Tactics ogre: the knight of lodis, for game boy advance reviews

     

Have you played Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis, the acclaimed strategy RPG from Quest? Chances are you’ve never come across it – Knight of Lodis (or KoL for short) was obscure in the West even on release. Incidentally, this rarity now puts it among the most expensive Gameboy Advance (GBA) titles on the market. Original boxed copies are scarce – beware the plethora of knockoffs on Ebay! – và can sell for upwards of $150USD. Undershooting demand was somewhat of a mainstay for quảng cáo online Atlus, anyway: only 25,000 copies of KoL’s prequel, March of the black Queen for SNES, found their way to the US in the mid-90s. And the price of those, well… Why don’t you see for yourself.

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But I digress. Atlus truly did RPG fans a monumental disservice by opting for an abysmally small print run. In my book, Knight of Lodis is far more deserving of the GBA ‘tactics’ crown than Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (FFTA), the commonly considered rightful recipient. KoL’s niche status certainly didn’t vị it any favours: I had to lớn hunt far & wide to lớn locate an isolated copy even in the early 2000s even as every kid in the neighbourhood seemed to lớn have Montblanc hopping across the GBA’s dimly-lit screen. FFTA’s staying nguồn has been greater, too; one only has to tìm kiếm YouTube for Let’s Plays to appreciate its enduring legacy.

Even so Knight of Lodis is an incredibly rich, engrossing experience that has withstood the kiểm tra of time exceptionally well, and is frankly hands-down the superior game. Above all, the captivating, gritty realism of KoL’s intrigue-packed plot sustains the experience from start lớn finish và lends cohesion & gravitas lớn every mission. But mechanically Knight of Lodis excels too, as its combat mechanics are dynamic, intuitive và well-calibrated while class progression và character customisation are smooth và organic – a far-cry from, say, the FFTA Ability Point grindfest. Taken together, the game is hard khổng lồ put down, even 15 years after release.

Quite right, Rictor.

Our story starts in Ovis, a sizeable island parcelled into the self-ruling state of Rananculus in the north and Anser, client-state of the expansionist empire of Lodis, in the south. As the opening sequences tell us, Lodis canonically conquered most of Ovis 15 years ago, nominally khổng lồ impose its state-backed religion of Lodisism upon the heretic Ovidian people. However, in doing so Lodis underestimated the Ovidians’ resentment of subjugation & thought-policing, & the island mounted a series of rebellions against Lodisian domination, encouraged therein by Rananculan troops from the north looking lớn take advantage of the situation. Inevitably, Lodis crushed these uprisings heavy-handedly.

Fast-forward to the present, và a band of Lodisian knights under the leadership of pompous soldier-priest Rictor Lasanti is ship-bound for Anser. The group’s ostensible objective is khổng lồ investigate tidings that Rananculan troops are once more fanning the flames of Ovidian insurrection. Amongst the sailing buổi tiệc ngọt we find our adolescent, titular ‘knight of Lodis’, Alphonse Loeher, who looks up khổng lồ Rictor as both mentor and friend. Little does Alphonse know that this time around, the notion of fifth-columnists supported by Rananculus is sheer fiction lớn obfuscate the Rictor mission’s true purpose: to investigate rumours that the long-lost, mythical Sacred Spear, a weapon of otherwordly power, has resurfaced.

In actuality, both Rananculus & the Duke of Felis, Rictor’s father and subject of Lodis afflicted by folie de grandeur, are after it for their own nefarious purposes. Alphonse is left entirely in the dark on task force’s true objective until he collapses into the ocean after gallantly foiling an assassination attempt on Rictor, soon assembling a motley supporting cast to lớn begin reconciling conflicting information on the true goings-on in Ovis.


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Ever the gentleman.

I really, really like this narrative thiết lập as it provides all the necessary ammunition to insert the classic Shakespearean themes of divided loyalties, megalomania, betrayal và so on, which Knight of Lodis happily does. But KoL goes one step further & layers in more unusual leitmotifs lớn round out the narrative experience. Conquest is an obvious one: Rananculus và Lodis are locked into an uncomfortable balance of nguồn that, ironically, neither is seeking lớn break unless – echoing Sun Tzu – they can win whole và overwhelmingly. (Enter the Spear.) Themes of conquest, however, are ubiquitous in gaming và I won’t dwell on them further here.

