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Gamespot Review

 

Difficulty: Difficult

9.1

Learning Curve: More than 3 Hours

     Unfortunately for Nintendo owners, the Nintendo 64's decision to stick with the cartridge drove away almost all would-be RPG developers for the system. But all is not lost, as well-known Japanese developer Quest took on the burden of working within the restraints of the cartridge format to bring the latest incarnation of its strategy RPG series to the N64. Don't lose hope yet RPG fans, redemption will soon be at hand. Ogre Battle 64 offers a detailed branching story and great depth of customization, both executed brilliantly within the limitations of a 35-meg cartridge.

    The premise of the story centers on a kingdom that has been sold out by its king so that his throne and the social elite of the country will remain safe. After witnessing the plight of the downtrodden lower citizens, the hero Magnus finds himself leading a revolt against the powerful Lodis Church Kingdom to gain true independence. Building on this somewhat archetypal premise, Ogre Battle 64 spins a complex and involving tale of political intrigue, personal relationships, and battlefield drama using numerous cutscenes and in-game dialogue. The story's use of foreshadowing and ample character development, along with your ability to affect the outcome of the story, do a lot to keep the game interesting over its lengthy (about 60 hours) duration. To help you keep track of everything, you can view a diagram illustrating character relationships; you can read profiles of people, groups, and countries; and you can replay past events. While Ogre Battle 64 includes an intricate story and many RPG elements, it's a strategy game at its core. As the leader of the Palatinue army, you'll form combat units of up to five characters and deploy up to ten units at a time in each of more than 40 scenarios. Before moving to a stage, you will be given a briefing that outlines the area and your objective, and you'll possibly witness a cutscene. Units are represented as sprites moving across a 3D battlefield, which incorporates adjustable views and features scaling effects for the sprites. While controlling your army, you can set waypoints for your units, predetermine how to react to enemy units encountered along the way, and camp to recover from fatigue. Icon-based menus and handy controller functions allow you easy access to the game's functions and let you issue complex orders to your units. Units do move in "real time," but you can pause the action to issue commands whenever necessary.

    When two units meet, a skirmish ensues, and the game switches to an isometric view of the prerendered battlefield. Characters make their attacks in semi-real time, meaning multiple characters act at once, which is a bit more exciting than turn-based battles. A high frequency of parries, misses, and critical hits make the battles more interesting and less predictable, and the animation and spell effects are very well done. A nice touch is that a magic user can combine spells to create a variety of impressive hybrid spells with unique effects. As in the original Ogre Battle, you don't have direct control during combat; instead, you direct the battle by deciding on your unit's formation and issuing commands. A unit's strength, number, and method of attack are determined by its placement on a three-by-three grid, and you can issue different commands to the attacking team at any time. As the battle wears on, the option to retreat becomes available, and finally the option to call for the help of one of the four elemental goddesses is provided.This is just the beginning of Ogre Battle 64's staggering attention to detail. Each character has its own individual stats, equipment, alignment, and gender. All of these factors affect various nuances of combat and determine the unit's class-change options. There are around 50 classes for human characters, including paladins, wizards, and valkyries, as well as special and secret classes. In addition, a variety of monsters can join your army, many of which can also change class. There are 13 types of dragons alone, as well as hawkmen, griffins, and deadly gorgons. Most of these characters can be outfitted from the huge selection of equipment and weaponry you purchase from shops and win from defeated enemies. Because you can rename and equip the characters in your army as you see fit, you'll soon develop attachments to certain characters and find yourself cheering when they parry a potentially fatal blow or screaming when they fall unexpectedly.

    While gameplay is by far the most important aspect of a strategy game, the presentation does count for something. Quest has made a great effort here, but some shortcomings can't be helped when squeezing a game this large onto cartridge format. Generally speaking, the prerendered backgrounds used for battles and conversations in various town locales are beautiful. Every possible type of terrain has been modeled along with bars, town squares, and modest mountain dwellings. Small details, like dust blowing down a street and plants gently swaying in the wind, make up for the slightly blurry look that results from heavy data compression. The units themselves are also slightly blurry but still have personality. Characters have nicely done portraits for speech and status screens, and most main characters carry their own signature sword, which is sure to have slain countless enemies. The 3D maps can be a bit bland and get somewhat repetitive by the end of the game, but several stages that involve breaching the outer walls of an enemy castle and making your way through the enclosed town to the inner gate look rather impressive from the multiple viewpoints. The game's soundtrack is composed by Sakimoto and Iwata, the duo widely known for scoring Final Fantasy Tactics and the previous Ogre games, and is full of dramatic intensity and power. The slight downside to the soundtrack is that the game reuses a good deal of music from the series and seems to have fewer tracks than its predecessors, the latter likely stemming from limited space on the cart.

    Perhaps Ogre Battle 64's greatest strength lies in its replay value. Because of divergences on the world map and decisions you are forced to make, there is no way to get every major character and see every event by playing the game through once. Additionally, how you play will affect your reputation. Some characters simply won't join your cause if you haven't gained enough support from other characters and earned the trust of the masses. The huge amount of customization possible and the ability to shape the involving story unfolding before you make the game a very enjoyable experience for any RPG gamer willing to venture into the realm of challenging strategy and micromanagement. Let's hope Nintendo leaves the game's content as it is and has a North American release date solidified soon.

