A prequel to the original release of Agarest: Generations of War, this title strips back some of the naked ambition of its forbearer in an effort to trim that games excessive run time whilst re-using the same base engine and many of the same assets to capitalise on its popularity.
Marketed without the dramatic emphasis on sexuality that the original used (no stand-out breasts on limited edition mouse mats here!) but keeping the central mechanics and adding additional options for ‘romance’, Zero is a very similar game in most areas. Fans of the original will find a lot to enjoy, whilst those who slogged through it and were glad to see the finale might want to think twice before heading back in for another go.
Graphically many of the assets are re-used, though the cast are similarly well designed and burst with personality (it’s also possible to recruit all of the original cast and revisit old maps as DLC given that the same engine is employed). The title brings back most of the existing monsters as sprites and adds a handful of 3D models for larger boss-like encounters, which jar a little but continue to work as well as in the original in terms of letting the player know that the next battle will be more difficult. The world map is well designed and sticks strictly to a point-to-point model this time rather than the endless wandering of faux dungeons. It’s still not high-quality for the systems it’s on, but it all has a decidedly retro charm.
Musically the game manages to produce some semi-memorable themes and employs more Japanese voice acting that is suitably dramatic when employed in key sequences. Sound remains the star of the show however, with an audio-drama like feel to some sequences that showcases sound design and keeps battles fun for the player.
Narratively you begin the game in the shoes of a young military commander named Seighart who saves a young dark magical savant from certain death despite being a member of the light side army. The act gets him killed in the process but he’s revived by the girl (Mimel) who accidentally transfers all of her powers to him in the process. Unfortunately Mimel was the wielder of the Power of Liberation, which she’ll need to shadow his lineage to reclaim and use at the appointed hour. It’s a neat little setup that’s not dissimilar to the originals and allows for a generation based tale once more. Writing is kept light and breezy, with the impression of an average anime, whilst the background conflict does receive a little more screen time than before.
Gameplay strips out the free-exploration through oversized and largly empty areas that the first game laughingly labelled Dungeons and instead sticks with the dot-to-dot overworld map, breaking off into different branching locations to build mini labyrinths and this works much better overall. Additional sequences where you can further get to know and impress the ladies of the party also go a long way to fleshing out their characters, helping them to feel better written. There’s far fewer generations to fight through here, which reduces the games length and allows the writers to focus on the smaller group to a greater extent, preventing much of the tedium, and the monster catching mechanic makes a welcome return. Sadly combat is almost identical, with some minor changes that don’t manage to counter the sheer difficulty that approaching character building can bring to those not willing to check an FAQ before playing. Synthesis also makes a welcome return but similarly adds depth whilst complicating the experience without any in-game tutorials to guide an inexperienced player. The focus in special moves and combos can also be daunting. Towns are entirely menu driven and the game shows a great deal of depth, but never rises to the enjoyable levels it should because of these issues.
Overall, if you weren’t a fan of the original this won’t win you over, but as a first entry into the series for newcomers it is easier on the palette and considerably shorter. If you loved Agarest, buy Zero immediately, otherwise perhaps gauge the series with this title if you see it on sale.