More boldly, KoL actively touches upon the historically fraught relationship between church and state. Gaming space is usually dominated by absolute monarchs in one veil or another, but unconventionally Lodis is an reformed theocracy, its erstwhile Pope – who wielded both religious và secular authority – now deposed in favour of worldly lords. This displeases the pious undercurrent of Lodis’ society, giving birth to lớn a nebulous underground organisation seeking to restore Papal power. This movement is personified by the grey eminence that is sorceress Cybil, who as Hand of the Pope heads up the presumed ‘Faith Militant’ of the Ogre Universe.


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Cybil’s powerful casus belli.

Throughout the game Cybil clashes repeatedly with Rictor, who as designated heir of Felis and the Duke’s chosen vehicle for his megalomania has a vested interested in erasing the Papists. (Handily Rictor is also a High Priest in the Church of Lodis, where loyalists grant him nifty inside information into the papal cabal’s activities, including their own hunt for the Spear). As both factions increasingly butt heads, Lodis pivots on the brink of civil war with Ovis as its proxy territory. Alphonse finds himself uncomfortably in the middle, forced to eventually decide between his long-standing allegiance to Rictor or siding with newfound guru Cybil, who opens his eyes to lớn the dark side of Lodis’ exploits. Và then Rananculus gets involved…

But besides being an unabashedly political RPG, Knight of Lodis is also a gripping coming-of-age story. (Which continues in the equally excellent Let Us Cling Together for PS1, by the way). As a 15-year old youth, Alphonse struggles with the notion of responsibility for his actions; the idea that outcomes can be zero-sum & irreversible, friends turning enemies, never khổng lồ be friends again. Yet in the face of this formative, ultimately life-and-death choice, KoL offers a tiny bright spot: dare to follow your heart if it tells you lớn question the justness of established order, và allies shall be found in unexpected places. Canonically, Alphonse sides with the sage Cybil, aligning him with the Church & soaking up her quasi-philosophical wisdom of the ages. But Rictor’s steady hand is there for you too, if you want it. Who will guide you?

I want to insert a brief aside here to draw some inevitable comparisons with that other great tactics game, FFTA. First, the absence of a sense of consequence that is so tightly woven into KoL’s fabric has always irked me about Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the plot. FFTA has the player join a ‘clan’, suggesting that we may get involved in all manner of sub rosa wheeling-and-dealing and explore the dark underbelly of Ivalice. Và while, through our actions as a clan, we slowly come to lớn understand – spoilers! – just how much Ivalice mirrors Mewt’s wishes & desires, it remains a skin-deep dream world. The vast majority of FFTA’s 200+ side-missions float freely, failing to lớn truly flesh out the consequences of Mewt’s increasingly restrictive rule for Ivalice’s variety of magical inhabitants.

Because, for one thing, nobody ever perishes. The stakes aren’t life or death. FFTA’s characters are invincible outside of the select area of lawlessness (the so-called Jagds), meaning that if one falls in combat they’re simply ‘knocked out’, khổng lồ be revived in perfect health after the engagement. & while FFTA’s rules of engagement suggest business, featuring a battlefield ‘judge’ and a ‘prison’ for offenders, this supposed penal system is hardly of Shawshank-calibre, its harshest penalty to lớn suspend a character for the remainder of the battle. The stakes, then, are a lump on one’s head và a 1000GIL fine payable in full lớn the wardens of Sprohm prison. Operating in this space, clans sometimes feel as though they exist just lớn facilitate standalone contract-style missions such as herb-picking and destroying toony troll bombs that bear no relation to the central problematique of its world. Their narrative potential goes underutilised.

Alphonse in chains.

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Should have thought that one through.

On a mechanical level, FFTA & KoL are siblings, but not twins. The differences between their tactics mechanics are seemingly minor, but their chơi game impact is disproportionate. (I am going khổng lồ assume here that you have a basic understanding of how ‘tactics’ games work; if not, break out the popcorn and switch on an LP of Let Us Cling Together on YouTube – GetDaved’s is great.)

