Ogre Battle 64

That damn good.

    When released in 1994, the original Ogre Battle brought a unique mix of real-time movement and grid-based formations to the strategy genre, making it a memorable title for those lucky enough to grab one of the scarce copies. The game has since seen two semi-sequels in Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics, both winning widespread praise while replacing the real-time maps with smaller battles and purely tile-based gameplay. This leaves Ogre Battle 64 as not only the N64's first notable RPG, but as the game which finally brings back the trademark formula that made the SNES original a classic.

  Take that, you blue haired freak!
Taking it on the chin

    What stands out immediately about the game are its colorful and detailed graphics, as beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds are used for both story scenes and battles. These are each presented from a 3/4 overhead view, while the maps they are located on are real-time 3D environments. The different field maps are then connected by an overworld map similar to that used in earlier games, sans the random battles added after the first Ogre Battle. Making another appearance as well are the stylized character renders, and while they may lack noses and mouths, their portraits are well-drawn and are present for every last character down to the generic townfolk.

    Also readily apparent is the classic Ogre Battle theme, as well as many other tracks remixed and updated from Super Nintendo quality. The composers behind said themes have since gone onto prominence with the soundtrack to Final Fantasy Tactics, and the songs remain a perfect match for the Ogre Battle universe. The game also sports a another signature feature which began with Ogre Battle and has continued through the years -- letting the title screen sit leads to multiple introductions, one for the story and one showing a sample of the different character classes.

    Once the game begins, it is clear that the experienced developers at Quest have done more than update their classic game, but have built upon it significantly. The game begins in traditional style with a series of questions that determine your character's type of starting abilities. There are more logical choices this time around, ending with which of the four basic elements guides you. As series fans know, these answers not only affect your skills, but the "alignment" of your character and the types of troops which initially fight alongside you. Callous and cold-hearted answers gain you mages and ninjas as allies, while a more noble stance brings out knights and samurai.

New units include the power-hungry 'Kennedy'
Falling off the wagon

    This initial test is no gimmick, as the kind of moral choices you make throughout the game affect how people treat your character and the path your campaign takes. You will be joined by different units, given different items, and experience entirely different story threads as a result of your tactics. Using stronger units against weak enemies will alienate people and cause a trend towards "chaotic" alignment, while a balanced attack that keeps your characters even or lower in strength than the enemy is seen as "lawful" and beloved by the masses. A scale represents this all-important statistic on each troop's status screen, and troops tend to take on the alignment of others in their unit.

    A unit consists of up to five troops placed across a 3x3 grid, with small troops (usually human) taking up one slot and large troops (dragons/griffins) counting as two. A large unit cannot be placed next to any other unit, and each class has different attacks depending on the row it is placed in. For example, an amazon attacks with her bow twice from the back row, once from the middle, and once from the front, each with decreasing effectiveness. Battles begin when opposing units meet, and after each troop executes its preset number of attacks, the unit that does more damage wins. It may surprise some gamers that you cannot control inidvidual troops during battle, but only issue orders such as "Attack Weakest" to the unit as a whole. It may seem unfair, but it mirrors the nature of a general's real duties: setting up strategy, issuing commands, then seeing by the reults if the two were done properly.

  I think he wet his robe
Your reputation precedes you

    As your characters become stronger and more experienced, they can upgrade in class from lowly fighters and amazons. To do so, a unit must meet minimums in six basic statistics and have an alignment rating within a certain range. If all this sounds cumbersome, don't worry -- the nature of your strategy on the battlefield will be reflected in the alignment of your units. The game is much more forgiving than the original in terms of character class, when minimums were strikingly high and charisma points could be lost by the dozen if a unit accidentally killed something much weaker. Experience is now spread much more evenly throughout a unit no matter which troop makes the kill.

    Stages begin with the unit of Magnus, the story's hero, deployed on the starting base. From there, units can be rearranged to the player's content before being deployed should something have been forgotten before the battle. The goal of each stage is to kill the leader of the opposing troops and take the enemy base, a deceptively simple task. It is made difficult but quite enjoyable by sublime balance on the part of the developers and inspired choices in what to keep and what to change in terms of gameplay options.

