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Review of 4 GBA Strategy Games

Posted by phduffy on 2004-07-21 16:21:33
5 forum posts
Review of 4 Gameboy Strategy Games!

The Contenders are:

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

Ogre Tactics Advance

Fire Emblem

Shining Force – Yes, that Shining Force (Okay, formerly the Legacy of Great Intentions, renamed the Legacy of The Dark Dragon

If you’re into strategy games you’ve probably heard of some, if not all, of these. And luckily for the purposes of my review, they fall rather neatly into two categories. In the first category we have the Ogre Tactics and FF Tactics game. The newer type of game. It should be no surprise that these games are similar, as the original FF Tactics game was designed by the people that designed the original Ogre Tactics game. Square realized that they were no longer good at making video games, and they wanted to make a game with the FF name that was actually good. So off to the Ogre Tactics people they went. In these games you have a giant team of mostly interchangeable characters, with a few special ones. You can hire mercenaries, recruit enemies and stuff like that. Instead of being assigned a certain class, like warrior or wizard, you can move freely between classes based on your race and sex. You can learn a skill from one class, then switch classes and retain that skill. In battles your turn and the enemies turn are one and the same, as you get to move based on your speed. If the enemy’s faster they move first. Furthermore, you can consistently keep your characters leveled up by going on side quests or returning to old maps.

In contrast, Fire Emblem and Shining Force represent the older type of strategy game. While you do get somewhat sprawling teams in each game, there are no anonymous characters. Every character has a backstory and gets dialogue. Additionally, your characters can’t change between various classes. They start out in one class and once they reach level 10 they can upgrade themselves to another class. Furthermore, battles progress in a turn based system. The characters with the best speed still go first, but all of your characters get to move, followed by all of the enemies characters, etc. Once a level on one of these games has been finished that’s it, there’s no going back. This means that you need to plan how you want to level your characters, as otherwise you can have difficulty getting them to where you want them. (Differences will be discussed below)

On to the individual games:

Final Fantasy Tactics:

You start as three friends whose names I forget. Although I imagine that in my game one of their names was Axe. The three of you read a book and fantasize what it would be like to live in world that’s like the game Final Fantasy. (Quick, someone call Philip K Dick!)
You wake up the next day in a strange world. You seem to have a life there that you can’t remember, all you remember is your life in the real world.

It turns out that there’s a lot of conflict in this new world. So you meet people and gather a team and get going! Along the way you encounter your two friends, both of whom appear to be royalty in this world.

While recruiting your team you find out that this world has 5 races. However, instead of giving us traditional fantasy type races, the races are made up. There’s human, some sort of lizardman, Viera’s, who aren’t the woman from the View but actually Valkyries with funny ears (who are all female), some sort of thing that appears to be based off of Kirby from Kirby’s Dreamland, and something I forget.

You explore the world and fight and change classes based on your race and begin to learn just what the hell is going on. While fighting there are Judges. The judges will make a rule at the start of each fight, such as No Swords, No Fire Magic, etc. If you break the rule you’re either given a yellow card (warning) or a red card (you’re sent to jail). This adds some complexity to the game and forces you to make a balanced team.

Unfortunately the classes in this game aren’t as good as on the PS version. There’s no Calculators for one, and Monks aren’t as good as they should be. Overall this game is definitely a contender for most disappointing game of 2003. The storyline is idiotic (perhaps the stupidest I’ve ever seen in an RPG/Strategy game), the characters are uninteresting, the races just end up restricting your classes too much, the battles are ridiculously repetitive, and the side quests are an obnoxious waste of your time. It seems more as though the people making this game tried to make a game like the original FF Tactics, as opposed to it being the same people trying to make a better game. (Note: I did not finish this game, I played about 23 hours, got fed up and quit).

Overall: 4/10

Ogre Tactics:

While this is somewhat hard to find (I got my copy off Ebay), it is purportedly a much better game the FF Advance. In fact I recently read a review that placed this game in the top 30 RPGs of all time. The mechanics of this game are virtually identical to FF Tactics, without the races. You lead a team (the members of your team depend on how you answer certain questions at the beginning of the game), and the members can switch classes based on achieving certain results. You can also recruit animals for your team.

The story is more complex than FF Tactics, involving a young knight getting lost in a storm. As he and his team travel and fight rebels they begin to learn that their noble king may not be as noble as they’d thought.

When I played this game I was very much reminded of FF tactics and feeling kind of burnt out. I did not give this game much of a chance.

Overall: N/A

Fire Emblem:

Now to the old school game. Fire Emblem is by the same team that created Advance Wars, a surprise hit for the GBA. There are 7 Fire Emblems in Japan, all for different NES systems, but this is the first one available in North America. (Two of the characters from Fire Emblem 6 are playable characters in Super Smash Brother Melee).

