The Ogre Battle Saga has established a noble lineage through the course of its lengthy history. The gameplay in the series focuses on strategic or tactical detail and management, and the story is that of political intrigue in a world of fantasy and legend. Few games of this depth and scope make it to a handheld platform, but Tactics Ogre Gaiden: The Knight of Lodis should let players experience advanced strategy gameplay on a truly advanced system.
On the timeline, the title fits between Ogre Battle 64 (episode six) and Tactics Ogre (episode seven). Using religion as justification for the expansion of its empire, the Kingdom of Lodis has subdued many surrounding countries and territories. Some regions have retained their autonomy in exchange for pledging loyalty to Lodis, while others have been subdued with ruthless military force.
The story begins when a group of knights representing the Holy Lodis Empire visit the island of Ovis in an attempt to negotiate submission without the need for bloodshed. This encroaching group of knights includes a dark-haired youth named Alphonse, the protagonist of the story. Soon after arriving, the soldiers from Lodis are suddenly attacked by an unknown enemy, creating confusion and doubt among the soldiers. You must lead the hero and his company to uncover the secrets and conspiracies hidden within the isle and ultimately decide their own destiny.
Tactics Ogre Gaiden borrows several gameplay elements from Tactics Ogre. Movement from location to location takes place on a world map, and the game unfolds through battle and story sequences that take place in simulated 3D environments. Judging from the screenshots, the graphics are quite impressive and at least on par with those of its predecessor.
Like in all other games in the Ogre Battle series, decisions made by the character at critical points will have a direct effect on the story and game endings. Another returning element is the fortune parameter, which requires honorable behavior in battle if you wish to keep a good reputation with the masses. Of course, an ill reputation could allow you to enlist the aid of some less virtuous but very powerful characters. Ultimately, what path you choose is up to you.
When the fight begins, you may bring up to eight characters onto the battlefield, including huge beasts such as dragons, wyverns, and octopi. Unlike Tactics Ogre which featured a "non-alternating turn system" that determined individual order for all characters on the field based on agility and weight of equipment, Gaiden opts for a more traditional system where each side moves alternately. It should be noted, though, that a character always counterattacks when he or she is struck, so the game should still retain the "live by the sword, die by the sword" feel of its precursor.
The field maps where characters fight it out feature varying weather conditions, elevations, and terrain types, all of which are very important to battle. Depending on a character's elemental affiliation (fire, water, earth, or wind) and movement type (snow, flying, water, and so on), attack and defense values will be affected. An archer will have increased range when standing on a frozen ledge overlooking the enemy, but will be unable to move as fast or defend as effectively while negotiating the snow and ice. An octopus out of water might not have access to its most powerful attacks and could be an easy target for an airborne gryphon.
There are however powerful spells that alter weather conditions. Low ground can be flooded with a downpour, but invoking the power of the sun can dispel the same rainstorm. Screenshots also show that a blast of heat can melt the icy tundra. These and other weather-based magical effects look to be powerful tools for setting the course, or changing the flow of battles. Other alterations to the battle system are the "mental gauge," which reflects a character's motivation and performance, as well as a new method of changing class.
When soldiers fulfill certain conditions, such as repeatedly evading enemy attack or converting an enemy to your cause with their silver tongue, they will be awarded a battle decoration that can allow them to change class. Other factors--including stats, gender, and alignment (whether a character is lawful, neutral, or chaotic)--will no doubt also come into play when changing vocation.
In addition to the main story mode, there is also a "quest mode" that provides three additional ways to use your main game info. You can pit your unit against a friend's in the versus battle mode, where the two of you can fight it out for items, experience, and bragging rights. Additionally, you can exchange items and even characters between games. Perhaps your solemn exorcist can help your friend with a particularly treacherous battle with the undead. Speaking of harrowing battles, unearthing ancient texts during the main quest will allow you to participate in extremely difficult skirmishes against vicious enemy units to earn legendary and powerful relics in the game's challenge mode.
The complexity of Tactics Ogre Gaiden: The Knight of Lodis is easily comparable to that of recent and upcoming strategy RPGs for any system, and with the solid development record of Quest and the prestige of the Ogre Battle pedigree, gamers have a very promising strategy title to look forward to. Nintendo of America is currently planning on publishing the title itself in North America, so stay tuned to GameSpot VG for news regarding a domestic release.