Take counterattacks, for instance. This concept is absent in FFTA, meaning that it’s entirely risk-free lớn throw body after body toàn thân at a hard-hitting enemy. With foes are deprived of the ability to lớn counterpunch (or perma-kill) an attacker, the player is discouraged from fully exploiting terrain advantages (such as height differentials) và putting serious thought into the positioning of soldiers. KoL’s straightforward but highly effective solution is to greet any melee attack not made from behind – i.e. A frontal swing or sideways slash – with a counterblow that, depending on both characters’ stats, may exceed the attacker’s damage output. Indiscriminate bludgeoning of a foe thus becomes a costly – & possibly fatal – endeavour, especially when combined with the AI’s routine màn chơi advantage.

Another mechanical difference is KoL’s system of party-wide movement. In FFTA, turns are taken on an individual basis. This means that with an overlevelled or exceptionally fast buổi tiệc nhỏ (of say Ninja and Assassins), all six of your guys move before the enemies do, và on FFTA’s narrow tactical maps, this means closing in to lớn strike (often fatally) before foes get a chance lớn act. Particularly in the late game, battles are often decided before they’ve begun. Not only are KoL’s arenas bigger, each side of eight units alternating – not six – makes it terribly unwise to lớn rush in lượt thích a fool where angels fear khổng lồ tread. Indeed, party-wide movement is a double-edged – ahum – sword: while it allows you to swarm & pick off individual enemy soldiers, the AI may equally focus down exposed troops. Should physically vulnerable Clerics or Sirens be caught out of position, permadeath ensures they may not live khổng lồ tell the tale. Buổi tiệc nhỏ positioning is key.

The last mechanistic aspect I want to lớn touch on is the difference between KoL and FFTA’s elemental systems. Again, I very much admire the course Knight of Lodis has taken in this department. FFTA recycles the Final Fantasy series’ staple Fire, Thunder, and Blizzard magics, and grants use thereof exclusively to lớn a single class, the black Mage. In combat, they function in a rock-paper-scissors configuration of spell effectiveness against particular foes.

Knight of Lodis harnesses elemental balance very differently and with much greater depth. Its wide body toàn thân of spells (and summons) – from Ice Javelin khổng lồ Crag Crush khổng lồ Fiend’s Grip – each belong to a particular element (Water, Fire, Wind, & Thunder, plus the more exotic Virtue and Bane). It then divides these into three groups, Water-Fire, Earth-Wind & Virtue-Bane, each moiety super-effective against the other half. So far, so standard. However, each soldier on your roster has an out-of-the-box elemental affinity that predisposes them lớn a certain strand of magic. While a troop can equip & use spells freely within the boundaries of their class restrictions (they come in rotatable scrolls), magic that matches the user’s elemental alignment will khuyễn mãi giảm giá additional battlefield damage that is further multiplied if the enemy aligns with the immediately opposing element. For example, Crag Crush (Earth) will pack an extra punch when the casting Siren is also Earth, but will be utterly devastating if the target is Wind. Weaponry & armour is also elementally classified, so calculations factor these in. Needless to lớn say this system massively expands upon standard rock-paper-scissors trinities & encourages diversified elemental coverage of soldiers, equipment and magic.

It doesn’t stop there, though. KoL builds out this system further by granting a maximum of one khổng lồ four spell slot depending on a character’s class. For example, Knights may wield a single Healing spells, ninja have a slot for a single-target or tư vấn magic, Witches can juggle three support spells simultaneously including the exclusive Fluid Magic, & MP-powerhouses Sirens và Summoners can pack a fully diverse roster of four magics. However, since even dedicated spellcasters are restricted to four spells, the player is forced into trade-offs. Vì I opt for cross-elemental coverage lớn play off the Siren’s innately high INT-stat, or vì I go all out on matching elements with a single-target, AoE, summoning and support spell of, say, Earth only? With the interchangeability of scrolls in lieu of perma-learned magic, infinite setups are possible depending on the impending battle. Khổng lồ invoke a Pokemon simile: if FFTA is content to grant each ‘Mon an ever-expanding movepool, Knight of Lodis encourages mixing và matching to uniquely strategise with just 4 swappable moves, making for a more meaningful experience.

Alright, so much for the KoL-FFTA comparison. Before wrapping up this retrospective I’d lượt thích to highlight one more unique feature of Knight of Lodis: its emblem system. I absolutely adore it. Emblems are character-specific rewards for achieving combat feats, such as evading a would-be lethal attack (Miracle), killing 2 enemies simultaneously with single spell (Philosopher’s Stone) or, as female character, persuading a foe of the opposite gender khổng lồ join your team (Vixen’s Whisper). Some are purely for show, others confer neat stat bonuses to lớn agility, strength or intelligence, while a handful are the key to lớn unlocking a more advanced classes for that character.

