japanese-style SRPG that would, on occasion, slice up some cheesecake. As a representative of the 1% of Americans whose mother/wife/girlfriend/daughter/self does not (or will not have the opportunity to) object to my playing Record of Agarest War, I will not deny that this sort of combination is appealing to me.

Now, upon hearing SRPG + implied softcore, your first thought may be "oh, like Luminous Arc", but no, the advertising made it fairly clear that Agarest War would be much more explicit with its sexually implicit material than that other game. Suprisingly, however, the package on the shelf appeared to be rather innocent. The word "breeding" was used to describe a game feature, sure, but the images were not at all out of the ordinary for an RPG of any description and the damn thing is rated T, which I assume stands for Tame.

So, imagine my surprise when I went to the register and found out that the game I was about to purchase actually came in a much larger box: one covered in much saucier images and containing a couple of extra items. Namely, a mousepad (one of THOSE mousepads) and a pillowcase (one of THOSE pillowcases...well, except that it's only big enough for a smallish pillow). It isn't exactly the sort of thing you would request to have placed in a brown paper bag, but I did suspect that the cashier underwent a sudden change in his opinion of me as a result of this exchange. Perhaps he resented having to explain to me that Agarest War's so-called "Really Naughty Edition" would contain "extras" would cause the snow-white lambs surrounding baby Jesus' manger to blush. I'm really not certain.

At any rate, I was no longer sure what to expect from the game. I walked into the store knowing that consenting female adults would eventually attempt to devour an entire sausage whole, that much was clear. Somehow, though, the extra effort the publisher made to convince me that the disc was meant to be owned by would-be otaku who thirst for cartoon images of girls in compromising situations and who quiver with eagerness at the thought of breeding with them, well, where would that leave me? I can't claim to have such a high level of interest.

Of course, that didn't stop me from buying the game, though it was with a distinct feeling of unease that I loaded the game for the first time. The intro video skipped quickly through some questionable CG and a few shots of the ladies who, I assumed, would soon be spilling food on themselves or falling into vine/tentacle traps. Nothing went too far in the opening and soon I was off on my new game, wondering when it was going to get down to business. You know. Business.

So, imagine my further surprise when the game dumped a bunch of text on me regarding the war of battlement or some garbage where the gathered armies huddled in fear of the kingdom of might and exactly the same crap that would precede any other pretentious fantasy war game. Then, the next 20 hours or so (the game (360 version, anyway) does not keep track of time played) is spent almost exclusively on the battlefield, bashing in the heads of the same dogs and fairies over and over.

The repetition of the battles is really quite alarming. The apparent pattern is that one battle is then followed by about three more battles that are functionally identical to the first. The same enemies in the same numbers will come at you in roughly the same way. The terrain will be the same, their abilities will be the same, and it will be difficult to explain to yourself why it is that you are even playing the game.

Well, there is the cheesecake, but I'll get to that in a bit. I do want to say a bit more about the battle system, first, because it is actually pretty interesting. All actions, including movement, consume AP which are regenerated each turn. Unused AP is carried over to the next turn. I appreciate it when games do this.

It is possible to use each character as an individual to slice away at enemy health but Agarest War is most efficiently played by taking advantage of the link system. I'm sure they have a special name for it that I have completely ignored, but the idea is that each character is able to link with other characters who are standing in certain positions relative to him. This is a lot like Yggdra Union, in which classes and maybe genders each had a pattern of tiles on which any ally standing could share in the attack. In Agarest War, each character's pattern is unique, but the effect is roughly the same: everyone in the link teams up on the same target. Linked allies still consume AP, so it isn't as though they get extra turns. The real benefit of making these team attacks is that each enemy has a sort of shield that is worn down only through successive attacks, and recharges immediately following the end of a combo. Obviously, when six people are taking turns beating a fairy to death, it will be a lot easier if they only have to worry about a shield during the first couple of shots.

There are some other benefits; a linked character will move in to attack range no matter how far away he is, so long as he is linked, it is possible to initiate a linked attack and then not use the initiator in the combo (this is particularly useful when your white mage's turn isn't until much later. If linked to the mage, just use whomever to target the ally, then use her heal spell.) I would prefer if the interface made it easier to actually enact all of the fancy linking and bashing that they expect me to do. It is not always easy to know if the link is still good after moving a character in the chain to attack range and some other problems persist, as well.

And that damned repetition is a real problem. I don't think it would be unreasonable to ask that fully one quarter of the battles be completely removed from the game. Given that it is possible to replay levels after beating them, it seems redundant (and mean) to require the player to forestall real progress so that the same level can be used a few more times.

