At the cusp of the new millennium, a few years after I fell in love with Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen, I was working on my Ph.D. While browsing the Web (yeah, okay, that’s not really working, but it was Wednesday before Thanksgiving), I learnt of Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber for the Nintendo 64. Fifteen minutes later, I had bought the game and was on my way home to try it out. After beating a couple of levels, I bore witness to sheer awesomeness as characters from the first game showed up, making Ogre Battle 64 a sequel. As with all sequels, the question immediately came to mind: does it hold up to the original?
Ogre Battle 64 follows the same gameplay as The March of the Black Queen: build and deploy units to liberate different towns from their CPU oppressors. However, the game makes an important change: units accumulate fatigue when they travel. When tired, they cannot fight at full capacity. They have to sleep and may even keep sleeping if they’re attacked. Unfortunately, this change adds nothing to the game. If you know a unit is going to fight soon, you can simply force it to rest, ensuring it will be in tip-top shape when battle erupts. Worse, you can exploit the opponent’s limited AI by running away until the enemy unit falls asleep and then turning around to slaughter it. Fatigue not only slows the game but also makes it too easy for people like me to find creative ways around the mechanics (i.e. cheat).
Reputation is managed a bit differently as well. Charisma points remain integral to the game. However, each town you liberate now has a morale meter. If morale is high, the citizens want to be liberated by a unit with high charisma. If morale is low, they want to be freed by units with low charisma. I find the latter proposition rather puzzling: “We aren’t feeling too happy right now, so why don’t you present us with ugly jerks to make us like you?”
On the upside, Ogre Battle 64 follows in its predecessor’s footsteps in terms of unit options, offering zounds of possibilities by way of over sixty types of combatants, plus special characters. One small complain I have is that these characters cannot be recruited in towns anymore. To get access to certain types, you have to make sure your units include soldiers, who are extremely weak combatants, and then level them up. This is a minor annoyance, though, as you eventually get enough characters to form a solid army.
The developers have also fixed the issue wherein stockpiling items can turn every battle into a cakewalk. Unlike The March of the Black Queen, in which the omnipotent player can carry and use supplies at any time, Ogre Battle 64 limits the use of items to what each unit can carry. If your troops run out during battle or while travelling, it’s no more healing for them! This makes the game more challenging and therefore more fun.
On a related note, the tarot cards have been replaced with Elem Pedras, the use of which results in massive elemental attacks against the opposing unit. Pedras recharge very slowly, so you usually end up using them once or twice per level. You start your campaign with one Pedra and can find up to five others. That is, if you cheat and use a walkthrough, because those bad boys are harder to find than talent in the cast of Twilight (2008). Again, kudos to the developers for raising the game’s difficulty level.
I also appreciate their realising that even gamers need a break from smashing buttons and tilting analog sticks. You can now interrupt a game without losing any progress. Your hard work gets saved before you quit, and the save file is erased as soon as you resume the game. This prevents players from saving before every fight and reloading whenever things don’t go their way. As a result, the challenge remains more or less the same, but now I can take a break every once in a while, go to a friend’s house, and play other video games. Sweet.
This is not to say you’ll want to stop playing Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber. With four different endings, the story proves surprisingly engrossing. I complained in my review of March of the Black Queen that there was too much telling, not enough showing. This sequel fixes the problem by using short cut scenes instead of text. As a general rule, I don’t much like this device in video games, but I ended up caring about the characters so much that I was annoyed when I cleared a level and got no cut scene for my troubles.
This, of course, is the best qualm you could ever want with a video game: “To hell with all this terrific gameplay! I want more awesome story!”