Thursday, November 01, 2012

Tactics Ogre - The Knight of Lodis

A fine strategy RPG with some GBA-related flaws.
Review By JPeeples

Tactics Ogre: the Knight of Lodis is one of the finest strategy RPGs I’ve ever played. I would place it right below Final Fantasy Tactics on the PSX, and right above Kartia, also on the PSX. The game has more depth than the latter, and more of a story than the former, which makes it a nice little blend of both worlds. You get a nice, engrossing storyline mixed in with gameplay that isn’t too complex, yet at the same time, isn’t limiting. It’s a fine tightrope to walk, and the folks at Quest did an outstanding job on this title, and it could stand on it’s own as not only a great portable strategy RPG, but as a great strategy RPG in general.

The depth continues on from the gameplay to the story, which features some nice sub-text about freedom, war, and all sorts of stuff that I wouldn’t expect to see in a strategy RPG, a genre that is known for having relatively stagnant storylines. As you progress through the game, you’ll probably sucked into the plot, and actually care about the outcome of the characters. I was pleasantly surprised by the story, hopefully you will be too.

Anyways, onto the gameplay. The core gameplay on the battlefield is much the same as any other strategy RPG, only with more emphasis placed on moving and placing your units (characters) in a manner that best suits that particular turn. Correct unit placement can mean the difference between life and death, and you will want to know what you can do to best protect yourself from needless damage. Say, for example, you’ve got a series of stones around the battlefield. Now, early on, you can choose to either rush into things, and risk letting your foe get the upper hand, or you can put your backs against the stones, and prevent your foes from attacking from the back, which will give them a guaranteed hit, and do more damage to boot. By reducing their chances of damaging you by one-fourth, you’ve just given yourself a leg up on your foes, and can now plan out an attack to bring them to their knees. A similar technique can be done by placing your characters’ backs against the very end of the battlefield, which will also prevent your foes from hitting you from behind.

All of this strategy does come with a price though, namely in the sheer amount of time it takes to complete one full turn of combat. Now this isn’t such a big deal when it’s your turn to attack, as you want to take some time out to plan out your unit placement and attacks, but when your foes get on the offensive, be prepared for a long play session of the waiting game. I’m very disappointed that an option to speed up enemy turns, or skip spell animations, wasn’t included, as this game is on a portable system, where time is an important factor. You don’t want your batteries to crap out on you in the middle of a battle, as battles frequently take about a half hour or so, minimum, to conclude. This problem makes it hard for me to recommend this game to those who intend to play it on the go. Playing the game via he Game Boy Player, or using an AC adapter with your GBA, resolves this problem quite nicely, but it’s a shame that a workaround wasn’t included for those who intend to play the game without an add-on of some kind.

Thankfully, that just about ends it for the negative aspects of the game. The class system included in TO is a highlight, as it lets you tweak your characters and have quite a bit of fun while doing it. Those familiar with Final Fantasy Tactics should have no problem using the class system in this game, as they work pretty much the same in both games. Quest has given the player many choices for classes in the game, and thanks to the pro/con nature of the system, it adds another layer of depth to the game. You can go with one class, which might increase your hit points, but it could decrease the amount of damage you can do. Conversely, the exact opposite could be true. You could also find a class that gives you the best of both worlds, although that will come after much fighting, and you will really have to earn that class. There is definitely a sense of accomplishment that comes from this game, and the class system plays an integral role in it.

The game controls about as well as one could expect for a strategy RPG. There aren’t any real complexities to the controls, and the only thing remotely resembling complexity would be using the R button to open up many menus. Why this button was used instead of the Select button is beyond me, as it just doesn’t seem all that functional. Despite that, the game still controls very well. The d-pad, which you will be making extensive use of in this game, is responsive, as are the A and B buttons, which are used to confirm/negate choices in the game. Playing the game using the GameCube controller is a bit easier on the hands than it is using the GBA. The GC controller’s button layout is a bit more user-friendly, which makes a world of difference in a game like this, where you will be playing it for quite some time.

Graphically, TO is the most stunning strategy RPG I’ve ever seen. Everything is bathed in color, from the characters, to the background elements like boxes, barrels, and buildings. The skies used in battlefields are also quite nice, with rich colors accenting them and adding a bit of ambience to the goings on in the game. The only real downside to the graphics lies in the repeating character sprites, which have plagued the genre since day one. Thankfully, this problem doesn’t really interfere with the game, just be careful when naming two nearly identical-looking characters. The graphical splendor of the game suffers a bit due to the GBA’s small screen, which can’t really do justice to the rich graphics in the game.

This is yet another reason why this game is ideal for use on the Game Boy Player. Using the GBP makes navigating through menus that much simpler, and brings out the broad color palette that adorns the game‘s many areas and characters. The game’s animation is nice, and while it probably won’t dazzle you, it is a step above the usual bare-bones animation featured in other strategy RPGs. Barring the usual “walking in place” animation for idle characters, everything has a fluid look to it animation-wise. The attacks are animated well, both on the giving and receiving end. Spell effects aren’t fancy, but they get the job done. General moving animation is done very well, especially for characters who can fly through the air, the animation on the wings on the hawkmen looks very fluid. All in all, the graphics are great, but they certainly do suffer on the GBA’s stifling screen.

The music in the game is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard in a video game. The sheer depth in it is amazing, and it adds quite a bit to nearly every part of the game. Even the music for menus is well done. The sound effects seemed to get the same kind of attention to detail as the music, as even they are executed to near-perfection. There are different sound effects, subtle as they may be, for each kind of weapon in the game. This is reflected by the sound level of a successful weapon shot. A powerful weapon will yield a louder sound effect, while a weak weapon will get you a toned-down sound effect. This method certainly gets across how much damage is done, or can be done, by a weapon, and I’m a fan of that type of thing. Seeing it in this game makes me enjoy the game that much more.

Tactics Ogre features more in the way of replay value than most strategy RPGs, the inclusion of multiple endings, a hallmark of the Ogre series, is a nice touch. Beyond that, the game is always a joy to play, especially if you’re looking to kill a few hours. The deep class system will probably also have you coming back for more, as you may find yourself asking, “what if I had given so and so this class instead of this class…”. Tactics Ogre is a game that I would recommend getting the most out of your first time through. While the game does have a nice bit of replay value in it, especially compared to other strategy RPGs, it’s still not a very replay-friendly game, as is the case for nearly anything with the term “RPG” in its genre description.

In the end, Tactics Ogre is a very satisfying, and fun strategy RPG that will likely be the best of its genre on the GBA. Tactics Ogre will get some competition from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, so it will be interesting to see if TO can retain its crown against its only real competition.. Sadly, the GBA doesn’t exactly do the game justice, so a Game Boy Player purchase might be in order if you want to get the most out of the game.

SYSTEM:Game Boy Advance


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