Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together PSP
Published by Square Enix
Developed by Square Enix
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a reimagining of the Tactics Ogre that appeared on the SNES way back in 1995. Whilst I can't comment on how this version of the game compares to the original, except to say that I'm informed that it features new visuals, new characters and new content as well as additional gameplay elements, it's easily the finest strategy RPG to appear on the PSP and arguably the finest ever in the genre. I don't make that statement lightly either having played a large number of strategy RPG titles over the years. The amount of depth on offer here is staggering and yet at no point does it ever become overwhelming or too longwinded.
The isles of Valeria are caught up in a power struggle following the death of Dynast-King Dorgalua, who didn't leave an heir to his throne. The bloody struggle between the three major clans, the Bakram, the Galgastani and Walister has raged since the death of the Dynast-King. You'll play as a young man from Walister who lost his father in the conflict. With his sister and his best friend, they are part of the resistance that are determined to halt the oppression of the Bakram and Galgastan as they seek to protect their homeland. They haven't much hope by themselves but soon ally with powerful mercenaries and when they rescue a Duke, they find themselves in a position to form Clan Walister and recruit new allies. The game's storyline is very impressive and you'll want to keep playing to see how it turns out.
Tactics Ogre is a grid-based strategy RPG and if you've played any games in the genre you'll instantly feel at home with how the game plays. In any given turn you can move a unit, perform an action (a melee or ranged attack, use magic or a finishing move) and check the condition of other units. After completing a move you'll get to set the direction in which your unit is facing. You can also use the Chariot Tarot system (more on that in a moment) during a turn. Elevation has to be taken into account during the course of battle as this affects and even prohibits some attacks. Weather must also be taken into account. It can have an effect on both movement, cost and attack accuracy. The weather can also change during the course of a battle and have either a positive or negative effect on your battle strategy. On the whole the battle system is excellent. The battles can be tough but as long as you develop your units appropriately and use them wisely in battle, victory is never too difficult to attain and the inclusion of the Chariot Tarot system means you're never harshly punished for your mistakes.
If you've played your fair share of strategy RPG games you'll know how things can sometimes can go awry in battles. A single bad decision (or several bad decisions in my case) can lead to big problems, if not total disaster, with the result being that you'll have to replay the mission and try and avoid the same mistakes the second time around. Of course you can avoid the same mistakes and then make other mistakes. This can make some battles feel a little irritating. Tactics Ogre has the perfect solution to all of this learning by trial and error. The Chariot Tarot system enables you to take back up to 50 moves. You'll simply press the L button and roll the action back to your preferred move. You'll even have an action replay of the move, and can call up a log giving details of the turn, prior to selecting it, to remind you of what happened. This is a brilliant inclusion as it takes a lot of frustration out of the game, as you don't have to replay the whole mission again just to correct a bad move, and it encourages you to develop your strategy and try things you normally wouldn't for fear of ruining the mission.
There are a generous variety of classes in Tactics Ogre. In a rather bizarre twist it's your classes that level-up and not the individual characters. On the face of it you might think that this would lead to having rather generic classes with each unit in a class being the same as the next. This isn't the case however. During a battle your unit will earn skill points and with these unit skills can be purchased for each of your units. These unit skills, in addition to the many items you can equip each character with, essentially allow you to customise each unit to perform exactly how you want them to perform and it's possible to have two units from the same class perform very differently from each other. One major positive about having the whole class level-up is that when recruiting new characters (your party can consist of a maximum of 50 units but the maximum you can take into a battle is 12, and at times you're limited to less), you don't have to spend hours levelling them up from their low levels so that they are on a par with the rest of your units and that saves many hours of tedium over the course of the game.
So is the game absolutely perfect then? You'll find yourself in battles when you're accompanied by AI controlled guests. Whilst the enemy AI does a good job of making your battles challenging, the AI for the guests likes to throw caution to the wind and appears to have scant regard for keeping themselves alive. This can be annoying and you'll want to take measures to make sure you cover the backs of your AI guests whenever possible. Some may also find the storyline rather elaborate and may wish to cut right to the action but there's no denying that the storyline is impressive and much better than what you find in most RPG games. On the whole however, the game is a shining example of what a strategy RPG should be all about.
Tactics Ogre is a long game. Not only will the game take more than forty hours to complete, there's more to do once you've finished the story. The World Tarot system allows you to revisit the storyline at certain points and explore all of the branching paths with your current party. The ability to go back and see how all of the alternate storylines can play out without starting a new game is truly impressive and at the very least doubles the playing time of the game. The game even has a pseudo multiplayer mode. Well in actual fact it's the ability to download a party from another player and have the AI take control of the party. It's not a major addition but it is one that adds further replay value to the game.
The presentation of Tactics Ogre is absolutely first class and represents a nice balance between the charming classic and the stylish. There are no technical issues here with the frame rate being rock solid and the load times being short (especially if you install data to your memory card). The game is played from the classic isometric view point and sprites have been used for the characters. The isometric view can mean a less than ideal view of the action but provision has been made to counter this as you can switch to an overhead camera to allow you a crystal clear view of the action at all times. There is a range of impressive special effects here for various magic spells and weather effects all look fantastic. A special mention has to be given to the interface which is excellent. On most screens you'll see a lot of information and for the first few hours of playing the game you'll not be fully aware of what everything means. By pressing the select button you'll see small pips appear alongside the various data and you can cycle between these with the directional buttons to get a full text description of what that data means which is excellent and does away with the need to constantly refer to the manual. The manual itself, by the way, has been nicely done and should answer most questions you'll have about the game.
The bulk of the dialogue in the game is text only with character portraits and names being displayed alongside the text so you're always aware of who is speaking. What speech there is, is subtitled. Tutorial information is all given in text. Your objectives/victory conditions are given in text and can be recalled. The game uses a multitude of icons to convey information (the meaning of which are explained in the game manual). In essence then, Tactics Ogre is absolutely fine for deaf gamers.
The PSP has some pretty impressive strategy RPG's with Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness and Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions but Tactics Ogre is, in many ways, a superior game to both of them. The storyline is engaging, the battle system impressive and amount of character customisation is impressive. The game has more depth than any other strategy RPG I've played and I would go as far to say it's the most impressive game on the PSP to date, providing you're a fan of strategy RPG titles of course. I should also mention that at the time of writing the game is available as a Premium Edition which features an art book, a mini-soundtrack (mentioned only for completeness) and a 50% off voucher for Vagrant Story when purchased from the PSN store. Without these extras this is already a benchmark PSP title but there's no denying it's an excellent package and highly recommended for those who don't have Vagrant Story.