Ogre Battle is one of the very few real-time strategy RPGs to be released for a console. In this dangerous fantasy realm, it really is not just about winning, but how you get to your victory.
25 years ago, the prosperous empire of Zenobia was plunged into a period of war and tyranny. It all happened when good King Gran’s lifelong friend, the sage Rashidi, conspired with the Dark Empress Endora of Zetegenia, and the two of them masterminded a takeover of Zenobia. This plot culminated with the murder of King Gran, and the complete domination of the continent within a single year. Throughout Endora’s reign, many loyal supporters King Gran have been tortured and killed, and the people have been made subject to martial law under the jurisdiction of Zetegenia’s top generals. However, all these years, rebels have started to band together and train for a new war. Their goal: to restore Zenobia to its former glory.
Now, the Astrologer Warren believes that he has found the person with the strength, the intelligence, and the leadership talent to guide the remaining rebel forces to victory. This is the person you will play as. When the game begins, Warren conducts an interview with you followed by a small, informative lesson on the battlefield. In the interview, you not only give you Lord character a name and a gender, but your answers to Warren’s questions determine the types of attacks you will be able to use. After this little exercise, your first 50 troops, which is a mixed bag of Fighters, Wizards, Amazons, Healers, Hellhounds, Gryphons, and many other soldiers and critters. Now that you have your army, what you do with it is up to you. Are you going to set things right, or are you even worse than Empress Endora? You decide!
If you generally use troops that are lower in level than the enemy, use high alignment troops to liberate them, and keep liberated cities guarded, and make the right decisions, your reputation will be good. If, on the other hand, you concentrate all your power into just a few, really strong units, fail to keep cities guarded, make deals with thieves, and make unpopular decisions, you will become infamous. The way you progress through Ogre Battle will ultimately bring you to one of 13 possible endings. Through your battles and explorations, you will come across a multitude of characters to recruit, towns to visit, and treasures to find. Your ending is determined by how many, and which ones, you choose to take, and by how you fight your battles. The main factors that affect the story line and which opportunities will appear to you are your army’s reputation, your Lord character’s alignment and charisma, and which secrets you have discovered.
The gameplay of Ogre Battle is somewhat more complex than a normal strategy game. Before a battle begins, you must arrange your characters into units. Each unit can fit 5 characters, unless the unit has any large monsters, who count as 2 characters. After assembling your units, you can pick a battle site on the map and begin the fight. Once you’re in battle, you may deploy your units. Including your Lord character’s unit, you can have up to 10 units deployed at one time. Similarly, the enemy can have up to 10 units at once. Once deployed, you can move your units anywhere on the map as long as the leader of that unit is still alive. If a unit’s leader dies, it no longer follow orders and will automatically go back to your base. Your units must not only topple the enemy’s boss, but liberate the towns in the area as well. Meanwhile, you must prevent your Lord character from dying in battle, which results in a Game Over, and you must prevent the enemy from capturing your base, which causes your army to be removed from the area and requires you to re-start the battle.
The next part of the gameplay, where the combat of Ogre Battle takes place, is the skirmish. A skirmish begins when one your units and one of the enemy’s units are close to one another. Although you don’t directly control your troops, you do have some control over which enemy you attack. You have the ability to set battle tactics for each unit and change them mid-skirmish. Battle Tactics include Best (eliminate enemies that pose the greatest threat), Strong (attack the enemy with the most HP remaining), Weak (attack the enemy with the fewest remaining HP), and Leader (attack the unit’s leader). Another thing you can do during a skirmish is play Tarot Cards. There are 22 Tarot Cards, and each one has a different special effect when used in battle. For example, the Emperor Card gives all of your characters an additional attack, and the Justice Card creates a snowstorm that deals water based damage to the enemy unit. Finally, you have the ability to retreat from a skirmish, which will always succeed in an escape, but it also causes an automatic loss.
The skirmish ends when all characters’ actions have been executed or when one of the units has been completely defeated. If both units still have survivors at the end of the skirmish, the unit that dealt the most damage to the opposing unit, excluding damage dealt by Tarot Cards, is the Winner. After the winner has been declared, the battle screen re-appears, and the losing unit is pushed back a short distance, unless it was completely defeated, in which case it is removed from the screen.
