Review: Record of Agarest War 2

For a very long time, JRPGs have been one of my favorite genres. I’ve played several of the Tales games, a large number of Final Fantasy games, Dragon Quest, a fair number of Shin Megami Tensei games, Suikoden III, and many others. Because of my familiarity with the genre, I am at the most minimal level aware of the titles for a large majority of the games that get localized. Due to this, I had heard of the Record of Agarest War series before playing this game but have never actually tried a title in the series.

As a result, when our editor-in-chief Christopher Bowen asked if I would review the game, I said, “Sure.” I knew it would be a long game as JRPGs are traditionally a minimum of 60 hours but closer to 100 if you’re going for true endings or other extra achievements. However, I didn’t expect how much I would desire to seek revenge on our editor-in-chief after playing this game.

Record of Agarest War 2
Systems: PS3, PlayStation Network (reviewed)
Developer: Idea Factory, Red Entertainment
Publisher: Aksys Games
Original Release Date: June 26, 2012
MSRP: $49.99

Starting the game brought forth the first surprise this game had in store for me: none of the cutscenes, with the exception of three entirely story-unrelated events (more on that later), are full anime-style animation, nor are they CG animation. Instead, they’re mostly a collection of layered 2D images that include slight animations. Given the type of budget a game like this has, especially when developed by a relatively small developer, I was willing to overlook this. After all, these same slight animations were also included in the 2D character portraits when storyline dialogue was taking place and I found that a nice change from the still-frame portraits that most games like this have. Unfortunately, the next thing I was greeted by was the battle system.

At first, I felt some similarities between Valkyrie Profile‘s battle system and Agarest War 2‘s. However, those feelings quickly faded after a few hours. Record of Agarest War 2 immediately starts throwing tutorials at you, which is fine; I’m used to this. The problem lies in that they are way too many in number, and I was still being hit with very, very lengthy tutorials regarding the battle and skill systems more than four hours in. To the game’s detriment, the skill system is also downright unintuitive. If each phrase of the tutorial is not read at least three times, the reader will outright not understand it. Even if they do manage to do this, the reader will likely hold only a very coarse understanding at best.

The skill system uses a particular type of points for determining what skills you can set, and then a separate category of points determined by what normal skills you set that, in turn, determine what combination skills you can use. The skills you learn are determined by which skill books you pick, but characters also need certain stats to learn particular skills. There are also different elements and properties to every skill, which makes planning for what skills you’re going to teach the characters all that more frustrating. If you’re confused by this, it’s worth noting that the explanation given by the in-game tutorial is actually worse; the tutorials in-game are, for the most part, poorly written and hard to decipher. I had to actually read summaries and guides made by players (shoutouts to Khentai and MasterLL) in order to understand this system. Plus, after playing enough of the game, you figure it out well enough to at least get through the game.

A screenshot of the skills recommended by MasterLL’s lifesaving guide

The battle system itself uses four characters each with four different types of attacks (every skill falls into one of these categories) that expend a stat pooled from each character called Attack Points, after which you can continuously chain more attacks until they fully deplete your AP. Monsters are generally weak to one or two different types of attacks, but they also can have elemental strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, there’s a gauge called the break bar. A certain percentage of this needs to be depleted before achieving Guard Break status, which enables you to inflict full damage on the enemy. Additionally, the more of this bar you deplete, the closer you get to obtaining Ultimate Points, yet another type of point that allows you to utilize super-powerful moves called Original Skills. On top of this, if you manage to deplete the guard bar fully during one set of attacks, you instantly gain an ultimate point and can use an Ultimate Strike, a crudely animated series of attacks done by button-mashing, which do a lot of damage.

Later on in the game, you’re introduced to Finish Strikes, which are yet another follow-up attack that can be done after an Ultimate Strike—provided you have the correct amount of SP and the proper characters on the field at the time. SP is a type of point-currency that’s generated by using skills that switch from one attack type to another. This can be used not only for the aforementioned finish strikes, but also for EX Skills, which are very powerful support skills that are very necessary for beating the game. Finally, using a character to attack or otherwise do anything useful fills up yet another gauge called the Wait Bar. Once this bar is full, the character is then forced to sit out of any attacks and cannot be used until the bar decreases slightly. This effectively means they sit on the field, utterly useless, and take any damage they’re hit with.

