Pros: Very in-depth fighting system, well balanced gladiators, great hands-on in the arenas.
Cons: Story is not really in-depth, some graphic sequences are well below par.
This is one of those games that did not get a lot recognition for being a solid game and unless you are a die-hard gamer you probably never heard about it. It's a game that slid under the radar and that is to bad. I do understand somewhat why this happened because it is catered to one style of gamer all the way. To me, when I realized Lucas Arts was the publisher and developer of this game it was a no-brain-er that I was going to buy this game. I may not like every game that they put out but, I will play the odds and take my chances. I was not disappointed with this game that's for sure.
Gladius is a Fantasy Turn-Based Strategy game that is set in four different regions. In these lands you find all sorts of mythological creatures, like Orges, Cyclops, Yetis, and more. There are a total of 52 character classes in this game and dozens of arenas to fight in. These classes range from small and nimble ones to huge and powerful gladiators. You then level up these gladiators with a number of skills and what seems to be a limitless variety of weapons and armor. Each gladiator has their own skills, some they share with others but, each one has some unique skills that only that class can use. The object of the game is to build up a squad of diverse gladiators and fight in all of the towns in the four regions to become the best gladiator team in all of the land. On the way through there will be story changes and unique character to character interactions depending on which story-line you choose to play through. No matter which one you choose both stories have at least 45 hours of solid game play. The game may remind some players of the Final Fantasy Tactics games or Disgaea: Hour of Darkness but, if you play the game long enough you will see that there is far more to it than that. It doesn't try to be a straight foreword RPG or a straight out tactics game. It takes elements from several strategy games and puts them together into something fresh for gamers to experience.
Gladuis is set in four regions that resembles ancient Rome and it's outskirt lands. These regions include the barbarians who live in Nordagh (outskirt grass lands), Imperia (resembles ancient Rome), the amazons in the Winward Steppes, and the Egypians. Decades before Nordagh and Imperia waged war against one another and all of this conflict arose a vengeful Dark God which almost destroyed all of mankind. After pulling together (with the help of the Valkerie) they defeated this Dark God. Now these regions coexist in a very uneasy peace. Gladiator schools from all over the regions compete and satisfy their violent nature, in what is knows as the gladiator "games". Blood is still shed but, no one dies as healers are always at the games to heal fallen gladiators in the arenas.
The main story focuses around two main characters, the strong willed barbarian princess from Nordagh named Ursula and a noble Imperia fighter, and son of the most famous gladiator, named Valens. You can choose to play either story-line but, both stories are intertwined and you will eventually have both characters in your gladiator school. The barbarian king of Nordagh sends his son (Urlan) out to fight in the games in the name of his country. The king has always sheltered Ursula because she possesses magical powers no one can explain. He then instructs his son to look after his sister in the games thinking she will be less of a target for the witches who believe she is the key in reviving the Dark God once more. On the other side, Valens father is mysteriously murdered by unknown assassins. Valens, with help from his childhood friend Ludo, hopes to carry on his father's legacy and rebuild the best gladiator school in Imperia. All at the same time try and find out why his father was murdered. The story-line is interesting unfortunately there is not much in the way of depth. The cut-scene are far and few between and mainly happen only when your school meets someone new or when you travel to a new region for the first time. The cut-scenes that are story based are good I just wish they were more in-depth and had more twists and turns then the game has. You can also learn some interesting information about each town and each arena you fight in with some interactions with the league officers and merchants. These are worth the reading just because it adds a little to the story since the story-line is talked about far and few between.
First off, the game play is very in-depth in the game. When you first go through the tutorials and start learning about the fighting system it may look pretty easy. As you play through the game and get different gladiators and their skills you find out how deep all of the aspects of this games fighting system truly is. Gladius is straight foreword and focused on battles. There are many towns located in the four regions and you need to defeat the towns tournament. You must defeat every towns tournament in order to go for the regional tournament and move on. To qualify for a towns tournament you must compete in leagues in that town to earn cups. Each league that you complete gives you cups and these cups is what you need to qualify for that towns tournament. There are also badges you must acquire throughout the regions and these are needed to compete in the regions championship tournament. I hope I was not to confusing here but, the bottom line is there are a ton of fights to compete in throughout the game. You do not need to fight every battle, just enough to earn the cups and fight in all of the tournaments.
