Chaos Wars is an interesting title featuring a variety of characters from a number of Japanese RPGs thrown into a strategy role-playing game with a loose plot to connect them all. While the market certainly isn't overloaded with strategy RPGs, the audience of Chaos Wars is pretty niche, considering the number of characters involved.
It all begins when a student in Japan by the name of Hyoma follows a dream of his. He dreams of a cave with a pillar of light nearby, and when he investigates it with a pair of his friends, they find something that they never expected: a gate to another world. The world of Endia, to be specific, which is an end-point to all Gates and the location of a quiet war that they don't quite know about. Throughout the game, the location of Endia makes it a spot where a variety of characters show up from a variety of other games such as Blazing Souls, Gungrave, Shadow Hearts, and many others.
The characters are all interesting to see, especially if you're a fan of the games from which they originate. They've been given a once-over with a style brush, changing their appearance and, in some cases, their name (Yuri from Shadow Hearts, for example, is named Uru in this title). If you're a fan of the source titles, it will be neat to see them in another world and storyline, but otherwise, it feels somewhat needless. Villains tend to show up from these games as well, and since Chaos Wars assumes you already know the characters, those who don't will have some problems understanding what's going on.
Gameplay is largely comprised of tactical action: you'll move your units around a battlefield, attack other units, and generally win when all the others are defeated. It eschews the typical grid-based combat in favour for a more free-form style (which may be recognized from games like Makai Kingdom) in which the movement of a character is represented by a circle around them. Attacking range is similar, and generally units can stand much closer together than the usual grid-based strategy games.
You've got the typical faire of attacking, movement, items, and special abilities here, but with a few differences that set it apart from other games in its genre. Each character has weapons and, and as they use them, they gain experience and level-up in the attacks that they're using. There's also a random chance that the skill you're using will perform a 'skill shift' and morph into another skill that may or may not be better. It can be pretty irritating, even though you keep you level of ability in that skill. Luckily, you can lock skills to prevent them from changing and thus prevent the luck of the draw from screwing you over. Of course, it's a trade off for the chance that you might be getting a better skill during a skill shift, but it's a choice you have to make.
A fair portion of the strategy comes from something called the S Gauge and what you can do with it. As a character attacks and defends, their S Gauge will increment. First, it will allow them to pull off combo attacks, which are generally the most needed and strategically advantageous moves to pull in combat. When someone attacks another unit (or casts a healing spell on an ally) and there are other allies in range with attacks, they can contribute as long as they have at least a point in their S Gauge. This means being able to pull off attacks where up to five people can strike a single target, sometimes defeating even bosses immediately.
In addition to combos, a point of the S Gauge can also be used to do something called 'Realize'. A somewhat vague description is given in-game, but it essentially allows a character to bring forth the power they had in their world, sometimes in the form of a weapon. During a state of Realization, the character's attack damage is raised a fair amount, and they have access to a powerful move for a few turns.
The biggest problem with this game is the combat. Generally, it doesn't feel like there's too much strategy in any of the battles, and almost all of them can be won simply by running towards each enemy and knocking them senseless without any real thought about tactics. In addition, the combat feels extremely slow-paced: with every attack and motion you perform, there is a noticeable delay before it gets executed. Then, each attack, even the simple ones, seems to take a little bit too much time. On their own they don't account for a whole lot, but add them up over the length of a battle and it's just very, very slow. If the game was anything more than a string of battles, this might've been a little more bearable. But this is not the case.
To add to that, choosing the weapon for each of the characters is restricted, too, even though it may not look the case. For instance, while you can choose the weapons your characters use, what weapons they use while in Realize mode is always fixed. Since some skills apply only to specific weapons, you're going to have a lot of skills equipped that you can't use., so you're pretty much stuck with whatever weapon you get while in Realize mode.
As you progress through the game, you get access to keys, devices which unlock destinations, characters, and functionality of the gate that you're using to travel everywhere. In addition to the main story battles, you can take on some extra randomly-generated side quests for experience and rewards. As far as functionality goes, you can do things like purchase and synthesize items, but not much that'll keep your attention for too long. While the synthesizing, for example, is interesting in its ability to upgrade and improve items, the game is really all about just fighting battle after battle after battle.
The visual and audio aspects of the game are nothing special. The art style is pretty good when you see the characters close up but it's nothing special to look at from far away, at least technically speaking. The voice acting, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. While the voices are by default in English (with the option to switch to the Japanese voice-overs), everything else like battle cries and exclamations are, for some reason, still in Japanese. It feels like there were some issues with the localization with a lot of little problems throughout the game, but it doesn't affect the game overall, except perhaps for the really repetitive background music.
It's safe to say that unless you're not a big fan of strategy role-playing games, you're not going to like Chaos Wars. Even so, as an SRPG goes, Chaos Wars doesn't really offer much that makes it worth playing. While the inclusion of a whole lot of other characters from other games is an interesting choice, it often feels like the story gets bogged down with all the extra characters. The frustratingly slow pace makes things feel even more dull, and over all it just feels like the game doesn't deliver as well as it should have. If you want a game with all these characters this badly, then by all means, give it a shot. Otherwise, there are better SRPGs on the market and this one is worth a pass.