Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen
  • Genre:
    • Strategy
  • Developer:
    • Quest
  • Publisher:
    • Enix
  • Released:
    SNES
    • JP 03/12/1993
    • US 05/15/1995
    PS1
    • JP 09/27/1996
    • US 07/31/1997
    Saturn
    • JP 11/01/1996
Score: 70%

This review was published on 02/28/2014.

Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen is a strategy RPG developed by Quest and originally released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The game later received enhanced ports on the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn. There was also a direct sequel released for the Nintendo 64 called Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber. The March of the Black Queen is the first game in the Ogre Battle series, which later spawned the Tactics Ogre subseries. Fun fact: the game's title was inspired by the rock band Queen. There are literally two songs in Queen's second album titled "Ogre Battle" and "The March of the Black Queen." Yasumi Matsuno, Ogre Battle's creator, must have been a fan. Ogre Battle was advertised pretty well in game magazines like Nintendo Power, but it never got too popular. That's understandable, as strategy games were never big on consoles. A game like Ogre Battle was a tough pill to swallow for gamers back then, and it's even harder to get into now. Out of all the games in the Ogre Battle saga, this is the one that's least friendly to newcomers. Only the most dedicated will be able to appreciate the first Ogre Battle game.

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A medieval empire led by Empress Endora has established an iron fisted rule across the continent with terror and tyranny as the cornerstones of its ruling philosophy. There are still many knights loyal to the old kingdoms that predate the evil Empire, however, and a small number of them decided to start a rebellion. As the leader of the rebel forces, it's your job to convince as many people to help in overthrowing the tyrannical Empire. Along the way, you'll recruit many to your cause and participate in countless battles, in hopes that you'll eventually match the might of the Empire. An interesting fact is that the plot to Ogre Battle was inspired by the Yugoslav Wars in the early 1990s and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. That's pretty dark. What's unusual about Ogre Battle's story is in how the game delivers it to you. There are almost no cutscenes in the game and a large majority of the dialogue is totally optional. You have to delve deep into the game to discover the plot, otherwise you won't have any idea what's going on. It's a unique approach to storytelling that's similar to what's seen in games like Metroid Prime. The only time the game forces any bit of story on you is during boss fights, as bosses will almost always have a bit of dialogue when you first encounter them. Other than that, the amount of story you get is directly proportional to how much of the story you want to get. All other bits of the plot are locked away in optional endeavors. The main issue with this is that some people will want the story delivered to them without having to deal with optional tasks, so this method of storytelling isn't for everyone. Also, the lack of cutscenes to communicate major story events is definitely going to turn off a lot of people. This is an RPG of some form, after all, so you kind of expect cutscenes and the like. On the surface, Ogre Battle's plot isn't that interesting, as it's just another stereotypical case of an evil empire, but there are lots of little details to discover for those who are willing to discover them.

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The game starts off with a questionnaire to determine your destiny, which becomes a tradition for almost all the other games in the Ogre Battle saga. Your answers to these questions will determine your starting values for alignment, charisma, your base stats, what troops you start with, your abilities, etc. It's supposed to be like a personality test, except you start the game with different stats and units depending on what personality you fall into. The game also has a curious obsession with tarot cards, as all the questions are represented by a card. These same tarot cards also show up at various points in the game and can even be used as items in battle. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine what you're going to get unless you use a guide. Aside from the stats and abilities of your own character, none of the stuff you get from this questionnaire is of particular importance later in the game, so it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. It is, however, a neat little introduction to the game. A lot of RPGs do the whole questions thing, so this method of introducing the game isn't original, but it's still a nice novelty.

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This game is truly unique when it comes to the strategy genre, as it mixes elements from real-time strategy games and traditional, turn-based RPGs. Upon selecting a mission on the main world map, you are taken to a flat battle map that's rendered using the Super Nintendo's glorious Mode-7. All battle maps begin with the deployment of units, both yours and the enemy's. Every unit will cost a certain amount of money to deploy, and once deployed, units can be moved across the map in real-time, similar to the early Warcraft games. Unlike Warcraft, however, commands can still be issued even if the game is paused, so you can somewhat mitigate the real-time nature of the game if you so choose. Once an enemy unit moves within range of one of your own units, a short, turn-based battle sequence will commence. This is the main thing that separates Ogre Battle from other real-time strategy games like Warcraft. Each character can perform anywhere between one or three attacks per turn-based battle, and once all characters do their attacks, the battle sequence will be over, even if everyone is still standing. Victory will then be determined by which team inflicted the most damage. Sadly, these cool battle scenes can't be directly controlled by the player. All you can do during these fights is change what general tactics your guys will use, use items in the form of magical cards, and run away. Beyond that, the turn-based fights have no interaction whatsoever. When you aren't waiting around on the battle map screen for your units to slowly inch their way from point A to point B, you're waiting for them to do battle against the enemy. Ogre Battle requires a lot of patience, because it's essentially a giant waiting game.