Boss units are an exception to the rules of winning a skirmish. If the boss character is killed, the skirmish immediately ends, regardless of other enemy characters, with your unit winning and the battle ends in a victory for you. However, if the boss is still alive at the end of the skirmish, his or her unit wins regardless of how much damage was dealt.
Yours and the enemy’s warriors come from a very wide selection of humans, monsters, and everything in-between. Every character class has several important things associated with it. Most significant are its battle actions. Each character has two types of actions they can execute during a skirmish, one they do when they are in the front row, and one for the rear row. For example, a Mage gets 2 attacks with his staff in the front row, but in the rear, he will cast 1 spell that affects all the enemies in the opposing unit.
Another key aspect of a character is its movement type and degree of influence. The movement type of a unit will affect how fast it will travel over different types of terrain, and which type of terrain it will fight best on. The movement type for the unit is the movement type for the character in that unit that has the highest influence. For example, a unit containing a Knight, a Healer, a Valkyrie, and a Gryphon will be a High Sky unit because the Gryphon, a flying character, is the largest character in the unit. However, a unit containing a Gryphon, and Octopus, and a Wizard will be a Sea unit because in this case the Octopus has the most influence. The other aspects of each character class include the rate at which their strength, intelligence, agility, HP, and deployment cost increase.
Other aspects of a character include their Alignment and Charisma. These scores don’t simply rise with level as other attributes do. Rather, they change based on the enemies the character fights. Alignment is a number from 0 to 100 that evaluates how good or evil a character is. 50 is neutral, under 30 is evil, and over 70 is good. Fighting enemies who are higher in level will increase alignment, but alignment will decrease if a character kills a healer, or kills an opponent whose level is lower than his or hers. A character’s alignment determines how your reputation will be affected when that character liberates a town, whether they fight better at night or during the day, and it is a determining factor for class changes.
Charisma is a measure of a character’s leadership talent, and it affects how powerful a unit is when that character is leading it. Charisma also determines your ability to persuade neutral characters into becoming allies. Charisma usually rises as a character’s unit wins battles, but it can decrease if a character kills a very large number of weaker opponents. Charisma also decreases when a character runs away from a skirmish.
Ogre Battle also has a job system, allowing you to change your characters into new, more powerful classes. Eligibility for class changes and promotions depends on the character’s current class, their experience level, their Alignment and Charisma scores, and in some cases, possession of special items. For example, a Fighter can become a Knight or a Samurai if his Alignment and Charisma are both above 50 and his level is at least 7. If however his Alignment is below 50, he can become a Wizard or a Ninja. If he becomes a Knight, he will have 2 sword attacks in the front row and 1 sword attack in the rear. When this Knight reaches level 15, if his Alignment is at least 70 and his Charisma at least 60, he can upgrade from a Knight to a Paladin, who has 3 sword attacks in the front row and 1 use of Healing Magic in the rear. A few characters, including your Lord, have unique, special classes that cannot be attained through promotion.
Ogre Battle isn’t very difficult on the whole, but there are ways to make it a bigger challenge. It’s fairly easy to make your units stronger than any of the enemies’ units, but doing so will hurt your reputation Still, even with lower level troops, you have several extra advantages over the enemy that make it possible to win battles and improve your reputation. The most difficult parts of Ogre Battle are the boss fights. Bosses are usually a few levels higher than anyone else on the map. Bosses not only have incredible attacks usually powerful enough to kill your soldiers off in no time, but they are also hard to hit, and are very durable even when you manage to hit them. They also recover HP because they are sitting on the base, so you musty keep attacking them to win.
Furthermore, any enemies in the boss’s unit that are killed in combat will be replaced with identical charters at full life While it’s easy to attack a boss with Tarot cards, killing the boss or any other enemy with a card will transfer all of the experience of the battle to your Lord, which makes it hard for him or her to have a high alignment. This is why advancing further along in the game is easy, but achieving the best ending is a challenge. However, even if you’re not shooting for the best ending, say if you just want to be yourself, or if you intentionally try for a bad ending, there will definitely be some tough battles.
