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Game Design Essentials: 20 Mysterious Games

January 14, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 6 of 21 Next

5. Ogre Battle

Derandomized combat, obfuscation through complexity, character acquisition, and the Chaos Frame ending spoiling mechanism

Published and developed by Quest

Designed by Hiroshi Minagawa

Reason for inclusion:

This is a game that nearly everyone has to resort to a FAQ to play at some point. While the player is progressing through the game, the game is also keeping score in an obscure way. After finishing the last level, the score directly indicates which ending the player receives. But it's hard to keep the score up, and it's never explained exactly how it changes...

The game:

Ogre Battle is a game that's interesting for many reasons. It's a Japanese RPG that still takes a fairly simulationist approach to the play, and that's reason enough for examination all by itself. It's a decent challenge and has a strong strategic (as opposed to tactical) component, moves along in real time, and even has a strong economic component. But when a fight begins the player is largely left out of it. His characters decide for themselves what to do.

About those characters... They each have a stat called Alignment that maps generally to the D&D usage of the term: high alignment numbers, going up to 100, mean Lawful, and low alignment, down to 0, means Chaotic. The player will typically have many parties on the field at once, and each one has its own alignment value. Defeating darker enemies like vampires raises alignment, and lighter enemies like clerics lowers it. There are other things that modify alignment too, but once it gets close to its limits on either end of the scale it becomes more difficult to change it back. Character advancement often depends on alignment.

Now, there are other things to note here. When characters that are low in alignment take over one of the game's town bases, the game says the town is captured. If the same town is taken over by a high-alignment unit, the message says the town is liberated. These are very important messages, for the game also keeps track of another stat, this one describing the player. It is Reputation, and while character Alignment is an easy-to-read number, Reputation is never reported directly except through a very small bar. Here is a primary rule governing Reputation: capturing towns lowers it, while liberating them raises it!

A number of other things also affect Reputation, and tellingly, they do it in a way that makes the game more difficult if the player is trying to keep it high. Beating enemies with characters of much greater level than them (more than two levels difference) lowers reputation, while doing so with characters of less difference, or even of lower level, raises it. As game time passes on a given map, the player earns income from the towns he's taken over. Money carries over from map to map, but income resets. This might inspire some players to dally on a map and build funds, but hanging along too long lowers reputation.

So why is reputation important? Ah, that makes the game even more mysterious. In addition to characters joining up or not depending on player reputation (generally undocumented opportunities), reputation directly affects the ending the player receives after winning the game. A really low reputation will give the player a bad ending; in one, the player's character becomes a new tyrant who gets assassinated by one of the characters in his group.

Of course, none of this is explained to the player except in the manual, and there but vaguely.

Design lesson:

The player's actions throughout the game are put into an algorithmic blender, and at the end that value (among other things) selects the final outcome of the story. The result is that Ogre Battle is actually scored, just as much as Pac-Man or Rogue, but the player isn't told that score with any degree of fidelity. The N64 sequel takes this even further: the player doesn't even get that bar telling what his reputation score is.


GameFAQs has a nice mechanics FAQ on Ogre Battle that provides a more fleshed-out description of the Chaos Frame system.


Article Start Previous Page 6 of 21 Next

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