Superior [ Epic ] Legendary
Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea brought the Tactical RPG to non-Japanese gamers, but the genre obviously predates these landmarks. With Fire Emblem establishing the genre only years prior, Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen had a virtually blank slate to work with. Like the band whose songs the series’ titles pay homage to, this classic is both enduring and incomparably brilliant.
Like any good Tactical RPG, Ogre Battle includes an epic storyline of rich campaigns, ample optional battles, a handful of hidden items, and a few “hidden” classes. If this was all Quest gave us it would still be excellent for its time, but of course they went a few steps further. The game features multiple endings based on a reputation gauge that develops as you liberate towns with either good or evil armies, with significant penalties if you fail to hold them. This same gauge affects the amount of tribute villagers pay toward your war effort and forces you to economize your initial offense to the one or two towns you strategically need until the enemy is out of armies – armies that you cannot see until they are within a short range.
The true draw of Ogre Battle is its most unorthodox but deceptively enjoyable trait: no in-battle micromanagement. Essentially, you are placed squarely in the seat of the General rather than the Sergeant of every squad. On the campaign map, you give them their positions, but once the 5-man squad engages an enemy, a separate, automated turn-based micro-battle begins (FIGHT IT OUT!). Hence, your involvement is in forming the group: with 3 paladins, you’ll be slow to defeat enemies and forced to focus on the center column of enemies almost exclusively while 2 paladins without a Monk is likely to suffer casualties but leaves 3 slots open for high-damage sweepers. In short, the game puts the focus on forming effective squads and armies, not micromanaging their actions.
Sadly, the class system suffers from some painfully annoying idiosyncrasies. In addition to level, class advancement requires a certain amount of two stats that change based on the enemies you slay: Charisma, affected by relative level difference, and Alignment, affected by relative level and alignment difference. This essentially good idea is crippled because almost every enemy in the game is of evil alignment, putting nearly a third of the game’s classes into the realm of nigh-unattainability. Furthermore, the level progression of the enemies can be painfully slow, locking out another third of the classes. The remaining third of the game’s classes are stunted weaklings. The result of all this is that to have a strong army you need to min-max, and to min-max you have to deal with an agonizing stat advancement system. This causes the length of the game to become a liability: serious players will get sick of wrangling unwieldy stats while casual players may lack the powerhouse classes needed for later missions.
While these problems do stop it from being a game I’ll replay into old age, the sheer uniqueness of Ogre Battle sets it far and above its contemporaries and, in my opinion, many other Tactical RPGs since. One thing’s for sure: you’ve never played a game quite like this, and for that Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen deserves your Virtual Console or ROM download.
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