An introduction to Agarest

European boxart

Our introduction to this game happened when Rosy went with her then boyfriend to a video game store, and saw the Collector's Edition box of Agarest: Generations of War. Looking at the box art, she was curious about what this could possibly be. On the back, it talked about an epic story lasting five generations, and strategic gameplay. There was no information about it online at all at the time, except for the fact that it existed - they couldn't find a single review or any discussion about it at all. That was probably because Agarest is a rare case of a game that was localized from Japan to Europe before coming out in the US, and it had just come out in Italy (where she was at the time).

Rosy picked up the Collector's Edition art book that came with the game, and this is what she saw:

Artbook cover
The cover. Hm. Hmm.
Artbook front matter
The front matter. Beautiful.
Artbook page 1
What? These characters look nothing like the previous illustration. And so much tit.

She flipped some pages and landed on:

Artbook: some trash

And finally:

Artbook back matter
Beautiful again.

"You know what," she said to her then-boyfriend. "I'm buying this. We're going to have fun with this. It's going to be such trash!"

So they brought the game home and inserted it into the PS3.

Leonhardt stands with his eyes closed and says: I suppose it is human destiny to take the lives of others to find what we desire.
What an introduction. Rosy's ex didn't get to see a single boob in this game.

After the introduction, the game starts with Leonhardt having a long and drawn out discussion with Kasibal regarding what is war, what does it mean to be a soldier, must soldiers accept their orders, or should soldiers fight for what they believe is right, and can any war really be right, and...

This caught Rosy's interest, as well as the strategic gameplay, but her then-boyfriend, who was expecting a bounty of easily obtained anime tit, lost interest immediately. (You can read between the lines here one of the reasons why he is an ex).

What I played: Agarest - Generations of War. What I expected: Trashy anime catgirl ass. What I got: a literal memorial graveyard.

When the relationship ended, Rosy kept the game (she was the one who had bought it after all), and held onto it despite not having her own PS3. She figured she'd get one someday and play it on her own. Years later, this did indeed happen, and during her last year of university, she used playing this game an hour or so each evening to unwind. She didn't have enough time to finish it, but she was interested. While she had expected to see so much tits and trash, the game itself actually turned out to have minimal tittage and trashiness (it's a jarring and unwelcome surprise in the few instances where it does happen). Instead, Agarest actually has an interesting plot rife with intrigue, drama, and tragedy, and it has well-written characters who drew her in. She was interested to know how it went on.

Time passed, Rosy and Denise started dating, Rosy graduated, we decided to get married, we worked out a transatlantic move, and it really wasn't the time to be playing Agarest. Besides, since Rosy had told Denise about the game, and she was interested too, we decided to play it from the beginning together.

And it was an endeavor. Except for virtually endless games, Agarest: Generations of War is probably the single longest game that we have ever played. And considered that we've collectively finished several hundreds of games, that's saying something. As previously said, its story spans five generations, and man, does it feel like it. When we first set out to play this game together, we started in October. We played assiduously, almost every day, real life permitting. We didn't reach the ending (and not the True End, mind you) until January. Going through this beast of a game is a monumental endeavor -- a herculean task meant only for the bravest and most patient players. One thing is for sure: you're definitely getting a lot out of your money.

As for what concerns its gameplay, Agarest definitely has a lot of depth, but good luck figuring out enough to actually enjoy playing this game. Rather than giving you information in small morsels and building up the complexity of the gameplay, instead Agarest simultaneously:

The rock
That's the rock.
  1. Tutorializes basic functions like (drumroll) moving in an extremely boring and condescending way. Infamously, one of your first "opponents" will be a regular old lifeless boulder that sits there (like a rock) until you destroy it.
  2. Dumps a boring in-game manual on you, featuring a static screenshot of the game that doesn't explain anything, really. Nothing it says makes any sense, because you are reading about things before you know what it is that you are reading about - it even introduces some mechanics that won't be relevant for about a literal month of gameplay!
  3. Leaves many things completely unexplained, such as the attribute system, the significance of all those blinking squares on the attack information screen, and the meaning of a pile of acronyms like EP and AP and SP and PP and XP and TP... What do we do with all this P?

Honestly, we have no idea how Rosy managed to figure out how to play this game. But somehow she did, and was able to tell Denise to ignore the tutorials and just play it this way and it was fun!

So, the way you play Agarest is first, during the Move Phase, you position the characters so that they are all linked. Agarest has it that each unit has a so-called "Extended Area", which is a set of special spots placed all around them, in a certain configuration that's unique to each character. If another party member is moved into one of these special spots, they will link with the other character.

