If you live in Europe, chances are you never played Tactics Ogre. The game was originally released in Japan for the Super Famicom in 1995 and was welcomed with much praise. It eventually made its way to North America in 1998 when it was re-released for the PSone. And now, over 15 years later, Tactics Ogre is finally available in all three regions for the first time. This isn’t a simple port either. Square Enix has made significant changes and improvements to make this the best version of the game yet. It may have been a long time coming, but it was certainly worth the wait.
Tactics Ogre begins with a short character creation process. Some of the choices you make are simple, such as the name of your hero and his date of birth. Shortly after, however, some rather abstract questions are asked in the form of tarot cards. It’s a bit deceptive since your answers only seem to affect your character’s base stats and in no way influences the outcome of the story. For something worded with such importance at the very beginning of the game, you’re led to believe that your choices are far more significant than they really are.
The plot is a different story. Without getting into any spoilers, it becomes clear within the first chapter just how serious it can get. As a player, you are forced to make difficult decisions that truly change the outcome of events which, in turn, determines who you can recruit and directly shapes the hero in interesting ways. As the story unfolds, there is a lot of political intrigue to digest which might be overwhelming for younger audiences to fully grasp. The new localization also provides a more mature and sophisticated narrative than its PSone counterpart. The difference is night and day.
Players are able to get more from the story by reading the comprehensive Warren Report. It’s here that you’re able to revisit events, review accomplishments, read detailed profiles on every character encountered, and receive juicy gossip to unlock optional sub-quests. There’s also a play guide which serves as a tutorial to help players better understand the gameplay mechanics.
The turn-based gameplay in Tactics Ogre is pretty standard for the genre and uses a traditional isometric perspective to show all the action. If you never played a tactics game before it might take you some time to get adjusted. Basically, each battle is like a game of chess. Strategy is absolutely necessary if you want to succeed and the difficulty can be brutal at times.
The traditional class types you’d expect from a SRPG are all represented. Warriors, archers, clerics, and wizards are available very early on with tons of advanced classes unlockable as you progress through the story. There’s also a ridiculous amount of customization tools given to the player that will allow you to compensate for any situation thrown your way. You might find yourself spending a good hour just micromanaging your team for a single encounter. This is definitely not a game for the impatient.
Most missions consist of defeating the enemy leader and that’s pretty much it. There’s little variety and this could lead to battles ending quicker than you’d think. It really depends on how well you can strategically place your units in relation to your objective. Most of the time, you’ll find yourself using archers since they seem to be the most imbalanced class in the game. They do great damage, hit from long range and have amazing weapon skills. There’s really no reason to not have at least three in a party at a time, maybe even more.
Leveling up, for the most part, comes naturally and doesn’t require much grinding. Unlike most games in the genre, levels are tied to character classes and not the characters themselves. This means that you can recruit a new warrior that is the same level as your current one right from the start. One of the more tedious tasks is leveling up a new class, however. The time investment required just to bring a class up to speed is enough to detract from the experience. It just doesn’t seem worth the effort most of the time. You might find yourself sticking to characters used since the beginning of the game for this very reason.
Occasionally, there will be times when a recruitable character needs to be saved in the middle of a battle. The objective is simple enough but the execution is frustrating to say the least. The AI seems to have this weird fascination with getting itself killed. Sometimes it seems nearly impossible to save a character in time. You might find yourself spending hours on a single mission just trying to make things right. This type of difficulty spike doesn’t really make any sense.
The equipment shop is another aspect that is consistently annoying. There is simply no way to try out any of the new gear without actually purchasing it first. While the easiest solution might be to buy the newest equipment available, it’s not that simple if you actually care about stat changes and bonuses. Sometimes it’s actually better if you don’t buy the latest gear. Having to exit the shop to constantly compare changes for each individual items is just so unintuitive and makes the whole process of upgrading equipment a hassle.
[boxout]The PSP version of Tactics Ogre sports a variety of new features. Environments blocking your view is no longer a problem since players are now able to zoom out and switch to an overhead perspective during gameplay. Another new mechanic is the Chariot Tarot system, which allows you to revisit the last 50 moves made in a battle. If you ever make a simple mistake like healing the wrong person, you can instantly rectify the situation without any worries. As you can imagine, the Chariot Tarot is a very powerful tool and it can be used at any time. Essentially, you change the outcome of an entire battle by going back and making one slight modification. This gives players an incentive to explore the various outcomes of a battle and it makes the game more accessible to newcomers.
Once you beat the game, the World Tarot mechanic unlocks giving you the opportunity to go back in time and replay events and take different paths. This means that you don’t have to start a new game a bunch of times just to see every aspect of the story. For a game that has as many paths as this one, this is a great feature to be taken advantage of. What’s neat is that your party will stay intact no matter how far back you go, even if it doesn’t particularly make any sense to the story.
Pretty much everything, aside from the character sprites, has been remade for this version. The menus are cleaner, the character portraits are all new and the 3D environments are a huge improvement over the original. Even the soundtrack has been re-arranged and features brand new compositions from the original composers. While the soundtrack isn’t exactly memorable, it’s still brilliant all around. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself stalling cutscenes just to listen to your favorite tune. There’s even a dedicated music player included in the Warren Report, which will definitely please fans.
Tactics Ogre also features a multiplayer mode but it doesn’t actually allow you to compete against another player directly. Instead, you can receive a party made by another player and it will be controlled by an AI. When forming a challenge party you can choose the units, battlefield, rank, and even create battle cries for each individual character. It’s a unique setup but it doesn’t come close to live competition.
- Engaging storyline with multiple branching paths
- Tons of replay value
- Phenomenal soundtrack
- New gameplay mechanics that enhance the experience
- Features additional characters not included in the original game
- Slightly more accessible to newcomers
- Rewards exploration and risk taking
- Frustrating AI
- Clunky user interface
- Blurry character sprites unless zoomed out
- Sporadic difficulty
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a true classic that deserves every bit of praise it receives. While not a perfect game, the problems are nothing more than annoyances in the grand scheme of things. If you’re a fan of Final Fantasy Tactics, getting this game should be a no brainer. The story is well written, the narrative is powerful, and the gameplay is still amongst some of the best in the genre – even 15 years later. They just don’t make games this great anymore.