Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: May 29, 2002
Ogre Battle 64 and Ogre Battle for the PlayStation will be the most common versions of the Tactics Ogre franchise this side of Asia. For those unfamiliar with the whole series, the Ogre games are focused around strategic and tactical combat in fantasy settings. Fairly original in the gaming world, later releases like Final Fantasy Tactics stepped in to take the reigns for a while. Game Boy Advance owners now have a chance to step into the role of general in a surprisingly ambitious rendition of the series on their handheld. Newly designed and featuring a fresh storyline, this release from Atlus could very well be a new level of gameplay for the GBA. Can such a portable playing field hold the depth of the previous Ogre games?
Tactics Ogre casts you in the role of Alphonse (though many will elect to use a custom name), a young knight in the service of the Holy Lodis Empire. As the opening reveals, the empire was forged by a group of warrior priests who rose up and conquered the surrounding lands, forging a government of faith and order. The subjugation of lands which resisted Lodis was brutal, but many kingdoms voluntarily joined the Empire and thus retained a degree of autonomy. One such kingdom occupied the Southern lands of the isle of Ovis, the setting of our story. Alphonse, we learn, is a newly knighted warrior of the empire on his first campaign to discover the reason behind recent unrest in Ovis. As his boat suffers a storm, it drifts to the shore of the island where the knights are quickly beset by sell swords hired by the Northern Kingdom of Ovis, which had until recently been completely isolated by geography from the empire. Now their raids grow more intense and Alphose and his knights must sally forth to uncover the secrets of this island.
If this sounds like a surprisingly deep plot for a Game Boy Advance release, that’s because it most certainly is. The storyline develops through a series of in-game cutscenes with elaborate text and conversations slowly unfolding the plot, which is about as convoluted as your average Squaresoft storyline. These cutscenes usually occur just before you arrive at a new location, or just following a battle, which are constant in Tactics Ogre.
In fact, battles are the key element of this title — even though it’s an RPG in many ways, it’s still a tactical simulation where character building comes more through how you fight than how much you fight. Following from the tactical slant, there are many things to consider when entering into a Tactics Ogre combat situation.
First, your characters are of paramount importance. Equipped with up to five pieces of equipment, including armor, weapons, shields, footwear and spellbooks, the characters must be ready for battle before it begins. This means that a large portion of your time will be spent maintaining their inventories and so forth; with thirty-two possible slots in your army, it can be quite an undertaking to organize and equip them all. If every soldier was a knight, this task might be simple, but as you’ll soon discover, each character has a class, alignment and elemental affinity. A fiery Hawkman will perform entirely different hovering over lava than will a watery Ninja, for instance, as characters draw strength from their surroundings. Further, those opposed to elemental spell effects will suffer the most from being hit by such a spell, while those aligned will take less damage or benefit more from healing.