Then, during the Action Phase, one of your characters' turns will come up. If there are any enemies in their range, you can then have them and/or anyone they are linked with attack that enemy.

Characters about to pull off several combos in a row
Look on the side at the list of all the moves we're going to do in this one turn. And we're far from done. That fairy is dead.

While Agarest has turns, per se, and while it tutorializes the turns in a very drawn out way, you won't really be using the turns as turns. Instead, you will have the fastest character with the widest range directing your linked party members, possibly multiple times, all during what is technically the same turn. Potentially all six characters on the field will be unleashing a stream of 30 moves and elaborate combos on the poor, helpless enemy that has been overkilled to death.

In Agarest this linking is critical. While such a supporting mechanic is optional in most games of its type, in Agarest you want characters to always be linked with the rest of the party if possible - everyone gains a much larger range of movement and action than what they would have alone.

Triangle attack
The elusive Triangle Attack in Fire Emblem 7

We think that Agarest must be the child of the developers playing other games, particularly Final Fantasy VII, Skies of Arcadia, and Fire Emblem 4, and wishing for the characters to actually cooperate with each other in battle. In all of these games, the party members are established as friends by the plot, but, when they have a random encounter, they're all just waving their weapons, without interacting with each other. In many games, there's a mechanic in which characters can sometimes unleash a special attack together, but it's usually difficult to pull off and you might never get to see it - in the case of Fire Emblem for example, three Pegasus Knights can do a triangle attack together, but that's only if you're using all three in the right way - we love Fire Emblem but we've never pulled this off in all of our collective hours of gameplay.

Meanwhile, in Agarest, the characters have special moves, which can be used in specific combinations to form special combo attacks - but rather than one hidden combo, there are like fifty possibilities, and multiple for each character. Bringing this even further, normal attacks can also form various combos, and any piece of the combo can be performed by whichever characters you want: each of the six active members can contribute one elemental attack into the Elemental Call combo, or you can make it so that one character can do it all by themselves if you would rather. This means that in any regular old random encounter, you'll get to see all the characters interacting with each other and fighting together. We all want to see the characters interacting and fighting together, so, in Agarest, it happens all the time!

This moving all in one so-called turn and chaining elaborate streams of ridiculous cooperative combos is very different from any game we have ever played, and we like it, and it makes Agarest unique, but the game does a piss-poor job of presenting it. In fact, it is as if the developers themselves didn't quite realize how far they had strayed from the standard conventions, and they still felt confined to the usual language for things that had stretched very far from the usual definition.

Dyshana: I can grant you the power you desire -- power to make the gods themselves tremble.

The plot is interesting, too. The beginning of Agarest sets itself up like a stereotypical hero quest, with a Chosen One, a goddess, an evil god, monsters appearing, and so on. In fact, it is specifically designed to create a false sense of shallowness. As the plot develops, it is revealed that the heroic quest is actually a curse, and the quest-giver is not as altruistic as you may have previously thought. The plot of the story deals with death, loss, sacrifice, the inevitable passage of time, and what drives you to make the choices you make, and how do you deal with a lack of choice, and the consequences of both.

We're not going to tell you any more than this in this introduction, but we can tell you that the plot will definitely surprise you by when it starts falling together. However, it takes a long time to do so - this is not a bad thing in itself, as it does need all the buildup to make its points, but the result is that it makes for a very long game.

Return of the rock
Wise words, Leo.

So, would we recommend Agarest? Not without 29 asterisks. Ignore the promotional material because it's gross, ignore the tutorial because it doesn't make any sense, tolerate the low-budget looks, and wait for it, the story needs three generations to pick up. Don't lose heart when you realize you're fighting a rock.

Another important thing about this game is, it can't be the first fantasy game you ever play. Agarest builds on (and subverts) many tropes of the genre, to the point that, if you don't recognize the tropes in play here, you'll be missing half of the point. Also, you should probably be familiar with the works of Tolkien.

Jewelry in a pile of shit
Photo of a ring in dog shit, courtesy (?) of the dog of Shoot Me Now

Overall, Agarest is a lot like a diamond in a pile of shit. Some people will find that retrieving the diamond from the shit is not worth the trauma. Some will go, fuck yeah, a diamond, and just clean their hands afterwards and go on with their life, as the proud owners of a free diamond. There is definitely a reason to play this game and there are a lot of good things about it; but it also has a lot of problems, and in the end we can't blame anyone for not wanting to put their hand in the metaphorical pile of shit.

And it looks like we're the sort of people who have no qualms putting our hands deep into the shit, hence this fansite.