Alright, I promised, so here it is, a genuine post.
After completing Xenoblade I wasn't sure what I wanted to play next, so I thought I'd give Agarest: Generations of War another go. I'd played it a year or so ago for about an hour, before deciding it had the worst battle system in any TRPG ever and relegating it back to my bookcase.
Still, I did want to like it for its premise - a war lasting for 5 generations, with the child of the previous hero and one of 3 heroines from the party being the hero for the next. So I thought I'd give it another try, at least for one generation. It couldn't have been that bad, right?
TRPGs are nothing new. There's been Shining Force 2 on the Megadrive, Bahamut Lagoon on the SNES, Final Fantasy Tactics on the PSX and GBA, various Fire Emblems, Suikodens, Disgaeas, and the list goes on. Generations of examples which have built on and evolved the formula.
Agarest completely ignores this, and goes its own merry way.
Its battle system is divided into two phases; Move and Attack, where normally (and sensibly) both are combined, either for one character at once, or an entire side. It makes this split due to the game's schtick of "linking" characters together so they can perform combos and long chains of attacks together.
Shown is the move phase. We have to chose a space to move a character to, and then a direction they'll face in. The lines show characters linked together, and the glowy boxes are where other characters can stand in order to be linked to the currently selected character. Each character has their own asymmetrical pattern, so if they turn, so will the glowy squares, and some characters may not be linked any more.
Moving takes up a certain number of AP, and you get the remainder to attack with (with moves each costing a certain number of AP). Now, for some reason you can only move the characters one by one in a set order, so if you reach the last one of your 6 person party, and find that say the second one could be placed somewhere better you have to cancel the movements of the last 4 characters you moved, position the 2nd somewhere different, then move the rest again. Inexcusably bad UI. I'd forgive a SNES game for it, but we're like 3 generations on now.
Once you've moved your characters around and linked your 6 characters together it's the enemies' turn to move. So you've been carefully arranging your party for a threat which will look different by the time you can attack *facepalm*. So normally it's best to move your characters only enough to link them all together (saving your TP for attack) and let the enemy come to you. (Counterexample, one annoying type of enemy with a massive move range will run away from you, to just outside any character's reach. This is extremely tedious since trying to corner it over several turns drags the battle out).
OK, here's our Attack phase. If we hadn't linked our characters together our fighter types (who can typically only attack targets next to them well) would be right out of luck. Fortunately linked together they can jump to surround an enemy in any linked character's range. Of course you've got to be careful how they do it, since if any of the characters get unlinked due to movement, or an attack causing a character to face another way you may strand a character in the middle of nowhere with a lot of AP, but nothing to attack. Typically you need 2 or 3 characters to kill an enemy.
So thanks to this system fights are slow and tedious. How often do we have to do it? Let me introduce you to the world of Agarest. For the record, I'm about halfway through the 1st generation.
Every red dot is a battle you need to clear. Every blue dot is a cleared battle. And along a route each battle map is uninspired and formless, and you'll fight almost exactly the same enemies each time -_-
Well that sucks! What about the story? Normally we just see the exploits of the last generation of heroes that need to kill the sealed evil that could previously only be sealed/resealed once and for all right? Covering the whole lifecycle should be grounds for some good storytelling, right?
Here's Dyshana's in-game profile. She basically starts everything off by saving the hero from dying after a curb stomp battle he initiates after deciding that despite being a renowned general, he doesn't like the idea that he's part of an army actively invading another country and putting all its non-human residents to the sword, so turns against his side to save a little elf girl.
Now I'm not entirely sure about the dream bit, since she saved him in person, and travels with him thereafter (though never lifts a finger to help with the battles), and the stuff about the question of pillars and sealed gods is new to me. It was never mentioned in the cutscenes!
So I'm just being strung between these places separated by chains of battles because the king of A wants me to kill monster B, or Army C is attacking castle D. When we get there there's a brief scene where there's some generic conversation and then probably another battle.
