My Hypothetical Space Flight

by Gary Tozbikian - April 6, 2001, 8:42 am PDT

When Gary Tozbikian isn't drawing of Louie, he's playing Ogre Battle 64. Maybe this will explain why it's one of the few things he'd take with him on his space mission. Confused? Read it!

A hypothetical situation: What if you were chosen to be the first experimental human cargo on humanity's first light-speed capable spaceship. Traveling at near light-speed, due to some workings of the technology or due to Einsteinian relativity, your trip only lasts a few minutes, although inside the ship you experience twenty years. Another problem: you have to go alone. To compensate you on your long, lonely journey, NASA design's the living compartment to be quite spacious, comfortable and well stocked with all your favorite foods, drinks and such.

So: you got twenty years to kill, that is a lot of time on your hands. Whadya bring? What could you bring to make those twenty lonely years pass with the minimum of tedium. Well, there are books, and uh, some choice movies would help but probably without a doubt, my greatest companion on such a journey would be VIDEO GAMES. Yes my friends, at the end of that long space journey, I would happily report to the ever-prying press that it was video games that kept my sanity intact.

And thank God that video game development has been progressing towards higher and deeper involvement, total game play, and complexity. It is wonderful that, along with the meteoric advancements in visual graphics and sounds, commensurate strides have been made in increasing the overall depth and involvement in video games. Games just take more time these days. This trend is definitely present in a number of well-designed games for PC and console systems like the N64. Take Ogre Battle 64, by Atlus Software, it is simply a massive game.

As a side note, Ogre Battle 64 was one of the most innovative games ever designed for the N64, in the unique way it combined elements of RPG with Real Time Strategy. It was also one of the largest N64 games every created. Getting to the end as quickly as possible requires at least 50 hours of game play. I being the consummate perfectionist, controlling, all-micromanaging addict, have clocked in over 119 hours and have just reached the half-way point. Furthermore, the game's multiple endings, numerous hidden items, characters, spells, and side-quests, ensures true replay value.

The best part about Ogre Battle 64 is that it provides thoroughly satisfying blend of both RPG and Real Time Strategy. As with any RPG, character development is a big part of the game. To raise an army of nearly 100 unique soldiers, dragons, and beasts, character development in Ogre Battle 64 becomes a complex balancing act involving the buying, equipping and upgrading of hundreds of weapons, spells, skills, and character classes.

What is so brilliant about Ogre Battle 64 is the way Atlus designers integrated RPG oriented elements, such as character development, with Real Time Strategy game play. For example, one of the most challenging and rewarding facets of Ogre Battle 64 involves building legions, groups of five warriors that fight together as a unit. You choose which characters fight together. Want an effective legion? Well you're gonna have to actually think. You might have to mix some close-in brawlers like Skeletons, Phalanxes, Beserkers, or Black Knights with some long-range projectile throwers like Wizards, Sorceresses, Dianas etc. But fighting effectiveness is not the only dimension to good legion building. Because the alignment (goodness or evil) of each character in a legion affects the nature of the other four legion members, assembling an effective fighting group involves more that just making hard hitting units.

Alignment becomes vitally important when your characters become experienced enough to change classes. Some classes require extreme alignments, for example, the virtuous Priest class is only open to extremely Lawful (good) female characters. In contrast, Ninja Masters requires a strong Chaotic (evil) alignment. How can you alter the alignment of your characters? Here is the RTS connection, through combat! The alignment of the foes you defeat affects the alignment of the legion you sent to dispatch them. For example, if you choose to slaughter a unit of virtuous Priests and Paladins, the characters you used to kill them become slightly more evil as a result! The end result is that actual in-game game-play requires tremendous forethought.

Unlike many RTS games on PC, where victory only comes from marching a superior force over to the enemy and crushing them with brute strength, to beat Ogre Battle 64 means specifically assembling specialized teams and appropriately matching them up against enemies on the battlefield. Ogre Battle 64 makes the possibilities for specialization endless. For example, because terrain is a factor in the game, you can choose to make terrain-specific legions, say one that fights better in snowy terrain or in mountains. When you become really savvy, you can learn to use legions together in tandem to bring down really hard enemy units. I like to soften up a tough legion with a Cockatrice unit, that petrifies really tough enemies. Then I might finish them off with a weaker legion, a "training cadre" that could use the experience points or the alignment change from the battle.

Ogre Battle 64 is allows absolute freedom and inspires tactical brilliance and originality in strategy. Take into account the hundreds of specialized items, weapons, spells, and units in the game and you have limitless possibilities. Finally add a compelling story line with multiple endings based on the choices you make throughout the game. What you get is HOURS or enjoyment. Actually, it’s more like MONTHS. Very few RTS games even come close. Yes, if I had to ride a space-ship for twenty years all by myself, I would have to admit it would probably get pretty lonely and boring at times. But I guarantee if I could bring Ogre Battle 64 along, it would probably be okay!

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