Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together Review
Tactics Ogre is a well-known name amongst hardcore strategy/RPG fans. A top-notch, in-depth, turn-based, “board-based” adventure, it was often compared to the reigning king of the sub-genre, Final Fantasy Tactics. For good reason, too, because while there are definite differences, the core gameplay of the two games is essentially the same. Square-Enix has released an upgraded remake entitled Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together and it’s exactly what the fans desire: they didn’t mess with the winning formula; they merely added a few interesting systems, such as the C.H.A.R.I.O.T. concept and tarot cards. For the most part, this is still the game we all loved back in the day and that alone warrants the score. It’s strictly for those who can lose hours and hours to this style of play, but those gamers are going to be quite satisfied.
In all honesty, it’s difficult for me to spot the smaller visual upgrades. One of the downsides of this excellent production (and it’s a downside I well remember) is that all the units appear very tiny on the screen, possibly due to the larger maps/boards and high number of units on a battlefield. I’ve always found the colors to be a little drab and uninteresting, too, especially in comparison to the bright and vivid FFT. That being said, the graphics play a very small role, as you might expect. It’s all about the gameplay and besides, we do get some nice special effects, finely drawn character avatars for dialogue sections, and greatly varying combat locales. Sure, it’s sometimes tough to see what’s what and you won’t be seeing many flashy effects until much later in the game, but like I said, technical proficiency isn’t the point. It’s stable, quick, and fluid, and while that’s not a gigantic accomplishment given the graphics, it’s really all the fan requires from a visual presentation standpoint.
The sound is in much the same boat, but I actually think it’s a tad more important. A fantastic soundtrack and sharp sound effects can have a profound impact on a tense battle. In this respect, we get great audio; the effects really are clean and crisp, and add a layer of luster that the graphics don’t impart. The music is of a classical, symphonic, orchestral nature and it’s a superb fit. We don’t have voices so it’s important that other audio elements pick up the slack. Also, remember one other thing regarding the need for engaging music- we spend a lot of time thinking about our next move in battle and dealing with our party outside of combat. Therefore, as we think and plan, that music is paramount to our enjoyment, even if the soundtrack’s contribution oftentimes exists on a subconscious level. It can get a little repetitive but it’s beautiful, and it never wears on the player.
I’m willing to bet there isn’t anyone reading this review who isn’t familiar with the gameplay. Only those who are interested will have played it back in the PlayStation days, or at the very least, they played and enjoyed other strat/RPGs and know Tactics Ogre is similar. Still, the show must go on, as they say: outside the realm of battle, you will move along a world map. It’s a simple process; just click on a destination and your little character icon will move there. If it’s a town, you will have the option to Shop, where you can purchase everything from equipment to items to Arcana (magic). If it’s a random battlefield (one you’ve already conquered), you may encounter a random battle; if it’s in red, that’s your plot-advancing encounter. Of course, you are encouraged to engage in plenty of random battles for the sake of experience and skill points.
When in battle, you have that old-school “board” where unit movement is denoted by square spaces. There are different levels and types of terrain, which means you need a healthy understanding of your surroundings. Going uphill will always take longer than going down, archers absolutely can’t be below-grade, and general line of sight is important for magicians; you know, that kind of thing. Both ally and enemy units take turns moving based on their speed and recovery time, and in this particular case, there is no delay for a certain skill or spell (at least, I haven’t seen one yet). And there’s another interesting twist: rather than starting with full skill and magic points as one might expect, you actually earn them during battle. Hence, you can’t just cast your most powerful spell or use your best skill right off the bat, unless you use a restorative item. It mixes things up a little but I can’t say I’m a big fan…
I’m also not the biggest fan of the “line of sight” thing. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if my magical bolt of some kind is going to hit the enemy, or an ally standing next to the targeted foe. …am I standing at the right angle with my caster? And what is the deal with this communist approach to distributing experience and skill points? Unlike in FFT, where you have to perform an action to earn EXP and JP (Job Points, in that game), the unit that does nothing during battle will receive the same amount of EXP and SP as the dude who decimated the enemy. I suppose this makes things more accessible, especially when using such a large party, but I still don’t like it.
