I think I owe Tactics Ogre an apology. You see, I consider the strategy-RPG my favourite genre, and despite the praise I’ve heard for the original version of this game I sonehow never got round to playing it. I could make the excuse that it was a limited release on the PSOne and it's now difficult to track down, but then I look at my Sega Saturn library filled with obscure, low-print-run classics and realise how little weight the argument would carry. However, now that the enhanced Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together has been re-released on PSP, I can finally assuage my own sense of guilt.
Tactics Ogre was originally released 15 years ago on the Super Famicom in Japan. Square-Enix purchased the rights to the Ogre series from developer Quest several years ago, announcing this remake late last year and bringing famed Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story director Yasumi Matsuno back to re-imagine several aspects of the game and go over the script with a fine-tooth comb.
You play as Denam, a member of a pack of disenfranchised Walister nationals eager to rebel against the numerous oppressing nations and forces that make up Tactics Ogre’s politically volatile world. As you progress through the game you amass a small but constantly developing army to your cause, as well as interact with various other players in the war. At times, you’ll be given choices on how to respond to given situations - who joins and leaves your forces, and what sort of hero Denam turns into.
The consequences of these choices are surprisingly and refreshingly ambiguous, as sometimes pursuing a lawful solution will actually lead Denam down the path to a darker personality. The superb localisation, headed by famed translator Alexander O. Smith and his team at Kajiya Productions, gives the story a lasting impact that will stay with the player for quite some time.
The tactical elements and combat are also superb. Skirmishes take place on isometric battle fields, where individual characters - Knights, Valkyries, Ninjas, Beast Tamers, and other familiar types - take turns in an effort to wipe out the opponent. The influences of Tactics Ogre’s game mechanics on Matsuno’s later Final Fantasy Tactics are obvious, though, after having played both extensively, I would argue that the faster-paced, non-linear Tactics Ogre may even be superior.
A key difference from Final Fantasy Tactics, however, is that many class-specific skills cannot be carried over if a character changes into a different class role, giving more incentive to the player to build a strong character for a specific purpose. But should you encounter a battle where, say, you may need extra magic or healing capabilities, swapping a few characters to a different class is a cinch -- levels are tied to class rather than character, meaning any character you’d change to, say, a wizard role will all have the same level of strength, with some variation based on stats.
Tactics Ogre also comes with plenty of extra options and materials. There’s the Warren Report, a helpful series of in-game records that provides detailed information on the story’s evolving conflict, as well as providing secrets and gameplay advice. New to the PSP version are the Chariot and World tarot options, which unlock after reaching certain points in the game: the Chariot keeps track of the last 50 moves in combat, and allows you to warp back in time to try and play out the conflict differently; the World option lets you travel back to points in the story where choices were available, allowing you to explore different narrative paths.
Tactics Ogre is largely brilliant, but there are still a few issues. The character portraits have been completely re-drawn and look spectacular, but the in-combat sprites are practically unchanged from the way they looked 15 years ago. The interface is also rather clunky at times, so trying to learn magic in combat or figuring out which learned skills become unusable from a class change can be a real headache. The shops are the worst example of this, as it’s nearly impossible to tell if the item you’re buying or crafting will provide the desired boost until you’ve already spent the money. Given the quality of the game as a whole, however, these are frustrations that can be easily set aside.
So yes, Tactics Ogre, I’m very, very sorry I’ve ignored you until now. You really are a classic that every fan of this genre should play. If it means anything to you now, I’m sure we’ll be spending lots of time together for months to come, and hopefully my words will help others realise what a beautiful piece of work you are.
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