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Ogre Battle Musings

As this site is centered on an Ogre Battle sprite comic, it is appropriate that my first rant center around the Ogre Battle Saga (Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber, Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together, and Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis). More specifically, I am focusing on Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, a game that has appeared on the Super NES and Sony Playstation. Since I have played both versions of the game, it is impossible for me to play one without thinking of the other. Of course this means that at times, I will favor one over the other, and this preference extends to this site. As a result, this site leans toward the Super NES version of this game for several reasons that I will outline below.

The graphics in both versions of Ogre Battle are very similar. The portraits are almost identical except the PSX character portraits and Tarot cards are more detailed and smoother, allowing for clarity in place of the graphical limitations of the Super NES. The maps themselves show viturally no change at all, the borders of information boxes were made and the icons were touched up slightly. Only two significant graphical differences occur in the actual battles, both of those to the detriment of the game.

The first of these are the battle graphics, where it is clear that the sprites that stand in for soldiers have been not simply retouched from the SNES verion but redrawn. Though they are in the same general style of Akihiko Yoshida's artwork, they seem slightly elongated from the original game. This makes them appear somewhat lifeless, more like the stand-ins they are rather than actual people. More importantly, some details are changed -- animations are sped up and slowed down. One of the most disturbing of these alterations is that the ankhs wielded by holy warriors become crosses. I prefer the idea of an ankh for several reasons. An ankh has a certain similarity to the Venus symbol, reinforcing the female empowerment undercurrent in this game. An ankh is also less familiar to most of those playing this game (although this link will explain more), adding to the mystical nature that surrounds gameplay. Replacing the Ankh with a cross is simply odd, especially given the later games where crosses associated with the Lodis Empire.

Editor's Note (10/22/05) -- I have since learned that Ogre Battle, like many other games in the 16-bit era, was censored visually. The in-game change from crosses to ankhs was done by someone on the Enix America payroll. I will say that it is a VERY good edit and just because it was changed from the original doesn't mean I love the SNES version of Ogre Battle any less. Note, if you are reading this, mysterious editor, I need your spriting skills!

Battle spells are also redone in high resolution, but this time in overdramatic fashion. During magical attacks and healing, the camera zooms in on the sprites, reinforcing their lifelessness. This does not look dynamic but silly. Most of the effects are similar to the SNES version, but with just enough difference to make one wonder why something was changed.

Yet as much as the graphics in battle annoyed me, there was one graphical "improvement" that made me want to scream. In Ogre Battle on the SNES, you had a nice blue font for map-based text that was not always the most readable, but served its purpose well. The silly font that was used for text in the PSX version of Ogre Battle took all the bad qualities of the text and made them worse. The color was not changed, and a slight, translucent background added to the text. Moreover, the new font was a font with all uppercase letters with fancy additions such as a cross through the center of the O's. This greatly decreased the pleasure of playing through the game, as I had to struggle to read the text that was crucial to gameplay.

Changes aren't just limited to what can be seen. Many people are unaware of how great Ogre Battle is musically. I can listen to endless iterations of some tracks from the game. The tracks are virtually identical note for note for both games, so what difference lies not in the actual content but in the presentation. In some cases, the music is an improvement on the original in terms of instrumentation. The ending credits are enhanced greatly on the PSX version (although I do like original a lot). But in other tracks, the brass sounds too "tinny" and lacks the fullness of the SNES sound. By contrast, Ogre Battle 64's version of "Thunder" and other Ogre Battle tracks are superior to the original in sound while retaining the same feel.

Though the games play nearly identical to each other, there is one critical difference that weighs in favor of the Playstation version of Ogre Battle. In the Super NES game, you could only save either before or after a stage. In the PSX version, you can save at practically any time. Not suspend one's game in the middle of a stage, but an actual save file. As someone who has spent three hours on a stage and then have the power go out, been called away from the game for one reason or another, and has messed up at critical junctures (like answering "no" to Rashidi's question...and that unit had Brunhild!), I appreciate it greatly.

Of course the biggest difference between Ogre Battle for the PSX and the SNES are not the cosmetic changes or the ability to save while in the middle of the game. No, it in the text itself, as the publication of the game in the U.S. was done by two different companies. The company formerly known as Enix --now known as Square Enix-- published the Super NES version and Atlus published the PSX version. The Atlus translations contain fewer obvious quirks, although, ironically enough, Square Enix currently has both development and publication control over the Ogre Battle series. In any case, with Atlus's standardization, gone are the silly terms like "Red Dragon II" and "Rodisti" except for screenshots from an emulator, and the PSX version is taken, at least from a plot perspective, as the "official" March of the Black Queen. But at the same time, when Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber was released, it erased something precious from the "official" Ogre Battle timeline all together -- the fact that there was a female Opinion leader. Not only was she not said to exist, future games no longer provided the option of changing the genders of your male hero.

This led me to embrace the unofficial story even more. Where the games now established Destin Faroda as the hero, I wanted to honor the forgotten red-haired feminine presence in Ogre Battle. In honor of this character, I have taken the mantle Destina Faroda. However, this was not enough. This change of course of the series pushed my fanfic Ogre Battle Diaries: The Journal of the Muse Margaret out of the realm of possibility entirely. Not only are they illegal and trampling over copyright in the eyes if the law, but even in the Ogre Battle community, it would be considered at best a "what if" saga instead of as a supplement to the story in the games. I could continue my fanfic, but I am slow at writing, and I know that few would read it. So instead, I have turned to a form of expression that will take even longer to complete, the sprite comic. However, a picture is worth a thousand words, and while I know The (un)Amusing Adventures of Margaret and Friends will never be popular, I hope I can at least show Ogre Battle fans what the game could have been like if the people in charge hadn't assumed that the hero was a man, and use humor to challenge their other assumptions as well.

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