The thing that really makes the game play stand out is that different battles have different restrictions to them. This all depends on the league's restrictions. Some battles will only allow a couple of fighters while others up to six, others will allow only light warriors while some only heavy fighters, others may only allow female or male fighters only, or fighters from a specific region, there are a lot more you will find. This can get flustrating if you don't have what they want but, you can hire gladiators at every town. You can permanently hire them or for just one battle to make the restrictions. The game does cover all the grounds here as it makes you build a diverse school of gladiators. There is also a number of different battles as well. Some battles will require you to do more damage than the other schools to win in a certain time limit, or a king of the hill battle, or you may have to control a number "way points", if you will, for more time than your opponents, or maybe a straight out brawl. You may will also find yourself facing one or maybe three other schools at once. each out for themselves and there never is teams in this game. Some of these restrictions and game types are more fun than others but, it keeps the game interesting and never boring.
Everytime you win a battle your gladiators gain experience points. Even the ones on the side lines for that battle will gain a portion of those points. This is not the same as a Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic game where each one earns the same amount to keep all of your gladiators close in levels. If you do not use a gladiator for a long time they will not be close in experience points as the ones you have been using. You need to mix it up if you want all of your gladiators close in levels. Once a gladiator has enough experience points they will gain a level. At this time they automaticaly gain in their core stats like power, hit points, defense and more. They will also gain access to better weapons and armor. The nice thing here is, even if you have two gladiators of the same class and same level they will not have the stats. These stats will be close but, for example, one may be better at offense while the other better at defense.
They will also gain "Job Points" that you can put into various skills for each one. Some skills cost more than others and you will have save up in order to get them. It is important to get some skills, even the weaker ones, early in the game or you will have a tough time winning battles early on. Each fighter has a variety of skills to choose from. A lot maybe the same as other classes but, each class some that you will only find in that class. This is where experimenting a little bit and some reply value comes in if you want to play again and use different skills. These skills vary from combo attacks, status effects, affinity power attacks, pump ups for other fighters, and more. The only problem I have here is, once you use your job points you can't change later. This gives you no room for error if you don't like a skill after you purchase it. Since these skills are varied on different combo meters and some that the computer controls the outcome more than others, this can be frustrating until you know what each skill is like. The only thing I did to combat this is, I would save the game, purchase a skill I wasn't sure if I would like or not, and do a battle with that fighter. During the battle use that skill and if I didn't like it I could just re-load the game and get my points back. Also, when you hire a new gladiator he/she will already have skills purchased with equipment and be ready to fight no matter what level they are when you hire them. You are better off hiring gladiators at an earlier level if you can because you have control where these job points go. i also noticed that you will get more job points to spend on a gladiator if you hire them early because every gladiator you hire, not matter the level, start off with zero job points. This can't be avoided at times of course but, it's best to hire them early if you can.
Most of the game you travel from town to town doing the various leagues and tournaments. In these battles your fighters never die they just get knocked out and you loose them from the rest of that battle. You can however find fights, all though very random at occur more at night, on your travels as well. These are worthy fights as you gain a lot more experience form fights in the wilderness. This is because your fighters can die in these battles. You must be real careful who you choose to battle these fights and their are no restrictions. Your man hero, Ursula or Valens depending which storyline your playing through, can die and if this happens your game is over and you need to restart. Your other heroes, like Urlan or Ludo, can be knocked out of the fight but, they remain on your roster unlike your hired gladiators. If they die they are gone and all your hard work with that gladiator is forfeit. In all, the game play is excellent and extremely in-depth. This makes other games of this genre look feel kind of boring, even the good ones, because of the in-depth put into the game play.
