Platform: Nintendo 64
Hybrid Strategy RPG: Predetermined Turns
Completion Level: Finished @ ~120 Hours ( too many )
Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber is one of those games that a small number like intensely, a few do not care for, but most have never heard of. There are some sites out there dedicated to this deep and complex game. It has some rare elements that the traditional SRPG should adopt, and it suffers from flaws its distinct mechanics could not cover.
The complexities of this game are vast, and the learning curve is not short. There is an extensive and necessary tutorial. However we cannot help but think that much of the complexity goes unappreciated, unseen or does not add enough to the game to justify its development.
So how do we summarize the basic overview of this complicated game? You construct teams of five units. You send these teams out across the world map. As they slowly make their way towards cities they will encounter enemy teams either along the way or when they arrive.
Team battles occur on a separate screen. There your units take up the positions you selected in a 3 x 3 grid. In a turn system determined by the game your five units exchange combat moves with the enemy’s five units. If it sounds a little complicated, it is. But it is not without some satisfaction.
Without a doubt Ogre Battle 64 is the kind of game where you will spend the majority of time modifying your units, shuffling personnel around from team to team and adjusting positions in their 3 x 3 grids. You will have scores of units and over a dozen teams. To the game’s credit each one of those teams will develop a unique personality. You will get to know your teams and you will have some investment in them because of all the time spent setting them up.
- The Portraits: While they weren’t the greatest thing since the microchip, they were too good to be put in the ‘good and bad’ section. We cannot let the dullness of some of the characters affect our opinion on the art. Many were unique and others pretty. They held up their end.
- Lights, Camera, Action: Somebody spent some time making cool and subtle camerawork for the critical hits. Thank you unknown programmer.
- You Two Have No Class: People and creatures upgraded into interesting and more powerful classes. A pleasing two class system. However gremlins and fairies had no upgrade and game failed to inform you. Overall classes were too fun to get bumped down into “Good & Bad.”
- Who Cares? You Will: Though characters do not fight individually, many have their own story elements. Some join your force with prior relationships. Ogre Battle 64 delivers well these narrative bits. One team of five I developed was a killer all-girl squad. I enjoyed it throughout the game.
- You’re so Special: Overall the special effects were pretty nifty. However some of the best stuff required difficult to attain classes, experience, or special factors. As you will read in the “Bad” section, some of these hurdles were too onerous. Too bad. I would have liked to see more.
Too big for a bullet point: Revival of the Fallen
Handling death is key. Characters killed in battle really died. A special time-consuming trip to a temple was required to revive them. It cost money. This was a method we would recommend for many SRPG’s with even stiffer cost. (Life is not cheap! SRPG’s that treat it so degrade their own fun factor.)
However Ogre Battle added a twist. Sometimes a character you revived became a zombie. One of your favorite characters could become undead. From that state there was no return although they could still fight with slightly different attributes.
It further made you want to avoid character death, but unlike a standard SRPG you do not have the individual control over your units in their groups. It is hard to protect someone. Overall it was an interesting twist about which we have mixed feelings, but not enough to remove this from “Good”.
The Good & The Bad Conveniently Together in One Point:
- Bird’s Eye View: You spend a lot of time on the pretty main map. The clouds were a nice touch. However there was also a day night cycle, and the latter was too dark, obscuring gameplay in an unintentional way. (If it was intentional… well, that was an unwise design choice.)
- That Signpost up Ahead… Says “Huh?” The game offered expandable content. We really would like to see more of this in the SRPG genre. This game did it through various route choices. However this fact was not totally clear at first.
- A Matter of Taste: The translators had some fun with the English version. There were character names like, “Min Mei” and “Dude”. It did not break the immersion like some Working Designs translations, but it may or may not be to your liking.
- Hidden Treasures: Yeah, so hidden I needed a FAQ. Elem Pedra were special magic attacks. You needed to find and do certain things to get all of them; easier said than done. And I am not talking about a difficult challenge, I am talking about just knowing what to do. More content missed.
- Hidden Wisdom: The game offered helpful pre-battle briefings by the elder. However it feels as though there was more to this game I as a player wanted to know. Things to help my characters grow and give me success. The elder did not fill me in on some of those.
- Dude, You’re Depressing: Our “hero” had a confused and defeatist demeanor. Really lame. He was definitely off his meds.
- It’s Not D&D: Alignment? It was an annoying and hard to manipulate stat. Yet it was a key component to class advancement. So some characters with more than enough experience could never be promoted because their alignment was wrong. Lame and really poorly handled. (I’d rather shoot a magic missile at the darkness.)
- It’s Not Brain Surgery: So many sub-systems. Not all of them were good, and some were hardly explored. It may have been because there was little need, or the systems was buried and obscure. It is better to do less really well. Complication needs to add commensurate fun.
- Getting Stoned: Helplessly watching a character get petrified was no fun considering the cure was a pain. Additionally, if the team leader fell this way they all had to withdraw. In such a state they are weak and vulnerable and could get totally wiped out. A poorly handled status affect.
- Long in the Tooth: The game was long; too long for the amount of content introduced. It is one thing to say your game has “100 hours of content”. But making that content interesting and attainable is key. Even in my way-too-long play experience I missed characters and content.
Too big for a bullet point: The Ending and Ending System
The worst part of this game for me was the ending. It was without a doubt a lame, depressing finish. Wrapping things up is one of the few SRPG design strengths that Matsuno apparently does not have. I would compare the somber downer nature of this ending to that of the original Final Fantasy Tactics.
However the story does not end there. My particular ending was extremely lame, but there were other endings. Yes it is one of those multiple ending games. This mechanism can be done well, or it can ruin a play experience. The game used an opaque “Chaos Frame” system upon which you had no conscious control. You were forced into bad ending with no knowledge and no remedy because of unknown potentially obscure factors (morale, towns “liberated”, the dreaded “alignment”). Who thought THAT was a good idea?
The main plot resolution, the defeat of the bad guy, and the general welfare of your hero should not be in the optional department if you have successfully beat every battle challenge. Period. However if you want to tailor side stories, romantic relationships and other details according to the players choices, that is good. That is not what this game did, and the ending I got was more or less a single frame depressing scroll of text. My hero did not fare well at all. It left a bad taste in my mouth.
Ogre Battle 64 had so many good and unique features going for it. It had fun action animations reminiscent of Shining Force III. It had real time map screen strategy reminiscent of Dragon Force. The job system was in many ways as good as Final Fantasy Tactics. In addition to all this it added its own unique five person fighting unit strategy and all that went with constructing and executing it.
However it was unnecessarily deep in the area of subsystems. That added much more complication than fun, which is too bad. At the core the basic mechanics make for a fun playing experience.
The narrative was also equally detracting. The story had little verve. The multiple endings system must have led many players to less desirable endings. What a shame. A bad game from start to finish garners little pity. However a game of quality like this one which stumbles on a few key points is more of a waste.
It would be nice to remember playing this game fondly, however that is not the case. Two elements can easily make you regret playing. The first is the un-fun story, and the second is when you realize the hours spent playing.
The Matsuno School of Games: