Given a boost by the Final Fantasy trademark in 1997, the turn-based strategy genre was originated four years earlier by Quest in the Super Famicom game, Tactics Ogre. After releasing updated Playstation versions of their classic games of war and recently the Nintendo 64 masterpiece, Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber, Quest breathes new life into turn-based strategy on the Game Boy Advance in Tactics Ogre Gaiden: The Knight of Lodis.

Though The Knight of Lodis is not an enumerated chapter of the eight-part Ogre Battle saga, it promises to tie up loose ends created by the initial Tactics Ogre. Situated between Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber (Episode 6) and Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (Episode 7), The Knight of Lodis follows the campaign of 15-year-old Alphonse Locher, a knight of Holy Lodis Empire’s elite military troop, The Holy Flame Cavalry. Featured as the enemy force of the Ogre Battle series, the Kingdom of Lodis is intent on carrying out a religious crusade of enlightenment, converting the surrounding nations to their beliefs in the praise of St. Lodis.

The story unfolds as The Holy Flame Cavalry initiates a peacekeeping operation in the island nation of Ovis. Regions have been given choice of accepting St. Lodis as their savior, and while many have peacefully agreed to join the sect while maintaining their nationality, others have been forcefully overtaken and engulfed into the empire. When political and religious disputes begin to break out, rogue separatists attack Alphonse’s troop, forcing the young knight to question the motives and morals of the country he serves. What results is the investigation into a national scandal and conspiracy greater than anyone could have imagined.

As per the meat of the game, the gameplay, The Knight of Lodis seems to have been given an identical engine as the original Tactics Ogre, but upgrades and tweaks have been scattered about. The world map, though fully formed initially, will fill with locations as the game plays out, opening up quests and story opportunities. New allies are hired at soldier recruitment centers, selected and organized into 8 member parties before battle, and wage war on an upwards of 32x32 grid, pseudo-3D battlefield. Borrowing from Final Fantasy Tactics, The Knight of Lodis loses the stagnated turn system of Let Us Cling Together, substituting for basic turn rotation. Battles represent an intricate part of the storytelling process, because unlike traditional RPGs, there is no independent town exploration and interaction; all conversation is done in battle or through cut-scenes.

Aside from the main storyline, Quest took the initiative to pack even more gameplay into The Knight of Lodis’s minuscule cartridge, adding three new gameplay features to the Tactics Ogre formula. Accompanying the main story, Quest Mode will open up a string of side battles that provide background information, as well as allow a chance at obtaining rare items. Such side events were made standard by the Quest influenced Final Fantasy Tactics, in which side quests were used to gain new weapons and bring special characters into the party.

Answering the gaming public’s cries for two-player VS. Tactics, Quest has at long last included the feature in The Knight of Lodis… twice. As with any real army, the Ogre Battle series has employed a rigorous training program for it’s soldiers, and while tedious in the single-player past, Training Mode will now support head-to-head practice. Then, after your soldiers are good ‘n’ trained, pit both armies against each other in Challenge Mode for the definitive Tactics Ogre measuring stick of skill.

Tactics Ogre’s innovative job system is implemented once again, acquired only through a character’s actions, rather than menu point sorting. Specific job points, or Emblems, are gained through executed actions such as dodging and critical hits, as well as battlefield manner; while a soldier who stabs people in the back will become a thief or rogue, a soldier who heals his teammates will become a white mage or chemist. Multiple Emblems can be obtained, allowing characters to change jobs at will, but because Tactics Ogre’s job system is based on class and gender, not all jobs can be learned. It is necessary to create diversity among a troop in order to round out the abilities and be prepared for an adversary.

Seasons and weather will play a tactical role in The Knight of Lodis, as characters will have both preferred fighting conditions in which they excel, but will also be able to manipulate the weather and terrain with certain powerful spells. Raging rivers can be frozen solid by mages for easy crossing, mountains can be leveled with earthquake spells, and fire can clear away wooded hiding places. Characters with certain attributes will also boast advantages over those without; flying dragons and fairies are safe from melee attacks, and can inflict damage on the fly. Keen observation and preparation for any foe will separate the novices from the experts.

Unlike the ‘other’ portable Ogre title, Ogre Battle Gaiden: The Prince of Zenobia (which paralleled the original Ogre Battle) for Neo Geo Pocket Color, The Knight of Lodis is a legitimate fresh adventure (though the “Gaiden” states otherwise) that occurs outside the time span of any other title. Perhaps Quest wanted to put a voice to the faceless multitude of enemy soldiers found in so many videogames, showing that they, too, have motives for their actions, and also have the initiative to question morality. Heavy themes for a Nintendo game, and especially for a portable game; never has a portable title attempted such a grand and mature storyline.

Import strategy fans are already forming their armies in Tactics Ogre Gaiden: The Knight of Lodis, as the game released in Japan on June 21. With the popularity of the Ogre Battle series and Final Fantasy Tactics, an American release within the next six months is a given. The only question is: Will Nintendo allow the title to maintain the mature story it currently bares, or will the GBA be the Second Inquisition of Nintendo Censors?

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