Gladius (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a game from one of my favorite inconsistent developers – the late, sometimes great, Lucas Arts. I say inconsistent, because titles developed and published by them are rarely great, and usually mediocre to terrible. Despite this, they occasionally released a game that is utterly fantastic – they released some of my favorite games of all time. Thankfully, Gladius seems to be on the good end of the spectrum and I’d consider it a hidden gem of the PS2 library.
The game has a fairly deep story – the world was almost destroyed by an ancient evil who was slain last minute in a large battle by a sacrificial warrior. Years later, it is mostly forgotten, and the world entertains itself with gladiatorial games. You play as a child to a king who is attempting to build a gladiator academy to bring honor and glory to yourself and your kingdom. While this is all pretty cliche, the production values in the cut scenes is quite impressive, and I get the feeling the story is going to take some turns and not end up being completely by the book.
Gladius is a strategy RPG, and all combat is turn based. They do spice this up by making the effectiveness of your attacks tied to a meter similar to a swing power gauge in a golf game – hit the sweet spot and you’ll get a critical hit, miss and you’ll do less damage. I think it’s a neat mechanic that makes you more involved in the actual combat, something most strategy RPGs are missing. During combat, you give move or attack orders to the members of your team – some contests require different types of participants so your party will be forced to be switched around frequently. In between battles, you can purchase equipment to alter the stats of your gladiators using your winnings. You can also apply stat upgrades when your gladiators level up – I know this is fairly standard for the genre, but I was surprised at how deep it appears to be. There are several upgrade paths that lock your character out of others, adding to the replayability.
Visually, the game is unimpressive – the character models and environments are no where near the best on the system, but they are serviceable. I did not notice any frame rate drops, and to its credit the game’s menu system was well laid out, legible, and easy to use.
Sound was acceptable, the main theme was quite good and it was stuck in my head for the rest of the day – in a good way. The rest of the soundtrack was fairly forgettable, but I can forgive it as nothing was grating. Sound effects and voice acting were very good – above average for the time period.
Verdict: Play again! This was a great experience and I ended up playing longer than expected. I would recommend this to fans of the genre or anyone looking for a cheap, accessible strategy RPG on the PS2.
Images courtesy of Giant Bomb