Koei is finally branching out and tackling events that don't involve Feudal Japan. While I applaud their change in direction, Colosseum seems to be built upon one part past experience and one part stumbling blocks. A meaty fighting RPG/Action game in the times of Gladiators is a welcome friend and Colosseum has a deep enough battle system to keep those fascinated with the Roman Empire for due time. Unfortunately, not everything is as well engineered as the fighting system, and difficult AI early on, a brutal punishment system for losing and heaping doses of repetition will retire most players before they earn their coveted freedom. I dare say that less resilient players will find their freedom by turning off the power halfway through.

I'm not sure if Gladiators ever actually won their freedom eventually, but this is your ultimate goal. Players will strive to become the ultimate fighting machine in the Roman arenas and when they've become the best of the best, they can retire to Florida and beat the crap out of old people who want to pay with a check at Safeway. Seems about right.

Colosseum places heavy emphasis on building your characters attributes through training. This is absolutely essential to progress. But be warned that Colosseum is one unforgiving gaming experience. If you are a card carrying button masher you'll want to pass; Colosseum's deep battle system isn't for the weak of heart. It may seem clunky and unintuitive at first but if you stick it out, you'll find a lot to love - but it's a hard battle to get there.

Colosseum is touted as an Action/RPG and that's fairly accurate, although that primarily describes the point management / experience system that players will use to increase stats to gain power and more fighting moves. Players who win fights will also earn money they can use towards new armor and weapons. The thin plotline that attempts to give the situation some gravity, spectacularly fails to draw you in and in that sense doesn't really warrant the RPG moniker. It's very possible to go through the motions and never emotionally invest an ounce of care into your nameless warrior or his situation.

The melee battles which will see a few Gladiators onscreen at one time can be fairly intense and definitely worth the time and effort it takes to get there. This is the biggest payoff the game has to offer. You will notice that the framerate barely manages to hold it together when more than three characters are on screen at one time which can lead to some frustrating moments and lost battles. But even still, dedicated players will be invigorated enough to go back for seconds, thirds, fourths and more. It's the game you sometimes love to hate.

Koei has done an excellent job in the fighting animations and character models, but the backgrounds are a little sparse - possibly to keep the framerate from jumping completely out the window. It's not the prettiest game around, but far from the worst.

Koei has the makings of a new franchise that just needs a fair amount of tweaking to bring it up to code. I have no doubt that Colosseum could truly become a valued series on the next gen systems. The makings of a classic are all there but the recipe is a little jumbled right now. If Koei can balance the difficulty, streamline the learning curve to make it more accessible and iron out little kinks here and there, Colosseum II could be a dynamite offering. As it is now the steep learning curve will reward less talented gamers with incessant losses; but those who persevere will eventually discover an entertaining product born from your own blood, sweat and lots of tears.

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System: PS2
Dev: Koei
Pub: Koei
Release: July 2005
Players: 1 - 2
Review by StewXX