The Agarest series, such as it is with its relative obscurity in the West, bills itself on three essential premises: that it is a tactical RPG, that it possesses a unique and engaging take on dating simulation, and that it is fun to play.
Unfortunately, all three of these are terribly misleading. The last is patently false. Record of Agarest War Zero is not tactical, is hardly about romance, and is so tedious I’m more inclined to think of it as a sleeping aid rather than as a game.
Most charitably, we could call Agarest Zero a title for a particular niche market, the kind who like their 2D women underdressed, underaged, and with the emotional maturity of ten-year-olds. But complaining about the jailbait (even lolicon) underpinnings and demeaning objectification of women in Agarest is a little too easy. Shooting fish in a barrel seems more sporting. No, the truly offensive thing about Agarest Zero is that for a game so blatantly about producing heirs with your infantilized brides, it puts you through the most boring of RPG hells to get there.
As mentioned, gameplay is barely concerned with tactics. There are several grids, all of which are terribly small, which the player can select and from which the system rarely deviates. Yes, that’s right: you will be fighting on the same tiny, identical grids, often against identical backdrops, for virtually the entire game. “Random” encounters scarcely involve any measure of thinking power. Arranging party members to maximize linked attacks is perhaps the most exciting part of battle, if “exciting” is even the right word for it, but the rest is so bland and uninspired it manages to suck even this trace element of flavor out of the broth.
And if you aren’t in battle, you are running on a predefined path on some map. And if you are doing neither of those things, you are watching distorted, swelling caricatures of anime portraits talk and talk and talk. I say this as someone who quite enjoys the Metal Gear Solid series, but cutscenes in Agarest Zero are too long and too pointless by half. Yes, I get it, she’s cute and she has the brain of an emotionally abused five-year-old. Yes, I’ve noticed her gravity-defying breasts packed in her improbable outfit. Yes, she has little untranslatable vocal affectations that make her so moe desu. It seems every little incidental event in this game down to a stubbed toe merits a cutscene and more “adorable” pouting from identical-sounding Japanese voice actresses.
It isn’t as though I hate moe games on principle. But the insidiousness of moe is its overreliance on stock types and cliches so dry and predictable you really do need to have a fetish for pigtails, lacy chokers, elf ears, or god knows what in order to derive any pleasure from this sort of blatantly shallow character writing. Moe is as stale as it is cynical.
Even the infamous breeding mechanic can’t breathe life into a game as lazily generic as this. As a friend put it, “The application process for artificial insemination is surely more exciting and less of a hassle than Agarest games.” The various young girls you mold into your brides-to-be all just about throw themselves at your feet the instant you meet them, obviating any sort of rom-com tension and going straight to the sociopathic seduction stage, in which the “dating” system consists largely of improving scores so that your descendant will inherit better stats. I seem to recall doing something rather similar in Final Fantasy VII, only with chocobo. Unfortunately, the mechanics of that 1997 game are not much improved upon with more than a decade of distance. I suppose I should at least be glad I can pay an oracle to foretell my future son’s stats without having to press X and reset for five hours to get something with gold plumage.
So, yes, there is no question abourt this game’s obscene level of objectification. The girls in your party are nothing more than a means to an end, rendered into numbers and attribute slots with breasts attached. But the entirety of Record of Agarest War Zero is so tedious, so routine, so lumpy and misshapen that I can’t even bother to care terribly much. Anyone who plays this is already being punished enough.