Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen
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The March of the Black Queen
|Platform(s)||Super Famicom, Sega Saturn, PlayStation|
Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen (伝説のオウガバトル Densetsu no Ōga Batoru, "Legendary Ogre Battle") is a real-time tactical role-playing video game developed by Quest and released in Japan in 1993, and in 1995 in North America as the first installment of the Ogre Battle series. It was directed by Yasumi Matsuno and designed by Matsuno and Akihiko Yoshida. The story of Ogre Battle focuses on a band of rebels as they lead a revolution against a corrupt reigning Empire, ruled by an evil Empress.
Ogre Battle was ported to the Sega Saturn and PlayStation, with enhancements made to the original gameplay. It was later released for Virtual Console, and mobile phones. A successor, titled Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, was released in Japan in 1995 for the Super Famicom.
Critical reception to Ogre Battle has been positive; critics have generally praised its gameplay, graphics, and in-depth storyline. The game is also noted for its difficulty, with many reviewers describing the game's desirable good endings as being one of the true challenges in the game.
Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen begins in the outskirts of the Zeteginan Empire, twenty-four years after the founding of the empire through conquest. The main character is leading a revolution against this empire, which has turned to evil through the use of black magic by the mage Rashidi.
The game begins with the seer Warren using tarot cards to ask a series of questions to determine the player's suitability as leader of the revolution. There are several questions out of a fixed set which are randomly asked, each of which is associated with one of the twenty-two Major Arcana cards of divinatory tarot. Each question has three possible answers: one righteous, one evil, and one neutral. After the player finishes answering the questions, Warren wishes luck for the revolution and the game begins. The player's answers to these questions determine the Lord's (main character's class) abilities and starting units.
Ogre Battle mixes movement elements of a real-time tactics game with the character development and combat of a role-playing game. The game consists of a series of battles in which the player deploys units to fight against enemies and liberate occupied towns and temples. A variety of character types can be recruited, ranging from common to rare, many of whom can change class with experience points. As a result, the character will either evolve or become an entirely new soldier with different abilities.
Potential recruits consist of several historical and mythological figures, including knights, ninjas, wizards, angels, griffins, witches, and others. The player is free to organize multiple units of five fighters or less, with the limit being lower when larger characters are present. Additionally, time passes on the tactical map, alternating between day and night. In accordance with this element, vampires and werewolves will only be seen in the evening, with the former appearing in coffins during the day, and the latter appearing as normal men.
Each stage has a boss whose defeat signals the completion of the mission. Both during and after the stage, towns and temples can be visited to gain information or items. The game also features an alignment system, both for the revolution as a whole (reputation) and for individual characters (alignment and charisma). These parameters are influenced by how the game is played.
There are twenty-five main stages in the game, with some variation possible in how the stages are played. There are also four hidden stages accessible through the main game with an additional stage as an easter egg. The game can be completed without finishing all the stages. There are thirteen different endings to the main game, depending on the conduct of the player during the course of the game.
Modes of play
Ogre Battle has two main modes of play, the world map and the tactical map. On the world map, the player can manage their characters, changing their class, re-ordering them into different units, and erasing them. The player can also save and load the game, as well as manage items. In addition, the world map is where the player chooses the next stage, which can either be an already completed stage or a new stage.
When the player has selected a stage, action shifts to the tactical map. Here, the player can deploy units and move them around. Each unit has a cost associated with it which must be paid to deploy the unit and every day at noon thereafter. There is a limit on the number of units which can be deployed at one time. Characters with high alignment fight better during the day while those with low alignment fight better at night. There are also towns and temples which can be liberated by units. Upon liberation, a random tarot card is drawn which can affect either the liberating unit's statistics, the statistics of all units on the battlefield or the reputation parameter. In addition, liberated towns provide income every noon which can be used to buy items (some towns have shops which can be used when a unit is stationed there) or pay for unit costs. In addition, there are often hidden towns, temples, or items which can be found by moving a unit close to the appropriate location.
