Agarest War (PS3 downloadable NA version) is developed by Compile Heart, which is a subsidiary of Idea Factory. Idea Factory specializes in low budget fanservice games, and Agarest War is no different. It's a game for anime fans with a taste for the perverse, with PG rated cutscenes and assembling a dating sim style harem of heroines to pop out successive generations of angst ridden protagonists. Idea Factory does nothing to improve its reputation with this latest game.
The entire game is artificially lengthened with hundreds of forced random encounters against generic enemies - it's forced grinding. The random encounter dots line the world map seemingly endlessly, impeding your progress with 2-4 random encounters in between each short story progression. If they got rid of most of the forced encounters/grinding, the games length would be cut significantly. Anyone looking for a skill based strategic challenge that values their sanity will be running in terror at this point.
Like checkers, all battles are laid out on a small flat grid with little maneuverability. The small map size and low unit count reduces the strategic depth/complexity of the game in comparison to standard SRPGs. It's more like an RPG with constrained encounters that take place on a small grid. One of the games feature systems is the extend system, where each character has spots surrounding them that another character can stand in and link their attacks up to perform special arts. First of all, it's cumbersome to use because the game doesn't display extend spots unless the cursor is on top of the character. There's no particular point to all of the positioning either - it's meaningless busywork. What ends up happening is the only strategy is to move as little as possible to conserve action points and wait for the enemy to approach you, giving the system a strategic depth of 0.
The real grind sets in when you realize you have to realign your party to get everyone into extend system position almost every single turn, which is about as fun as doing a thousand sheets of basic arithmetic. You know what you have to do to rearrange everyone, yet it's not challenging or strategic, just time consuming and pointless. All this while the game throws hundreds of repetitive filler trash fights at you for hours and hours on end. The main challenge will be to stop yourself from falling asleep while plowing through another group of the same enemies. The game thoughtfully includes an auto-battle feature, because the only thing more boring than playing the game is watching it play itself.
Instead of clever boss strategies to figure out per boss, the developers give bosses one-shot AOE abilities that you can only pray they are dumb enough to either not use or attack in a spot where only one person gets hit. With that said, every boss dies the same way - spread out, hope nobody gets owned by cheap one shots, then pile on the high hit count attacks to 'break' the enemy and finish with special attacks. Random encounters always carry the risk of squishy casters being one shot if the AI randomly targets them. Yes, almost every boss is taken out like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cnmmr1jeOHw
You can capture monsters, but it adds little strategic depth to the game, since the main hero+3 heroines are always a better choice. Capturing monsters is mainly used for crafting, not deploying them in battle. The crafting system is as plain as you'll find in any modern RPG, there's nothing special about it. The crafting/monster system eventually devolves into a grind filled mess to coincide with the post-game content which is more of the same. Once again, this game pales in strategic depth and challenge to better SRPGs, and its depth is revealed to be artificial and tedious.
The game has optional grinding during exploration sections, and DLC that offers in-game bonuses. Since there is no way to differentiate between someone who grinds for hours and downloads the DLC and someone who doesn't, the game is useless for determining if a player has skill or not. The scoring system is mainly used for end of battle stat bonuses and is useless for determining skill. There are the usual slate of collect-em-up non-achievements, and the trophies/achievements are the usual grind/time wasting RPG fare. Amusingly there are online leaderboards for who can waste the most time grinding out the games skill-less collect-em-all achievements.
The alignment system, dating sim system, endings and quests all have obscured requirements that make figuring any of it out a huge pain without a comprehensive guide. Some of the choices that raise or lower your heroines opinion of you make no sense at all. There are multiple routes and making choices early in the game can unintentionally cause undesired changes later, with no explanation or indication why. The game doesn't explain quite a few things, and the PS3 version doesn't come with a virtual manual, the one thing that could have been useful considering there is no retail package.
The UI is slow and clunky. It's missing unit lists, you can't check abilities from the status window, You can't check a characters extend squares outside of battle, and pressing start to initiate attacks is just bizarre. There's no way to skip cutscenes, you can only use an ineffective fast forward button ironically called skip. There's unnecessary lag at almost every point in battle, such as the badly disguised 2-3 sec load times after 'attack phase' shows on the screen. Some battle areas add a depth of field effect for no particular reason that lags the entire fight and UI terribly - why would they even do something like that? Even the party formation menu gets choppy and laggy for no good reason.
The free exploration sections are easily the worst part of the game. It looks like something out of an original Playstation game, with horribly muddy and blocky textures and terrain, the main character blipping in and out of existence between screen changes, terrible collision detection, random encounters, and bad framerate drag. Even worse, the game reuses the same areas later on. The music is a mix of unbearable midi rock and cheesy classical tunes, the sprites and special effects are ugly and pixelated, the menu sound effects are grating and harsh. For more fun, try messing around with the shoulder buttons on the world map. This is classic Idea Factory – blatantly bad technical issues that the developers for whatever reason didn't fix.
The plot is about as generic and exploitative as you'd expect out of a game where you run around breeding generations of women and assembling a virtual fanservice harem. There's nothing redeeming about the convoluted/cliched plot and characters, and blatant fanservice. This game and the Aksys marketing team (boob mousepad, perv pillow) are not ashamed about pandering to their target audience. I don't usually rate games based on character/plot but the shameless pandering to the ronery anime crowd here is just too much to ignore. It's a low budget porn game by any measure, the only thing missing is the porn.
If you're an SRPG fan, or a fan of strategic games in general, avoid this game and play some good SRPGs or TBS games. It's not a strategically deep or challenging game, in fact it goes out of its way to be as tedious and brain numbing as possible. It's not even comparable to traditional SRPGs, being more RPG than SRPG. Finally, if you want virtual titillation, there are better places to look than a PG rated Playstation game.