Confused yet? It only gets worse. You can reduce the amount of increase to each character’s Wait Bar when they use an attack by achieving Wait Bonuses. This is done by timing your inputs so that you’re pressing the button to make the next character attack just as the icon prompting you to do so appears. The problem with this is that the game has massive slowdown issues at times, which completely throws off the player’s timing. You can’t include a timing mechanic if the game will slow to a crawl when the player doesn’t expect it. Worse yet, pressing the button early because of this locks you out of the Wait Bonus until the next character attacks. The slowdown issues are bad and very, very noticeable. They only occur during battles, but the game completely froze on me once due to this issue. Unfortunately, this was during a three-hour grind for affection rating (more on that later).

The battle system

In general, the idea of the battle system is to kill as many enemies as possible at once and as fast as possible but also to put out as much damage as possible. All enemies have an item that they drop only if you overkill them. Generally, this means doing damage equal to about a third of their base HP on top of the damage you did to reduce their HP bar to zero. This is an absolute requirement to do in order to fulfill a large portion of the game’s quests, called commissions, which need to be fulfilled in order to get events that lead to the true end.

That’s right. Doing a massive amount of sidequests is a necessity if you want to see the true ending. This is made inherently worse by the reinforcement mechanic used in random battles. There is a Next section of the screen that lists new monsters that will spawn if you kill some or all of the current ones on the field. However, these reinforcements are semi-random and some of the mobs are quite rare to run across. This means you may have to run into thirty or more battles before finding one with the reinforcement mob you have to kill for a commission, whether it be a straight-up kill or an item you need to overkill the monster for. To make matters worse, there are specific criteria for making many of the reinforcement mobs actually spawn during battle. If the player doesn’t know these conditions beforehand and kills the wrong monster, the reinforcement may never spawn. Additionally, if the player kills all the mobs in a single turn, reinforcement monsters will not show up. This is a pretty sadistic mechanic, especially when you’re already requiring the player to jump through hoops to find this monster to begin with. There was a particular time I spent three hours on one commission because of this reinforcement mechanic. That’s just wasting the player’s time. The problem is amplified by how the level-up stats and experience gain screen are shown regardless of whether or not you ran from the battle immediately. This means if you run from thirty battles, you’re wasting a good five to ten seconds with each one watching this screen because it isn’t completely skippable.

That brings me to my next point: the commissions are boring as hell. I’m already forced to do about two-thirds of the nearly 400 commissions in the game if I want to get the best ending, and the game makes this excruciatingly painful with the most mindless and boring battle system ever. The skill system is overly convoluted, but when combined with the battle system, it boils down to this: get the strongest skills you can, any way you can, and then mindlessly push buttons until things die. As long as you don’t use moves that heal the enemies, you’ll kill everything this way, provided that you grinded enough and have strong enough equipment. To make the matter even more abysmal, there are actually mistakes in the commissions: for example, commission 116 asks for the player to defeat eight earth spirits, but at the point in the game this is required, the player doesn’t have access to these mobs yet. Instead, the commission is fulfilled by killing eight thunder spirits, and the commission listing is outright wrong. Likewise, commission 150 asks for thunder spirits when it should be earth spirits, commission 142 asks for a Cryptic Fish Fin and the item name is actually Babelfish fin, and commission 381 asks for three of an item of which only one exists, and the commission is fulfilled by obtaining only one. There are also two mobs in the game named Titania, and two commissions, 122 and 234, that require you to kill two and twelve respectively, without specifying which ones are needed. Many of these commissions are required to get events on time that boost affection ratings to the needed levels for particular points during the plot, and many also provide you with needed materials to make or improve vital equipment.

Speaking of equipment, this game is also a subscriber to the pay-to-win business model. The game includes massive spikes in difficulty, and grinding in this game quickly becomes unfeasible without DLC. The problem with early-game grinding without any form of DLC is the cost of grinding versus the profit from winning a battle. In the early stages of the game, a Blessed Leaf (resurrects a character with 25% of their health) costs 1000G. Winning a battle with a decent amount of experience gain earns me about 900G. Unfortunately, each of these battles generally has at least one character die, so you’re stuck in a loop where you don’t have enough money to grind efficiently and you’re not high enough in level to progress and earn good money. So your options at this point boil down to DLC or grinding for many hours on weaker mobs until you can gain enough money or experience to take on stronger ones. Because I wanted to move on with my review playthrough, I bought DLC to avoid a lot of early game grind. In fact, after buying enough DLC, I didn’t need to grind until the very end of the game outside of the amount that would be necessary to fulfill the commissions I needed to obtain the true ending. But the fact of the matter is, unless you’re masochistic, the game is designed to force you into buying DLC to progress.

