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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Strategy RPG

 

Publisher

LucasArts

 

Developer

LucasArts

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

October 28, 2003

 

- Great Visuals

- Lots of character classes

- Winning the crowd's favor

- Easy to learn

- Plenty of depth

 

 

- Strategy game veterans will find the game easy

- Voice acting

- Not enough variety in music

- A little weak in the role-playing department

 

 

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Gladius

Score: 7.8 / 10

 

Throwing a couple of well-armed opponents into the ring together always proved good sport to the Romans; pit large teams against one another and it was practically a party.  Such was the way of sports entertainment for that Empire, and such is the way in Gladius from LucasArts.  It’s an interesting outing into the world of strategy RPGs, with quite a bit of depth to the gameplay and very nice visuals, but if you are a long time player of these sorts of games you may find the title a tad on the easy side.  Also, the game is far more strategy than it is role-playing, so if you were hoping for some in-depth character stat customization you won’t find it here.  Nonetheless, Gladius is a satisfying experience on the whole, well worth taking for a spin.

 

gladius-1.jpg (140704 bytes)          gladius-2.jpg (129623 bytes)

 

The world of Gladius is one not unlike that of the Roman Empire with Imperia being the power of the region, having conquered all of those around them.  Because of this conquest, the citizens of this empire are quite an eclectic lot, ranging from barbarians to desert dwellers, with ogres, minotaurs, and other more fantastical beings rounding out the ranks.  In Imperia’s thrust to conquer the Norgagh, the barbarian kingdom of the game, they manage to unleash the dark god of chaos, and the entire land is almost destroyed in the battle that ensues to fight it off.  Finally the dust settles and the god of chaos is sealed away, but not before a good number of Imperia and Norgagh’s armies are destroyed as well as the Valkyrie, who step in to help fight off the dark god.  Because of this horrible battle, Imperia decides to avoid war at all cost, but to accommodate the people’s need for battle the gladiatorial games are started.  This is where things pick up in Gladius.  Players will take control of one of two heroes, one being Valens, son of the great Munio, the most popular gladiator of all time, in an effort to bring his father’s gladiator school to its former glory ten years after the murder of Munio (which Valens narrowly survived himself).  The other hero, Ursala, daughter of the king of Norgagh, is believed to be the key to unlocking the dark god once more.  As time passes, and both heroes become more successful gladiators, the two will meet, resulting in a thorough plot thickening.  The story unfolds at a reasonable pace, but there is a lot of dialogue in the game that is badly written reducing the suspension of disbelief in the game.  By and large the story is above average, but certainly not tops by any means.

 

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Understandably, the game focuses almost exclusively on gladiatorial combat.  Players will have to travel from town to town, winning the local tournaments, resulting in their earning a certain number of cups from each micro league.  Once a certain quota of cups has been met they will qualify for the city championship, once all city championships in the region (as well as winning certain pre-defined micro leagues) are won, players will qualify for the regional championship.  Players will need to 

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repeat this process for every region so that they can qualify for the main championship in the capital city of Imperia.

 

It’s a long and grueling process, but the game doesn’t require you to win every single battle to proceed.  Players will only need to win about half of the battles to make it to the championship.  On top of this there is very little reason to enter every last tournament right away as characters have level caps that only increase as your school goes up to a higher tier.  So fighting all of the battles right away will only prove to be a waste of time because outside of money and the occasional special item, you aren’t going to get a lot for your gladiators.

 

The battles themselves start out well enough in their turn-based strategy setting.  Players will pick the gladiators that they want to have compete, and place them in the positions available on the battlegrounds.  From there a strong command of tactics is necessary as combat brings a number of variables to the table.  Players will have a number of character classes to deal with from heavy units that are slow but very strong, to light units that are quick and sneaky, to medium units that are a combination of the two, as well as a number of support units to round things out.  Once players’ warriors take the field and clash with their opponents battles move at a reasonable speed.  Sometimes it can get a little bit slow when outnumbered and the enemy units are comprised largely of fast moving classes resulting in the player having to wait quite a while before their characters get another turn, which gets boring.  However, much of the time teams are reasonably evenly matched ensuring that combat is well-paced.  Most attacks in the game are performed through the use of a meter much like that found in a golf game.  When an attack is about to commence a crosshair zips across the meter and once it passes over the small red strip in the meter players must hit a predefined button to initiate an attack.  If you miss this target point the attack will be weaker and more easily blocked or dodged.  It doesn’t take long to get used to using this meter, but can prove a little bit difficult to deal with when doing a special attack that requires a little more fancy finger work.  Players do have the option of turning off these meters if they want, leaving it up to the computer to determine the success of attacks, but the meter is actually very fun once you get the hang of it.

 

An interesting facet of the battles is that crowd favor plays a role in a team’s performance in the arena.  If a team is doing well the crowd will cheer them on, raising the team members’ confidence so that they move faster, resulting in more turns to fight, have better defense, and can inflict more damage when on the attack.  Crowd favor can be increased by using a powerful attack, or even a well executed normal attack.  Bare in mind though, that if you miss an attack or screw one up so that it barely hurts an enemy your team will lose favor.  The way that the crowd influences morale in battle is a fun addition to the game and adds a lot to the quality of Gladius.  Where this title does suffer, however, is in that veteran strategy gamers may find the battles a little too easy.  There’s quite a lot of depth to the fights in terms of the options you have, but once you get a firm grasp on it taking down enemies is quite easy.