            By Justin Speer, GameSpot VG


IGN 64 Review

 

Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber

Wait no longer -- the N64 RPG you've been longing for has finally arrived. The full review.

Presentation
Loads of beautiful menus, a great story, and all the little details necessary to really keep you hooked.
8.0
Graphics
The world of Ogre Battle has never looked better. Gorgeous sprites and backgrounds, with a standard 3D overworld.
9.0
Sound
The classic fanfare returns, and the game is full of delightful compositions. The midi-quality could be better, though.
7.0
Gameplay
Awesome. A true RPG mixed with all the great tactics of real-time strategy. Amazingly deep.
9.0
Lasting Appeal
A lengthy quest with branching paths. The gameplay is so addictive, you'll be tempted to start again once you finish.
8.0
OVERALL SCORE (not an average)
8.8


October 5, 2000

If there's one thing we consistently hear from N64 gamers it's, "Where's the RPGs?" And with good cause, too -- this genre of games has been all but neglected during the entire life of the system. Some may argue that the size-restricting nature of the game cart design is to blame, but no matter what the reason, the lack of RPG support has really been a sore spot for Nintendo during the past few years.

Well it's time to stand up and cheer, RPG fans, because Atlus Software and series developer Quest have teamed up to deliver one of the first true RPG experiences on the starving system: Ogre Battle 64. Having played the game for many moons now, IGN64 is ready to bring you up to speed on the merits and shortcomings of this long-awaited title, and let us tell you right now: it has indeed been worth the wait.

Features

  • For one player
  • 320 megabit cart (40 MB)
  • Fantasy RPG gaming mixed with strategic and tactical elements
  • Isometric sprite graphics with a 3D overworld map
  • Tutorial mode for learning the basics
  • Massive single player quest with engaging story and plot
  • Branching quest variations depending on player choices and interactions
  • Three save game slots via built-in EEPROM
Gameplay
If you haven't yet read our preview coverage for this title, then you might have a few misconceptions and assumptions on what to expect from OB64. First of all, for any naysayers out there: this is most definitely an RPG. If your only concept of what defines an RPG comes from your experience with the Final Fantasy series, then prepare to expand your horizons with this game. You will of course find the standard genre elements such as experience points and item management, but this game offers something different as well. Fans of the classic Ogre Battle games on the SNES will feel very at home with this style of play, and newcomers will find it to be a fresh take on the sometimes repetitive Square titles.

So what can you expect? First, you may be surprised to learn that there will be no controlling of characters with the control stick. A minor point perhaps, but it sort of defines the way this game is played. The majority (if not all) of the game is played via menu manipulation. Think of this as a mix between the Final Fantasy series and Starcraft. You tell your units where to go by issuing commands to them like "Move to this stronghold." Then they walk along the 3D landscape in route to their destination (represented by an animated 2D sprite) while the real-time clock is ticking away. While traveling, they might run into other characters, find objects in their path, or trigger a cut scene to further the tale. Upon arriving, you will then be able to issue other commands such as "Enter Stronghold." The cool part about this is that unlike most standard RPGs, you do not simply control one party of warriors. Instead, you will end up having many parties, each walking around the 3D map in real-time as you attempt to flank your enemies and capture fortresses. This is the real-time/Starcraft element of the game that makes OB64 so truly unique to the console RPG realm.

Even once you enter a location such as a stronghold, there's no walking around and talking to characters. The only time character interaction occurs is during the in-game cutscenes and when a random neutral character is encountered on the main world map. In the case of the latter, a standard battle scene will initiate, but instead of fighting, the player is presented the command to "talk" to the newly encountered entity. It should be said that despite not having the ability to wander around towns and chat freely with non-playable characters, this game has a great amount of conversation in it. You can't help but feel pulled into the story, and that's mostly due to the fantastic cut-scenes that appear in all the right places.

When it comes to the battles in OB64, newcomers to the series might be surprised to learn that there is very little interaction or control by the player during combat. Imagine a typical Final Fantasy layout where all your troops are on the close side of the screen, and the enemy is on the far half. The backgrounds are all identical depending on what type of terrain you are fighting on, meaning all battles fought on grassy plains will have the same wonderful grassy plain background each time. But with as many different environments and locations as there are in this game, repetition should not be a problem whatsoever.

Now when the battle begins, your characters will begin attacking on their own, and defending the enemy attacks likewise without so much as a word from you. This is done in the standard "run across the screen and slash him and run back into formation" method of most current RPGs. What you are able to do, however, is issue what's called "interrupt commands." These three commands are "battle strategy" (such as "attack leader" or "attack weakest"), "retreat," and "Elem Pedra." A meter fills as the battle is fought, and each time it is filled you are able to issue one of the three commands. (For a detailed description of the battle system, see our previous analysis right here.) It doesn't seem to matter if you are actually the one controlling the attacks or not -- it's still great fun to watch your troops bring animated death and destruction to your opponents. In fact, it's almost more fun this way and less tedious than the FF style of gameplay.

