Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber Review
Posted by Marcel van Duyn
One of the N64's only strategy titles, but also the best
Last year, the Virtual Console brought us Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen, the "fifth" title in the Ogre Battle series (although none of the first four chapters in the story actually exist.) An incredibly rare game, it was also one of the best strategy titles on the SNES, allowing for an enormous deal of micro-management if you so desired. It had many fans who still think it's one of the greatest titles the genre has to offer.
But the fans think even higher of the sequel. Person of Lordly Caliber follows on where March left off, and is thus the sixth game in the series. As Magnus Gallant, a recent graduate of the Palatinean Army, who is assigned to protect the upper classes in the southern region of his land. He quickly discovers that things aren't quite like the rich people make it out to be: the lower classes are seriously oppressed, and so he decides to join them instead.
The basic gameplay remains unchanged from the previous entry. In almost every mission, your goal is to defeat all enemies and liberating the strongholds they've captured. To do this, you must send out groups of units from your headquarters, and then command them to walk around the field, to explore areas for hidden items, fight enemies or seize strongholds. You can send out any number of squads, but it's usually a good idea to keep at least one or two at your HQ: if it's captured, you instantly lose, so keep some units behind as defense. Enemies aren't visible until you're close to them, so you'll never know if one of them secretly sneaks up on your base!
While running around on the map, time will also pass. Certain units might perform better during the day or the night, so if you have one of them, keep an eye on the current time. If you walk around for too long, you'll also get tired (who can manage to stay up for two days and not get tired?) and will have to set up camp for a while. Units can also rest in captured strongholds, allowing them to regain HP.
Your unit squads are where the game's strategic element comes into play the most. Each is made up of a 3-by-3 square, and allows you to place five units on it. You need to choose very carefully what to place where; for example, it's highly recommended to place characters with swords and other highly damaging attacks at the front, as placing them further back lowers their damage. Depending on which row you place units in, you might even alter their attacks significantly – healing spells, for example, can be used twice in one turn if the healer is in the back.
On the other hand, you'll want to have long-range fighters like archers and mages in the back, so that enemies are less likely to hit them and put their low amount of health in danger. Putting units in front of others also automatically makes whichever unit is in front defend the one behind – close-range enemy fighters will not be able to attack the shielded units until the one in front is dead. Some units, like dragons, actually count for two, so if you decide to use them, you'll have to decide unit placement even more carefully.
Each squad also has a leader you can assign. Protect him/her at all costs, because if a team's leader dies, the remaining units become unable to do anything! Thankfully, the same goes for enemy squads: defeat their leader and you can take out what remains with ease.
But the unit customization doesn't end there. Each individual unit can also be equipped with a variety of items, which you can either find, receive from defeated enemies or buy from shops. Units can also change into more powerful classes if they level up sufficiently, but you'll need specific armour and weapons to let them.
Although this all sounds quite complicated, in reality it's actually quite easy to manage everything. The menus are easy to navigate and the game includes a tutorial if you'd prefer to be told what everything does rather than experimenting on your own.
Although organizing everything can go quite in-depth, actual battles couldn't be easier. You don't actually make any of your units attack, because they all act on their own accord. The only thing you can do is tell them which enemies to attack. You can let them attack the weakest, the strongest, the leader, or simply let them act on their own instinct. In most cases you'll want them to attack the leader, though, because, as said, taking him/her out will render the remaining units extremely vulnerable!
As you might expect from a game like this, between missions, you'll get a scene that advances the storyline. There's quite a lot of them, because there's no less than 43 different missions in the game! You can't play them all in one playthrough, however, as some will only be available by making certain specific decisions when asked something. There's also plenty of little sidequests you can try to solve within other missions, which is usually worth your time – it tends to get you unique items or, in some cases, even unique units.
The game's graphical style is quite odd. The map screen is 3D with 2D characters on it, but almost every other part of the game, like the story sequences and battles, is exclusively 2D. It's a bit odd seeing 2D on a mainly 3D console, but it works and fits the game quite well. The soundtrack is equally nice, with a ton of different songs befitting any given situation.
Ogre Battle 64 is a very engaging and deep strategy game. It's got a metric ton of content and will keep you busy for weeks on end, trying to clear all missions or maybe simply trying to recruit one of those elusive hidden units. It doesn't really change the formula its predecessor started, which is a good thing: it works perfectly, and, with the strength of the N64, makes this an even better game and one of the best strategy titles ever made.