LucasArts have once again made one of those games that can keep you on your couch playing for a long time, if you're a turn-based RPG fan of course. Gladius is as a good as it looks! The game takes place in a world of ancient Roman themed gladiator stadiums. This world is at war and everything is settled in ancient gladiator style. The game starts with the selection between two characters. Ursula, is a princess that possesses certain magic abilities that come in handy in battles in the arena. Or, you can go on a journey of two friends, the leader being Valens, he is the hero known as the son of Munio. His father was a well respected gladiator school owner. Now with his father deceased, you have as a quest to bring the school back to the high tournaments, like his father once did.
Both character selections start differently, but the outcome slowly comes together. If you ever get bored of playing the same character, you can always switch and try different quests. The storyline here is probably the only thing that disappointed me. When I play an RPG, I always await myself to a story line that brings a certain suspense to the game - that was not found here, but becoming the best gladiator is what keeps you playing instead. Throughout the game you run a gladiator school. Slowly recruiting gladiators of all kinds and building up their levels by competing in battles is only a start to finding yourself lost in the world of Gladius.
The gameplay is based around the stadiums and fighting battles in them. Throughout the world map, many stadiums can be found. All stadiums look different from each other. These battles being a sport, when in battle, you always have a group of fans watching. Building up popularity for your school by impressing the crowds is a must to unlock some battles and quests that are sometimes closed to the amateur schools. The fans like to see different things from one stadium to another, some like to see sneaky backstabbing attacks while others dislike that and prefer to see special attacks. When you fight the way the stadium crowd likes it, they praise you and this brings different battle advantages, such as damage being increased or the number of turns you get can go up. These advantages can sometimes mean the difference between a victory or a defeat, but can sometimes play against you as the enemy can please the crowds just as well as you. The game gives you lots of freedom on deciding which tournaments to tackle first. Each has it's own set of rules, from how many gladiators can be selected to fight to which kind of gladiator can actually participate in the battle. Other tournaments have special rules on how the battles can be won. Some are straight slug-it-out until one school falls, and others can be won with points that can be aquired by certain means. Most of the gameplay is spent fighting in the stadiums, but quests can be found or unlocked throughout this gladiator world. While adventuring in the wild, enemy encounters can happen, here is the catch: deaths that occur in the wild are permanent, unlike when fighting in stadiums, where a gladiator that falls does not die.
Gladius has a very well developed turn-based fighting system. This is where the game makers spent most of their brain power, and it shows. It actually makes up for the lack of an interesting plot. It is easy to learn, but still complex enough to give the game a very good RPG strategy depth. When attacking an enemy, the attack is done with the help of a swing meter at the bottom of the screen. This swing meter consists of a cursor that slides across a color coded stripe, on which you need to stop the cursor to make a critical hit. The cursor slides at a random speed every time a hit is performed, giving it some challenge. This meter can be turned off easily, but can come to a player's advantage, as with it he can score critical hits on many occasions. Special attacks such as combo hits, work with a split swing bar that sometimes requires different buttons to be used to stop the cursor. Other special attacks include spells and ''Affinity'' moves. These ''Affinity'' moves have their own elemental system. Once again easy to learn, this system works with elements, and weapons, shields and armor can be purchased to combine with the elemental affinity abilities you give your gladiators
Building a strong school and popularity amongst many stadiums by competing and winning the highest tournaments, is what keeps you striving to keep on playing the game. Recruiting gladiators for your school can be done in every village. Ranging from heroes to centurions, summoners, bandits, or even wolves, a wide variety of warriors and species having different skills and advantages can be found. Expelling a member can be done at any time. While shopping for gladiators, you can simply rent a gladiator for one battle at a certain cost. This comes in handy when you are missing a gladiator of a certain class that is needed to compete in a tournament. Gold is the only resource used in the game. It is needed to enter every battle and is gained by winning battles. And obviously it is used to pay to recruit gladiators to your school. Upgrading your units can be done from your school. As you win battles, your gladiators gain experience points, that allow them to level up on their own, and in their turn sometimes give you job points. These job points can than be used to learn special abilities. Each gladiator class and kind offers slightly different lists of moves than can be learned. The number of abilities that can be aquired is impressive and leaves much to decide. Different combo attacks and elemental affinity abilities with different levels can be learned, but the list goes on and on. Each school member can also be customized by changing his clothing or simply changing skin, armor or clothing colors. This allows you to have a color coded school if you wish, or have each and every one of your gladiators looking unique.
All in all, the game focuses on winning tournament cups on the lower levels and slowly building your reputation, while later on you will unlock the harder leveled tournaments as you recruit and level up strong gladiators to help you achieve just that. Since stadiums are all over the place, a huge number of battles to be fought is available, each of them having its own characteristics and restrictions; this keeps the game challeging and fun, disallowing a player to have such a strong school that battles would no longer have any challenge to them. All these battles can have you playing for numerous weeks before completing all the battles and quests, giving the game an extremely long life span.
I really can not complain about the graphics. Simply eye-candy for the kind of game that it is. I do not mean to imply that all turn-based style games have low quality graphics, but many keep that anime spirited style, unlike Gladius which used a 3D style environment. When I first took a look at the game, I was not even sure it was a turn-based strategy game. It looked more like a third person 3D adventure game. The player models are very well detailed and the way they move looks great. Even facial expressions can be found in Gladius, and although they are not the best I have seen, for a turn-based RPG the game looks really stunning. The attacks look real good and the colors used in the game are crisp and clear. The stadiums, being different from one another, also have great looking and unique environments. My only gripe is that while in World Map mode, the graphics still look good, but the characters miss some depth and look blurry, although the surrounding scenery and everything else looks better than good.
The music has nothing to go crazy about. Although all the stadiums differ from each other, the music played during battles is always the same, and the tracks become very repetitive after a while. Overall, even if the music used has nothing special to offer, it does a good job getting you into the ancient-Rome gladiator theme, but it won't be long before you get tired of it. The voices and dialog on the other hand was very well made. All the dialogs sound real and crisp. Many tutorials and documents come up as you go about in the game - dialogs are present on many occasions, and I always give props for that, as I hate having to read off the screen all the time during a game. The sound effects were just as good. Overall the sound in the game is good, but more tracks should have been present, and they seemed to miss a certain upbeat to them during battles.
There's no Network Adapter support, but once more than one controller is connected to the PS2, multiplayer mode can be selected. Only two players can play at once, as compared to four players on both Xbox and Gamecube versions of the game – hence multiplayer in the PS2 version was rated lower. Two game modes are offered here: co-op which allows to play in the story mode and complete the game side by side. The first player controls the movement throughout the world map and also the menu screens. Once player one engages in battle, the other player can enter and control the gladiators of their choice from the school. The other mode offered is the Versus mode. Here, players can compete in an exhibition battle. At first this mode was not unlocked in the game, I then found out I had to at least progress into chapter two of the story mode with my school.
If you're a fan of this genre, Gladius is a definite must buy. I cannot really find anything big to complain about in this game. The number of hours of gameplay the game provides is impressive and gives the game a good replay value. Every side of this game is good. The only things I can think that might not please some gamers, is the repetitive music and the plot. If you're the type of gamer that loves storylines that keep you going through the game, you might not find what you're looking for in Gladius. This game gives the player lots of freedom on how to complete the game and does not keep him tracked on a story (Which might be a great bonus for players that like open ended games – Editor). Other than that, Gladius is a great game indeed!