Quick sidebar- Many people apparently didn’t know, but there was a small party-wide distribution of earned JP in FFT. It was based on Job; everyone on the field would earn 1/8 of the JP accumulated when a character executed an action. In other words, when your Knight earned 32 JP for something, everyone else would receive 4 JP in their Knight class, even if they aren’t a Knight. Just thought I’d prove my Tactics knowledge. ;)
Anyway, my last complaints involve the story – which never really gripped me – and balance. In FFT, all Jobs could be insanely effective if utilized correctly but I think it’s clear that certain classes in Tactics Ogre are just vastly superior to others. I also don’t think it’s right that my Knight with a one-handed sword and some Divine Magic (like White Magic) seemed to be one of the least effective units on the field. That’s a Paladin, damnit! Okay, I’m done with the griping because all in all, this is a damn fine strategy/RPG that will make the hours disappear really, really fast. As a frame of reference, I have to make sure all my work is done before I sit down to play; three hours will be gone in what feels like the blink of an eye. It’s all that micromanagement that holds me in a warm, cozy embrace, just like the good ol’ days. It has been so long since I felt that!
It’s the depth that does it. In many ways, and as much as I hate to admit it, Tactics Ogre is actually more complex than FFT. There aren’t just class limitations on equipment and magic; there are level limitations, too. In order to open new classes, you have to find or buy cards that will let you switch, you have to buy and learn spells in specific categories and those have level limitations, too. The only problem is that when in a Shop, you can’t see exactly how a piece of equipment will alter your stats, so you spend a ridiculous amount of time jumping from Party to Shop on the menu screens. I didn’t mind it too much, but it does add to the invested time. And besides, I love micromanaging and so does everyone else who loves this genre; it’s about equipping and preparing your characters exactly how you see fit. A wonderfully balanced and effective army is a heady experience.
No, I’m serious. Plus, they’ve tossed in the C.H.A.R.I.O.T. and W.O.R.L.D. mechanics this time around; you can read up on those new systems here. Basically, you can now rewind time and “take back” turns that didn’t go so well. Now, any true-blue hardcore gamer would never do such a thing – boy, it feels a lot like cheating – but there are instances where you go, “oh, that shouldn’t have happened. I claim AI cheating!” And in those cases, the “take back” is a blessing. The “Ways of Recording Life’s Destiny” and “Combat History and Refined Implementation of Tactics” are interesting additions but they don’t seem to have a huge impact on the gameplay, and they remain mostly optional. However, at the start of the game, you are asked a half-dozen questions or so, and your answers are supposed to have some significance…hard to say what, but it’s…intriguing.
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a terrific, amazingly fulfilling game if you are a follower of the genre in question. If you are, there’s absolutely no doubt about it; you need to pick it up and play it. You may have some reservations about the experience/skill point allocation, you might not care about the new tarot systems, and you might be like me- you may think that too many units devalues any emotional attachment the player has to his fighters. But you will be sucked in almost immediately; you’ll be able to tell this is from the creators of FFT. That’s a very good thing. I’ve already spent many an engrossing hour with this one and in truth, it has actually stopped me from finishing Dead Space 2. But that’s the singular allure of this type of game for me and I must reiterate, it will not have the same effect on everyone. But others – and we know who you are; Arvis, Underdog, and maybe Highlander – are bound to be happy. I promise.
The Good: Great music and crisp effects. Fantastic gameplay highlighted by amazing depth. Well-written story. Significant and rewarding challenge. Strategy aspects are all top-notch. An absolute gem for strat/RPG and micromanagement buffs.
The Bad: New tarot system doesn’t enhance much. Class balance seems a little off. Process of earning experience and skill points is questionable.
The Bad: “That brain-dead chick keeps trying to fight…how can I protect her when she won’t run away?!"
2/15/2011 Ben Dutka