Vixen’s Whisper, for instance, is required to lớn become a Witch; Knight’s Certificate, awarded for incurring a set number of counterattacks, is the gateway lớn the Knight class. Together with ‘hard’ stat requirements for strength, agility & intelligence, these khung a soft barrier to lớn class advancement. The fact that class progression hinges on battlefield accomplishments that tie in directly with the new class’ orientation (in lieu of a grind lớn accumulate a predetermined number of Ability Points) is a unique idea I haven’t seen replicated elsewhere. It crafts a mini-personality for an otherwise depersonalised character, or khổng lồ put it differently, it forges a micro-story connecting the player khổng lồ their pawns. In KoL’s fantasy-realist setting, this works really, really well.

Of course KoL is not without bugbears. Most noticeably, the battle pace is agonisingly slow. Kích hoạt selection is sluggish, & characters stroll across the battlefield without the remotest sense of urgency, taking their sweet time to lớn perform anything from using a consumable to lớn delivering a spell. I don’t know why this should be so – I’m inclined to lớn wag the finger at GBA’s processing power, though Advance Wars, a game in the same tradition, never had such issues. I’m certain that our former selves, equipped with lengthy pre-smartphone attention spans, minded this vice less, but today I invariably reach for the turbo-button.

The AI could also be a little more sensible. Early on it does an underwhelming job of focussing down exposed troops and tends to half-team suicide rush into your frontlines as you wait them out near the map’s edges, which can be construed as either poor programming or an act of generosity. The AI does wisen up a bit over time as it adopt tactics of strategic patience, expecting the player to bridge the distance between the warring parties and targeting your frailer soldiers with spells và arrows as you go.

In general, however, with a feel for balanced các buổi tiệc nhỏ composition – i.e. Physical fighters of various stripes mixed with wizards & a stray cleric – most missions won’t push the player too hard. & while it is perfectly possible to đại bại a well-groomed regular due khổng lồ unpreparedness or reckless play, the trò chơi is quite forgiving of lapses and losses. New characters can be hired at shops, & a fresh-faced lv1 recruit can be put through Training Mode to lớn swiftly catch up with more senior brethren. There seldom will be mission re-do’s here, unlike in PS1’s Let Us Cling Together or fellow strategy game Advance Wars 2.

Then for all of KoL’s glory, there is a problem with story bookkeeping. As said before, the plot is artfully convoluted, và it would therefore be really nifty to have some means of recapping the story after each sự kiện – think diary entries in Dishonored 2, or a run-off-the-mill RPG journal. This is not so much a problem in the sense of finding one’s way khổng lồ the next objective – Alphonse traverses a chart-like world maps where destinations mở cửa up one by one khổng lồ railroad the player from mission to lớn mission – but more in the sense of tracking the who-is-who of Ovis and its the plenitude of factions and shifting alignments. It’s a true pity that retaining a full grasp of proceedings requires a serious brain training exercise, because that risks devaluing a bộ vi xử lý core aspect of the overall experience, i.e. Appreciating the superbly crafted & well-told story.

Nowadays, of course, such imperfections would be easily patched out in a post-release update. (Are you listening, Atlus? Fine-tuned Virtual shop re-release, please!) If the player is prepared to engage with the story and tactical game play on the game’s terms, however, then all are forgivable offences.

There is more to lớn say – Quest Mode, where the player can complete episodic battles in a pre-set turn limit khổng lồ earn unique equipment; VS Mode, which allows battles against a friend, again for juicy rewards, & ‘I Want to lớn Play This Again Mode’ lớn side with whoever you hadn’t sided with before. But I think you get it, & I admit it: this retro đánh giá is a love letter. Knight of Lodis employs the same addictive tactics-formula as its more famous counterparts, and endows it with both narrative & mechanical depth that peers FFTA và Onimusha Tactics are left pining for. I will go on record and say that Knight of Lodis is the best strategy RPG, if not outright the best RPG of any kind, on Gameboy Advance, và I think you should play it.


Chuyên mục: Làng Game Việt