I had started down the path of ranking the various games in the Final Fantasy series, but I had to stop myself in the middle of the countdown for an important reason; I had never written an essay on why I liked Ogre Battle. Yes, I had written about the different versions of the game and some of the changes between the original and Ogre Battle 64, but until now, I had never decided to go into depth as to why I like Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen. To me it seemed to be natural and effortless. I didn't have to think about it.
I'll start with the smaller but necessary components of why I love this game. The graphics, everything from the style of artwork to the animations, are pleasing to the eye. They're not perfect to be sure, but they have a charm about them that many games lack. The music is simply superb in both sound quality and composition, enhancing every aspect of the game. Controls are responsive to the touch. Yet while all of that is delicious, the sweet nectar of Ogre Battle can be found in its gameplay and interface.
What I like about the gameplay is that it is simple. All of your characters are capable of two attacks, a front row attack and a back row attack. It's fairly easy to tell what row the characters should be in and which characters should be leaders. You set up units in advance so they're able to win most confrontations, send them out to towns that lie between you and the enemy base. Once those are secure, you direct them march to the enemy's base and beat the bad guy. You really don't have to worry about tactics in the strictest sense. Since the individual battles are mostly out of your control, you merely set the general parameters for how you want them to proceed (which are the choices what you'd probably make if you controlled the individual characters anyway). The complexity lies in nor what you have to do but how you get there.
The "how" is what is so intriguing to me. With such a simple pattern to execute, the openness of it is amazing. You can play the "right" way, watch your reputation meter rise, and recruit powerful allies on the side of good. Or you can go things the "wrong" way, keep your reputation near the bottom, and open the game up to all sorts of side quests. Or you can do things neither way and just stumble along as you play through the game, wrapping yourself up with the experience and following the plot. Moreover, there is just enough randomness in the game to make every instance unique. With the exception of purchased and quest items, most of the weapons, armor, and consumables you will obtain in Ogre Battle are random. While you will likely end up with one Undead Ring, you may end up with two or five. You may find one Royal Crown or ten. But you set up your units so that you can adapt. After all, even your initial army is made up of the results of your answers to Warren. The endings are as variable as your beginning, and the paths that lead to each even more numerous.
However, while the gameplay is awesome, that alone is not enough for me to cement this game as my all time favorite. Mario Kart 64 and Tetris are also highly replayable and in the elite of terms of quality, yet I cannot say that either game is my absolute, unquestioned favorite games of all time. The Super NES Final Fantasy III has the most brilliant story to ever grace a video game role-playing-game, and has wonderful gameplay to boot, but yet I always go back to Ogre Battle. Something drew me into Ogre Battle that these other games lacked, and after much soul searching, I think I have found it. Ogre Battle has a vast number of supernatural creatures you could confront and control, none seeming to be wacky or out of place, but all seeming to fit. While nearly every fantasy game has its own mythology, I liked how Ogre Battle incorporated the idea of different mystical creatures into its plot. They were not only critical NPCs but participants in your army. Nor were you limited to a few non-human classes but a wide range of creatures with various attacks. If variety is the spice of life, Ogre Battle is a savory sensation that grants immortality.
Presentation is important in this regard. When you first start the game, you come in contact with the basic human classes, while a couple of large monsters such as Gryphons, Golems, Giants, and Hellhounds reinforce the fantasy vibe. Still, despite the game being called Ogre Battle, this is a story that starts with humans and centered on humans. But within the first ten stages, you quickly encounter Hawkmen, Werewolves, Mermaids, Faeries, Angels, Imps, and the Undead. Imagine the first time you play the game, and every time you encounter an enemy unit it's made up of creatures you've never seen. You stand in awe of their animations, or at the very least, the fact that your front-row fighter is facing a demon from hell or a creature with a pumpkin for a head. These non-humans become crucial to the plot, fighting alongside you not only as general characters but key supporting ones as well.
Yet, it is not merely how these creatures are introduced but how they interact in the game environment. Other games used day and night as part of the gameplay before the creation of Ogre Battle, but even so, it rarely affected an entire army. You have to think about how the setting sun will allow your Vampyre to rise from its coffin, but also how it will weaken the Angel you put in that unit you sent to liberate the faraway town. The character development in these classes is also astounding, as not only do the supernatural exist, but they evolve as they gain stats, obtaining new, more powerful abilities. While many of these special classes are completely separate from humans, in some cases, humans can lose their very humanity in order to become powerful creatures of darkness. And until you get the hang of alignment, your character may not develop in the expected ways. What would a low alignment Sylph be like or a high alignment Cerberus be like? Or even sticking to the human classes a low alignment Valkyrie or a high alignment Wizard?
It is these experiences that have had me actually thinking about Ogre Battle as I think of no other game. With role-playing games, I sit and read the text, hitting the confirm button when necessary. I may engage myself mentally with the story, but usually everything's lined up for me. I can only react to them and wish that the next game will be better. With more action based games I can play them, but other than a few stray thoughts I don't actually create entire histories for the heroes. There are very few games that are open enough for me to create my own stories for the characters while at the same time structured enough for me to control the variety of soldiers at my disposal. Ogre Battle is about choice, not just the actions of your leader but the action of those under your command. Do they keep killing and killing, leading to the spiral of endless level gain and alignment drops? Or do you send them back to the base until you find opponents strong enough to make their alignment rise? So many questions that can only be answered by playing and fan speculation, both of which I enjoy immensely.