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Strategy RPG









T (Teen)



October 28, 2003



- Deep battle system
- Nice interface
- Lots and lots of play time



- Little arena variety
- Practically nonexistent story
- Astoundingly repetitive



Review: Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits (Playstation 2)

Review: Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (Playstation 2)

Review: Gladius (Playstation 2)



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Score: 6.6/10


In the great dark ages, turn based strategy games weren't exactly all the rage. Brainy gamers everywhere would spend their Saturday nights with Shining Force, dine with X-Com and maybe, just maybe, cuddle with their imports of Front Mission. Unfortunately, beyond that, pickings were pretty slim. Thanks to our new enlightened age, however, designers are willing to step into this long neglected genre and take a few chances with it. And here we have Gladius.


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Take one gander at the Russel-Crowe-a-like on the cover and it's pretty obvious that Gladius is riding off the coattails of the Best Picture winning Gladiator (will my cries for a math simulator based off A Beautiful Mind never be heard?) However, contained inside this case is actually a nice tactics-style turn based strategy game, instead of an obvious action title. Being a big fan of the genre, I was expecting a lot from Gladius, but unfortunately, it falls a bit flat in the end.


At first, you can choose from two protagonists - the blessed female warrior Ursula (AKA Easy mode) and young gladiator-in-training Valens (or Hard mode, giving critics further arguments for sexism in video games.)  While both stories start off with what could be some interesting stories (filled with some gorgeous artwork), it quickly tapers off into the brunt of the game - gladiatorial combat.


The meat and bones is obviously this combat system, which is pretty typical of your tactics-style strategy game - it's entirely turn based, although the game lets your characters move when the enemy is taking their turn. The interface is blessedly simple, mostly requiring that you simply point and click where you want your characters to move and attacks, without burying you in menu after menu. The only real problem lies with the viewpoint - apparently the designers felt that the overhead perspective usually employed by games of this type simply works too well, and decided to replace it with a manually controlled camera that always floats close to your characters. While it gives the whole game an up-close-and-personal feel, it's irritating to plot out your moves when the viewpoint is constantly shifting.





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Most of the staples of the genre show through as well - characters inflict more or less damage depending on terrain height, there are three classes of warriors (light, medium and heavy) that enforce the rock-paper-scissors type of gameplay, the typical elemental affinities (earth, wind, fire and water) affect damage and character classes include melee warriors, spear throwers, magic users and scads of monster types. Beyond your primary characters, the rest of them are hired for a fee and kept as long as you like. While the stat 


growth system isn't particularly deep, there's quite a selection of special attacks and abilities that can be chosen at each level-up, and an absurd amount of weaponry to configure your combatants with. The AI is also surprisingly competent most of the time and will send your characters through a massive thrashing unless they're sufficiently leveled up. There's also a handy tutorial that walks you through the battle system as well, in case you're new to this whole "turn based strategy" gig.


While these aspects aren't particularly new, they're time tested and work fairly well. More interesting is the attack meter - before you strike, you're given a time button test to determine whether your character will deal a critical attack, similar to the PS2 RPG Shadow Hearts. As you go on, you learn more complicated combos, and thus results in slightly more complicated rhythmic button mashing. This is an interesting change of pace, and while it can be turned off if you prefer some random number generator to determine your fate, it's best left on for the most efficient combat. The other innovative feature is the crowd meter - the better you're doing, the more the people like you, thus increasing your moral (and more importantly, your statistics.) At times the reactions seem rather arbitrary, but it's a decent idea nonetheless.


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Unfortunately, the game structure leaves much to be desired. The object is simply to fight in a series of minor battles in each town before you can qualify for the tournament. Beat all of the tournaments in a country, and you're onto the next stage. Needless to say, there's lots and lots of skirmishes to be fought before you get anywhere near becoming master of your domain - just entering one of the tournaments means at least ten to twenty smaller battles - and the lack of any real compelling story makes things get real old, real fast. Games like this don't necessarily need a constant narrative, but with a game of this length, it never hurts. It doesn't help that only the main characters talk - any of the side characters that you hire never play a part at all.


Adding to the repetition is the fact that each town only has one arena, which means you'll be fighting on the same obnoxiously boring, flat turf time after time. The game feebly attempts to add variety by occasionally tossing some boxes to alter the landscape and your tactics, but it doesn't break the visual or strategic monotony. To its credit, there are a variety of missions that go beyond the usual "smash every bad guy" goal - some require that you break a number of barrels within a certain amount of time, or deal the most amount of damage amongst a group of combatants. At the very least, it's a nice attempt to change the pace, even if the tactics to winning each of them barely change - you're still best off crushing everything in sight.


It doesn't help that signing up for these battles is a gigantic hassle, as many of them have absurdly specific requirements. Don't have enough medals? Well, go search the rest of the land to see if you can stumble across them. Don't have a specific class of character? You've got to recruit one, otherwise you don't fight. Don't have enough popularity? Keep fighting traipsing over the country to find new ones. I realize by giving stringent rules like these is supposed to force you to vary your combat tactics, but in the end it proves to be more of an annoyance than anything else.


Graphically, most strategy games are pretty simplistic and rely solely on cartoony 2D sprites, so it's nice to see a title like this done in 3D. Unfortunately, the appeal of this wears off due to the drab colors, boring terrain, and the game's insistence of filling the screen with ugly text that's constantly popping up all over the place. And while there's some excellent voice acting, there's almost no variety of the music, and pretty soon you'll wish you could slaughter the trumpet player that announces each match with the same damned tune. On the bright side, the music differs in each region and changes depending on you're winning or losing the battle, but otherwise the lack of variety just hammers in the nail into a game that's already the very definition of "repetitive".


Had Gladius come out back in the olden ages of strategy role playing, it'd be a great innovator and something no gamer should be without. The combat system has plenty of depth, there's lots of neat customizable aspects to fiddle around with and the multiplayer mode is a keen addition as well. But the game as a whole just feels too tiresome, plodding, and drawn out to be too much fun - and a compelling story that could've possibly made this more bearable just isn't to be found. With superior games like Disgaea, Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics out there, all of which are more interesting on pretty much every level, Gladius remains a merely competent title in a field already full of magnificent experiences.


-Kurt Kalata

(December 16, 2003)

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