Hands-On Preview: Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (Sony PSP)

It’s hard to believe that it has been fifteen years since I first played Ogre Battle Episode VII: Tactics Ogre – Let us Cling Together (Yes, that was the full title) on my Sega Saturn as one of my first import titles for the system. Since then I’ve played the PSX port, the original Super Nintendo version, purchased the Virtual Console version for my Japanese Wii and now am halfway through the PSP remake of the game set for North American shores on February 15th. I was quite happy when Square-Enix sent me a copy of the game a month and a half before its official release and now that I’ve spent some time with it I thought it would be fun to share some of my thoughts on the game before the official review goes up in a few weeks.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that Quest is back together and doing what they do best – making top notch video games. For me, The Knight of Lodis aka the second Tactics Ogre game was my favorite game in not only the Ogre series, but out of everything I had played on the Game Boy Advance. It’s my hope that if this remake of Tactics Ogre sells enough copies we’ll get a remake of that, an English localization and remake of the awesone Ogre Battle Gaiden for the Neo*Geo Pocket Colour, or best of all – a new Ogre game. Battle or Tactics – I don’t care. Just give it to me!

I had a crazy idea to basically sit down with this game and try to use my old Prima strategy guide for the PSX version with this game. I gave away my old PSX game to a reader in a contest years ago but I still had the guide. I thought it would be fun to see how closely the remake followed the original in everything from battle layouts to story progression. I was amazed that save for a few localization changes of chapter titles and character names, it’s basically the same exact game. You still have the tarot card opening straight out of Ultima IV that decides your alignment and stats, the same amazing plot that shakes an entire continent to its core, the same memorable characters and the same branching paths Since I’m only halfway through my first play through I can’t confirm that all eight endings are still here (or if they have added more), but I’m sure they are considering how the game is all but a mirror of the original version.

That isn’t to say the game is a straight up port of clone of the original. Indeed some things are very different gameplay wise and I have to admit…I don’t necessarily like any of the changes save for one. Let’s cover each of these changes first though.

First is the Chariot function. This allows you to go back in time up to fifty moves and replay them in an attempt to try again if you messed up. Now this is a nice option for people new to SRPGs, but to be honest, this has actually sucked all the challenge out of the game. I wish there was a way to toggle this. Has seeing how wildly unbalanced it is, I basically stopped using it and refused to acknowledge its existence.

Another big change is the “Wheel of Fortune” which lets you go back to events outside of combat and choose different paths. This is a nice idea since there are two possible chapter twos (one for law and one for chaos) and three possible chapter threes (Law, chaos and neutrality) so after you beat one path you can go back and try another instead of starting your game all the way over. The downside to this is the is kind of kills the impetus to start from scratch and make a new fully customized team. Kind of like when I was a kid and would playing Shining Force, but not let myself use any of the characters I had beaten the game with in my previous playthrough.

A third change is that “training” has been removed from the game. In the original Tactics Ogre which let you divide your team into two groups and train them. This not only let you learn each character’s strengths and weaknesses, but it also took the place of the dreaded level grinding. As well, training was the best way to get Baramus (an optional characterin the old version) unless you wanted to basically play a random battle and devote one character to casting storm the entire time. This is something I strongly miss about the original.

A fourth change is regarding character death. In the original game when a character died, you had three rounds to bring them back or they were kaput. In this game, if you don’t raise them in time they lose one of their three lives. Once they lose all three lives, they are forever out of the game, but all their skills can be switched over to a different character. We saw Quest do this is Final Fantasy Tactics, but you’d only get a single skill there. This new option, again, makes the game far easier than the original version and it makes me wonder what would happen if I killed a character who didn’t have any lives left when they were wearing an Angel Ring or an Undead Ring. Would they get the super special class or would they stay kaput? Is that even an option in this new version? As soon as I get one, I’ll let you know.

The fifth one, and the one I like least is that you aren’t leveling up characters anymore, but classes. So if you get a brand new level one character and your Knight class is level 56 or something insane, you can move them to a Knight and bam – instead powerhouse instead of leveling them up. Now again we see the running theme of making the game much easier than the original, right? Well Quest has tried to temper that by making you have to buy or find class changes. Basically a class change or a “Mark” has to be used in order to change a class. If you run out of those marks, you can’t change to a class. This is horribly thought on two levels. The first is that if you have a new class and all of your other classes are at level 23, this new class will only produce characters AT LEVEL ONE. This of course makes new classes all but useless the farther into the game you get and really leaves exploration of classes to the masochistic. It makes me wonder how the hell the game is going to pull of the Lord class when I get it. The second is that the game only lets you check the stats that would change by switching classes before you do so, but not the skills. This means you have to save the game, use a mark to change a characters class, look at the skill lists, decide if they are compatible with the character or not and what you are trying to build and then load up the old game and do over to see if there is a character you actually want to switch this with. It’s poorly thought out and honestly, this new system killed a lot of the fun for me. In the original game I’d be so excited to get the stats or item to finally use a special class. Now I just have to use an item and bam – there it is. A lot of the gratification is gone, replaced by cakewalking through the battles.

The sixth changes comes in the form of class skills. Now characters gain skill points while the aforementioned classes gain experience points. Skill points can be used to purchase skills for characters that range from being able to use magic, use different weapons, regenerate magic faster, or give you a bonus to recruiting a specific type of troop. This is where you can actually customize your troops and experiment to see what works best. I do like that my Eagle Man can counter attack every time with a bow or fire spells now…

The Seventh and final change comes in the form of “Challenge Battles.” This new option is basically the Mystery Hut from Pokemon Crystal where you can send a team of your characters on over to another PSP and vice versa allowing you to take on a CPU controlled version of the opposing team. This is a neat idea, and in a way it replaces training.

So there are seven big changes to the game and almost all of them are geared towards making the game exceptionally easy. This is a big disappointment to me as the challenge and strategy of the original OT and Knight of Lodis are a big part of what I love about them. However, we’ll still see if I think the game is incredibly easy when I finally battle Dolgaria in this new game. As well, remember these are just first impressions and I’ve been playing this game for fifteen years now, so my dislike of these new features may fade the longer I play the game and grow accustomed to them.

As well, this isn’t to say the remake is a bad one. It’s very close to the original and the story is perfectly intact and that’s what matter most. Even more important is that this remake is obviously geared toward people new to SRPGs and/or younger gamers which is a smart decision business-wise. Everyone who grew up with the original Tactics Ogre is in their late 20s to late 30s and that’s definitely not the core demographic for the the industry (and probably never will be). By making the game easier, it’s more inviting to a wider range of gamers who are used to MUCH easier RPGs like the Final Fantasy series. Finally, you can always choose to ignore several of the changes if you want a more “classic Ogre feel” by just not using them. Sure the game is a lot easier and even a step or two back from Knight of Lodis or the original OT, but it’s still a well made one from what I’ve played through so far.

Again, Ogre Tactics: Let Us Cling Together hits shelves February 15th. You can check back then for a full review on the game and see what my final verdict is. Until then. I’ll being doing my best to guide the fate of Valeria for the umpteenth time.

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