TACTICS OGRE: THE KNIGHTS OF LODIS / Atlus / GBA
Quest decided to pull a Star Wars with the Ogre Battle / Tactics Ogre series, so Knights of Lodis is actually set just prior to the events of Ogre Battle (which in turn precedes Ogre Battle 64, which then precedes Tactics Ogre for SNES and the PSX.) The gameplay is fundamentally just a smaller-scale copy of that of Tactics Ogre, but with a few new wrinkles.
The game is a turn-based strategy RPG which offers up thirty plot-based missions in total and a small amount of branching paths. There's also the perks of Quest mode, which is accessed by finding hidden tomes during some of the story battles and allows you to enter a new battlefield where you can try to clear it in a set amount of time for rewards of fairly powerful items and accessories, and a new Training mode, wherein your characters beat on each other (with no actual deaths) to gain as much EXP as they would in regular battles. You can also hunt up random encounters on the world map and likely will run into a few whether you like it or not as you toodle back and forth from plot point to plot point. Players can also hook up via link cables to trade characters and items, and to "Fight It Out" with their personal armies in return for EXP and unique treasures.
The other new wrinkle in the game is the "emblems" system. By performing certain deeds of valor and tasks on the battlefield (such as killing a foe with a counter-attack or dodging attacks successfully three times in a row), characters can earn up to thirty of these emblems, which often increase stats or grant new abilities (though there are a few that are negative and detract from your stats, for doing such things as over-levelling in training mode, or getting counterattacked for more damage than you attacked for a number of times.) If you're familiar with the class system and upgrade paths of the previous Ogre/Tactics games, it's all pretty similar here, but some classes require certain emblems now as a pre-requisite. The emblem thing is a mixed bag - it's a neat idea and does add to the gameplay, but many of the emblems that are requisite for class upgrades require rather obscure feats that you likely won't come across without a guide and won't pull off unless you cheesily set the whole thing up in training mode. I felt it was a good concept, but one that could have been executed better.
For some reason, character movement and attack/spell animations in battle are slow and laggy, making the game slog a bit more than it really should have. Between the somewhat glacial pace and the raw amount of fighting necessary (level grinding becomes a must at certain points), expect to sink at least 40 hours into this one to complete the single-player campaign. Long and slow battles are pretty much par for the course at this point for the Ogre series, but at least this one gives you the option of a "snap save" in the middle of battles if you need or want to turn the GBA off.
Graphics are pretty basic, but functional. The music is OK-ish, but the wavetable was kind of low quality and reminded me of the much-maligned one used in Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. Music is often passable, but not as epic as the Ogre Battle soundtrack was.
The biggest knock against the game, aside from the needlessly slow pace of battles, is that you REALLY have to enjoy SRPG-style fighting to get into this one, because that's all there really is on offer here. There's an ongoing story filled with the usual medieval Europe-style political intrigues and double-dealing that the Ogre series has become known for, but this game is no different from all the previous releases in that it lacks compelling, well developed characters to make you really give a damn about the story. Despite the raw amount of information the game dumps on you, the world it takes place in never really feels like it has depth or that you are immersed in it, because all you ever really see is one samey battlefield after another. The dialouge is also very well localized, but just lacks punch.
In the end, it's pretty formulaic ... a little too much so for me, but they do execute the formula very well. Judging by the amount of activity on message boards for this one nearly ten years after its release, obviously SRPG fans still highly appreciate it despite the flaws and limitations. It'll certainly keep you busy for a long time, and the two-player mode is nice.
* Gameplay Video