Playing Ogre Battle is very fun. I thoroughly enjoyed commanding my troops, exploring the lands for hidden towns and treasures, and taking on all the enemies. What I most liked was the wide selection of characters to play as, especially the ultra powerful hidden characters. The desire to get all the high end character classes, including the seraphims, the large dragons, the muses, and the sorcerers and liches kept me addicted to this game. The hidden characters in Ogre Battle are all very powerful warriors, and as long as you use their talents responsibly, they will be great assets to your cause and lots of fun to play with. All possible paths through the game will be fun and challenging, each in its own way.
The biggest downside to Ogre Battle’s gameplay is the save system. You can only save while on the map screen, and since battles can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours to complete, advancing anywhere takes a serious time commitment. Also, if something comes up and you have stop playing, you may be out of luck and have to replay a lot of lost time.
The story of Ogre Battle features an interesting main plot and a multitude of side stories. With each passing battle, you will learn more of the empire’s dirty secrets, and more about how the empire’s tyranny has affected people in each specific area. You will also see how the people of Zenobia view you. The story is non-linear; there are several possible outcomes. The story mainly focuses on the nation as a whole, as there is only a small amount of character interaction. However, when characters do talk, they reveal a great deal about themselves.
Enix did a good job translating Ogre Battle. Most of the dialogue was clear and effective. There were minimal spelling and grammar mistakes, and all of the Help messages for items and commands were explained perfectly. Ogre Battle has one of my all-time favorite soundtracks. The songs were beautifully composed, and all songs fit their respective settings perfectly. Ogre Battle was a wide variety of music for battles, and each battle song was designed to fit a specific type of battleground. Some examples of battle music include “Santa’s Coming”, which is used in battle on snowy fields, and “Sandstorm”, which is played in desert battles. The sound effects were also good, although they weren’t as impressive as the music. There was a fairly good variety of sound effects for attacks and spells, and although most weren’t especially realistic, they effectively emphasized the attacks being executed. There was also a little bit of voice narration in Ogre Battle. The narration sounded a little dry and the recording quality, while decent, was a tad fuzzy. Still, the use of voice for liberating towns and engaging in skirmishes was a welcome addition, and it made the people of Zenobia seem more alive.
On the battlefields, the Edit screen, and the main map, the graphics are fairly simple. The edit screen is entirely text and icons. It is organized well, but it doesn’t show off any artwork or images. Similarly, the main map is little more than a rough sketch of the continent with icons representing completed battles. The battlefields feature a variety of landscapes, including plains, mountains, forests, swamps, deserts, and other types of terrain. The terrain is decorated with little gold and silver icons representing units, as well as small icons for the towns, temples, and bases. The icons are easy to identify. On the battle map, there can be up to 20 units moving simultaneously, which is sometimes too much math for the Super NES CPU to process, so there is occasional slowdown on the battle map. This usually only happens when the game speed is set to the highest setting; a speed the Super NES cannot always deliver.
The graphics during skirmishes on the other hand, are excellent. The battles are on a tilted surface, giving an almost 3-D appearance to the fight. The character sprites are a good size, and monsters such as Dragons and Krakens are noticeably larger than humans and small mutants and monsters. All characters are feature great detail and are complete with the right bodily features, clothing , and weapons. Physical attacks sport good, aggressive animation. The graphics for magic are among the best possible on the Super NES. Powerful spells and Tarot Cards are illustrated by numerous sprites, as the enemy is bombarded by stars, ghosts, flames, ice shards, or various other dangerous objects. Single-target spells were less impressive, but that was to be expected, as the animation should, as it does, show that only 1 target is being affected.
Finally, the face portraits, which are seen when important characters talk, are top-notch. Every character looks distinct and unique. This is one game where you can judge characters by appearance, and the facial features, clothing, and hair will indicate this.
With its completely unique gameplay and unprecedented replay value, Ogre Battle is a game like no other. If you like strategy games, Ogre Battle should be right up your alley. I’ll warn you that it is a long game: it could take 80 or even 100 hours to complete, but it’s a fun time the whole way. And the trip is well worth it too: I won’t spoil the best ending, I’ll just say that if you earn it, and you’ll know if you did, it will not disappoint you. The Super NES version of Ogre Battle is nearly impossible to find, and when copies are available in used game stores, they usually carry a $50 price tag. Also, depending on your priorities, the PlayStation version of Ogre Battle might be better suited for you.