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OGRE BATTLE / Enix / SNES
Ogre Battle is one of those limited release games that was a hit in Japan, but the publishers weren't confident would go over in the West. So they released only 25,000 copies of it in North America, making it one of the rarest SNES games (you'll see copies easily sell in the hundreds of dollars nowadays if they have the original box and packaging). Fortunately, one of my best buds from the old neighborhood happened to snap up a copy when it was released, and it was passed around and we all got to enjoy the game on the original console back in the ancient year of 19 and 95. Now, of course, you have emulation, and then there was a Playstation re-release of the game that is less rare (though they tweaked with a few things and it isn't necessarily as good as the SNES version).
The game is an interesting hybrid of real-time strategy and turn-based combat. The story is the typical fantasy thing, you are a Braveheart-esque band of ragtag rebels taking on an Evil Empire that is oppressing the land and generally being a bunch of jackoffs. You go through thirty or so maps to liberate various kingdoms and eventually take on the evil bastards in their stronghold. Each map has a headquarters for you, and a headquarters for the enemy, and your main goal is to take over their HQ while protecting your own. There are various little towns and temples scattered about the map that you can free, however, and these will contribute tax money to you once liberated, as well as sometimes supplying items, vital info or even some new characters.
You form units of up to five characters, and then deploy them on the map, and when they get close to an enemy unit they enter a turn-based combat. This is only partially under your control - you can tell your troops to focus on either the leader of the enemy unit, the most healthy, the least healthy, or the one with the highest levels, but the order and type of attacks is determined automatically based on statistics and where your unit is standing on the field in relation to the enemy units. Each character only gets a limited amount of attacks, and when everyone is done, the winner of the battle is the side that has dealt the most overall damage. The survivors of the losing side get kicked backwards a few feet, but are free to attack again, or flee to heal themselves and revive their dead. Each unit additionally has a leader, and if the leader is killed, you lose control of the unit and they automatically flee back to headquarters (even if your side won the battle).
The game has a level of depth and complexity rarely seen in console gaming. There are tons of little factors to consider that affect both the battles, and how the story unfolds. The game opens with you answering a series of questions that determine what type of main character you will have. Aside from the usual RPG stats, the game puts a heavy emphasis on Alignment and Reputation, and these are key to how the game unfolds. Alignment is basically your "good/evil" rating - if it's low you are perceived by the people as a bad guy. Alignment goes up when you send low-level units to fight higher-level ones (the people like an underdog, I guess), when you make "noble" and "just" decisions over the course of the story, and when you trash thoroughly evil bastards like the walking dead. Alignment goes down when you ruthlessly crush lower-level units with your higher-level ones, when you make sketchy decisions. If you liberate towns using characters with high Charisma and Alignment statistics, it makes your Reputation go up. But Reputation is also affected by other things - abusing Tarot Cards to win battles can drop it, liberating a town and then letting it fall back into enemy hands drops it, and sticking around on a map for too long collecting taxes from the people REALLY pisses them off. So in addition to fighting off waves of foes, you have to consider all these things as you play.
Sound too anal and picky? It can be a pain in the ass. Gamers who are "100% completists" will probably be driven batshit nuts by this game. However, none of this is required at all. You are perfectly free to play the game as a heartless evil bastard who crushes his foes mercilessly and fucks over the people, and you can get all the way through like that. Or, you can do anything in between those two extremes. Granted, unlocking most of the side quests and the best characters requires that you have a sterling reputation, but it isn't necessary to enjoy the game. In fact, there's even some items and characters that can only be unlocked if you're playing as an asshole, and there's something like ten different endings. If you like freedom in how to conduct your affairs, this is a pretty good strategy game for you.
There's only a couple of real minor knocks against the game. One is that the largely non-interactive battles might not be involving enough for some. I was fine with them personally, but I can see where some people might not like them. Also, the game requires a pretty hefty time commitment. Unless you're really rushing to just kill the boss, most maps take upwards of an hour to complete, and the later ones that are huge and have tons of enemies can take a solid 2 to 3 hours if you're exploring them thoroughly. Plus, tweaking your army between battles can take some significant time too. There's no means of saving or continuing in the middle of a map, so it can end up requiring an entire afternoon or evening just to clear one of them. This problem is of course mitigated if you are using an emulator with save states, but playing this on the console can be a real time-sink (the later Playstation release does allow you to save/restore in the middle of battles, if you are looking for a console version).
March On, Black Queen!
- thorough fansite
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