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In order to attain victory in most battle maps, you have to beat the boss unit at the enemy's headquarters and take over their base. However, there are countless other things you can do on the way there, like liberate cities that are under the Empire's control. It's not necessary to do this to win a battle map, but doing so brings with it many benefits that make it a worthy endeavor. For one, liberating towns gives you extra dialogue, so this is the primary way in which you learn about the story, in addition to getting practical game play hints. Two, you'll potentially get goodies when liberating towns, like Tarot cards and the occasional item. Thirdly, the more towns you have liberated, the more income you make each day. Finally, your units can rest in liberated towns to recuperate their health. There are, however, some downsides to town liberation. Whenever you liberate a town, you have the option of drawing a Tarot card. There are good cards and bad cards, and what you get is based on pure luck. Getting a bad draw will have immediate consequences, like reducing the stats of your characters, reducing your army's reputation, and so on. Also, there are sometimes invisible towns that don't appear until you're directly on top of them, which make them nearly impossible to locate without a guide. The worst drawback of all is that the enemy will do whatever it takes to recapture any towns you've liberated, which is super annoying. If you don't leave a unit behind to defend a liberated town, it'll immediately fall back into the Empire's hands. Because of that, liberated towns become a liability most of the time. While it makes sense that liberated towns have to be defended, this results in the whole ordeal becoming a frustrating affair.

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Unit management is kind of a big deal in Ogre Battle, because it's the closest thing you'll get to controlling what happens in the turn-based battle sequences. Every unit is a small party of up to five characters. Monsters take up two character slots, so any unit with monsters will have less than five characters, but you get the idea. Units are basically like squads, in a manner of speaking. Unit formations are of utmost importance, because most melee fighters will only attack foes that are directly in front of them, and vice versa. In addition to that, every character exhibits different behavior depending on whether they're in the front row or the back row. For example, Paladins will attack with three sword strikes in the front row, but they'll cast a basic healing spell from the back row. Most characters are best suited for a particular row, but there are some that perform well in either row, like Beast Masters. Every unit also has a designated leader that can be manually picked by the player, though not all characters can be made into leaders. If a unit leader is slain in battle, the unit will automatically flee back to base, so the leader should usually be well protected in the back row. Characters within a unit can also affect that unit's movement on the battlefield, like how Hawk Men can fly over mountains and bodies of water. Winning and losing fights will often come down to how well you set up your unit formations. This becomes one of the more interesting parts of the game once you learn the basics of battle. The only issue with changing formations is that the menus for doing so are a bit unintuitive, but that's a minor problem.

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Characters are divided into classes, and they can change classes when certain conditions are met. Classes determine a character's stat growth when they level up and their abilities during combat. What class a given character can change into depends on many factors, but the two primary ones are alignment and charisma. Higher charisma allows all characters to change into better class tiers, but what class tiers are available comes down to the character's alignment. Alignment is a number that represents how good or evil a character is; a higher number represents a character with a higher moral fiber, whereas a lower number signifies a more sinister character. Some classes are only available to characters with high alignment, while some are only available to those with a low alignment. Characters that defeat enemies that are higher level than them will gain charisma and alignment, whereas characters that defeat enemies of a lower level will lose both. Also, killing low alignment characters further raises your alignment, and killing high alignment characters lowers it. So if you want an evil character, you need him or her to kill lots of helpless low level enemies, preferably enemies that have high alignment. This sort of makes sense until you realize that even evil characters need a high charisma to promote into better classes. It's at this point that everything falls apart. You're punished for gaining too many levels by losing the two essential components to make your troops better, and this bites you in the butt later when you're still using the weakling beginner classes. I get the moral implications the developers were going for here, but this is not a fun mechanic. It's probably also a way to punish players for leveling up too much, though whether or not this should be a punishable offense is questionable.

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Depending on your decisions throughout the game's story, you'll obtain different endings. There are a fair amount of endings to this game. What ending you'll get is primarily dependant on your reputation within the game, though there are certainly other factors. The better your reputation in the game, the better the ending you get. Having a high reputation among the common folk also helps you recruit certain special characters. The best ending in the game requires you to max out your reputation meter, recruit almost all the special characters, and a few other ambitious tasks. There are a lot of things that will affect your reputation within the game, most of which has to do with the liberation of towns. Liberating towns with a character that has a low alignment will lower your reputation immensely, whereas liberating towns with high alignment characters will actually raise your reputation. Also, if the Empire ever recaptures a town you've liberated, you'll take a huge hit to your reputation. Another thing to add to the long list of annoyances is that taking too many turns in a battle will lower your reputation, because you earn more income from the liberated towns the longer you fight, and the people don't like that. Honestly, the people you're trying to save in Ogre Battle are a fickle bunch. The reputation system can stifle the enjoyment of the game if you're aiming for the best ending.

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No matter how you slice it, Ogre Battle is a tough sell. The slow paced battles, the lack of control, and the odd mechanics are sure to scare away almost anyone. You'll be staring at a bunch of icons sliding across a map for countless hours, which is very hard to tolerate. There are some bright sides, however. Graphics and animations during the turn-based battles are pretty good, plus the game can actually be fun if you can wrap your head around the awkward mechanics. That's just the thing, though; the barrier for entry for this game is ridiculously high. To truly enjoy Ogre Battle, you'll have to study a bunch of guides before playing it, as if you're studying for an exam. A lot of its mechanics aren't obvious enough to figure out without external aid. Mechanics like alignment, charisma, and reputation are also just flat out not fun. If you enjoy complex strategy games, Ogre Battle might be worth checking out. Otherwise, steer clear.

Word Count: 2,394

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