Developer: Square Enix / Publisher: Square Enix / ESRB: Teen (Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes) / Played on: PSP / Price: $39.99
Riddle me this: name a tactical RPG that isn’t Final Fantasy Tactics. I know, I know, most people can think of a few (Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, Valkyria Chronicles), but not everyone knows of one of the earliest games in the genre: Tactics Ogre. Originally released in 1995 and initially only for the Japanese Super Famicom and American PlayStation, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is to this day heralded as one of the best tactical RPGs ever. Fans rejoice: a revamped version of the game is now available for the PSP, and it’s even better than the original!
The kingdom of Valeria hasn’t seen peace in several decades. Warring factions and class struggles plague even the most minute of towns. You take on the role of Denam, a young man searching for a way to end the fighting and bring peace to the land. With your sister Catiua and best friend Vyce in tow, you’ll learn of secret alliances, fight demonic beasts, and form a small rebellion army in your quest – all standard stuff for any RPG worth its salt. Each character has a unique personality and backstory that unfolds during the game, which creates an incredible sense of depth. The storytelling is stellar and engaging. Each new character you run in to, battle you fight, or person you kill has an implication in the overall story. A huge factor in how the game plays out comes from the choices you make at certain intervals. Should you kill your attacker, or set him free? The ending of the game depends on what you choose, and there are plenty of different paths to take. Fortunately, upon beating the game the “World” option opens up. Here, you can go back to specific parts of the game and replay each section, opting a different path to see how it would have played out differently. This mode saves you the tedium of playing the entire game over again just to see a different ending, and is a welcome addition. The story here is laid on thick, so be prepared to read, as there are no voices for in-game dialogue.
On the surface Tactics Ogre looks like any other tactical RPG (with an uncanny resemblance to Final Fantasy Tactics), with grid-based, turn-by-turn combat featuring a multitude of classes and weapons. But the similarities end there. You start out the game with a battalion of five or six characters, but later parts of the game will see you wage war with up to 12 allies. You gain experience but not for individual characters. Instead you level up the class of the character, and when you change jobs to that class you start at that level. So when you decide you want your Cleric to be a Priest, they’ll start at level 15 instead of one. Characters earn Battle Points for each victory that are used to purchase and equip skills. A comprehensive list of skills ranging from improved ranged accuracy to basic or advanced elemental spells can be assigned to every character, allowing you to customize your party how you see fit. Each character can only have so many skills equipped at a time, so creating a balanced team is essential. Tactics Ogre is as much about defeating your enemies as it is cycling through menus, equipping new skills, and editing your team. Battles can take anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour, so make sure you keep your battery charged if on the go. One playthrough will take more than 40 hours to beat, and you can easily tack on an additional 20 or more if you go back in the World system and experience each branching story.
Tactics Ogre isn’t an easy game by any means. If your team is not up to par, prepare to reload your last save and try again. A gracious tutorial mission helps explain the basics of the game, but your own strategy is crucial. This is where the Chariot system steps in. A totally new mechanic, the Chariot system stores the last 50 turns in a timeline list and allows you to return to any previous turn and replay the battle from there. This addition is a godsend, as battles can quickly get out of hand through one simple mistake. Being able to go back up to 50 turns and replay the entire battle helps to ease the overall difficulty of the game, and is one of the most innovative mechanics I’ve seen in any RPG.
A multiplayer option is available that allows you to download ghost-data of another player’s team and have the computer control their party as you fight for victory. It’s nothing to get excited about, and ultimately suffices as a throw-away mode.
Graphics and Sound
It’s not hard to see that Tactics Ogre is showing its age. Sprites and polygonal landscapes look mostly as they did for the PS1 version of the game. The overall graphical style is extremely similar, if not identical, to Final Fantasy Tactics (which also happened to get a PSP-remake). Character portraits, however, are detailed and look good with an elegant hand-drawn style that gives each character personality. Terrain and buildings are all 3D and actually have bearing on the effectiveness or accuracy of attacks. What really steals the show here is the music. Extraordinary orchestral pieces play during your campaign. Dreary melodies play as you fight in a run-down village and a villainous tune haunts you as inevitable betrayal sets in. The music helps to set the mood for each and every situation, creating just as much tension or ease as the story itself.
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together for the PSP is the new definition of how a game should be remade. Innovative additions like the Chariot and World systems are something that should be in any subsequent game in the genre, as they make the game less tedious and more fun to play. Tweaks to gameplay standards like the leveling system take away from the dull grinding while not removing any difficulty. Square Enix has managed to make a beloved tactical RPG even better than its source material. PSP owners looking for something new and especially RPG fans owe it to themselves to go out and buy this game. It is easily the best game to grace the system in a long time.