The gameplay of Tactics Ogre truly shines, and the Game Boy Advance is a capable platform for it.
Descended from a noble lineage, The Knight of Lodis follows in the grand tradition of the original Tactics Ogre for the SNES, as well as the now-classic Final Fantasy Tactics for the PlayStation. Like those other games, this handheld version of Tactics Ogre is very easy to recommend--its depth is comparable to that of its predecessors, making it almost unequalled for a handheld game. The action focuses on the turn-based management and strategic command of a small group of soldiers. This is a complex idea, but the gameplay of Tactics Ogre truly shines, and the Game Boy Advance is a capable platform for it.
Rather than act like a completely original game, Tactics Ogre for the Game Boy Advance is more of a side story in the Ogre Battle saga. As a young knight and member of the Order of the Sacred Flame, you are part of a small detachment of troops sent to the island nation of Ovis on behalf of the Holy Lodis Empire. You begin with a straightforward objective, but the path that lies before you isn't simple. Your decisions throughout will determine your path and lead you to one of several different endings--but you'll never get that far without proving yourself in the heat of battle.
Tactical combat is the focus of Tactics Ogre. Battles take place on an isometric 2D playing field that does a great job of simulating three-dimensional terrain, with the exception of the fixed perspective. The little details are great--the trajectory of archer's arrows is clearly depicted, and characters will strike upward or downward at foes if they're not on equal footing. The color palette seems to be specifically tailored to the Game Boy Advance, lending the environments a clean and detailed look. This serves to highlight the diverse topography of the maps, which feature diverse terrain types and varying elevation. A height advantage will increase the range of bows and make your attacks more powerful, while the varying terrain types affect everything from movement range to the effectiveness of magic. Weather effects, like rain that can cause water levels to rise unexpectedly, change the look of the battlefield and have a direct bearing on the gameplay. The influence of terrain on combat is often subtle, but it's very important--the type of ground your cleric is standing on could mean the difference between being able to cast a life-saving healing spell or being felled on the spot by a ruthless enemy.
While you'll have direct control over only the main character for the first couple of battles, you'll soon be able to deploy up to eight troops on the field and exercise full control over all their actions. Each character has an alignment, an affinity for one of six elements, and a class. A character's alignment (as well as his or her gender) has subtle effects on his or her abilities. Elemental affinity determines how he or she fares against characters of other elements, the effectiveness of different spells, and terrain bonuses and penalties. And a character's class, his or her most distinguishing characteristic, essentially determines what role he or she plays on the battlefield. The most basic class is the soldier, but more focused and useful classes will become available as individuals gain experience.
Class change has always been a focal point of the Ogre Battle series, and it is equally important in Tactics Ogre for the GBA. The classes have varying minimum requirements, and some of them are restricted to a specific gender or alignment. But overall the rules have been relaxed a bit when compared with previous installments in the saga. Many classes formerly exclusive to one gender are now open to both males and females, and most advanced classes are open to at least two different alignments.
There is a slight new twist to the system, however. Ascending to an advanced class may require a character to perform a specific deed on the battlefield. As you play, you'll find that performing feats of valor or luck (or even disgrace) can earn your character one of dozens of different emblems. Some of these combat decorations are necessary to change class--for instance, the book of initiation is required for becoming a swordmaster. You can earn it by dodging or blocking four consecutive attacks. Other medals will lend power to those they adorn by boosting their stats, such as the centurion emblem, which is awarded to a character who single-handedly defeats every enemy on the battlefield. You'll have a lot of fun trying to meet the requirements for some of these.