Another part of the game that works very well is the different variants you will find during the battles. This includes height advantage, facing, and crowd meter. These play a huge factor on how much damage you can do with each attack. There are obstacles around most arenas that you can stand on (or your opponent) and attack an opponent in an adjoining square that is lower than your character. You will deal much more damage and will also take a lot less damage this way. Facing is also a big part of the battle. If you are behind or on the side of an opponent, and they are not aware you are there, you also deal a lot more damage. Of course, some gladiators have skills they can learn to take this bonus away just like some have skills that will double the damage if you do it. It balances out well. The crowd meter will give bonuses to teams that are performing well during combat. The more you can please the crowd the more bonuses you get. the different arenas you fight in want to see different style of fighting so you will want to pay some attention on how fast the meter raises when you complete an attack. Hearing the background from each arena will give you clues to this as well. The bonuses range from faster movement to more critical damage and can make a big difference in a long fight. All of these work both ways and the computer will do this with regularity. All though I have noticed the AI does not do enough of the height advantage as could be but, it does do the facing rather well. In all the AI is good and will put up a tough battle (some better than others of course) and you should enjoy all of the fighting in this game.
One quick note of something I found in the game, and was very surprised, was the statistics this game keeps track of. You can find very detailed statistics on your school as a whole or you can look at statistics for each and every gladiator in your school. Such statistics include how many of each gladiator class you have defeated, how much you have traveled, how much damage your gladiators have dished out or taken, how much damage each skill has done for each gladiator, even how well you work the swing and combo meters. This is detailed so far as to how well the crowed is pleased during combat and how many times someone has fallen in combat. Again, I was very surprised this was in the game but, being the stat freak that I am, I found myself in these screens often looking at all my gladiators stats.
Since this is a strategy role-playing game you would think that controls are not a big part of the game. most games of this genre you just give orders and your characters perform them. That is not true with the swing meters this game uses. You have a lot of control how each of your gladiators perform while in combat. The swing meter is not complicated but will take a little practice to get down. It will influence the success and power of various attacks. These meters come in a different variety and give you direct control of the fight. Your standard move to attack or basic attack is performed by a long horizontal bar with a yellow, red, and blue zones inside. After a short countdown a bar will begin to move across the bar which you want to stop it in the red zone. If you stop the bar near the red zone, and in the yellow, you will have pretty good success on connecting with the attack with standard damage. If you stop it in the red you will always succeed with a critical hit and if you miss and stop it to late in the blue zone you will miss the attack. Off course the accuracy rating of your gladiator will play a big part if the attack is a success if you miss the red zone. Each gladiator has combo skills for multiple attacks. This meter is the same except it is broken into parts with the red and blue zone. Depending how many attacks you are trying to do will depend how many red and blue zones there are inside the meter. As the bar moves you must hit the button to stop as close to the red as you can in order to perform each attack. The zones get smaller and harder to hit with each attack in the combo meter. Other classes use the basic horizontal bar for skill attacks like an archer's bow attacks or a Channeler's spells. Depending on your character class will determine how fast the bar moves inside the meter and the accuracy will depend how big the red zones are.
There are other meters as well like the Fast Button Meter which you will have to follow a sequence of buttons in the order shown on screen as fast as possible for a powerful attack. Or a status attack which you must perform a hit in the critical zone to add a status to your attack (poison, stun, petrify, etc..). Some of these attacks, even if you hit the critical, may not succeed as they are determined by the numbers. A Masher meter where you need to press the A and B button in quick succession to perform the attack. By rule the better the skill the harder they are too perform. The computer AI will use special attacks well and you will have to pay attention what classes you are fighting to counter these attacks the best possible.
One other attack is the Affinity Attacks. These attacks are element attacks that your gladiators can learn and they have four levels each. The affinity Gods can grant this special attack in the form of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, Light, and Dark. Light and Dark are very rare and only a selected few can wield them. The first two levels of these attacks do direct damage but, the third level will do greater damage and add a status affect to the attack. The fourth level will attack every opponent on the battlefield no matter where they are. These are powerful attacks that each gladiator you have in your school should learn some levels of one. There are no special meters to perform these attacks and they always connect except, if the gladiator your attacking has defense to that Affinity. You gain Affinity with your weapon and you gain defense with your armor. By putting all of your armor on that has defense to a certain Affinity, every time you are attacked with a weapon that has that Affinity attack you will gain defense. Making that gladiator immune to that Affinity if attacked with it. This is a big part of the game and higher your opponents level the more they will use Affinity attacks.
