Before he set upon to do the research for this preview, the previewer had Gladius figured as an action game, perhaps even a fighter, that had certain character customization to it. Judging from what others have said, said individual believes that he is not alone in this mistake. Let it be corrected now, then: American-developed as it may be, Gladius is a tactical RPG that takes its cue from the old favorites, while at the same time trying to expand the genre.
The game starts with a player choosing either Ursula, a rebellious princess, or Valens, a valiant nobleman, as their heroic avatar. The player will have to play through both 30 hour quests to see the entire game. The first thing on the agenda is setting up a battle school by recruiting warriors at arenas or at the completion of certain quests. These warriors can be outfitted and trained just like the hero can, and they have more life than most generic tactical party members, too: dismiss them and they'll wind up with another battle school, looking to show just who the boss is now. Of course, Valens and Ursula remain the focus of the story. The plot is the same for both, but the perspective is different. Both warriors have taken up arms to prove their mettle within their family, but both become drawn into a quest to stop the revival of an ancient demon who once waged war against the forces of light.
A full half of the game takes place in the arenas. Some of the time is spent exploring them, but most of it is spent doing the appropriate thing at an arena: juggling. Er, battling. To keep things interesting, LucasArts shakes things up with a pleasant variety of locales, which are divided into four distinct areas. Nordagh is a land replete with forests and forest barbarians, where Ursula does her braiding in the morning. Then there's Imperia, which is the Roman-inspired area where Valens hangs his helmet. Expect haughty, proud, and too-well-bred-for-thou folk here. The Windward Steppes can lay claim to nomads and rocky hills, and the Southern Expanse would lay claim to something, if it were anything but an unpopulated desert.
But what of those aforementioned battles? They take place on a standard, tactical-RPG square grid, but the graphics do a good job of hiding it when it's not time to move. Combat is turn-based, but it is here that LucasArts tries to spruce things up. Using certain attacks on a foe necessitates the use of several action/arcade elements, such as combo attacks strung together by timed button-presses, or a golf game-like timing meter that affects the strength of the attack. Although these features may not be as unprecedented as LucasArts might like us to believe, they are a welcome innovation as far as tactical games are concerned. It may be frustrating at times to have a well-prepared attack fail because of one bout of bad-timing, but that's what it's like in the newly-combined worlds of tactical-RPGs and gladiatorial combat. Gr!
That's not the end of the battle quirks. Interactive field elements populate the battleground, including the dread explosive barrels. The spectators are also supposed to play some kind of role - perhaps the player's attack goes up when the thumbs go up? Otherwise, battles unfold in essentially the same way that they would in any tactical-RPG. The player has to consider such things as elevation as well as different magical and non-magical skills when making choices in battle. The interface seems to be simpler than others have been, though: all the player has to do is move the attack cursor over the target to move the party member. If the target is out of range, then the character will move as close as possible. The final cherry is the ability Ursula and Valens possess to unleash a super attack once they've charged up properly.
There is minimal gameplay outside of battle, but even this LucasArts is trying to tweak. It is their stated goal to strike that elusive balance of questing, battling, and cutscenes. The player can move around in the towns and visit shops - in general explore, which is very atypical in a true TRPG. What is typical is the level of character management. There are about a hundred types of warrior, which include numerous beasts and monsters in addition to the normal line-up of character classes. This army learns their techniques and abilities by expending Job Points gained at level up. In other words, these points can "buy" abilities. Of course, equipment is key to any army, and Gladius has 2,000 different weapons available to the player, most of which are based on meticulously researched third century armaments.
The strong points of the technicality also have to do with the characters. The character models are all well done, and their animation is quite fluid. They better be, since the characters will take a whole lot of different positions during battle. The blood spilling will also be suitably fluid, but only to a point - it's a Teen rating after all. The big news in regards to sound is that famous actors Linda Cardellini and Michael Rosenbaum will be playing Ursula and Valens respectively. I guess the Lucas name can still net the occasional quality actor. As for the music, expect lots of stirring heroic stuff.
LucasArts has developed the game with the specifications of each console in mind, but only to a point. Sorry, Xbox owners, but your version isn't going to look that much better. The only real difference between the three comes into play with the multiplayer. Gladius has a unique mode where a player can pit their army against their friends', who control theirs with the other console controllers. Hence, when playing on the Playstation 2, the fun has to be limited to only two people.
Undoubtedly readers down with the TRPGs caught the similarities with the classics, as well as those still upcoming. Will there be a new champion of the tactical genre? Gladius should at least provide us with a fresh take on this beloved style of game.