I have had a long-time love affair with strategy RPG’s. It began with the stunning (and under appreciated) PSOne RPG Vandal Hearts, got stronger with Squaresofts Final Fantasy Tactics and reached critical mass when I got into the Fire Emblem franchise. For many moons now, there has somewhat of a drought in this area of gaming, barring the always exceptional Fire Emblem games. Agarest Zero is the prequel to the 2009 PS3 Strategy RPG title from Idea Factory, which was brought onto the PC in 2013 by UK development outfit, Laughing Jackal.
The Agarest games are predictably Japanese and as such are full of numerous tropes. The story in Agarest Zero follows the spiky haired Sieghart, a typically clichéd good guy soldier, who comes across a young women with mysterious powers named Mimelia – later re-christened Mimel by Sieghart and friends. Mimel is your typical meek and quiet female protagonist who can kick some serious ass when the story demands it, but can barely look our hero in the eye without blushing, giggling and curling up into a little ball of insecurity.
As stated previously, the story is predictable… which is not to say that it’s bad mind you. If, like me, you’ve always enjoyed the comfortable familiarity found in classic JRPG’s, you’ll find a lot to love in Agarest Zero’s tried and tested storyline. What is more important is the battle system and Agarest Zero’s is suitably complex and wonderful. One frustrating element is the tutorial, which takes far too long and can’t be skipped. There are some funky additions to the games battle system, including a combo system that see’s you teaming up to deliver serious damage to your foes.
Visually the game would be comfortable at home on the PSOne, which is once again not a bad thing. The character portraits are gorgeous and decidedly high resolution, while the in game models are beautifully drawn little two dimensional sprites. It is a bit jarring then that they sit atop a fairly low resolution 3D environment. It’s lucky then that the game has so much style, to make up for it’s visual shortcomings.
The audio is typical JRPG fare, with no truly memorable tracks. The Japanese voice overs are welcomed though and the game actually forgoes any English dub. Die hard anime and RPG fans will be happy at the exclusion of any english language option, but it certainly won’t suit those unwilling to read the subs.
All around, Agarest Zero is a great Strategy RPG that PC gamers should be delighted to have. If you enjoyed those loveable Squaresoft games back in the PSOne era, then this is absolutely worthy of your time and attention. It may not do a lot new, but it sure as hell delivers fresh and fun strategy gameplay, with enough style that the lack of innovation is rarely in the players mind.