Well OK... The characters then! At worst the plot is just there to move the characters from A to B and add some excitement, right?
Honestly I can't bring myself to care about any of the characters. There are 9 of them in my party so far, and it's a 6 person battle party. Considering there are 5 generations, so you'll be seeing a lot of new faces anyway, why the hell is this? Furthermore I mentioned that you can pick one of 3 heroines to be the mother of the next generation's hero, but 2 of the three options were the last characters that joined about halfway through the generation, and they did so in events that were practically next to each other. Yet there are two other female characters that have been in my party since practically the start! Honestly, if you're going to use this mechanic, either limit the number of other female characters (I agree the loli elf the hero rescues shouldn't be one of the 3 options, but I fail to see the purpose of including the seer chick who's contributed nothing to the plot so far), or swap the order they're introduced in! At any rate, this host of bland generic and stereotyped characters needed culling, so that more (some?) effort could have been spent on developing the rest a little.
If you look at the world map you can see a turn count on the lower left. That's basically how many battles you've fought. However it also apparently determines if you can get the best ending or not (ending all 5 generations within 500 turns). Additionally if you can get to various places within a certain number of turns, you can see various light-hearted bonus scenes where the characters interact with each other. This number of turns is masochistically low, so if you took what turned out to be a long route to a destination because it made strategic sense, or because a character would hate you if you didn't, or didn't know this when wondering in one of the "quest" tiles on a map (which has you exploring a bland landscape with random battles) you'll miss your chance to break the monotony a little and find out whether the dancer chick who's forced on you is more than a bland stereotype or some such. Naturally I managed to go over this limit, so I guess I'll never know, or get the option to finish the generation with her. Oh well.
Now, all the cool games have stuff like elemental attributes and crafting systems, and Agarest wants nothing more than to be in the cool crowd. So it has no less than...
Twelve attributes. Count them, TWELVE fucking attributes. And two of them are called "general" and "extra". I feel faint. Also to my horror, I now see from the screenshot that you can level them up as well.
Naturally all the attacks you use in battle fit one of these attributes (4 are physical, 8 magical), and each character has different slots for each. Our hero here has 3 general ones and 2 power ones at the moment.
Now, the crafting system. Tri-Ace love these things. Gust really love them. Agarest naturally tries to one-up them with more crafting options you can shake a heavily customised stick at.
This is a town. It's a soulless collection of options.
You can buy recipes at the shop to make new items at the blacksmith. There you can also boost your gear's stats up to 5 levels, after which you can boost it again to turn it into an item which may or may not be used to craft more items or may be effectively useless. I was rewarded for doing this by crafting a weapon I used for like 2 battles before being able to buy a recipe for a stronger weapon using more common ingredients...
You can use items to research moves at the Adventurers guild. Not that I've seen any new moves yet, you can just turn a wooden sword and a piece of cheese or some such into a copy of a move you already have, which due to those 12 attributes, only one character who already has the move will be able to use anyway.
A lot of recipes use rare items, which you can only get by "overkilling" monsters - whereby you do enough damage in a chain to effectively kill them twice. This means you need to double the number of characters dealing damage to them, meaning it takes twice as long to complete the battles. And here again the game shows its perverse streak, you get a rank based on how few turns you completed the battle in, and the better the rank, the more EXP you get. Which one do you want me to do, damn it?!
In the dialogue windows (forgive me for the lack of an image, I'd probably have to slog though 10 battles to get to one) you also get meters for how much the heroines like you, and how light or dark you are, which alters based on the actions you take (fairly logical, cutting through an enemy fortress will make it lean to dark, going around it to light) and completely arbitrarily based on responses to questions other characters ask (asking the not-elf ranger about her childhood is dark and asking about her brother is light. Go figure). Presumably this affects the story later down the line.
In conclusion, you'd have to be a massive masochist to complete all five generations of this game, and I can only conclude that the people who have done so have severe cases of self-loathing. Even though I thought I'd play it though to the end of the first so I could give it a fair critique, I just can't take more than half of it.