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PS3 Fanboy impressions: Agarest Senki demo

Nick Doerr

It's difficult to play games in a language you don't know. However, based on the nearly infinite well of RPG experience under our belts, we can make a few pretty obscure parallels to the recent demo of Agarest Senki that popped up on the Japanese PS Store this past week. If you're unaware of the title, it's a strategy RPG that harkens to the like of all those Nippon Ichi titles, except this one spans generations of characters that are born, fall in love, and breed according to your actions. It sounds fun on paper, but what happens in the demo is more confusing than biting into a donut to find it's filled with salad.

The first parallel is obvious: this is a 3D strategy RPG with 2D sprites, so a comparison with the likes of Disgaea is inevitable. However, this title fails to keep in line with most normal SRPGs due to the strange battle phase interface. The first is the move phase, where every enemy and every ally character choose where to move -- you don't know where the enemy will move, because no movement is seen until you actually end the move phase. In addition to this, each character has a set of combo panels in a random formation around their character. If you move your other ally characters onto these panels, or link one character to another, to another in a chain, then these characters will be able to perform combination attacks at the same time during the attack phase. Granted one of the enemies is in range (you don't have to be right next to an enemy to attack). The attack phase is different from most SRPGs in part because you don't need to be right next to an enemy, but also because there's no normal "attack" option -- all of your moves cost a certain amount of points (if memory serves, AP), but even more special moves will cost SP as well. Rationing out your AP when chaining combos is key -- you don't necessarily want all your characters spending all their action points on one enemy when you could have destroyed all three that are in range. If you input the right moves between characters, you can create special combo attacks that are pretty fun to look at and exponentially more powerful. It's confusing, it's irritating, it doesn't really work. Maybe because it's in Japanese.

The second parallel we'll make is only for those who've been in the SNES emulation scene for a long time and really like anime. If you ever played the SNES title Record of Lodoss War, you probably have no idea how this comparison is going to work. No, you aren't switching bodies and there's no world map. This is mostly in reference to the battles. Record of Lodoss War battles took place on a strange checkerboard-like map and Agarest Senki always seems to warp you to a strange checkerboard-like map for battles. Maybe it was just for the demo, but if we're in the middle of a forest fighting a boss (later revealed as a friend), we'd like to actually fight in said forest. The graphics are smoothed PS2 graphics, so there really should be no problem doing this, but they didn't. As we said, maybe this was just for the demo, but whatever. It was annoying.

Our final comparison comes from the old Sega Genesis days, back before Phantasy Star was an online game. When it was one of the best RPG franchises ever. Debatable, but we think so. Phantasy Star 3 was built around the premise of generational gameplay -- you start as a prince who sets off to rescue a princess and meet another girl on the way. You choose who to marry, then you play as their offspring. Rinse and repeat. Each new generation explores new lands, which is exactly what Agarest Senki decided to emulate. It has generational gameplay. Each generation explores a new land. They took it a little farther than PS3, though, by adding in a hefty dating-sim slash decision-making formula to make it a little more difficult to woo the girl who will carry the seed of your loins. It's a very cool concept, the generational gameplay, but this game just comes off a little ... dirty about it. Incredibly scant clothing on the girls doesn't help the notion this game may have started as something quite a bit darker. Still, the prospect of what kind of child you could create across three or so generations is astounding -- there are dozens of combinations and that could be fun, just like Phantasy Star 3 was.

We'd love to explain the menu system, but it was in Japanese and we couldn't really follow some of the stuff, though we can go into a little depth on the leveling up. Like in Shin Megami Tensei games, you are allotted some points to distribute to your stats when you gain a level. Each stat takes a certain number of points to increase, based on the character's innate abilities (a magic user can increase intelligence easily, but it takes two or three times as many points to raise his/her strength). It's a nice touch, one we'd like to see in more Japanese RPGs. Customizing the level up is excellent, if only because you can actually see what increased when you level (a convention many games have dropped for some reason).

That's it for parallels. Now we just get to chat a bit about other parts of the game. The music is decent, though the battle tunes can get a little grating if you're over your metal phase. We do applaud them for trying to make upbeat battle music, though. The world map is nice looking, as are the sprites and their animations. Nothing spectacular, nothing PlayStation 3 worthy, but not a bad attempt at smoothing out the 2D/3D SRPG. The one thing about this demo is its length -- this sucker is long as hell, with two different parts of the game to play through. Even though it's in Japanese, if you get burnt out on the game from the demo, that's not a good sign.

Our final verdict -- if this game doesn't have a compelling story, there's no reason to trudge through the rest of it. That's if it gets localized outside of Japan. Since we generally don't see Red Entertainment or Compile Heart games leaving Japan, we aren't getting our hopes up. The generational gameplay is cool but approached in a dirty way, the battle system is way too ludicrous and awkward ... there's not a lot saving this game from the Pit of Mediocrity unless, as we said, the story is top notch. It probably isn't.

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