For those reading one of my SNES review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
"While the SNES was a constant presence in my childhood, I never had a large collection of games for it. In fact, many of the games I played I still don't know the names of. It wasn't until I say the uproar over Breath of Fire 6 that I knew I played Breath of Fire 1 in the SNES.
After reading the excellent top 100 SNES games list by IGN:
I decided to go back and play those 100 games and review them. Well, as I looked closer at the list, I realized that there are many genres that did not age well from the SNES (racing, sports) and many other genres that I am simply not good at (shmups, arcade shooters) and others that I need other players to play against for an accurate representation (fighters). Also, I played many of the more well known games such as Final Fantasy and Super Metroid."
We finished with the legacy reviews, so we are beginning with the reviews after my hiatus. Please feel free to give me advise on my reviews, as I always look for improvement.
Also, here are a number of extra rules for Destructoid:
-If you have any suggestion of a game that is not in the IGN list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
Without further ado, here is:
41- Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen:
Genre: Strategy RPG.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to better rate different genres according to their own rules. It will still be from 50 quality points, but every title will start from 25 and earn/lose points according to criteria important to the titles and genres themselves.
Now, Ogre Battle might be the most complex game in the SNES, or at least in the top five. With a cover that claims the game to be "the ultimate fantasy simulation RPG" you would guess a little at its complexity. Ironically, that claim does not mention the fact that Ogre Battle is a strategy RPG, and even then that wouldn't be accurate.
Ogre Battle is a real time strategy tactical RPG hybrid. With units moving in a vast map in real time, while a war economy is being used to support these units, of which each consists of several types of soldiers, etc. By now, you should have figured out that this game is not easy to summarize, and a good portion of any review would be an attempt at explaining the scale of the game.
"This is not child's play!!"
Your army consists of a maximum of 10 units. Each unit takes a certain number of soldiers to fill, with normal soldier taking one space, and creatures taking two for a maximum of five spaces (3 soldier and 1 creature for example. There are different classes for soldiers and creatures, with different abilities and such. Now that your units are in place, you can equip your soldiers with items (1 per solider) and send them to battle.
Here is where this game deviates from other tactical RPGs. First, deploying your units cost money according to their power, and maintaining them in the field cost money as well. With a day-night cycle, you are being charged every day. Now the second point comes into play; the game runs in real time. As your units move and you make your decisions, the in-game clock ticks on, and the enemy moves. As such, movement is shown with units moving in a map, and not in grids.
In order for the player to earn money, they either win the stage, or liberate towns to get taxes. Of course, you can always sell your hard-found treasures and equipment. To stop you, the enemy forces would close down on you in sometimes unpredictable manners. When two units clash, you are transported like if in an RPG into the battle screen and you see the fight is between your soldiers and theirs.
These battles are not at all what you would expect. Indeed, the player is merely a spectator with supervisory powers as the two units duke it out. No, not till one of them is wiped out, but for until each soldier exhausts their turns. In these battles, the player continues their role as a general, and not as an active participant; as they issue tactical commands instead of direct orders. For example, you set a unit's tactics to attacking the weakest members of the enemy units, or the strongest.
However, there is one power the player can use during these battles, Tarot Cards. With these mysterious fortune telling device being a theme of the game, the player collects these cards and can use them in battle. For instance, one card heals your units while another damages the enemy. Some cards have more unique properties, such as flipping the front and back line of the enemy forces (thus exposing their mages).
This is only just the basics of the gameplay, as there are still many underlying mechanics I have yet to explain. However, I would first like to glance over the story of the game.
Unique Gameplay:+5 Tarot Cards: +3 "The destiny in your cards"
From the start, the Tarot card theme is apparent in the personality questions the game asks you. The answers to these questions and the Tarot Cards you draw decides your main character's traits. You are the leader of the rebellion, which is fighting against a conquering empire that might have more sinister motives besides conquest.
Obviously, we have been in countless rebellions against encroaching empires, and Ogre Battle is no different in that regard. Even less, your army has no personality whatsoever and named characters are confined to the few sentences they word in their first appearance.
However, Ogre Battle surprisingly ups the ante with its inner-level narrative. Not every stage has a compelling story, but each stage has its own tale within the grand narrative. These stories are sometimes surprisingly complex. For instance, on one level many towns you liberate say that the famous knight X (that's not his name) betrayed his lord and killed him and his family. However, when you meet the knight himself, he denies the truth of those claims and insists he stayed loyal to the end, and he wishes to the join the fight against the empire. Do we take him at his own word and risk recruiting a disloyal scumbag, or ignore him and believe the rumors.
The narrative is best in these small stories inside the levels, adding up to several good stories that add depth to an otherwise unremarkable tale. However, even by the end, we discover that not everything is what it seems.
Generic Story: -2 Interesting Side Stories +5 Grey Morality:+2 "Ours is a forbidden love, tee hee"
I would actually say that love is a difficult, not forbidden. Love for the game that is. Not because of any fault in the game itself as much as difficulty in understanding it. Besides the already complex gameplay in Ogre Battle, there are many underlining systems that are simply too complex to handle well.
