Tuesday, November 5, 2013

GOT 'IM - Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis

Finally a sixth game of my 13 in '13 quest completed.  Well, I beat it around a month ago, but I'm finally getting around to reviewing it.  The nifty little strategy RPG Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis. 

I've known about the Tactics-Ogre-Battle series for a long time, but managed to avoid it all these years.  I rented Ogre Battle for the SNES once and thought it was neat, but a little overwhelming; I never got very far.  I played Ogre Battle 64 with friends a few times and was quite blown away by it, but I never owned an N64 and only have those memories to work with.  Never got to play Tactics Ogre for the Super Famicom or PlayStation.  There's also one for the Neo Geo Pocket, but nobody cares. 

But now we have this title, Knight of Lodis on the GBA.  I bought this a long time ago when I was accruing hard-to-find RPGs (my guess is that it was 2005) and promptly forgot about it.  I was in the midst of some Fire Emblem and/or Castlevania kicks on my GBA and it just never happened.  Knight of Lodis was a logical choice for my 13 in '13 quest.  So, mostly while watching wrestling shows with my roommates, I knocked out Knight of Lodis in about 30 hours.

Knight of Lodis is set in the Ogre Battle universe, which is populated by a number of human nations and demi-human tribes.  I know it takes place after Ogre Battle 64 and before the first Tactics Ogre, but that's the extent of my knowledge of the Ogre Battle Saga.  There's a large-scale war going on in Valeria, a continental mainland, between the empire of Lodis and several other nations; the story of Knight of Lodis, however, takes place on the neighboring island of Ovis, which is held by the Lodis empire but is going through insurrection.  Thus, our main character Alphonse and his commander Rictor are sent in from Lodis to take care of things in Ovis.  Naturally, things don't go as planned and eventually Alphonse strikes out on his own to right some wrongs.

The story is political in nature and has multiple pathways - eventually there are three factions in play, and you must side with one of them (other than the pure evil final boss faction).  A few NPCs have some interesting story turns (namely Rictor, the mysterious Cybil, the trusty Ivanna, and the innocent Eleanor), but really the story to Knight of Lodis takes a backseat.  This is a strategy RPG about building an army and moving along a grid.  And it's quite good at all that.

Tactics Ogre gives you a few starting characters (Alphonse, Ivanna, Eleanor, and a number of others) and allows you to recruit generics from town.  Just like Final Fantasy Tactics.  There's an elaborate class system with varying requirements and specifications for changing classes, and it's really fun to explore it as new classes unlock.  Just like Final Fantasy Tactics.  Also, the isometric grid is square-based, with varying slope and terrain instead of static tiles.  Just like Final Fantasy Tactics.  Combat is round-based and not speed-based, but otherwise very, VERY reminiscent of FFT. 

Look, the first Tactics Ogre is sometimes called FFT Zero because of its shared development team and basic similarities, and Knight of Lodis is a gaiden chapter of TO.  So of course it's a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics, but I'm not complaining.  Lodis has something of a simplified class system, with all class requirements based on "emblems" that characters earn by completing certain achievements and a battle system relying on positioning, elemental alignments, and three simple statistics: STR, INT, and AGI.  Those stats don't change when characters switch classes, but classes affect characters' skill selection, equipment stats, and basic abilities.

The class trees can get a little weird and specific; I would never have found the Angel or Lich classes without checking a guide, and it took me almost the entire game to get to Dragoon.  On top of that, the story characters and optional summoners are SO powerful that they can overshadow your generic units easily.  The five summoning spells are the most powerful skills in the game, by far, and only a few characters can use them.  If you do all the sidequests, then you'll end up with three summoners, but your lineup is a little different depending on your story choices.  And all this class changing business is for human units only.  If you recruit a hawkman, mermaid, fairy, or demon, it's only one class for you.  And by the way, Hawkmen are fantastic.  I used two of them in my rotation of 10-12 characters for most of the game. 

Yes, there are multiple story paths in the game.  It isn't strictly based on obvious, but which faction Alphonse decides to align himself with (honestly, neither choice seems terribly good or evil).   By the endgame there are around 30 battle stages, including optional areas.  The world is organized into pathways between maps and towns (just like Final Fantasy Tactics), with a few battles taking part in mandatory chains (just like Final Fantasy Tactics).  I managed to beat it in a little over 30 hours, but I'm sure someone more familiar with the game than I could do it in 20.

Visually, the sprites in Knight of Lodis are on the tiny side, but otherwise it's quite sharp-looking for a GBA game.  It uses simple blue vs. red palette swaps for human vs. enemy units, but the visuals get the job done.  It wasn't a turn-off for me.  The music is decent, but forgettable.  It's a Sakimoto soundtrack (FFT, Valkyria Chronicles, the other Ogre games), but not his strongest work by any stretch.  Best part of Lodis's audio were the garbled 16-bit screams of fallen units. 

So yeah, this is a really fun strategy RPG that's a distant cousin of Final Fantasy Tactics and plays similarly.  Final Fantasy Tactics is one of my all-time favorite games and this is a better FFT facsimile than FFT Advance.  Coming from me, that is a hell of a compliment.  I really ought to check out that Tactics Ogre remake....

Games Beaten: 2013 Edition
1. Persona 4
2. Pokemon White Version 2
3. 10,000,000
4. Persona 4 Arena
5. Persona 3 FES: The Journey (NG+)
6. Hexyz Force
7. Persona 4 (NG+)
8. Psychonauts
9. Tales of Vesperia
10. Guacamelee!
11. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
12. Final Fantasy VI Advance
13. Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4
14. inFamous 2 Evil Finish
15. Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis
16. Torchlight II (Classist)
17. Donkey Kong Country Returns
18. DuckTales Remastered

Targets: 6/13


I'm still behind on my 2013 targets and even further behind on writing these reviews. I beat Donkey Kong Country Returns a month ago and that's in the review pipeline now.  Then I beat DuckTales.  I'm beginning to doubt I can finish even three quarters of my 2013 targets (which would mean finishing ten games), so I better hunker down.  Up next, Metroid Prime, if I can tear myself away from Ys and Disgaea. 

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