Platform: Game Boy Advance
Turn-Based Strategy Role Playing Game: Turns by Team
Completion Level: Finished @ 50+ Hours
Any epic SRPG journey should include the memorable and enjoyable Tactics Ogre: Knight of the Lodis. It’s quality easy to get used to. Unfortunately it’s quality of a level uncommon. The talented Matsuno was integral to this game’s great system design. However he was not directly involved in production, and would eventually move on to make Final Fantasy Tactics for Square.
We think this game is one of the most accessible of the Matsuno family games to date, possibly only excluding Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Both games add a fun variety of non-human playable characters to the usual human classes. This game focuses more on mythical creatures, demi-humans and beasts. The tone and story are serious, as the Ogre Battle and Tactics Ogre games tend to be.
Knight of the Lodis is a conventional SRPG where individual units are controlled over varied terrain types. However it is not 3D geometry terrain that can be rotated like Final Fantasy Tactics on the Playstation. (Likely due to not only the Game Boy Advance’s limitations, but the game engine’s SNES roots.) Despite this the terrain simulates 3D well from a tactical perspective. Most every map is designed with multiple paths, high ground, and risky routes.
The game utilizes turns-by-team rather than turns by individual unit. You may think the team method less challenging; that you can direct all your guys against one enemy before they can respond. You can indeed focus your firepower, but the enemy sometimes does likewise. It becomes quite a chess match. It adds a different layer of complexity than turns-by-unit games.
- Many of your team members are recruited. The game is not an endless stream of pre-generated, overpowered story characters that “decide” to join your quest. It’s a more personal, seemingly self-directed experience. Matsuno family games allow you to recruit many non-story characters. It’s a style we think adds ownership to the play experience.
- A very flexible class system—allows you to take human characters of either sex in a class-related direction you want. One can develop genuine concern building up a character from scratch in any way you think they should go. It also contributes to a feeling of customization and careful buy-in as permanent character death is a possibility.
- The Background Art is On-Target. For Game Boy Advance graphics, the environments are colorful, varied, and crisp. More importantly, they are clear in communicating gameplay concerns like height and terrain type.
- Quick Hits:
- The visual effects do not bowl one over, but are well done and pleasing.
- The campaign is long and detailed. You will not feel gypped in any way regarding amount of content.
- Game engine cut scenes are choreographed well… most of them. It makes story downloads more interesting… mostly.
- The Many Animations—for the little characters are varied and add a dynamic factor to most every action. Going beyond what is absolutely necessary adds subtle polish and says good things about a game. No one can deny Matsuno family SRPGs are high quality works.
- Knight of the Lodis is Balanced Well. That’s no easy feat in a game which allows such flexible growth freedom in your crew (experience strength, class, species). Reasonably smart play and experience growing options mean you never have to be wiped off the map by foes of significantly higher level. But the game emphasizes strategy over brute unit experience in most battles that count.
- It’s got Dragons… Elemental ones to boot. You can field many creature types beyond humans. Hawkmen, mermaids, fairies, griffins, and more. They each bring unique abilities to the table. This single factor separates Knight of the Lodis from most other SRPGs in a good way. Think of all the interesting tactical possibilities, then make it happen.
- The aforementioned Permanent Character Death—is definitely a “good.” Sure, it’s harsh, but it brings intensity to the table and prevents the game from becoming routine. More games should adhere to this aspect, as many without it struggle to fill that intensity gap.
- Your combat party could hold up to 8. Final Fantasy Tactics allows only 5. While more does not necessarily mean better, going from a maximum of 5 to 8 works well with this game’s systems. It makes for some extra long and complex battles.
- There is an Abundance of Weapons and Armor: Lots from which to choose, however the differences between the items is too minimal to be very engaging. Sometimes less is more when they are clearly distinguishable.
- Turns-by-Team AI is tricky to program well. It has to be smart enough to withstand your concentrated assaults yet not frustrate by returning such concentration upon you without regard to fun. This AI needs to push back a little harder. It only occasionally frustrates.
- The Music has the Right Bold and Serious Spirit—but occasionally gets on your nerves during extended battles. Of course it is limited in depth, diversity and richness by the platform hardware. SRPGs should focus on the battle themes first since they are heard many times and for extended periods.
