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Gladius
Published by: LucasArts
Developed by: LucasArts ESRB Rating: T for Blood and Gore, Comic Mischief, and Violence
For: PS2, XBOX, and GC
Review of: GC (Note: the reviewer as also spent several hours with the PS2 version and both are essentially the same)

As most of you probably know, LucasArts is the gaming arm of Star Wars guru George Lucas, and that means that most of LucasArts? games are Star Wars-related. Not that that?s a bad thing ? the world would be a less happy place without the classic X-Wing combat sims or the masterpiece that is Knights of the Old Republic. But that?s not all LucasArts has been up to. I originally discovered this game by accident; my sister and I were looking for a co-op game to rent for her PS2, and Gladius happened to be available. So we took a flyer on it. Suffice to say, I liked the game enough that I later acquired the GameCube version to call my very own. And while the game is not perfect ? it suffers from the ever-present threat of repetition ? Gladius remains a really interesting strategy RPG. For the GameCube in particular, this is a nice addition to the slim RPG library. The plotline starts out simply enough. Two countries, Nordagh and Imperium, were formerly enemies at war but now settle their differences in the controlled environment of the gladiatorial arena. You choose your main character, either Ursula ? the daughter of Nordagh?s barbarian king ? or Valens ? the son of a famous gladiator from the Roman Empire-like Imperium. From there, it?s on to the arenas of the lands to earn fame and glory for your gladiatorial school. Without giving too much away, a larger plot starts to unfolds in the shadows of your arena contests that eventually changes the aims of your travels.

Gameplay:

In talking about game play, it should be known from the outset that this is not an action game, though there are some dynamic elements to it. This is a strategy RPG in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics, and if that is not your cup of tea, you probably won?t get into this game. Traditional role-playing gamers, however, will enjoy a system that tries to keep a bit of button-pushing in the fray. Gladius is a pretty long game. Each character?s quest will take between 40 and 50 hours to complete, adding up to an impressive 80 to 100 hours of gameplay in total. The two plotlines of Ursula and Valens are similar at some points and different in others, leading to a familiar but nonetheless distinctive experience when playing them one after another. The plot is a little hard to follow at times, but eventually you start to catch on to what is actually happening outside of your day-to-day arena contests. And that is where the vast majority is spent, namely in the arenas of various regions, winning contests in order to qualify for other competitions. Some of the circuits are open contests, allowing you to enter a certain number of characters. Other leagues have conditions placed on them, such as a ?couples? series (one male and one female competitor) or the ?beasts-only? circuit (for a chance to unleash all your wolves and bears).. There are also competitions that take their cues from king of the hill or capture the flag. The different kinds of circuits keep a little variety in the competition and keeps it from getting too repetitive most of the time. And there is some freedom in which competitions you enter; you do not necessarily have to beat all of them to win the game. As you start to earn victories, you will have the opportunities to recruit new fighters to your squad, each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. A lot of these characters (particularly some of the spear-throwing support types) can fill valuable niches in your battle rosters, though in critical situations you will find yourself going back to your main characters, most of whom will remain your best fighters throughout the game. In addition to recruiting warriors, money also lets you upgrade weapons and equipment. The game offers an impressive variety of swords, spears, hammers, and other goods that can often be handled by more than one class of gladiator. Like other RPG?s, you will find yourself weighing your purchases carefully, lest you find better gear just down the road. You?ll also have to think carefully about the affinity of your gear and how that will impact your effectiveness on the field. Character development in Gladius follows the time-honored system of experience and leveling up. Each time a character gains a level, moreover, he or she is awarded skill points which they can then use to purchase new skills. Whether or not to spend your existing points or save up for bigger and badder skills is one of the many nice complexities of this game. Battle is turn based with a few twists (see Control, below), with each character?s turn dependent on their initiative skill, much like Final Fantasy X. Thus, faster characters may have more opportunity to attack than slower, larger characters. Each character has a variety of standard and special attacks at their disposal. Plus, as mentioned earlier, the arenas are laid out in a FF Tactics format. Many arenas have varying terrain that allows you to scale hills or climb on boxes. Having a height advantage in battle gives the player offensive and defensive bonuses. This comes into play particularly when you are outnumbered, as it allows you to rally together on a hillside and fend off your foes. Out of the arenas, the game does offer a few sidequests. Not many, but a few. They range from mediocre to fairly interesting, and at worst offer you opportunities to score some hard to find items or even an occasional new member of your team. They also provide a decent diversion from the arena battle scene, though the heart and soul of this game is not in the sidequests. One more notable game play point: Gladius offers multiplayer co-op and versus play. The versus mode falls a little flat, but the co-op mode offers a decent twist to get multiple players into the game. At heart, Gladius is more a single player experience than a multiplayer one, and unfortunately there are a few points in the game where the co-op system is not usable. But there is a certain charm to having others along for the ride, and my sister and I actually got a good many hours out of the co-op function. The game play is, in sum, pretty good, although some gamers will find the combat a little repetitive after awhile. The issue of repetitiveness is probably the biggest liability of this game, although LucasArts makes a credible effort to keep things mixed up, especially during the final few hours of the game. It is for these reasons that gameplay is probably the hardest thing to evaluate about this game, and some players are liable to find my score too high or too low. My suggestion is, rent this game, if you can, before you buy it, as your opinion on the gameplay will go a long way toward your perspective on the game as a whole.