The over all graphics are good only if you fully appreciate where the game was going with it. The characters models are solid with well-animated facial expressions during cut-scenes. The 3D in-game battle character models are also good enough and bring out some life with each character class because they all look and sound so different. I just wish you could get closer to to them during a battle. You can adjust the camera with only two different heights settings during game play there just isn't one close enough to enjoy the characters as you do in the cut-scenes. The story-line is all told through some beautifully rendered hand painted cut-scenes. Again, you have to appreciate what was done because if you don't you look at the cut-scenes and not be impressed. There are some good perks and bad perks that go along here as well. For example, when a gladiator falls in battle their motions are fluent and they fall with style. However, some of the special effects like a level four affinity attack looks down right hideous. You can tweak each of your gladiators with different colors or themes and each weapon, shield, or helmet you place on a gladiator shows well in battle. Over all the graphics are good and the frame rate is not a problem what-so-ever. But, there are some parts where I can't believe the game went off the shelf looking like they do.
There are a lot of different sound effects you will hear throughout the game and they are done pretty well. Each of the character classes has their own voice-overs and this includes both male and female counterparts. They also have their own catchphrases which are pretty good however, some repeat way to often and you get a little tired of hearing them if you keep sending that class into battle. During the battles hearing all the swords heating armor or flesh and the arrows thinking off shields sound true and keep the feeling of a gladiator battle well.
The music during the game keeps with the game and the arena of fighting just fine all though it is nothing spectacular. Their are four regions you will travel through during the game and each one has it's own music. These themes change between menus, world map, and battles. Only bad thing is, there is not enough soundtracks and the music is short and you grow a little tired of hearing it after a while. This says the same for the victory music that plays every time you win a battle much like the Final Fantasy games of old. In all, the sounds and music throughout the game is done pretty good overall.
You can play Co-Op or a Versus mode in this game also. In the cop-op mode four players can join in the story mode and play together. Player one is in charge of all the moving and selecting of battles. Once a battle is selected each player will choose the gladiators they want to control until each gladiator has been selected. Then it is off to the battle. in the Versus mode up to four players can do battle against each other. You select a school that you are using in story mode and pick your gladiators from that school. There may not be a whole lot to this but, at least they gave an option to fight others or to have others with you on the battle field.
If you like the turn based role-playing style of game play and up for more than 45 hours of game play (can be longer if you want complete every fight everywhere) then I recommend this one definitely. If you don't have the patience to sit through a game like this then the odds are you will not like it. This is a true game for it's style through and through. The younger generation will probably put this game away in the first hour of game play because they are just not used to games like this. The game also has good reply value as you can play through either Ursula's or Valen's story-line. Each one has their own classes that you are able to hire for the first part of the game and since you are limited to how many gladiators you can have in your school you will not be able to use them all. You will also not be able to level up each character with everything in their skill trees so you can play again with different classes and different skills. I am a gamer that has the patience for this style of game play and a role-playing game that is done this well is aces in my book.
Thank you for reading.
Game Play: 5/5
Learning Curve: Hour
Replay Value: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 4/5
Publisher: Lucas Arts
Developer: Lucas Arts
Genre: Fantasy Turn-Based Strategy
ESRB Rating: Teen
Resolution: HDTV 480p
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
A Sneak Preview Of The Different Playable Classes
Heavy Centurion, Cyclops, Minotaur, Orge, Samnite, Yeti
Medium Your Heroes, Barbarians, Legionaire, Murmillo, Undead Melee
Light Bandit, Beserker, Dervish, Mongrel, Satyr, Sector
Support Amazon, Archer, Gungnir, Peltast
Arcane Channeler, Summoner, Undead Caster, mongrel Shaman
Beast Bear, Cat, Wolf, Plains Cat, Scarab, Scorpion
My other related game reviews if your interested in reading them.
Lord of the Rings "Battle For Middle Earth II"
Lord of the Rings "The Third Age"
Star Wars "Knights of the Old Republic II"
Warcraft "Frozen Thorne"