Each stage has a number of enemy units which attempt to re-capture the player's towns and temples. If a player's unit gets too close to an enemy unit, a battle ensues. During a battle, the view shifts to a close up view of the two combatant units. Characters alternate taking actions with the battle ending after one round of combat (many units can attack multiple times per round). The unit which caused the most damage is the victor and forces the other unit to retreat.
During a battle, a player does not directly control their unit, but selects a tactic for the unit to follow (Best, Strong, Weak, Leader) which the characters follow when choosing who to attack. The player can also use stored tarot cards, which can cause damage or have a special effect. The Lovers card will cause all affected enemies to fight for the player; the Moon card will change the formation of the enemy unit, causing them to attack differently; the Fool card will remove all enemies but the leader from battle. The player also has the option of retreating from any encounter.
The game introduced a moral alignment system that not only affects the gameplay but where tactical and strategic decisions affect the outcome of a non-linear branching storyline, which is affected by factors such as the moral alignments of the troops used to liberate a city, whether to keep certain liberated cities guarded, making popular or unpopular decisions, concentrating power among just a few units, making deals with thieves, and a general sense of justice. These factors lead to one of 13 possible endings, alongside other factors such as how many and which units are used, how battles are fought, the army's reputation, player character's alignment and charisma, and secrets discovered.
In Ogre Battle, alignment indicates how good or evil a character is. The scale runs from 0 to 100; the higher the number, the more 'good' the character is. When characters with high alignment liberate towns, it will raise the player's reputation (although a high charisma is also recommended). Characters with high alignment will be weak against dark attacks but strong against white attacks. They will fight better in the day and worse at night. Alignment can be raised by defeating enemies whose level is higher than the player's, defeating ghosts and other dark creatures, and drawing tarot cards which raise the alignment statistic. When the player's alignment is high, it is (somewhat counter-intuitively) recommended not to exceed the level of his or her foes. Alignment will drop when the player defeats high alignment characters such as clerics and angels, or characters of a lower level. Thus, it is important for players who want to keep a high alignment to keep the fights fair.
Low alignment characters are considered more 'evil'. Consequently, they fight better at night and are weak against light attacks. Liberating towns with these types of characters will lower the player's reputation (especially if they possess a low charisma statistic). A player whose alignment is relatively high will not necessarily be penalized for employing units of low-alignment soldiers; rather, a mix of high- and low-alignment fighters results in the most potent fighting force. Provided the player keeps low- and high-alignment characters in their own separate units, and only liberates towns with high-alignment units, he or she can still see the best ending. Conversely, one who wishes to drop his alignment can continually capture towns with a few high-level, low-alignment units. For example, one can employ a few decidedly low-alignment units to slaughter enemy units, reserving high-alignment units for liberation purposes only.
One of the most important aspects of Ogre Battle is the class system. Each character has a class which determines the characteristics of that character. There are several different classes available in Ogre Battle, but any given character is limited to a subset of class changes depending on their race. For instance, human characters can either be male (fighter) or female (amazon). There are also dragons, wyrms, pumpkins, angels, giants, hellhounds, octopuses, hawk men, demons, griffins, mermaids, golems and undead class trees. Within a tree, there are usually level, alignment, and often charisma requirements. In addition, some classes also require the use of a special item. Finally, the two human class trees are unique in that they have the most branches in their tree and characters can be demoted to move along a different path.
Apart from statistic increases at level-up, a character's class also determines how the character moves and fights. Each character has a terrain type where they move fastest and fight the best (some classes also get additional attacks), with flying characters able to move quickly over all terrain. In addition, each class has a set of attacks characters can perform, ranging from physical attacks targeting one opponent to magical attacks targeting a whole unit.
Listed as the 5th chapter of the entire saga; twenty-five years prior to the beginning of the game, Empress Endora conquered the continent of Zetegenia. During her reign, a resistance organization called the Liberation Army forms to free the continent from her rule.