Fortunately, there is a pretty great system of item creation, leveling, monster capturing, achievements and all sorts of peripheral diversions that I typically enjoy. The item creation is the fairly standard [ITEM A] + [ITEM B] = [ITEM C] routine, though without most of the guesswork that often plagues this idea. New recipes have to be purchased or won in one way or another, but they are always perfectly clear about what is needed. Items that can be converted into other items always tell you what the new item will be. Occasionally there will be one of those mixups where the guy mixing items accidentally made something else, but these are rare and, so far, completely positive.

What of the cheesecake and the breeding? Even if it takes you fifty hours to enter "Agarest War" into Google Image Search, you are probably getting it faster than anyone playing the actual game. It honestly occupies such a minuscule fraction of the game that it hardly bears mentioning. I will say that the breeding aspect, or the finding a girl to marry you aspect as it would more accurately but less provocatively be called, does include some question and answer portions of dialogue that causes the ladies to change how they feel about you depending on what you select. A handy visual aid is provided at all times to let you know how the ladies feel, which is actually kind of a nice touch. Angry means they hate you, blushing means they love you, and three images in between. None of this Star Ocean crap where you don't know until the end of the game that everyone wishes you would die.

My complaint about the breeding is that it could hardly be considered a well-integrated part of the game. Some scripted decisions made by the main character without player input can influence their opinions, bogglingly. There is at least one instance of an entire sequence of the ladies suddenly asking question after question, each answer inflating or deflating their opinions. I would think that in a game that is dominated by fighting redundant battles, creating weapons, and so on would find a way to make that or the conversations about that somehow influence how women feel about your character. Instead, the game ignores them for hours, then pulls everyone aside for a moment, ostensibly in the middle of a conflict on which the fate of the world hangs, so that a blonde dancer can ask you how you feel about women who can cook.

It is baffling. As is the fact that several of the answers didn't have the effect I thought they would. It really just goes to show that I have no idea what these women want or think or even who the hell they are. We hardly talk, really, so maybe I am supposed to read in to their broadly drawn tropes to predict what they want to hear.

Anyway, there is probably a lot more to say about this game. The whole having the game span several generations thing is cool and not exactly an overused RPG convention. I dig. The achievements refer to both the points that Microsoft/Sony insist that you earn and a slew of in-game hurdles that yield some gold and items upon completion.

I have dumped a week and a half or so into Agarest War and, while the prospect of actually finishing the game is a dreadful thing, there is enough that I enjoy to keep me going. Also, you can hit select and the game will play itself. Seriously. Auto battle takes over and they move everyone and attack and everything. The AI is bloodthirsty and a little retarded, meaning that characters wind up dead for what amounts to impressively bad management, but they can get the job done. It really takes the edge off of the careful arrangement and execution of the hundreds of battles this game is threatening to contain.

For being seventy parts SRPG to one part cheesecake, I give Agarest War a level up moan out of a possible spilled melty vanilla ice cream all over her face. If I ever finish it, you'll be the first to know.


Roscoe said...

I'm not through reading this.. but I have a serious question-

Does this mean you now have James Franco's pillow, Kimiko?

kylebrown said...

How similar is the combat linking to front mission?

_J_ said...

When I saw the trailer for this game it made me want to buy an Xbox, but then I thought about it and realized there was no way it'd be what I wanted it to be given that it was not an H-game.

Can you think of any reason for which those aspects were focused upon other than marketing?

_J_ said...

Also, how is the mouse pad? Does it keep your wrist well-cushioned?

I'd like to know why the pillow cover is so tiny. Seems like if they really meant it they'd go for a full body sized pillow.

_J_ said...


You know, like a proper Dakimakura.


Japan is really, incredibly fucked up.

MA17 said...

Ros: The girl on the pillow that comes with Agarest War is named Ellis, so no. Totally different.

Kyle: I'm struggling to remember how FM4 did links. AG's links are decided at the movement phase prior to each turn. The initiator chooses a target and then every linked character's move set is available. Some moves can be linked together to make super moves, which is also pretty cool. You can use as many or as few of the people and their moves as you want, limited, of course, by their AP.

Jay: This is emphatically NOT an H game. The only logical reason for the marketing is because they really needed to play up the sex angle to get anyone to buy the game. The game itself is worth playing, I think, though with caveats. I can't imagine it would sell as well if it weren't for the marketing misdirection, however.

I put the mousepad away because I'm not seriously going to use it. I'm not going to get rid of it though. It's a game extra. Collect that shit. The pillowcase is that size because it's free, I suppose.

Japan is completely bananas. Fifty years from now, old guys in Japan are going to pine for the old days when people were classier and were more refined and only tied up their little sisters in the closet for bondage rape when she was old enough to talk. Not like kids today. Goodness.

_J_ said...

"Not like kids today. Goodness."

Yeah, for fucking serious.

If you had to develop a marketing campaign for this game which was not "TITS!" what features would you focus upon?

Does it have an anything which merits marketing focus?