I’ve always enjoyed role-playing games, but I fell in love with Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen for the SNES because of its complexity. Instead of controlling a small group of characters, players direct a number of units in a war to free the continent of Zenobia from an evil empress. However, after my army had freed a few areas, I soon realised people hated my rebellion! What the hell? Had no one told them I was the good guy? It turned out the game had more offer than the usual “send your best squadrons to plough through the baddies”.
The game mechanics are deceptively simple. Chose an area on the world map, deploy your units to liberate different towns, and free the capital at the end. Meanwhile, the boss controlling each area sends out his own units to stop you, and a battle occurs whenever two opposing units get close to each another. This leads to an epic war in which you have to use various tactics to outplay the computer.
You can form your units by mixing and matching over seventy types of characters, including wizard, valkyrie, dragon, giant and angel. These basic characters can either be found in the wild or recruited in towns. Along the way, you may also meet a few special characters who offer to join your army, like Tristam, the former prince of Zenobia. Each unit is comprised of three to five characters, so the possibilities are endless when you create your army.
As I mentioned earlier, everyone in Zenobia hated me the first time I played through Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen. That’s because I had advanced my characters to such high levels they overpowered the opposition. I was seen as a bully and a conqueror, not a liberator. To avoid this, you have to stay the underdog and fight units that are stronger than yours. This prevents the classic RPG tactic of levelling up your characters to a ridiculously high degree and then killing everything mindlessly.
This is not to say you can’t win the game without the little people turning on you. The only thing folk like more than an underdog is a smooth operator, so you have to build up your charisma, making sure the citizens of Zenobia support you based on first impressions. Liberating towns with high charisma levels is a great way to show your good side to the shallow populace and earn yourself a solid reputation.
Of course, even charismatic underdogs need an extra something to carry the day every now and then. To help your rebellion, Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen features tarot cards that can enhance your unit during a fight. Each card has a different effect. For example, one deals direct damage to the enemy unit; another makes your characters immune to magic; and a third forces your opponents to flee. You also have access to healing items for your characters. The problem with all these aids is that you can simply stockpile them and make the game ridiculously easy by using them in a chain.
However, the main complain I have with Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen pertains to the length of the levels. Every area can take up to three hours to clear. During this time, you can’t save your game. This is to prevent players from saving before every unit fight and reloading if the battle doesn’t go their way (i.e. cheating). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a call two hours into a game and lost all my progress in order to do something silly like interacting with other human beings.
On the subject of wasting my existence away, the story in Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen is relayed through unending boxes of exposition that pop up every time a town is freed. Even worse, to get the whole tale, one has to go back after liberating an area and revisit every town. Look, guys, I’m already spending three hours of my life freeing your oppressed asses. Can you please tell me your whole story now and not force me to run around in circles?
These are minor qualms though. Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen has its flaws, but they’re overshadowed by its awesomeness. The game is now available on virtual console and would make a solid purchase for any fan of RPGs, offering at least thirty hours of entertainment for a single play-through. Not enough? The game also has twelve different endings, so there’s great replay value. After that, you can try its sequel, Ogre Battle 64, but that’s a review for another time…