Starting with the class upgrade system, which is for some reason convoluted and confusing. In the simple front, there are classes which directly upgrade to a better version, but then starts the web-work. For the main classes, there are two lines, female and male. Upgrading into any other class requires a certain number of ALI points. These points supposedly monitor the morality of the individual soldier, but are ridiculously hard to control. Therefore you might end up with a Ninja (low ALI) instead of the Samurai (high ALI) you want because this soldier is stealing all the kills (thus reducing his ALI). Stupidly, the only way to raise your ALI is killing higher level soldiers, which is both stupid and difficult; without control in the battle itself how can you make sure the unit you want to get the kill does it?
Other "special" units also have their own roundabout ways of getting upgraded. Some require items, while other require getting bitten by an infected unit. Finally, you either spend more time than is healthy to get the units you want, or simply succumb to whatever your regular playing leaves you with.
This half-baked morality system is not exclusive to class upgrades. Showing a modernity beyond its time Ogre Battle offer different endings depending on your morality scale and performance. Only problem, this morality system is unwieldy and confusing. Even after finishing the game, I am not sure how this system is supposed to work. Should I liberate cities, or shouldn't I? Ridiculously, this mysterious scale eventually controls how the story goes. Important characters don't join me because of my Evil way (and I really don't want to be Evil), and other events refuse to happen because I am not in the right part of the scale.
What I find particularity daunting is the complete lack of any in-game instructions to the use of these confusing systems. Neither the ALI upgrade paths, nor the morality system is ever explained by the game, forcing me to rely on FAQs for the simplest of information. While I am not a big fan of lengthy tutorials and the like, the addition of a simple help menu or something similar would have been much appreciated. Needless Complexity:-4 Lack of Clarity:-3 "History is shaped with blood and death"
From the grinding and inner workings of such a complex machine, we get these 10 units to attack the enemy with. Even without fully understanding the upgrade system, and not understanding what all classes offer to the table, we get a lot of variety to choose from.
With many viable units to choose from, there is a basic inclination towards the mobility flying units offer, and the coverage mages do. However, there are still several options, and experimenting early on is fun and exciting. The early game in general is both more challenging and interesting due to the early experimentation going on. Epic battles with each stage's boss are common, and sometimes the game forces you to make surprising tactical adjustments.
However, once your units are set, and you gain levels and upgrade your units, the game suddenly becomes easier. Late game units can simply steamroll through anything that is not a boss, and your star units simply outclass all your other units. My only incentive to use Samurai Anderson in late game battles was for participation purposes.
Class Variety:+4 Great Early Game:+5 Formulaic Late Game:-2 "The Zenobian Empire"
Besides complexity in game design, we unfortunately don't find complexity in artistic design. While the character designs are well made and somewhat varied, and the maps are distinctive in shape from one another; everything has a washed out look to it. Graphically, the game lacks the charm to make for its graphical shortcomings, and as a result suffers aesthetically for it.
On the sound front, what music there is is good, but there is very little variety. With what feels like only 10 tracks, maps are separated by their shape more than anything else. For a strategy heavy game, the graphics might not have been top priority, but the limited musical selection is serious problem.
Compared to such comprehensive gameplay elements, the artistic design of the game is obviously barren. For instance, the master Samurai class is differentiated from the regular Samurai class with a simple different color scheme. A more serious effort would have added a sword to one, or removed a helmet form the other. Some Good Music and Art:+2 Limited Artistic Design:-5 In Conclusion:
As I said before, Ogre Battle might be the most complex game in the SNES, and as a game that someone will exclusively play for a long time, it might have enough depth to hold for a long time. However, that complexity works against it when someone is not dedicating all his existence to figure it out.
In the other hand, even without figuring everything out, the game still manages to be fun. Equally important, there are simply no other games similar to it in any way as far as I know. Even though it took ages for me to finish the game, I am still glad I invested the time to do so, even if I got the worst ending possible and my character died after a year of ruling.
1- At Least have 7 flying units.
2- Don't hoard Tarot Cards.
3- Don't kill units with Tarot cards so that you don't lose experience points.
4- Make sure to protect your base, losing because of one rouge enemy unit is rage-inducing.
5- Most beasts are useless imo, however gryphons rock.
6- Do consult online guides.
7- Clerics are super useful in their final upgrade as Monks.
I already went through the insanity of Earthworm Jim's world in my review of his first game, which I felt was marred by unnecessary difficulty despite the charm. His second game, which sits at a higher #40 in the IGN list is considered by many to be the better of the two.
This time I know what to expect, so the surreal style of the game won't catch me off-guard. As such, the game will actually be even more carefully reviews than the first. Let's see what I unEARTH,
For Previous SNES game Reviews: The List For More Screenshots: http://www.mobygames.com/game/snes/ogre-battle/screenshots
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