Tactics Ogre Gaiden: The Knight of Lodis

   The tale of Quest's Ogre Battle Saga's history in the U.S. is practically a saga in its own right. While first game in the series found its way to America courtesy of Enix, the subsequent closure prevented the follow-up, Tactics Ogre, from seeing release in the States for many years. Thankfully, Artdink saw fit to port both the games PlayStation in Japan, and both saw a stateside release by Atlus. The Neo Geo Pocket installment, however, fell prey to the closure of another U.S. office, this time SNK's. Since then, the Ogre Battle Saga has been published by Nintendo in Japan, but the company has shown an odd reluctance to bring the games in the U.S. Just like 2000's Ogre Battle 64, the latest game in the series, Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis, was originally announced for the U.S. by Nintendo. And once again, the console giant has stepped aside, leaving the game in the capable hands of Atlus' American branch.

Tactics Ogre Gaiden
New world map

   Like the Neo Geo Pocket Color Ogre Battle Gaiden, The Knight of Lodis is not an official part of the planned eight-chapter Ogre Battle saga. Rather, it extends Tactics Ogre's graphics and gameplay systems while introducing a brand new story and setting. But while the company farmed the development of Ogre Battle Gaiden out to SNK, The Knight of Lodis was developed in-house by Quest.

    The story is set between the events of chapter 6, Ogre Battle 64, and chapter 7, Tactics Ogre, and should help to cast more light on the island nation of Lodis, a traditional series antagonist. Known as the Holy Lodis Empire, the island is ruled by its church, which is centered on the worship of St. Lodis. Located in the northwest of Galicia, the Empire has engaged in a brutal "enlightenment policy" over the last ten years by conquering the surrounding lands and converting them to its religion.

    The game's setting, Ovis Island, is one such colony. The island itself is divided into three distinct regions by its harsh geography: Rananculus in the north, where the bulk of the poor population lives under the yoke of Lodis; Anser in the east, the center of trade where the aristocracy reside; and Tinea in the west, a marshy wasteland populated by Beastmen and monsters. The many mountains and rivers of Ovis make travel and communication between the regions nearly impossible.

  *insert Queen reference here*
Let us cling together!

    Due to the harsh class and physical divisions between the districts, politics there remain in a delicate balance. To help ease the tensions, the Empire dispatches a troop of its best knights: The Holy Flame Cavalry. Among them is the game's main character, the 15-year-old Alphonse Locher, a new recruit who remains unsure of his country's imperialist practices. His regiment is attacked by an unknown force while in transit and this initial struggle, naturally, begins a chain of events which will uncover a grand conspiracy on the island.

    Though The Knight of Lodis doesn't contain the quite the same focus on branching story paths seen in Tactics Ogre, the complex political backstory should convince fans that the series' complex plots haven't been dumbed down for a handheld. Furthermore, Quest has stated that the story - which does have multiple endings - will detail events leading up to the Valerian War that preceded Tactics Ogre. Ogre Battle fans can expect to have a few questions answered and see some familiar faces.

   The Knight of Lodis adheres closely to the same gameplay formula that made hits out of Tactics Ogre and its spiritual successor Final Fantasy Tactics. The game is still focused on isometric tactical battles and retains much of the scope of the previous installment -- the maps are as large as 32 x 32 squares and players can take up to 8 units into battle. As in the other 'Tactics games, the party moves around a "connect-the-dots" map to reach new towns and battlefields.

Sun spell
It's perfect for our seminar

    While the bulk of the battles are story-based, players will encounter random squads of troops and monsters when crossing previously-visited locales. Story battles should feature a variety of mission goals to keep the game interesting, but Quest is also adding in a new Quest Mode to offer unique battles outside the scope of the main story. Occasionally, a successful battle will net players an ancient scroll. Using this in conjunction with a saved game will allow them to take on one-shot missions, with the chance to gain rare items and equipment that are unavailable in the main game.

   But the biggest change for the GBA version comes in the form of a revamped movement system. In the original Tactics Ogre, units received their turns based on a variety of factors; quicker troops with less equipment would get a chance to attack and move more often than slower units, as the game cycled through the characters in order of the "wait turn." The Knight of Lodis moves to alternating turns, similar to the Shining Force games. Combat is divided into rounds, and players may move their units in any order during their turn. Additionally, taking an action now ends that unit's turn, moving after attacking is no longer possible. These changes vastly alter the gameplay; rush tactics are now much more successful, while run-and-gun maneuvers are next to impossible. Thankfully, the AI has been tuned accordingly for the new system and there is a much greater focus on flanking maneuvers.

   Other aspects have been streamlined for the handheld version, as well. Class restrictions on weapons are less strict, characters have fewer stats to track, and players are given full access to their inventory during battle instead of having to equip items on characters for use later. While the changes do seemed to be aimed at making the game a bit easier, hopefully the end result will help to alleviate some of the constant troop training that was the major shortcoming of Tactics Ogre.

  Status screen
List of Emblems

    While some of the combat system has been simplified for The Knight of Lodis, weather and terrain effects will play a much larger role in the GBA game's battles. Not only do troops receive statistical bonuses in their favored weather conditions, as in Tactics Ogre, but the weather itself will transform the terrain. For example, snow will cover up plains and impede movement, while a rainstorm causes rivers to rise and changes land tiles to water tiles. The terrain and weather are both modifiable by magic: Fire spells melt snow, while sunlight stops rain.

    Not all of The Knight of Lodis is a simply based on the previous game, however. Units progress to new character classes in a completely different manner. Rather than advancing by simply acquiring a set of minimum statistics, units must attain the "Emblem" for a particular job through special deeds, such as dodging enough attacks or talking to a certain number enemy units. Once a character has the Emblem for a given class, he or she can freely change to that class from the status screen. The classes themselves are Ogre mainstays, such as Soldiers, Amazons, Witches, and Knights, but this time, they are less gender specific at the lower levels - a change which makes troop management much more robust early in the game. Players can now have male clerics and archers or female knights and wizards, but the sexes diverge further up the class ladder - for example, male troops can gain access to the beast tamer class, while the dragon taming remains the realm of the ladies.

    Other additions are more specific to the move to a handheld platform. Tactics Ogre's somewhat tedious training mode makes a return, but players are be able to link two GBAs together to train against human opponents. Both will need their own cartridge and saved game, but each player will be rewarded with new items at the end of battle, depending on their performance. The game will also offer a trading mode to swap items and troops.

Sun spell
Fight it out!

   One area in which the game has undeniably been improved, however, is the graphics. The Super Famicom Tactics Ogre, and its PlayStation port, was a fairly drab and static game; the GBA installment is much more colorful and lively, even on the dim and tiny screen. The backgrounds have a more varied palette and most sport small bits of animation, such as swinging window shutters or swaying grass.

    Though Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis may be a side story to Ogre Battle Saga, the amount of new gameplay that Quest has packed in marks it as more of a true sequel -- and a worthy successor to the Ogre Battle legacy. Though it remains to be seen whether long-time Tactics Ogre fans will cotton to the changes made to the gameplay, GBA owners and strategy fans should have more then enough reason to be excited when the game is release this Spring. If The Knight of Lodis can live up to its pedigree, the GBA may be the home of one of the best strategy RPGs to arrive this year on any platform.

Preview by Fritz Fraundorf and Zak McClendon, GIA.
Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis
Developer Quest
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Strategy RPG
Medium Cartridge (? mb)
Platform Game Boy Advance
Release Date  06.21.01
Atlus release schedule details
37 screenshots
2 character designs
Box art