At the beginning of the game, the protagonist, whose name, gender, and other characteristics are chosen by the player, takes command of the Liberation Army. Throughout the course of the game, the protagonist is joined by various other characters, such as Lans Hamilton, a knight who served the king of Zenobia until the king’s death; Warren Moon, a wizard with the ability to divine the future; Tristan, the rightful prince of Zenobia; and many others.
After the Empress is slain, it is discovered that she was manipulated by Rashidi, a dark wizard in the Empress’ employ. The protagonist defeats him, but before Rashidi dies, he uses his blood to release Demundza, the king of the Underworld who was sealed away after the first great Ogre Battle. The protagonist and their army manage to seal Demundza away again before he can become too powerful. There are multiple outcomes to the story depending on various factors such as the protagonist's alignment, their reputation, and which characters they choose to recruit.
The dark political narrative of the game revolving around the reality of war was inspired by series originator Yasumi Matsuno's outside perspective on events that unfolded during the Yugoslav Wars in the early 1990s, including the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. He was also inspired by the rock band Queen's second album, which contained two songs titled "Ogre Battle" and "The March of the Black Queen", to name this game. Similarly, the "Rhyan Sea" in the Ogre Battle world is a reference to the song "Seven Seas of Rhye" from the same album.
The next game in the series, the 7th episode, Let Us Cling Together, was similarly named after a song in the album A Day at the Races. The other Ogre Battle games in the series were not developed by Matsuno and do not have Queen songs in their subtitles. These include Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber, Legend of Ogre Battle Gaiden: Prince of Zenobia, and Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis.
Enix only distributed twenty-five thousand copies of the Super NES version to North America, which made it one of the rarest critically acclaimed video game titles to date. As such, it can be difficult to purchase a copy of the game.
The Japan-only Sega Saturn version, released in 1996, features voice acting during encounters with bosses and potential recruits. The combatants have also been given a slight graphical overhaul. In addition, this version replaces the gray and yellow units on the map screen with more colorful and detailed sprites. It also includes a third viewpoint on the tactical map, allowing a more direct overhead view.
The PlayStation version, which received an English release in 1997, features enhanced battle graphics not seen in the Sega Saturn edition, including new spell effects and shifting camera angles. This version also features larger text boxes. It lacks the voice acting and graphical detail for the units that was included in the Saturn game.
It was released along with Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together in 1997 with the name of Ogre Battle: Limited Edition. The PlayStation version of the game is not as difficult to procure as the original Super NES cartridge but still sells for more than $50 used.
Ultimately, the Super NES version was re-released in North America on the Virtual Console on March 2, 2009 for 800 Nintendo points ($8). It was also released as an import in the PAL regions on July 3, 2009. A version of the game was also released for iMode mobile phones in Japan on September 1, 2010 with additional maps available for download.
The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the Super NES version a rave review, applauding the graphics, music, combination of genres, hidden items, and the feature which defines the player character based on answers to the questions at the beginning, remarking that this creates "a different adventure each time". GamePro's Scary Larry gave it a mixed review, commenting that the game is "unique", but that the gameplay consists largely of tedious war simulation management, offering no direct control over the combat. He also criticized the overly small battle view. A reviewer for Next Generation commented that the graphics are simplistic and unimpressive but clear and easy to follow, the music is excellent, the interface is accessible, "and above all, the game play poses a serious strategic challenge."
Johnny Ballgame of GamePro gave the PlayStation version a positive review, commenting that "the gameplay and story line are identical" to the Super NES version but the audio has been remastered with "a movie-like musical score". He concluded that, with "13 endings, engrossing gameplay, and a wizard's bag full of secrets, Ogre Battle is a must-buy for RPG fans, whether or not you played the 16-bit version." Electronic Gaming Monthly commented that the PlayStation version is a "demanding strategy game loaded with secrets."
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