Record of Agarest War: Zero is a prequel to Idea Factory's Record of Agarest War, from 2008. Zero was also developed by Idea Factory, and published by Aksys games in the United States, Ghostlight in Europe, and self-published in Japan.
The story of Record of Agarest War: Zero spans two generations of characters. In the first generation, you play as Sieghart, a commander to the forces of light. For this first half of the game, the story is a bit cliché; your standard light-vs.-dark affair. Sieghart is tasked with getting four objects to make a key, and release a being named Calinou, who has the power to turn the war in favor of the forces of light. Besides that, the first generation is mainly plot exposition, or character development.
In the second generation, you play as Sieghart's son, Leonis, a few years after the events of the first generation. This later half of the game is where the story really shines, as the game fleshes out more characters, and more about the universe of Agarest. For the most part, the plot twists that come in this latter half of the game will have you intrigued. The ending to the game, however, is very ambiguous, and leaves itself open for a sequel. Assumingly, this was done this way to leave room for the first Record of Agarest War.
The gameplay of Agarest Zero is comparable to other strategy role-playing games. Characters move on a grid to do actions, or use items. Some grids have special spaces, such as extra damage output or extra experience gain. Unique to this game though is the act of "linking" characters. By standing on specific zones correspondent to different characters, you will be able to use every character to do an action that turn, regardless if it is their turn or not. Using this link system is highly crucial to being successful in the game. Later on, however, the game can be repetitive for some people.
Creating items is very important to this game, too. Using blacksmithing is pretty much the only way you'll get stronger weapons and armor. By making items, they're registered to the shop, so you don't have to mindlessly grind for supplies for hours every time you want to make the same item. You can also enhance and transform your equipment using EP (enhance points). There's another currency besides gold, called TP (technical points), which allow you to get special items, or materials for blacksmithing.
This game also features very light social sim elements. These include special spaces on the map called "vacation days", where you can interact with members of your party, and raise your relationship with them. This is crucial to do with females in your party, as specific females in the party can be married. Using the Soul Breeding system, your son's appearance and stats are based on what female you chose, and your relationship with her. The choices you make with the females also give you "soul types", which determine what type of weapons your son will be able to use. This system was pretty unique to the game.
One thing that might turn some people off is this game's difficulty spikes. At some points in the story, you're faced with extremely hard boss fights, and your only option is to grind or get better equipment.
Overall, the presentation is well done. The art style is nice, and the drawn sprites animate really well. The sounds are good, but can be repetitive at times, since a lot of the attacks tend to reuse the same audio clips. Probably the most impressive combination of animation and sound in the game is each character's ultimate technique, which all look and sound great. The game's soundtrack is also well done; composed by Kenji Kaneko. The soundtrack has some memorable tunes, like Recognition of Betrayal.
Record of Agarest War: Zero is a great RPG with a few shortcomings. The gameplay can sometimes be repetitive, like the grinding you may be tasked with, and the difficulty spikes will surely turn some people off.