Graphics:

Graphically, LucasArts has done a pretty good job. The character models are realistic and well-crafted, and they move well in combat. The arenas are all distinctive and for the most part beautiful, with nice terrain. The crowds in the background aren?t quite as natural, but they are a nice presence nevertheless. The game?s weapons are all distinctive in their shape, color, and refinement. The battle engine runs smoothly enough, with no real hiccups to speak of. Framerate is steady, but such should be expected from a game like this. If there is a graphical gripe, it lies in the special effects. Namely, that they?re rather subdued. Perhaps it is that my sensibilities are used to the splashy, colorful effects of Japanese video games, and Gladius doesn?t have nearly as much of that. Just the same, if you like giant meteor storms or massive bolts of lightning, you?re not going to get much here. There are a few giant effects, but even those are rather bland in color and don?t convey the kind of glorious power that one of Final Fantasy?s famous area attacks would.

Sound:

Almost all of the dialogue in the game features voice work. The cast features industry veterans ranging from Michael Rosenbaum (who plays Lex Luthor in the WB?s Smallville) as Valens, to Kim Mai Guest (who plays Mei Ling in the Metal Gear Solid series) as the mysterious Eiji. Some of the voice work, particularly that of Ludo (played by Jason Marsden) and Urlan (played by the venerable Kris Tabori), is very good. In other cases, however, the acting seems uninspired and falls a bit flat. Although voiceover work in games is still a developing science, bad voice work can really dull a dramatic scene, and in a couple of cases such is the case in Gladius. Musically, Gladius features the kind of music you would expect from George Lucas. All of the game?s tracks are fully orchestrated, with several brassy numbers that really capture the feel of gladiatorial combat. Each region in the game has its own characteristic sounds, from the barbaric tones of Nordagh to the Arabian flair of the Southern Expanse. Additionally, the game music changes when one side or another is near to defeat, adding a genuine level of tension (or thrill) to the battle.

Control:

The battle controls are easy to learn, but take a little more time to truly master. Standard attacks are accomplished with a sort of golf-style swing meter that you must stop at the correct time (using the A button) to achieve maximum damage, and bad timing can cause your character to miss entirely. Special attacks require all sorts of different feats, from elaborate swing meters to specific button combination to simple mashing of a single button as many times as possible. The game gives you the option to turn these meters off, but how dull would that be? Besides, with practice I found it easy to nail critical hits on my foes, and that becomes important later in the game when your opponents get better at blocking lesser hits. Special attacks are regulated by two meters ? a special attack meter and an affinity gauge. The special attack meter is where most of your special attacks draw from, but it automatically accumulates one point per round, so holding off on special attacks for a round or so can be tactically useful. The affinity gauge refers to the specific elemental affinity of your character, which depends on the weapon and equipment the character is wearing. The affinity gauge is built up by successful special attacks, which in turn allows you to unleash special elemental affinity attacks (i.e. earth, wind, fire, and water) on your foes. Affinity is an important consideration in strategy, given that your foes will have certain resistances that you have to take into account. Attacking a fire-breathing dragon with a fire affinity attack, for example, is likely to be a waste of a turn. The game, however, allows you to see the affinities of your opponents, allowing you to consider your strategy.

Appropriateness:

Gladius is rated T, mostly for violence. This game is about arena combat, after all. There is a bit of blood and gore, but nothing overly gratuitous, so if you?re looking for severed limbs, this isn?t the place. There is really no profanity to speak of in the game. Unfortunately, Gladius is the latest in a long line of fantasy games that suffers from too little female armor. Most of the women of Gladius take to fighting in the most unprotective, and thus provocative, of costumes. Although it isn?t quite as bad as some of Tecmo?s fighting games, the presence of women in armored bikinis is still a head-scratcher. (Some outfits are worse than others.) In addition, although it is not mentioned on the box, there are also a couple of instances of sexual innuendo and suggestion that is a little unsettling, and the game could probably have gone on just fine without it. There is also a magical and religious mythology to Gladius that is central to the game?s plotline. Gladius is a fantasy game, set in an alternate reality, so most Christian gamers probably won?t have much trouble with it, if at all. I also found interesting the exploration of certain moral issues, such as loyalty and determination, that were explored in the game.

Final Ratings: Gameplay: B Graphics: B+ Sound: B Control: A- Appropriateness: C+

Overall 86%

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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