Unfortunately, even if you do have decent stats and equipment, the game finds alternative ways to screw over the player. Later in the game, Generation 2 and onwards, many bosses have a mechanic where they use a skill once they’re below 30% health that boosts their defenses enough to make them as close to invincible as possible. Once they reach this point, you can no longer defeat them and instead have to restart the battle. This is made even more annoying by the long loading times when you initially start the game and the lack of a reset button. Due to this, you have to completely quit the game and restart it. This means even more wasted time before your reattempt. Because there are no real numbers on the HP bar for enemies, you have to be very careful when approaching the 30% mark, and it’s easy to accidentally go a little too far. I did this quite a few times during boss fights I would’ve otherwise won normally. This continues to be a problem up to and including the final boss fights.

At this point, I’ve mentioned affection ratings and events several times without explaining their use or why they’re needed. The game includes an affection rating system, where it tracks how much all of the characters like the protagonist across all three generations. Agarest War 2‘s generation system works like this: In order to get the true ending, you are required to get the three main females of each generation to be at the second-highest affection level. The males and other supporting characters generally have their own requirements as well. However, the stats of the next generation’s protagonist are directly tied to how strong your relationship is with the female you choose to be your wife at the end of the generation. This means that a max-level affection rating results in more S-ranked stats (the ranking determines the growth in that stat), while the lowest affection ratings will actually lower the stats for the next generation’s protagonist.

Additionally, at the end of each generation, the protagonist and the three main females leave your party. Thankfully, the game automatically unequips them before removing them, but you don’t regain access to using these characters in battle until about halfway through the next generation. You can acquire an item called a Forbidden Tome, which allows you to pay in-game money to re-add these characters to your party. However, this means that if these were your strongest characters, you’re left with an underwhelming party at the start of the next generation. I like generation systems, but I don’t feel this one is executed in quite the best way. If you know to also build up your other characters to carry you through the first part of the next generation, you’ll be fine. But the game isn’t altogether clear how the generation system works and you don’t truly find this out until the start of generation 2.

As I’ve already mentioned, the affection ratings are mostly controlled by events. Events are bits of dialogue that may or may not be storyline related. You aren’t ever given any indication of whether or not an event, indicated by the large EVENT pointer above the location, will progress the story or not. This can cause problems as some non-storyline events disappear once you move too far along in the plot. Additionally, events can raise or lower character affections. This means you have to carefully pick your answers in order to raise everyone’s affection levels to the proper levels. Just picking whatever answers you please will likely lock you out of the true ending and make a good portion of the characters hate you. However, there are two ways to compensate for this. The first is by the minute affection increases you get by using a character in battle, every five battles. Raising affection levels this way is arduous and inefficient as it takes well over 100 battles to increase a character’s affection by one level. Unfortunately, if you’re trying to fix a male character’s affection level this is the only way. However, if you’re trying to increase a female character’s affection level you can do it using the bathhouse minigame. The number of times you can use this minigame are limited per character, so if you use them all but still need more affection, you have to grind for it. This happened to me, and it took me three hours of killing the weakest monsters available in the game to get enough affection to fix it. To top that off, during one of the regular slowdowns that happen during battle, the game froze and I lost about thirty minutes of grinding as a result.

One of those “special” CGs

The bathhouse minigame is one of the many ways Idea Factory tries to use sex appeal to make this game palatable. This shameless breast-jiggling is abundant throughout the game; in fact, for the female characters that have them (i.e. the non-lolis), nearly every dialogue starts with their animated portrait making like jello with their mammary glands! To top this off, there are events achieved by having a high enough affection rating by a certain point that are nothing but shameless softcore (no full nudity) ecchi catering to a particular fetish, including BDSM, phallic imagery, tentacle rape, bukkake, and others. I’m not exaggerating. To make matters even worse, these images are accessible later in a menu called the Special Gallery. In this menu, you can view all of these images and more, with an extra feature added that allows you to press the X button to jiggle their breasts.

These examples are just the first of many. There are also obligatory hot springs images and the marriage images that range from essentially rape (when you pick a wife that had very low affection ratings) to pre-sex bedroom images, both of which are guaranteed to make you feel uncomfortable were anyone to walk in on your playing the game. Not only that, but Idea Factory also thought it prudent to waste all of their animation budget on a full-CG idolm@ster knockoff concert for Fiona and Eva rather than give the storyline better cutscenes. They couldn’t even be arsed to use more than one song for all three concerts! However, my personal opinion is that the fetishistic DLC costumes are the worst part about the game’s appeal to sex. Especially Liel’s.

