An N64 epic returns on Virtual Console, ready to save a second strategy-starved system.Edit
By the time the Ogre Battle series finally made it to the Nintendo 64 in America, the system was pretty much done. It was late 2000, four long years after the hardware had gone on sale, and Nintendo fans had suffered through a generation of disappointment -- fans were already looking ahead to the promise of the GameCube, while watching Sony's PlayStation brand gain more strength by the day. It was a bleak era. A dark age in the history of Big N fandom.
And the perfect time for a beacon of light to break through.Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber became the system's new shining salvation. Maybe only for a brief time, true, but as October dawned and the Christmas shopping season approached in 2000, this was the game that Nintendo loyalists flocked too -- a new, N64-exclusive sequel to Atlus' well regarded cult hit Ogre Battle from the SNES. The hopes pinned on this effort, too, turned out to be well placed -- this game was (and still is) lordly indeed. Stepping into the role of a young military cadet named Magnus Gallant, Ogre Battle 64 sweeps you up into an epic strategy RPG experience. Its storyline is engaging, its visuals are intricately detailed and its gameplay -- in which you direct the movements and assign the battle tactics of up to 50 different fighters at the same time -- is nearly unmatched in its depth.
The basics are similar to what you might've already played in the SNES Ogre Battle, in that success in the campaigns and skirmishes here hinges much more on a well thought-out initial plan of attack than it does your ability to switch strategies on the fly -- battles play out mostly on auto-pilot in this series, so it's all about making sure your units are deployed to the right place at the right time, and not about how good you are at picking attack options from a menu.
That initial plan of attack, then, is where you'll spend a lot of your time -- organizing your battalion, balancing individual squads, coming up with the plan for who's going to march where. You can have up to five fighters in a group -- swordsmen, mages, archers -- or you can recruit Large characters like dragons, griffins and two-headed dogs for extra muscle (but they take up two spots in the roster, instead of one). You then assign a leader for each group, and it's on to the field map.
There, you give your soldiers their marching orders -- sending them out across the map to engage enemies and capture towns. Liberated villages serve as strongholds for your forces, where you can rest, recuperate and shop as you continue your advance across the land -- occasionally, you'll trigger storyline sequences that keep the plot moving along, or encounter neutral characters who can be recruited to your army, or stumble upon hidden items that'll give your guys a boost, or...
Really, it's a deep game. That very general, few-paragraph description just scratches the surface of what you can expect to find in Ogre Battle 64, as even Wii owners who downloaded it two and a half weeks ago when it first went live in the Wii Shop are probably still uncovering new secrets today. Closing CommentsAnd that's all that should need to be said to prompt a purchasing decision here. The Virtual Console is at its best when it's offering a ton of value for your money, and for the price of ten bucks you're just not going to beat the sheer amount of depth in Ogre Battle 64 -- and it's just bonus that it's also a game that holds a small place of prominence in the annals of Nintendo history. October 2000 continued on, many of you will recall, and was ultimately home to the launch of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask -- the superb sequel to Ocarina of Time that then went on to dominate that final holiday season for the N64. But, for a few weeks' time, Ogre Battle 64 was the system's salvation -- and revisiting it here, now, may just give your Wii a few more weeks of life.