Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber is a peculiar game. Developed by Quest and published by Atlus for the Nintendo 64, it was released in North America in late 2000, and is notable for being one of the only RPG’s on the system. I initially thought it to be a tactical role-playing game similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, but it’s not. There are role-playing aspects such as customization and battle scenes, but the control I had over a small army reminded of the real-time strategy genre.
The game begins with the main character, Magnus Gallant, graduating from a military academy. In this sequence, I was asked questions and my answers decided the type of class Magnus would be. Upon graduation Magnus is sent to the southern reaches of Palatinus to put down an uprising by the lower class. Magnus wields his sword protecting the status quo of the monarchy and early on realizes the unjust nature of the class system he is fighting to protect.
The game offers the player choices at main intersections in the story, the first guiding Magnus along the path he is currently on, or allowing him to join the revolutionary army and fight for equality against the upper class. Each mission usually undertakes similar related concepts, in a much smaller scope, but each one evolves Magnus’ perspective on the world around him. Of the few choices I had to make, few of them had an obvious good and bad element. I had to sit and think about the route I would take and how it would affect the cause that Magnus fought for.
Before missions, Magnus would be briefed on the battlefield, the enemies, and the situation in general. Each mission took place in a fairly small geographical region, but they usually had a handful of towns. The objective was always to reach the opposite end of the map, capturing the enemy headquarters. Once I’d been given control, I would begin dispatching battalions and giving those battalions destinations. Both dispatching and issuing destinations was a redundant task. Lacking the ability to choose a group of battalions, I had to issue destinations and dispatch battalions one at a time.
If a battalion of mine ran into an enemy battalion, a battle would ensue. Once a battle between battalions started, everything happened automatically, dictated by the battle strategy I chose for that battalion. Rather than picking each action for each character, all I did was pick a battle strategy such as attack leader, and my characters would act accordingly. Not being able to choose individual targets was frustrating in some situations. Even when I told a battalion to attack the weakest enemy, sometimes they would attack a target with full hit points instead of an opponent with a low amount of hit points. The path to victories however was customization.
Battalions are a nine by nine grid that could be composed of up to five characters. The placement of the characters was vital for battles. If a soldier was placed on the front lines he would be able to attack twice, anywhere else, he would attack only once. Similarly, if I placed an Amazon (archer) on the back row instead of the front row, she would attack twice rather than once.
Besides the placement of characters, it was important to make sure that battalions were balanced class-wise. Early on, I was losing more characters than I wanted, so I added clerics to each battalion; because of this, battalions could participate in more battles and fewer of my characters died. With customization of individual characters being a vital component of the game, I wish the process of equipping characters and buying goods was easier.
In between missions I’d do all of my customization. I’d view my entire army and select individual battalions and then, individual characters. I’d change their equipment, alter their formation, change characters between battalions, there was a lot I could do!
But I gave up on Ogre Battle 64. There were many missions that required trial and error, perhaps because I became too cocky and decided to forego strategy and tactics after a few easy wins. But I attempted the fifteenth mission half a dozen times before I realized the characters I was fighting were a decent amount of levels ahead of my characters. To continue I would have to spend an hour or two grinding my character’s levels, and after all the times I went through the set up of the mission, which takes five to ten minutes, I was done.
I fear that I was playing the game “wrong” by leveling up my battalions equally instead of focusing on a few. It’s the same way I feel whenever I play tactical role-playing games. At some point it feels like there is one correct way of completing each mission, and the trial and error it takes for me to reach that correct way is frustrating and drives me to stop playing altogether.
I would like to return to Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber and potentially complete it at some point, but not for a while, I just need some time away from it. Ogre Battle 64 had a serious story that contained mature topics and having a choice in my actions was thrilling. And the gameplay was exciting; it was something I’ve never experienced. Instead of finding a tactical role-playing game as I thought I would, I found an interesting game that combined the customization and leveling aspects of a role-playing game with the strategy and direct control over multiple units of a real-time strategy game. I spent thirty hours playing Ogre Battle 64 and there’s easily another thirty hours in it, but because it frustrated me too much, I’m moving on for now.