2022 has been a good year for tactical-RPG fans, from the arrival of Triangle Strategy, a thoroughly modern yet familiar entry in the grid-based genre, to the upcoming Marvel’s Midnight Suns. Tactics Ogre: Reborn resurrects one of the genre’s hallowed champions, taking the Sega Saturn and PlayStation-era favourite and adding a bunch of strategic bells and some shiny new whistles. Whether you’re a long-time fan or a newcomer, Tactics Ogre: Reborn makes a wonderful and welcome return.
Tactics Ogre: Reborn’s iconic status amongst TRPG fans is at least in part due to its creator Yasumi Matsuno, who, after completing the original Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, went on to produce Final Fantasy Tactics. While the Final Fantasy outing is the more well-known, Tactics Ogre shares so much of the same DNA that they’re often hard to tell apart. They’re both genre essentials, and hopefully this remake will ensure that Tactics Ogre achieves the same renown as its close cousin.
Set in the Valerian Isles, you enter at the outbreak of civil war. While the realm has known prosperity and peace in recent years, the death of the king has set three Valerian factions – the Bakram, the Galgastani and the Walisters – against each other, and you’re thrown into the midst of it.
You take on the role of Denam, a Walister soldier, with your ongoing decisions affecting the entire outcome of the branching narrative. Depending on your choices there’s opportunities for both hard-won victories and utterly crushing emotional defeat, and you have the chance to shape both Denam and Valeria in your own image. You’re joined at the outset by Vyce, a childhood friend and slightly snivelly warrior, and your sister, Catiua, who brings balance to the trio. I started to think of them as a medieval Harry, Ron and Hermione, but the differences soon become clear.
As one of the key entries in the tactical RPG genre, it’s little surprise to find that Tactics Ogre: Reborn plays host to its atypical mechanics. You’ll move your party of warriors across an isometric grid, paying attention to both yours and your enemy’s range, as well as your positioning and your direction, while you attempt to dispatch the enemy forces using a range of attacks, skills and abilities. Mixing melee, ranged attacks and magic, Tactics Ogre: Reborn’s combat remains thoroughly engaging, although it can be long-winded on larger battlefields that set you well apart from your foe.
That can be countered by a number of quality-of-life improvements to the way battles play out, including a fast-forward function that speeds everything along. Also, if you find you’ve made a dreadful mistake, the Chariot Tarot allows you to rewind a certain number of moves, hopefully letting you correct whatever tactical blunder you’ve made.
If you’re looking for value, Tactics Ogre: Reborn offers plenty of bang for your monetary units, as it’ll likely take you 50-60 hours to complete your first playthrough. That’s true even if you’re a returning player, and especially if you find yourself rewinding some battles multiple times. If you’re then wanting to see how the different paths play out you can use the World Tarot which lets you alter your choices, adding even more value and giving completionists a ton of content to wade through. You can also spend a lot of time tinkering with your party; there’s a host of equipment, skills and abilities to consider, as well as different classes and the added wrinkle of elemental alignment to consider that can keep you in the menus for hours themselves.
Square Enix have given the visuals a buff, of course, but there is an odd mix between the high-definition artwork and UI and the classic chunky sprites that you use in combat. When you add in the full voice-acting – available in both English and Japanese – there’s an odd juxtaposition between the old and the new. There are occasions where you feel like you could just be playing the original release, and it can be jarring when you realise that you’re not.
That’s not to say that these new additions aren’t welcome, though. The character portraits and cutscene artwork are stunning, and the voice acting serves to bring the narrative to life in a whole new way. Some of the performances can be a little grandiose, but I came to love their theatricality. The audio is also stellar and the newly recorded live renditions of Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata’s original score sound phenomenal. Sakimoto has also contributed new tracks for Reborn, bringing a level of care and attention we don’t often see in remakes.
I mainly reviewed Tactics Ogre: Reborn on Steam Deck, and there’s something about the tactical-RPG genre that just suits handheld play. Perhaps it’s because the last two times I’ve played the game were on PSP and the PS Vita, but there’s something cosy and comfortable about bedding down with a tactical RPG. Tactics Ogre: Reborn obviously plays perfectly on Valve’s handheld PC, but wherever you play you don’t have to worry about any performance issues or hiccups along the way.