by Tyler Burt1
Record of Agarest War Review
Unattainable Fantasy Tactics
Record of Agarest War is a tactical RPG where, over the course of five generations, you marry members of your party and play as your own children. It promises a hundred hour playtime and a deep level of character customization. And while it’s true that Record of Agarest War does allow for all those things, what sounds like it could be the next Fire Emblem is limited to a very narrow window of niche appeal by some significant mechanical problems and a disappointing execution of its plot.
The battles in Record of Agarest War take place on two-dimensional planes that are much smaller than the maps of most of its tactical RPG brothers and sisters. There’s a heavy focus on getting your party into the perfect formation, because every character has a special network of tiles that allow other characters occupying those tiles to become linked, earn more action points, and perform team attacks. New fields become unlocked as you progress through the game, adding special tiles that increase your stats when you stand on them and making the perfect position even more important. Imagine playing Final Fantasy Tactics on a Scrabble board and you’ve gotten the general idea. It’s a subtle, abstract system that heavily incentivizes efficiency and smart planning, but it offers far less immersion or variation from battle to battle than most tactical RPGs. Nevertheless, if you have a head for numbers, like to play chess blindfolded, or if the word “tactical” gets you much more excited than the word “RPG,” you might even prefer this system.
Unfortunately, you’re going to have to really, really love the combat mechanics to play this game, because you’ll be fighting hundreds of battles, many of which are indistinguishable encounters against the same types of enemies. You’ll find yourself fighting a mixture of the same monsters for three straight encounters, and then grinding in a dungeon area against even more of those monsters in random encounters. You will have to grind, too, because bosses show no mercy and the levels of enemies are rise on a harsh curve as you progress through the story. Again, if tactics are your thing and you enjoy the battling, there’s a lot of depth to the game: you can buy new equipment, upgrade your equipment, craft items, capture monsters, breed monsters, learn new combinations of skills, and earn titles for your achievements. Outfitting your party with better weapons is always nice, but mechanics like the weapon upgrades and leveling up your characters are incremental and subtle, and won’t be much of a reward if you’re tired of the positioning-based battles.
However, it doesn’t help matters that Record of Agarest War moves at a glacially slow pace, with a gigantic tutorial that blocks off a lot of the game’s nuance for way too long while also failing to effectively teach you how to play the game. The cutscenes also have a habit of sliding from one character to another as they speak, a totally unnecessary camera movement that starts to resemble Chinese water torture before you’ve even filled up your party. It might sound nitpicky, but it really adds up, especially on a touchscreen where it also takes longer to navigate the menus that come with the territory. It doesn’t help matters that the controls in many places are badly ported, with a cursor in battles that not only moves painstakingly slow but is ridiculously incapable of moving diagonally.
The plot of Record of Agarest War is expansive, but often feels unsatisfying, with an overreliance upon pretty standard plot devices like your characters being the chosen ones and a dark lord trying to plunge the land into darkness. Your first character, Leonhardt, is killed in battle by a black knight, but revived by an agent of the Gods. Once you defeat the forces of darkness on your continent, every subsequent generation takes place on a new continent. A title like Record of Agarest War suggests some kind of super in-depth, War and Peace kind of plot, but instead of satisfying character development or political intrigue, the game turns out to be more interested in showing off a parade of anime girls that really want to marry you. If you’re not interested in dating sim tropes, the plot of Record of Agarest War is going to lose you well before you get invited to spy on all the female members of your party taking a bath in a hot spring. It’s mostly innuendo and suggestion rather than out-and-out pornography, but the intended tone is still crystal clear to the point where playing this game for the plot can feel like like reading Playboy for the articles.
It’s not like this is a secret, though. The Google Play page may make Record of Agarest War sound like a normal tactical RPG, but most of the game’s other promotional material makes heavy use of blushing elf girls and strategically placed blankets. Does Record of Agarest War succeed at being a dating sim, then? Not really. Your conversations with the girls are very rudimentary, basically the equivalent of “Do you like me? Circle yes or no.” There’s no room for nuance, and there’s no skill involved, because you know off the bat that it’s your destiny to marry someone in your party. Right before it’s time to make your choice, the girls drag you out into a field and ask you a series of questions that let you choose exactly who you want. Do you like a girl who can cook? What about a girl who can sing, dance, and do all the housework? It’s mechanically confused on a fundamental level: the affection rating of the girls is often affected by strategic decisions that your protagonists make, but there’s a light/dark meter that shifts your alignment depending on your choices. Playing decisions like these as though you were playing a real dating sim is not only hard to do; it forces you to put alignment and strategy second. At this point, it’s not really a simulation of anything, and if you’re a dating sim fan, imagine how many better dating sims you could play in the hundred hours that it would take you to play this one.
There’s nothing worse than an ambitious game that disappoints. Record of Agarest War promises a long run time but pads the game with filler battles and a slow pace. It promises an epic plot but doesn’t do justice to its characters. It promises a fleshed out romance system but delivers a mess of Japanese dating sim clichés and bad mechanics. Even with all the disappointments, though, Record of Agarest War does have a combat system that’s engaging and different from any other tactical RPG out there. For the right kind of strategy diehard, it might be worth stepping out onto the battlefield, but for everyone else, it’s probably better to sit this one out.
Summary: A massive tactical RPG with dating sim elements that spans five generations. An incredibly slow pace means that only very patient or very forgiving strategy fans will be able to get much out of it.