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Chaos Wars
Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: O-3 Entertainment, Inc.
Developer: Idea Factory
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Strategy/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Chaos Wars is an interesting title - at least conceptually. The game takes characters from several niche Japanese games and throws them together into a Strategy RPG, an equally niche genre. On one level, the game is a success; it manages to hit most of the things that fans of the assembled characters would want. At the same time, the fundamental gameplay might not be enough to hold SRPG fans who have little interest in the cast.

Chaos Wars isn't much to look at and sticks to the typical conventions found in most SRPGs released in the last few years. Characters have a slightly super-deformed/ anime look that is interesting and makes it easy to identify specific units when they begin to clutter up in bunches on the battlefield. Since most of the characters come from other games with completely different art styles, most have been reworked to fit within the game's world. All retain certain aspects so you know who they are, but it is a little jarring to see characters from Gungrave and Shadow Hearts in the new style.

Music is good and goes right along with the game. It's nothing overly special, but gets the job done. The voicework, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Both English and Japanese tracks are available, though neither is particularly impressive.

Chaos Wars takes place on the floating island of Endia, which is sort of the end-hub for all of the other universes. After exploring a bright light in a cave, a young boy named Hyouma falls into the world and is reluctantly pulled into a war. During his travels, Hyouma learns that he isn't the only traveler to find Endia and meets a number of other characters from a variety of other games, including Shadow Hearts, Blazing Souls and Gungrave. The convergence and interaction of characters from several different games is the game's most interesting aspect, though only if you know who the characters are - otherwise they'll just seem like little more than stock characters since they game really doesn't take much time to explain who these people are.

Most of the game's plot revolves around finding keys that will help you unlock gates, which lead you to new characters and locations. If you decide that you need some extra experience or rewards, you can also take part in a series of side-quests, though these never go any deeper than giving you one extra battle to take part in - so you won't miss much if you decide to skip them. This is actually one of the game's weaker overall aspects; there isn't much else to do other than fight. There's an item synthesis system, though it doesn't add much to the game. Also, given the unique leveling system, there isn't a whole lot in the way of stat management.

Gameplay is largely tactical and resembles something along the lines of Phantom Brave. Chaos Wars ditches grid-based movement in favor of a more free-form movement. During their move phase, a circle appears around a character, denoting how far they can move. Rather than having the option to use a skill after moving, everything a character does uses up energy, so even if a character is within spitting distance of another, he can't use a skill if he doesn't have enough energy. Energy slowly refills over time, though most of the game's strategic element is built on getting the most out of a character's energy reserves each turn.

Character leveling is handled differently in Chaos Wars, which can lead to battles being much easier than they probably should. As characters perform actions on the battlefield, there is a random chance that they'll upgrade key stats. Since you aren't likely to use more than a few of your personal favorites in your army, you can rapidly level up your characters, giving you a major advantage over enemies. This isn't to say that every battle is a no-brainer - there is still a small level of strategic thought that goes into every battle - but battles are usually just a race to see who can wipe out the other guy fastest.

Even on a "level" play field, Chaos Wars isn't that tough a game, at least when compared to other SRPGs in the wild. The general flow of battle is incredibly slow and really not that interesting from a tactical standpoint. Most of the time, battles become one giant cluster of units in the middle of the map whacking each other with skills. You still have to manage your movement points and make rudimentary decisions, but when you outgun your opponent by a significant margin, you can afford to make mistakes and still walk away with a win.

Game Mechanics:
Combat also deviates from the norm. During combat, character's skills can randomly shift, turning them into a completely new skill - so a basic fire spell has the chance to turn into an apocalyptic firestorm of death (not really, but you get the idea). However, there's an equal chance that the new skill could be worse than the old one, so it's a gamble. From a conceptual standpoint, it's a neat idea and adds a nifty risk-reward system. However, when used in a genre that is built with an emphasis on planning, introducing such a randomizing element is a little too much of a risk and doesn't seem worth it. Granted, you can "lock" skills to prevent them from changing, though it also keeps you from learning new skills. While I didn't enjoy the system, I can see some players - mostly the ones who love to constantly adapt their strategies - really digging the system.

As characters perform actions during combat, they'll earn points on the gauge. Earning points allows your character to pull off combo maneuvers during combat; if a character is close to another during an attack they can join in, setting up situations where four or five characters can attack a single target in one action. Characters can also earn enough points to perform "Realize" moves, raising their damage output as well as giving them access to a powerful move for a while.

Though playable, the gameplay is weak and features too many "love it or not" mechanics in an effort to try and offer something different. While there's enough here to keep players engaged, if you're not interested in the characters that show up as support characters, the gameplay probably won't be able to hold you for long.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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