On the bright side, the music in the game is very good. This is one of the few things in this game that actually have remarkably good quality. To Agarest War 2‘s credit, the storyline isn’t terrible, either. The plot is a little weak at points and can also be confusing at times, but were the numerous problems with gameplay fixed and the game not so intent on trying to use sex to sell, I could see this being a decent game. Unfortunately, it looks like Idea Factory just tried to cut too many corners in an effort to make some revenue and it really shows.

There’s a very short list of things this game does right: it has good music, the storyline is half-decent, characters are actually unequipped prior to leaving your party, you can initiate random battles at will by pressing R1 on the map, and you can skip the lengthy battle animations by holding R2. That’s about all I can find. It’s truly a shame because I really wanted to like this game, but there’s so little of it that I enjoyed.

For comparison’s sake.

Ironically, some research I did after I finished the game revealed exactly why it was so terrible. Apparently, the gameplay is over all very, very similar to another Idea Factory game called Cross Edge. Yes, that same collaboration game that thought putting all of the character you love into it would overshadow its horrendous gameplay. The battle system UI looks nearly identical, as do the menus. The gameplay is very much the same with only a few changes. Agarest War 2 is essentially Cross Edge with a few new coats of paint and a lot more boobs. Honestly, reading reviews for Cross Edge make me realize just how similar these games are. Money problems? Check. Huge difficulty curves? Check. Horrible convoluted battle system? Check. Shitty menus? Check. Honestly, the only real improvements it looks like they made were with the animations, making events obvious on the overworld, and a couple of other things.

I normally like games that Aksys localizes. They do a solid job of localizing a lot of niche titles that normally wouldn’t make their way to the U.S. otherwise. And honestly? I can’t blame them for the majority of problems with this game; those are solely to be attributed to Idea Factory and Compile Heart. Aksys took the safe route when localizing this game by not providing a dub, and with the exception of the LE, releasing it only for PSN. The reasons for this are obvious: this game is only for the most masochistic ecchi lovers. The target audience for this game is so small that there’s no real money to be had with a normal release, boxed with a dub.

However, there are a couple things that Aksys could’ve fixed: the mistakes with the commissions are one of them, although it should be noted that these same mistakes were in the Japanese version as well. Apparently, Idea Factory couldn’t afford both idolm@ster knockoffs and play testers, so one had to go. However, the most annoying part is that when bosses are defeated in battle, they often say relatively long monologues before the end-battle status screen. The problem is that these are entirely in Japanese with no subtitles whatsoever, so I can’t understand them. This may not have been as easy to fix as the commissions due to limitations when subbing a game, but I still think this is a major issue with a sub-only game. But over all, Idea Factory is the culprit here for assuming they could pass the same game off twice when the first one got bad reviews as well.

The main thing you should take away from this review is that Record of Agarest War 2 is not worth the trouble it puts you through, especially if you’re playing for the questionable images. You’d do yourself a favor with a two-second search on gelbooru instead. That said, I’m still not sure how the game maintains a Teen rating with some of the images it contains. If you’re looking at the game as a potential candidate for your next JRPG to play, I simply cannot recommend it. The game is not worth the $50 it costs, and you’d likely spend even more money just to get through the damn thing.

PROS
* Great soundtrack
* Decent storyline
* Party members auto-unequipped prior to leaving party
* Ability to engage in battles at will
* Interesting use of 2D animation

CONS
* Boring, gimmicky battle system
* Convoluted skill system
* Cheap bosses
* Massive spikes in difficulty
* Slowdown issues and game freezes
* Over-the-top appeal to sex
* Clone of Cross Edge
* Many mistakes in Commissions
* Mistakes in skill descriptions
* Very bad tutorials
* Endless commissions required for getting the best ending
* Reinforcement mechanic makes finding particular monsters more of a chore than normal
* Game designed to make the player buy DLC
* Budget spent on idolm@ster ripoff instead of more useful things

FINAL SCORE: D

Disclaimer: This game was provided by Aksys Games for review. At the time of writing, the reviewer had played over 90 hours, acquired the true ending, and gotten 34/38 achievements.

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Joshua Moore

About Joshua Moore

Joshua has been a gamer for a long time, starting back with the NES as a child. Since then his interests branched from game systems to general electronics; an avid fan of technology and computers, Joshua graduated with honors from the University of South Florida and now holds a degree in Electrical Engineering. His favorite games include Valkyrie Profile, BlazBlue, Left 4 Dead 2, and Ocarina of Time. Additionally, he attends various BlazBlue tournaments and tries to pick up other anime or air-dasher fighters whenever possible.