First off, I have to say that I am quite pleased that they have decided to bring this hidden gem to the Virtual Console and if you haven't played it at all, please go over to your Wii right now, put off getting your two lattes for the next few days and download it, I will wait...
Did you get it? No? That is ok, I can wait...
Ok, now that you have it, let me tell you that this was by far the best RPG ever released for the N64. Now, that isn't saying much about the N64's library of RPGs but believe me, this is as awesome now as it was back in its prime.
Brought over by Atlus (one of my favorite game companys, hands down) and produced by Quest (may your eternal soul rest in peace as your body still rots in Square-Enix hell), this game brings the little played and well done RTS RPG to the console. You play as Magnus, a gladiator who is brought into the forefront after finding out that the land of Palatinus is being plunged into a civil war. If you have played the other Ogre Battle/Tactic Ogre games in the series, you will have an idea of what that last sentence just meant. If not; welcome to the party, the swords are over there and make sure not to impale yourself, we aren't insured.
Gameplay Gameplay is pretty basic, the core of the game is played out like a map at a pen and paper setting where you move from place to place trying to liberate towns along the way. While you do so, you have enemies marching towards your direction and attacking you as you try to press your advantage. The thing that might be a little off putting is that you are placing all of your trust into the computer to do something for you (though you have some commands to order; attack the leader, attack the weakest, attack the strongest, etc.) which can lead to a little frustration if you have a tendencey to button mash.
The interaction with menus, training, advice and equipment is a bit daunting as you have to navigate menus and then submenus and then sub-submenus. However, once you get a hang of what the game gives to you and what you can do with the tools provided, you can enjoy yourself no problem. The ability to evolve and upgrade your units and comrades was also a great little treat, being able to upgrade your zombie to a ghost by a long and involved process made it almost worth it when you finally saw it happen. Needless to say, some of it is a little unneccesary but that is all right, it is all a part of the charm.
Story This is standard fare for most RPGs as you might have read in my header (and if you haven't read my header, shame on you for skipping ahead... Though I don't blame you), you are a generic character to start off with and you start to learn more as your ethics and morals are challenged more and more, but the slight wiggle room is the ability to choose between three different routes; Law, Neutral and Chaos. While this doesn't DRASTICALLY change the story, it does give it a little more replayablity since there are only certain characters that you can recruit depending on your status in the world. Everything else is memerable if not a little generic, as much as it pains me to say it. You really have to know the four games to get the WHOLE story and really, who has a free 400+ hours...?
Graphics and Sounds Erm, don't expect much here if you are looking for Blu-Ray quality graphics and THX quality sound. However, I can say that on my LCD this game translated out beautifully (usually I have to worry about that with my Wii). The pixels are smooth and deep, if not a little obscured by the fact that you can barely see them at times. Battles are smooth, they still run great and infuriate as well as satisfy, which is all that is needed at times. Sounds are scarse, the sounds of dying and the effects of attacks are there but there is no voice overs to listen to. It was an N64 cartridge, for Pete's Sake! Soundtrack is amazing though, as I would expect from a game like this. It is quite rich for a 64 bit cart and it can still stir the emotions when I listen to the menu music over and over, remembering my other jaunts into the series from my before time.
Lasting Power Yeah, I just made this up but it will work. YES! This game has some great lasting power! This looks like anything that you could get on a handheld system and the translation is smooth and crisp. The usage of the Classic Controller or the Wavebird makes for entertainment, it is a good thing I got the black Classic Controller as an upgrade because that white one annoyed the hell out of me! Really, if you have a chance, you can't go wrong with this game (other than it chewing up blocks of memory... Have an SD card handy!)
Overall Fanboyishnessishisms aside (Yes, made that up too), you could do worse with $10 burning in your pocket. Heck, if you enjoy it, they have March of the Black Queen as well (Yeah, that RARE one that went for $1000 back in its day since there was only 100,000 ever in existence?). Heck, you might even get to the point where I am, shaking your fist at SE in hopes that they release this gem to Atlus to let them do with it as they please!
Besides, it gives me an excuse to use my Ogre Battle 64 penny guide. Yep, got it for a penny, they were gonna throw it away. It was beat up as heck but still pretty awesome to have!