The Nintendo 64 was infamously known for its lack of RPGs. The new graphics available saw a rise of 3D platformers after a seemingly unforgettable era of RPGs on the NES and SNES. By the year 2000, the N64 catalog was saturated with platformers filled with jumping cartoon animal heroes and zany sidekicks. Any deviation from this formula was considered a potential risk, but the developers of Ogre Battle 64 accepted this risk and delivered a cult classic hit which owes its continued success and relevancy to a dedicated localization team.
The development and release of Ogre Battle 64 remains an untold accomplishment in the history of the gaming industry. Yasumi Matsuno, the creator and lead producer of Tactics Ogre, and later, Final Fantasy Tactics, won the hearts of players with the 1993 hit Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen and again in 1995 with Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together on the Super Famicom.
While these were successful titles, the publisher of the game, Enix, was unable to make enough copies of the game. Atlus of USA stepped in to publish Artdink’s PlayStation port of Tactics Ogre.
By 1998, Tactics Ogre climbed to the 9th spot in the charts. The untested genre immediately proved it held a market on consoles in North America. Work was started on Matsuno’s vision to make a third game in the series, and localization masterpiece: Ogre Battle 64.
For Atlus of USA to localize Ogre Battle 64, they had to ignore conventional marketing. There were contextual obstacles that isolated Ogre Battle 64 from other games that were on the market. 2D pixel art was no longer as eye-catching as it was in previous generations and was considered outdated technology with the arrival and popularity of 3D platformers.
The Strategy-RPG game genre was essentially unrepresented and untested on the N64. An imported Strategy-RPG with mature themes and sprite art set to launch in North America in 2000 became a risky investment. This year should also be considered the second wave of N64 hits.
Despite its popularity in Japan, how was this hybrid underdog port going to contest with the likes of Majora’s Mask, Pokemon Stadium 2, Banjo-Tooie, Paper Mario, Mario Tennis, Perfect Dark, and Mario Party 3 just to name a few?
To further complicate the localization process, this was also a generation when the RPG was largely considered a dying genre. Yu Namba, the Ogre Battle 64 project manager gave an interview in June 2000 on IGN. He reassured fans of the series that the “gameplay and storyline are intact, 100%” and that the game would launch by “the end of September.” Mature elements such as swearing and branching narratives demanded a niche audience on a platform that was mostly intend for casual, family gaming.
The small team of three translators and one editor had 10 months until launch to deliver a translation and edit a game with thousands of lines of dialogue, multiple endings, tutorials, descriptions, and more. Localization back then also included printed material, so the production team was also translating the game manuals which came with the cartridge as well as any marketing text.
The RPG genre depends on these systems to have excellent communication, or the user game experience completely falls apart. By not compromising their approach, the team kept the text as close to source as possible creating a truly mature and unique experience on the N64.
Matsuno left Quest for Square before the production of OgreBattle 3 (Japanese release name) began. He made it clear in an interview that he “watched, in real time, in 1989, the Berlin Wall being dismantled…war in Yugoslavia made me thoughtful. Outside Japan, things we regard as horrible or unthinkable may be regarded with relative calmness. Especially for younger people, I think there’s a tendency to feel that writing such terrible motifs [in their own work] is beyond them.”
Part of the Tactics Ogre experience was to feel true conflict and be moved by loss and war. The localization team dedicated themselves to capturing these emotions and managed to pack it into a surprisingly dense challenge for North American audiences.
The title released in North America on October 5th of 2000, two weeks before the launch of Majora’s Mask, an ill-fated window. To make matters worse, Atlus announced a chip shortage which cut the supply of the game by about 15-20% at launch. This scarcity ultimately hurt sales of the game, and by the time the restock came, Ogre Battle 64 could hardly compete with other console selling titles on the market. The game saw a second life on the Virtual Console on Wii in February 2010 and again on the WiiU in 2017 allowing more players to experience the Tactics Ogre series.
As more people were given the chance to finally play the game, the fanbase saw a resurgence and dedicated players pulled together into online communities and discord servers to celebrate and replay the game. Joshua Lindquist, a news writer at RPGFan.com, and owner of OgreBattle64.net and the official Discord server thinks, “we have finally begun to see some indie developers experiment with gameplay concepts associated with Ogre Battle, but so far we only have a few games that are ‘similar but not the same’.”
Lindquist also thinks the localization team made a tough decision to include swearing in a N64 game (this was released a year before Conker’s Bad Fur Day, an infamously mature title) but this effort to remain faithful to the source material paid off. The lasting appeal of Ogre Battle 64 was through unique design and story, which silently depended on careful and thoughtful translation.
The localization of Ogre Battle 64 was a lifeline for the Tactics Orge series and ensures its continued relevancy and value. Even though this game never saw the true commercial success it deserved, it remains an attractive oddity for N64 collectors. The original scarcity of the game, unique gameplay mechanics, and beloved storyline are all reasons why the collector’s market value ranges up to $350 for a sealed copy. Ogre Battle 64 boldly ignored the conventional marketing strategies of the early 2000’s and the effort of this localization team kept the series alive, leading up to the unexpected recent announcement of a remake of Tactics Ogre for Switch, PC, and PS4/5.
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