There aren't any enemies only because it's the first stage...
Finding your waypoint

    In fact, the vast number of features are better integrated into Ogre Battle 64 than any other strategy game I've ever played. Instead of random battles, non-alignment training battles can be fought for a price at any town, allowing a single unit that has fallen behind to catch up without alignment changes being a worry. The cost and strategy considerations keep this from being a cheap level building tactic, and most gamers will use it sparingly. The battle maps themselves are smaller than those in the original Ogre Battle, but represent a huge leap forward in variety and design. No longer does the enemy illogically wait at their castle despite being in home territory; now they are found in logical points of defense and ambush all across the map.

    Many of the cheap tricks which make strategy games a breeze have been eliminated here. Units must be given items and equipment before being deployed, and items must be held by each unit individually rather than used at will. Items or troops cannot be exchanged between units unless they are stationed in a city together. Forming units with exceptionally fast movement is now very difficult, as the movement type for a unit (sky, plain, forest, etc.) is now defined by its slowest troop. The maps also force you to travel across different terrain types if you wish to gain tactical advantages.

  I hope no one actually wore hats like that
Everybody's gotta start somewhere...

    Most importantly, no longer can units move ad nauseum across the map, as a fatigue meter builds up as the unit travels. Once full, the unit will be forced to camp, but will recover both fatigure and hit points while doing so. Camping is also an option any time a unit is even slightly fatigued, and camp can be broken at any time should there be any recovered stamina usable to travel. Catching the enemy asleep soon becomes a fundamental strategy for any clever general. Units can be pointed in any of eight directions while stationary, and a unit caught from behind will enter battle positioned accordingly.

    With all these extra challenges come a slew of brilliant troop options that allow seamless control over battefield tactics. A pre-mission briefing gives you the necessary info to survive, as enemy units are often within sight from your own base as the battle begins. Units can be told to move towards a location, a city, or another unit, and will either move directly there, chase any enemy troops encountered along the way, or avoid battles completely. Later in the game, legions of up to five entire units can be formed, and can be moved across the map in over a half-dozen different formations.

Dio prepares for a nice cold ice missle
Ice, ice baby

    How could any one controller possibly manage all this? While some menus are more complex than necessary, they provide plenty of explanation and allow just about anything to be changed on the fly. The L and Z buttons share the same functions, allowing for a painless choice between D-pad or analog play. The touch of a button can reveal whether your troops are moving, stationed, or camped, a quick map to show where they are located, and how fatigued they are. Enemy units can also be observed in the same way. Within battle, animations no longer execute distinctly, which speeds up things a great deal -- your amazon will fire her bow while your knight runs back from delivering a slash, and your wizard will begin a spell while the arrow is still in flight. The animations can also be turned off entirely.

    Even with all these features, there would still be much lacking without a compelling story, and Ogre Battle 64 delivers with good dialogue, good characterization, and fantastic pacing. Some characters may start out in a predictable manner, but most quickly shed the clichéd behavior for a more realistic tone. Magnus develops from green cadet to reliable soldier without an overbearing internal crisis -- he instead asks intelligent questions about the right thing to do without becoming either preachy or whiny about it. The translation overcomes a few early errors to bring personality and life to the characters, using everything from humor to profanity in a very effective manner.

 Your army prepares to layeth the smacketh down
The assault begins

    Things are equally strong throughout the rest of the plot, one centered around a philosophical clash between revolutionaries that mirrors Magnus's own difficult choices. Major plot twists are patiently developed and convincingly executed, and while they aren't all original, they show none of the sudden randomness that plagues virtually every epic RPG. When monsters first appear unexpectedly, they do not become the sudden focus of the plot, but rather a subtext that complements the main storyline. The player is given time to both build anticipation for an event and absorb its dramatic impact, as are the characters in the game.

    Ogre Battle 64 is that rare game which brings it all together for maximum effect, a well-told story that gets a quality presentation and is powered by deep and involving gameplay. While many reviews are a struggle to find positive things to say about a game, I haven't touched on any of a dozen specific features that help make Ogre Battle 64 such a balanced and enjoyable experience. The minor obstacle of some intimidating menus should keep absolutely no one from seeing what masters of strategy RPG gameplay can produce when at their absolute best.

Review by Ed McGlothlin, GIA.
Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber
Developer Quest
Publisher Atlus
Genre Strategy RPG
Medium Cartridge (320 Mb)
Platform Nintendo 64
Release Date

Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber receives final release date
83 prologue/battle screenshots (spoiler-free)
High resolution character artwork
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