You being this game as Lynn, a plainswoman whose family has just been slaughtered. The first 10 chapters act as a tutorial. This may sounds like a lot, but it works quite well. The chapters have a distinct story with a beginning and end, and after the first few chapters the tutorial isn’t too obnoxious. Once you reach Chapter 11 you start over as Elroy, a young Prince. He and one of his knights are investigating some strange happenings in another province. As you progress through the game you meet the characters from the first 10 chapters, as well as new characters. Once you reach level 10 you can level up to a cooler class, although it’s usually better to wait until level 20 before changing classes.

The lack of returnable levels ads a challenge to this game. If you develop a few power characters they won’t gain much experience from enemies (as experience is based on the difference between your level and the enemy’s level), and your other characters won’t be able to gain experience as it will be stolen by the power characters.

There are two important aspects of the game mechanics of this game. First, if you save in battle you lose that save when you reload the game. This is a good idea as it prevents extreme cheapness. The second idea is that if a character dies on a level after chapter 10 they’re dead for good. This is also an interesting idea. However, combining these two ideas makes this game hella hard. One or the other is fair, but the two together just leads to frustration. If an enemy character gets a double attack and kills you, do you reset and start over or go on and lose that character? This adds strategy, but overall it’s not worth the trouble.

Another problem I had with this game is that there are certain secrets and characters that it would be impossible to get other than my dumb luck. The only way to get them is to read the FAQs. For instance, in order to get one side quest, you need to recruit a character and get over 700 exp on a level. Nowhere in the game are you given any hint about the amount of exp you have to earn. That’s silly.

Despite those reservations this is a very good game. The story isn’t terribly original, but it is fun, and the levels are well designed. Had the developers put more thought into this game it could have been tremendous. As it is it’s only pretty good.

Overall: 7/10

Shinnig Force

Finally we arrive at Shining Force. This is widely regarded as the first consol strategy game (just beating out the original Fire Emblem). This is a port of the original Genesis version. There have been some additions to the story (your main character now speaks), and three new characters were added.

The story is that you’re Max, a young warrior who washed up on a strange shore one day. You have no memory, but train with a SwordsMaster for a year. Then the country of Runefast begins to make trouble and invades their town. Their king has been corrupted by Darksol, who wants to resurrect the legendary Dark Dragon of the Gods. The Dark Dragon was created by the gods, who quickly realized that it could kill all of humanity, so it was banished. Darksol is helped in his quest by a man who may or may not be evil…. KANE!!!! THAT’S RIGHT MOTHER FUCKERS, THIS GAME HAS A GUY NAMED KANE WHOSE ALLEGIANCE IS NOT KNOWN!!! Sound familiar?

Just as Fire Emblem, you can only change class once you reach level 10. What I like about this game is that with certain characters your patience is rewarded. When you first get Birdmen they suck more than Paris Hilton in night vision. However, work to level them up and they become kickass. The character classes in this game are also much cooler than any of the other three. You have some regulars (wizards, warrior dwarves, way too many centaurs) and some fun ones like a Werewolf, a Dragon, a flying egg, a Robot, a steam Tank, and a groundhog. Although the groundhog is terrible.

Like in Fire Emblem the amount of experience you get is based on the opponent’s level. However, unlike Fire Emblem, you can retreat from a level in Shining Force, which allows for some leveling of low level characters. Also, monks and priests get exp for using heal regardless of the amount of power healed or level of the character being healed, which means that you can build some pretty kickass monks pretty quickly, all it requires is patience.

This version had added backstory to all of the characters, as you can converse with them at your base to learn more. You also learn more of the story of the Shining Force universe, as some of the ideas that are presented in Shining Force 2 are introduced here. The three new characters include a samurai that is pretty much the same as your Werewolf (if you got the werewolf), a princess that’s like your female mage and a weirdo that collects cards. Because obviously you can’t make a game without some sort of card collecting madness. Fortunately the card collector doesn’t release Pichacu to the world, he just gains the abilities of the cards he collects. Most of the cards are based on characters on your team, so he can duplicate what they do (he can equip up to 4 cards at a time).

This game truly is tremendous. Although it’s a game from 1993 the graphics have been improved for this version, and the story is still good. Moreover, if your character dies in this game you can resurrect him via the help of a priest, making this superior to Fire Emblem. My only hope is that enough people buy this on Gameboy to convince them to bring over Shining Force 2 and all 3 versions of Shining Force 3.

Overall: 9/10

Apparently I’m a big fan of the old type of strategy game. When I’d finished Fire Emblem, instead of playing another game I quickly restarted, as I wanted to try different characters. Meanwhile, I couldn’t even be bothered to finish FF Tactics.

This was long. Thank you to the 2 people that read this far.
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