 

Battles are also not only limited to the arena in Gladius, when traveling between towns sometimes you will come across random encounters with bandits and the like which must be dealt with.  The battles play out the same, but there is an added risk here in that, with the rare exception, if one of your gladiators dies in combat here he cannot be revived and is lost forever.  Screwing up in this situation can be very frustrating if one of your prized fighters should happen to fall.

 

gladius-3.jpg (111928 bytes)          gladius-4.jpg (105821 bytes)

 

Acquiring these gladiators is easy enough.  Most of the time players will be able to hire new warriors at the local arena with the option of hiring them on a permanent basis, or for a limited amount of time.  Unfortunately the “gladiatorial temps” in the game are pretty useless as the computer controls them in battle resulting in some very questionable tactical decisions, made doubly annoying when you consider how bright the enemy is by comparison.  Players are better off hiring gladiators on a permanent basis in Gladius to better control their actions, but this can quickly become an expensive, time consuming process.

 

There is also a magic system within the game, predictably based on your standard elemental system of earth, air, fire, and water.  Each has its own strengths and weaknesses against one another that must be learned, as much of the weapons and armor in Gladius are also imbued with these magical properties.  For example, if you attack with a fire sword or use a fire spell on a character equipped with fire armor, those attacks will have no effect, but go after someone equipped with earthen armor and you will score quite a bit of damage.  On the other end of the special move spectrum are, well, special moves.  These can range from fancy attacks, to methods of raising character stats temporarily.  The moves are kept under control by a meter with five diamonds in it.  Each special attack costs a certain amount of these diamonds to use, so if your meter isn’t full enough you cannot use that attack.  The meter does replenish over time, so you won’t be completely out of luck once it is totally depleted, but it does give players one more thing to keep in mind during the heat of battle, set up well so that you can easily juggle between smaller and larger special attacks with ease.

 

Learning how to best take advantage of the different classes’ strengths and weaknesses for your team as well as dealing with these same facets in the enemy units doesn’t take very long at all.  Combining this with the different grades of terrain which also affect combat and the use of elements with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses, it may seem that Gladius has a steep learning curve, but this is the farthest thing from the truth.  If anything, this game is very accommodating to newcomers to the genre.

 

The computer controlled enemies are the farthest thing from accommodating though, as they do a decent job of standing toe-to-toe against players, carefully managing the special attacks and positioning themselves for the best effect in battle.  That being said, they will prove to be a decent challenge to casual strategists, but as I mentioned before, veterans of the genre will be able to adapt quickly and mop the floor with the enemy with relative ease.

 

But with all of this talk about the strategy elements of Gladius you’re probably wondering about the role-playing facets of the game’s strategy RPG one-two punch.  The problem here is that there just isn’t a lot to the role-playing part of the game.  Characters get experience points and level up, with their stats increasing each time as one would expect.  There are level caps on the characters that are raise every time your crew raises to a new tier in the gladiatorial standings, but it is a largely useless cap system as much of the time battles are between reasonably evenly matched teams.  The role-playing elements of the game are very much on the rails with players having little control of their characters’ development outside of what special moves to give them.  So if you were looking for something with more RPG related features, you won’t find that here.  Despite the “strategy RPG” feel of the game, it’s about eighty percent strategy and twenty percent role-playing in Gladius.

 

What has to be one of the strongest points of Gladius is the game’s graphics, though.  There is a ton of detail on each of the characters in battle.  Each character’s face is very life-like, their armor and weapons have little touches such as designs or patterns, and if you aren’t happy with the look of the character you can even customize their appearance to a degree.  On top of this there is a lot of textures to enjoy and the use of light is quite impressive, especially when in a battle at dusk with the sun low in the sky.  Rounding out the visuals is the very smooth frame rate Gladius enjoys.  Seeing a legionnaire going in for a three hit combo attack is quite a treat for the eyes considering how smoothly it is done.

 

Unfortunately the audio experience in the game is far more of a mixed bag.  The sound effects are done quite well with nice crisp clangs and thuds as swords strike eachother and war hammers smash shields.  The cheer of the crowd, the grunts of the gladiators, it all stands out very well.  The voice acting, sadly, is by and large more of a challenge to deal with.  A scant few of the characters in the game have decent voice acting behind them, with most of the characters sounding a little bit cheesy.  This isn’t solely the voice acting that is causing the problem, as it’s more a combination of this with some questionably written dialogue that makes the acting difficult to deal with.  Gladius’ music, though, falls somewhere in the middle in terms of quality.  There are some very well written pieces in the game’s soundtrack, but there just aren’t enough of them.  A greater variety of music tracks would have gone a long way instead of hearing the same tunes over and over again.  Another strange occurrence in regards to the music is that there appears to be a bug that pops up every once in a while that causes the music to repeat and overlap itself, giving an almost echoing effect that can be very distracting.

 

Gladius is a well above average strategy RPG.  There is quite a bit of depth to the battles, it looks great, and it’s easy to get into.  If you’re looking for a fun little tactical experience with a splash of role-playing thrown in for your PS2 this is a game to consider.  However, if you truly are an ardent armchair general with countless campaigns already under your belt, then this game may be a little bit too easy for you, which is definitely something to keep in mind.

 

- Mr. Nash

(December 4, 2003)

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