Too Big for a Bullet Point: Needless or Non-Differentiated Classes
Too much class? The broad spectrum of possible classes attainable in systems designed by Matsuno is a good thing, however these classes need to differentiate themselves and be worthy goals. Attaining a class that takes your effective power backward, or one that adds little for all the effort put in to achieve it is a waste of playing effort. Don’t squander player goodwill. Designing and supporting such class possibilities is a waste of development hours. Don’t squander that precious resource either.
Knight of the Lodis is not terribly hindered by this aspect of its design, but neither is it helped. We give it a bit of a break because this factor goes up the chain to the parent design system which they borrowed. However this is a recurring issue in this system and should be addressed.
- Meeting Advanced Class Requirements—is an unnecessarily nebulous goal. Some prerequisites are unclear, others unknown. We think a FAQ should be a way to get extra, non-critical depth out of a game, but it should not be required to fulfill your general class aspirations.
- A Shallow Spell Repertoire: It needs more variety and fun. (This game bit off a lot when enacting so many classes and character races. Maybe this is where it had to be cut back.) Additionally, the maximum spell area of effect is only 5 squares (excluding summons). Too small for high level magic users.
- Extra Innings. Larger parties and other factors lead to the possibility of dragged-out encounters. Knight of the Lodis allows that to happen in more battles than a player should have to endure. There’s a difference between a long battle, and one that is dragged-out.
- Sucker Punched. We encountered a “cheap shot” character death. He received a surprise “KO” which in this particular case meant death! What? Allowing permanent character death also means being very careful about any gameplay mechanic that allows it.
- A Class of Their Own: Characters who earn stats enough to advance to a higher class still have to perform special feats to do so. These feats, which yield prerequisite ’emblems,’ are onerous rather than challenging. Examples?
- Gain 20 Levels in Training Mode.
- Dodge an attack with 5% or less HP left.
Overall, it’s an idea with potential, but it needs to be implemented in a more player friendly fashion. Make such requirements challenging and fun, not a chore!
Too Big for a bullet point: The Multiple Ending System and Choices
Multiple endings… They sound good on paper, but like any tool, they can be implemented to add to a game or under-serve it. Most of the Matsuno school games use a multiple ending system—not bad in and of itself. But the endings we’ve received in Matsuno school games have generally been less than appealing. Most of the possible endings are serious and some even outright depressing/disheartening. How wrong to do this to those who have beat the game, defeated the great evil, and saved the world.
Even games with serious political themes like many of Matsuno’s works need to know that they are also making a game, for entertainment. One that hopefully leaves the player feeling better and more accomplished than they started. This game apparently had four main endings with sub-variants. From what we can tell, they’re not very uplifting. The one we got with our play though was not fun.
Even the best “A+” ending did not look great, and that could only be achieved by killing 50 opponents with the main character and choosing specific ways on a number of earlier (unknowable at the time) decision tress. Oh, also the game had to be beat in under 25 hours? What? Really? Obviously our 50 hour play-through disqualified us regardless of any other in-game choice.
We are not fans of multiple endings except where they give you additional information beyond the main resolution. We will say it again: Multiple endings should be for customizing the story’s end to the player’s path. For resolving key relationships and for showing final dispositions of secondary characters according to player choices. They’re not for undermining the player’s experience after they win, especially by undermining the main character of the game.
Knight of the Lodis is an SRPG that you will appreciate more after playing some of the others. However since at the time this was only our second true SRPG, we did not fully understand how good it was. We thought it stood up well compared to Final Fantasy Tactics. We did not realize how rare that was going to be.
Knight of the Lodis is a game that allows for attachment to your recruited characters if you like doing that We had an older veteran archer character named Orson. In a tough encounter where our party was storming a castle he fell in battle. It was the way we think he would have wanted to go. Dying he said, “I’ve lived long enough. I leave it to you now.” It was just the right poignant last words for that character.
There are a number of conventional 2D as 3D SRPG’s out there. However, you will be hard pressed to find any that surpass Knight of the Lodis in art quality and gameplay. Potential permanent character loss is a counter-intuitive boon we wish was more common in the genre.
This game leaves behind a good impression (despite its story); a feeling of time well spent. It’s an adventure worth going on, and an overall experience that, despite the less-than-stellar ending, does not leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Updated: 01/15/2015: Added a number of new pictures. Refined some wording and the endings section. — Touched up: Febuary 2016
The Matsuno School of Games: