The Game Slush Pile

Gladius Xbox Retro Game Review

Release Date10/28/2003

Gladius has to be one of the most oddly paced SRPGs in the history of gaming. It’s a game where the main plot doesn’t kick into high gear until hour sixty. You see, Nordagh and Imperia were at each other’s throats and their relentless battle caused the dark god to return. The Valkyries defeated the dark god, and his remains were placed deep inside a temple, where they got stolen years later.

Gladius Opening Cutscene
None of this will matter for dozens of hours.

Instead, Gladius is a gladiator simulator, where you take part in battles in towns to unlock more battles to win the area championships and move on. You can play as two different people:

Valens, from Imperia:

Gladius Character Select

Or Ursula from Nordagh:

I chose Urusla for this Gladius play through, which the game wants you to pick if you’re new, because its an easier time, with less unit types to worry about. If you pick her, you get treated to a story about witches prophesying a magical girl born under a full moon to the Nordagh king. His wife bears a son. The king kicks the witches out. Then the wife bears a daughter with magical powers, but they keep it a secret.

Gladius Ursula's Story
Again, none of this will matter

This plot line will get developed more than the main one, but again, will be mostly forgotten until hour sixty. You will eventually get Valens in your party, but the reason is barely beyond, “Hey, you want to join up?” “Sure!”

Gladius: Gladiator Simulator

So what is Gladius exactly? As I said before, it’s a gladiator simulator. You create a gladiator school and fill it with gladiators. You wander the world map, going from town to town, fighting in local battle leagues until you win the town tournament. Win all the town tournaments, you unlock the area championship. Win that, and you move on. Ursula will start off in Nordagh(Vikings), move to Imperia(Rome), then onto the Steppes(Mogolia) and then the Expanse(Egypt), before finally moving onto the story battles to end the game. Valens will start off in Imperia and move to Nordagh, where he will pick up Ursula.

Above is a typical town league screen in Gladius. Each league is made up of various battles, usually centered around a typical theme, like the type of enemy you’ll face. Each league will have entrance requirements, like having a specific entrance key you’ll get from a league, or a certain level of popularity. Each league will grant cups. Enough cups and you’ll unlock the town tournament.

Gladius World Map
There are random encounters on the world map, but can be skipped.

Most battles will be defeat the enemy, but not always. There’s a king of the kill battle type, where you must occupy the highest point the arena. There is also a monument battle, where you must destroy the opposing team’s monument before they destroy yours. Surprisingly, the AI is adept at adapting to the match type and will present a challenge as a result.

The Battles Themselves

The battles are typical SRPG fare. You move around the arenas and attack in turns. You have standard attacks and special attacks. You have AP for special attacks, the better the attack the more AP. There’s also an elemental affinity system at play with elemental attacks and defense. Finally, when you attack, you get a little meter mini game, as shown here:

You can automate this, but why would you?

Now there are six unit types in game. The three main ones are light, medium and heavy units. Heavy beats medium. Medium beats light, and light beats heavy. This is not a hard and fast rule, as you can overcome this with height advantage, and attacking from the sides or back when a unit is engaged(facing) another unit. There are also support(ranged) units, beast units, as well as arcane(magical) ones.

And not all units within a type are the same, as there are various classes within each type. For example, within light units there is a bandit, with armor and a shield, and bezerker, with just a weapon, no armor and nasty special attacks.

Honestly, everything just clicks in Gladius and the battles work well. I sat through the full sixty hours before, I can do it again. My only real complaint is that the tournament battles aren’t any more difficult than regular battles(until you get to final gladiator tournament). Note that I will not be providing a game play video here, that’s because battles may be interesting to the player, they’re not so interesting to the viewer and can stretch on for fifteen minutes or more. I’m not subjecting people to that.

A Forgotten Gem

Gladius was released in a strange time for Lucasarts, where they tried hard to push new IPs that weren’t adventure games. They all failed and Lucasarts went back to making Star Wars games exclusively. Gladius was released for PS2, Gamecube and Xbox and I remember some marketing, but it never caught fire. My guess is it wasn’t flashy enough to catch the eye. It’s a shame, because Gladius is a good game. It is also long enough to rival other famous SRPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics. Yes, the story is crap, but that’s not why you come, you come for the buttery smooth game play.

It worth seeking Gladius out and playing it if you are a SRPG fan. It’s a different take on the genre and a solid take at that. It is an affordable game as well.

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