Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis impressions

[06.26.01] » Quest returns to the classic gameplay of Tactics Ogre with a new sidestory for the GBA. Read the GIA's excruciatingly detailed hands-on impressions to find out why strategy fans should start looking forward to long bus trips.

   The initial crop of GBA games have shown that Nintendo's new system is more than capable of housing games that are not only good for a handheld - they'd be good on any system. While the next wave of major releases may be a ways off in the US, one of the most promising, Quest's sidestory to the seminal strategy RPG Tactics Ogre, has already arrived in Japan. The GIA has gotten the chance to spend some time with Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis and initial impressions are of a game that is a bit simplified from the Super Famicom original, but still manages to retain much of its depth; in some ways, it even even improves on the formula.

   The Knight of Lodis is Quest's first return to the squad based strategy of Tactics Ogre since the bulk of that team jumped ship to make the "unofficial sequel" Final Fantasy Tactics. While Square's take on the game took a step toward further complexity, The Knight of Lodis seems to be an attempt to streamline the core gameplay.

   The biggest change comes in the form of a revamped movement system. In the original, 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 that slower units, as the game cycled through the characters in order of the "wait turn." The Knight of Lodis has moved to alternating turns, similar to the Shining Force games. Combat is now divided into rounds, and you may move your units in any order during your turn. Additionally, taking an action now ends that unit's turn, so attacking then moving 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.

   It's easy to see these changes as a "dumbing down" of the gameplay, but the AI is as aggressive as ever and you still need to think far in advance to keep your troops alive. The AI seems to have been tuned for the new system and there is a much greater focus on flanking maneuvers. Other aspects have been simplified for the handheld version, as well. Class restrictions on weapons are less strict and characters have fewer stats to pay attention to; they've been stripped down to the bare minimum necessary, but you hardly notice their absence during actual gameplay.

   The changes do seem to make the game easier, however. But in some ways this is an improvement - the focus has been moved away from constant training of your troops to actual battling. And, because you now have access to your full supply of healing items, instead of only those equipped on characters, it's a little easier to compensate if you're facing troops a few levels above you. The training itself remains unchanged from the original, so you can still set your troops to CPU control and leave them to their own devices.

   Tactics Ogre's class system has been slightly reorganized, but remains largely unchanged. Most of the same classes from the past games return, but they are less gender specific at the lower levels. You may 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. The way you actually earn the classes has changed quite a bit, as you must now earn the class "emblems" by accomplishing specific tasks during battle. Most of these requirements have to be learned along the way, but once they are, it makes it much easier to work a unit toward a specific class goal.

   One area in which the game has undeniably been improved is the graphics. The Super Famicon 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 have small bits of animation, such as swinging window shutters or swaying grass.

   The sound has also received an upgrade and uses actual samples for most of the game's effects and ambient noises. The music, however, hasn't fared as well. The actual compositions are up to snuff - including a few mixes of familiar Ogre Battle themes - but the way they sound on the GBA leaves much to be desired. The sampled strings and drums sound excellent, but the tinny, synthesized horns ruin some of the otherwise great music.

   Unfortunately, some of the overall presentation is a bit sparse. The trademark rolling demo, introducing character classes and backstory, is missing; a small omission, but one that seems odd considering this feature has appeared in every Ogre Battle Saga game. A more glaring omission is the lack of any sort of "report" summarizing the past events. TO and OB 64 (and FFT for that matter) all had a comprehensive account of the story, told by your troops' advisor. All that The Knight of Lodis offers is an in-game tutorial from one of Deneb's Pumpkinheads.

   One series feature does make a welcome return, however - the focus on player choice. Once again your initial character is determined by your answer to a set of questions at the outset and throughout the story you're given a choice during the dialog segments. In our short time so far, we've been unable to determine whether these choices lead to different paths and endings, but considering this feature has been incorporated into the past games, it should be present here as well. It's also difficult to tell how long the game will be - the tiny world map, which fits on a single screen, doesn't look as though it possibly could hold as many stages as past games in the series.

   The game does offer an abundance of sidequests in the new Quest Mode. Occasionally, a successful battle will gain you an ancient scroll. Using this in conjunction with your save game allows you to take on varied missions outside the scope of the story, with the chance to gain rare items and equipment. You can set a turn limit for these battles; presumably, beating them more quickly will result in a greater reward. There is also no penalty for failing at them, so they can be attempted as many times as you like.

   Though Tactics Ogre GBA's story doesn't fit in the Ogre Battle Saga as one of the main chapters, with all the gameplay changes, it feels like less of a sidestory and more of a true sequel. Only time will tell how these changes are received by series fans, but the game is easily the deepest, most involving strategy game to see release on a handheld and a worthy successor to the Tactics Ogre name. Nintendo has already announced that they will be producing the US localization, so look for more information on the American version soon.

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Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis
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