Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together Review
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On 04/26/2011 at 12:22 PM by Kyle Charizanis
While a remake, this solid tactics game is one that fans of the genre shouldn't miss.
For anyone who likes RPGs, Tactics RPGs, or books.
Tactics Ogre is what you might call a “Tactics RPG.” This means that it’s like an RPG in every way except that battles occur on a pseudo-3D grid. If you’ve ever played Final Fantasy Tactics you’ll know what to expect. I’ve even seen an ad for Tactics Ogre that explicitly said “from the creators of Final Fantasy Tactics.” It’s practically a sequel. Right off the bat I can tell you that if you like that game, you’re definitely going to like this one.
FF Tactics is a good name to associate with, but it’s not like Tactics Ogre needs it. I had a lot of difficulty finding anything wrong with this game. You would have to be completely disgusted by the genre not to at least like it. It’s not the most innovative game, but it’s not trying to be, either. The focus seems to have been on just not making any mistakes.
This game is also extremely thorough. It’s really designed for people who like to customize every little thing about their party, so if that’s you, there’s another reason to play it. Starting at the first town you can change classes, buy new equipment, assign and learn abilities, and just generally wade through a sea of menus. Of course, you don’t have to try out everything right away, but the option is there. Put it this way: my first non-tutorial battle was two hours in.
Visually, Tactics Ogre is impressive. It doesn’t push the graphical limits of the PSP, but the developers clearly put some thought into its art direction. The rich color palette makes it look kind of like a storybook, which is pretty much the theme of the whole game. I guess the only graphical weakness is the sprite work. They’re kind of small and non-expressive. In the game’s defense, though, there are probably practical reasons for going with lower detail. In most battles you can use up to 12 units, which means between you and the bad guys there will often be around 24 units on the field at once. Larger sprites would make it hard to see what’s going on, and might even cause framerate issues. In any case, the attack and magic animations are noticeably better-looking than the sprites that use them.
The character portraits are realistically drawn and very nice to look at. I’m pretty sure they got the concept artist from Vagrant Story to design the characters. They look quite different from the more typical anime drawing style, which makes sense, since the game is going for more of a classical realism aesthetic.
The game’s music is very appropriate. It’s not an amazing soundtrack, but it fits the game perfectly. Like the visuals, Tactics Ogre’s music has a consistent classical, historical, epic feel to it (yet another FF Tactics similarity).
One of the game’s main selling points is its story. It really feels like you’re watching as someone writes a history book. Except unlike the history books I’ve read, it’s really interesting. You jump into the middle of an ongoing conflict, and your side has already lost a major battle. Pretty soon you find yourself on the way to an enemy stronghold to win back your clan’s captured leader. The game does a good job of making you feel like you’re a small part of a larger conflict. The protagonist in Tactics Ogre is definitely not “the chosen one” and he doesn’t have any sort of mysterious magical powers. He is just a really dedicated guy with some combat skills. His experiences are more like a lens through which you see the overarching story.
Both FFT and Tactics Ogre have a great storyline, but FFT (the original, anyway) suffered from a poor translation. Charming as it was, it kind of killed the mood at times, and to be honest I’m still not completely sure what happened in that game. Tactics Ogre has no such problems. The story is easy to follow (but not simplistic) and the characters have more normal conversations. The dialogue does a very good job of maintaining an “Olde English” tone without being gimmicky about it.
I’ve saved the best for last: the battle system. Above all else, Tactics Ogre is fun to play. The grid-based battle system adds an element of positioning to the standard RPG formula. For instance, one of the earlier battles proves to you how useful it is to have the high ground. The enemy’s archers higher up on the tower have no trouble reaching your weaker magic users, but you can’t really counter-attack from the ground. It’s also important to make sure you don’t spread your party out too much. Stronger units have to form a front line to protect weaker ones, but playing too defensively will just get you mowed down by archers and enemy mages. There’s always a delicate balance that has to be achieved. Luckily, it’s exactly hard enough to be worthwhile but not frustrating.
Part of the reason the battle system is so fun is that your party is highly customizable. Specifically, it’s the system of learning and assigning skills across classes that really draws you in. The skill system is (WHAT A SURPRISE) similar to FF Tactics’. Both games essentially have you fight, gain skills points, and spend those points on class-specific skills. The main difference is that Tactics Ogre lets you use mix and match skills with more freedom. Instead of dividing them up into command skills and movement skills and so on, Tactics Ogre just gives you a number of skill slots that you can fill with whatever you want. And more slots can be added as the game progresses. It’s highly customizable this way, but not every combination is compatible. You can’t make a warrior with Fire magic, for instance. This kind of depth is what makes it so fun to bring a carefully designed party into battle.
The “Chariot Tarot” system allows you to go back to an earlier point in a battle and see what would happen if you had acted differently. I know that sounds cheap, but really, Tactics Ogre is hard enough that it balances itself out. And going back to an earlier turn doesn’t make the game re-evaluate its probabilities; that monster is always going to get a critical hit unless you do something different beforehand. It’s more like a convenience, really. Most of the time I just forgot about it. Later on, this effect extends outside of battle, and you can go back to key points in time to redo the game from that point. This one isn’t problematic at all. It’s more like a strategic auto-save feature.
Here’s something I was sure I’d hate, but didn’t: MP starts at 0 and fills up automatically as the battle progresses. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2 did this, and it was one of my reasons for not wanting to play it. But in Tactics Ogre it really doesn’t get in the way. Maybe I was just glad that it didn’t fill up by exactly 10 every turn. In any case, don’t be put off by automatic MP refilling. It’s actually pretty nice not to have to ration your MP so carefully.
Another thing that seems bad at first is that you level up classes instead of individual characters. At the end of the battle, it’s “Warrior” that gets the experience, not Denam. It’s kind of weird, but this also doesn’t get in the way. It’s really useful for recruiting new units, since they join your party at the level of their class instead of level one. And recruiting units is more important in Tactics Ogre than FFT, since you need “classmarks” to change between classes. Most classmarks are easy to find, so it’s not a hassle to switch between the main ones, but it makes it exciting to run into an unfamiliar enemy in a fight. Killing them might make them drop a classmark and unlock a brand new class.
The only thing I’d want to see added to Tactics Ogre is a feature in newer Fire Emblem games which allows you to highlight enemy units to keep their attack range visible on the field. I found myself having to check how far enemy units could move then mentally adding in their attack range, especially for ranged units. It would have been nice to have that tedious work done automatically.
Nothing seems particularly wrong with this game. I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece, but at the same time I can’t think of any major flaws, only little inconveniences. The visuals, sound, story and gameplay are all good. I guess the developers really know their stuff.