Now besides the world map and battle screens, the other most common interface to learn in Ogre Battle 64 is the "organize screen." This is where the game can really blow your mind and even overwhelm you with choices. The menus to learn can seem a bit complex at first, but once you run through the tutorial mode, even the most novice N64 players will be up to speed in no time. The first thing to know is that there are two sizes of characters in the game: normal (such as humans) and large (such as dragons). Next, like most RPGs, these characters have "classes" such as archer, cleric, dragon tamer, etc. You can give each character their own name, and even rename them at any time in the future. Each character is also equipped with their own weapons, shields, headpieces, clothing, spell books, etc., in true RPG fashion and giving them a wonderful sense of personality.

Now let's talk strategy. Characters are put into what's called "units," with one character selected to serve as the "unit leader." That's how you use characters in this game -- you put them into a unit, then from your main menu you can "dispatch" your unit to the world map. Then, as previously mentioned, you will issue commands to that unit such as where to move. Units are laid out in a 3x3 grid, having three rows per unit: front, middle, and back. Players can arrange up to five normal characters per unit, with large characters taking up an extra space on all sides. There is a ton of strategy involved in arranging your units within OB64. For example, if a character is placed on the back row of a unit, their attack might be different in style or strength than if it were positioned on the front row. You better place your toughest warriors up front, because the common sense rules of war apply here -- ground attacks must breach the first lines prior to attacking the archers and spell casters lurking in the back. Likewise, archers and wizards can attack enemies on any line of the ranks. Also, if an entire row has three soldiers or spell casters, it is possible that they will perform "combined attacks" when engaged in battle. These combined attacks depend on many factors such as the strength of their leader and the morale of the unit. Overall, the amount of strategy and planning involved before you even step out onto the world map is simply awesome, and if you have a thing for micro-management, this is definitely your game.

Indeed this game plays both incredibly realistic and incredibly deep. Those looking for some great tactical and strategic gaming will find that Ogre Battle 64 is sure to please. The controls are also very intuitive and highly functional at all times. Everything just seems to make sense when you reach for a particular button to bring up a menu or deselect a character. One thing to keep in mind for those who plan on playing the game: don't press the A,B, Z, and Start buttons simultaneously -- it resets the game.

Graphics
Getting tired of chunky polygons cluttering up your screens? Ever find yourself pulling out your dusty SNES just to relive the glory days of beautiful artwork and sweet character animations? We can sympathize, and old-school gamers with a thing for that classic 2D look will be very happy with the visuals in OB64. The majority of the game is a pleasant combination of sprite-based scenery and only a few 3D elements, which are mixed-in very tastefully. Honestly, the point of the game is not to amaze you with eye-popping visuals. The Ogre Battle series just isn't about 3D effects, no matter what system it's created for. The addition of the third-dimension to this franchise simply allows you to scroll the world map around smoothly, and it serves its purpose most effectively.

But forget about 3D, Ogre Battle 64 is all about colorful characters and artistic scenery. And let's not forget about those wonderful sprite animations. Characters are animated beyond what you would expect them to be, and boy does it really bring the cutscenes to life. You'll see characters look directly at each other when talking, reach to open doors, bend to stand up while moving their chair, etc. Even the backgrounds are animated with moving details such as grass, bushes, fires, etc. The attention to graphical details goes a long way in this game and helps to achieve a quality cartoon feel throughout. The graphics are truly magnificent -- a pleasure to both watch and play.

Sound
Fans of the classic games should be thrilled to know that much of the original music has returned to this 64-bit sequel. Quest is certainly not shy about staying true to the feel of its previous titles, as you'll be humming the traditional Ogre Battle theme the second you hit the title screen. And what a treat it is. While the midi-instruments are nothing special or even remotely close to the tunes achieved in the latest Zelda titles, the compositions and arrangements are as timeless and grandiose as ever. In fact, the music on OB64 is nearly identical to the SNES version, and fortunately that's not such a bad thing.

The sound effects are also nothing amazing, but they are rather fitting and work very nicely with the style of the game. Menus will pop and click with every press of the controller, and the battle sounds are very diverse and interesting. There are even some elements of dynamic music, as melodies and themes play when certain events transpire (such as a particular character appearing on-screen). Altogether, OB64 will manage to keep your ears very happy while your brain stews and plots the next strategic maneuver.

Comments

It's really a shame that this title wasn't able to make it out of production sooner in the life cycle of the N64. Perhaps then other developers would have perked-up and realized that it only takes a little effort and talent, and they too could have to put together a quality RPG on this cart-based Nintendo system. But regardless, Ogre Battle 64 is finally available to the public, and we simply couldn't be happier. I can tell you right now what my plans are for the weekend -- turnout all the lights, grab a soda, and hit the couch for some more RPG goodness.

If you simply can't stand menus, then be advised: this game may not be for you. You should at least give it a rent if you're remotely interested in RPGs. I'll bet that before long, you'll be running out to the store trying to scoop up the last remaining copy. Do yourself a favor now -- go get it. This game is very deep and wonderfully complex, and RPG fans simply shouldn't miss it.

   --Cory D. Lewis

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