Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release Date: 02/15/2011
If you’ve been reading me of any amount of time, you know that Quest is one of my favorite development teams of all time. You know that Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis is in my top five SRPG/Tactical RPGs of all time and that I was pretty disheartened by how Quest was bought by Square who then had them abandon the Ogre series in favor of making a Final Fantasy Tactics (which was incredible, but not as good at either TO) and its two less than stellar Advance sequels, along with Vagrant Story, and Final Fantasy XII. All the while S-E was slowly breaking the team of Quest up, defeating the purpose of purchasing them in the first place. However, after finally realizing the popularity of the Ogre series on both sides of the pacific, Square got the original team back together, including the creator of the Ogre series, Yasumi Matsuno, who left Square-Enix in 2005. The end result was a remake of the original Tactics Ogre which was originally released in 1995 for the Super Famicon and Sega Saturn systems. This was mainly due to Famitsu readers listing Tactics Ogre as the 7th best game in history in a poll – which basically said to Square, “Holy crap! We’ve been sitting on a pile of MONEY we’ve allowed to lie dormant for a decade!” This not only woke up Square, but is proof that gamers can actually get publishers to do what they want if they are vocal and large enough (See also – Sam and Max Season 3 for the US version of Playstation Plus).
So here we are – due to sheer fan demand (and a bit of embarrassment for how Quest has been treated by Square since purchasing them), Square-Enix has brought the band back together for a remake of the original game. If you read my original first impressions of the game after a dozen hours with it, you’ll no doubt recall that I was less then enthused about the changes made to the system and that the game was noticeably worse than the original. Now that I’ve beaten all three paths of the game (I still haven’t seen all eight endings though), have I warmed up to the changes…or has the game managed to ensure we won’t be getting a remake of my beloved Knight of Lodis?
I’ll be direct here – Let Us Cling Togeher has one of the best stories in the history of computerized role playing games. I can’t stress that enough. Of course this is coming from someone with two degrees in Political Science and who used to work for a pro wrestling Governor, so the sheer depth of the political intrigue and realistic look at what war truly is with everything being a shade of grey gets my blood flowing in a way some angst ridden title with poor characterization and spiky haired anime kids wielding oversized weapons never could.
I should note that Tactics Ogre‘s story is exceptionally realistic, save for the occasional fantasy creature. This is a tale of the Valerian Isles – a region whose beauty is matched only by the violence that fills its shores. The three regions of the land – Bakram, Galgastani and Walister have been fighting amongst each other since the death of the great king Dorgalna. This is a tale of three childhood friends, Denam and Catiua, a brother and sister pair who have joined the Walister resistance after witnessing one atrocity too many, and Vyce who is Denam’s best friend and a character you will grow to hate in a level words on a screen cannot possibly describe.
With eight different endings and three very different routes that the game can take, it is impossible to fully express the scope or the depth of the story. All that can really be said is that Quest writes RPGs like no other and the game is almost Shakespearian in both the way the game is written and the tragedy that consistently befalls ever character in the game. Yes people, this is about as dark as a game gets – mainly because the story is very realistic and even minor characters are given more back story than some RPGs give to their prime protagonists. Let Us Cling Together is proof that something can be beautiful and depressing at the same time. It’s by far one of the best stories you will ever find in a video game, and once you’ve played it you can definitely see Square had Quest make Final Fantasy Tactics (which is often cited as having the best overall story for a FF labeled game)for them. I’m happy to report the story is almost exactly the same as the original. Really the only differences are some localization differences to names, locations and chapter titles. For example Denim is now Denam, Kachua is now Catina, and so on. These are all very minor changes which can be attributed to having a Square-Enix team do the localization instead of Atlus USA(Who did the PSX port localization). I know some people can get grumpy about name changes, but it’s the most minor and least offensive of the changes to the game.
The bottom line is, even I am far from a fan of the gameplay changes made to the game, the story alone is reason enough to experience the game. It’s that good.
Story Rating: Unparalleled
While the visuals are a step up from the original SNES/Saturn/PSX graphics from the mid 1990s, I was a bit disappointed to see it’s about the same quality as those of Knight of Lodis. Now KoL was a beautiful game for 2002 on the Game Boy Advance, but this is 2011 and the PSP. On one hand I’m glad to see Square didn’t make Quest give the game a massive visual overhaul and that the game still has the same visual style of an Ogre game. On the other, this is a $39.99 game and the visuals may turn off gamers that expect high level next gen graphics from their PSP. Compared to other grid based tactical games for the system, like Disgaea, Jeanne D’Arc or Z.H.P., Tactics Ogre shows its age and then some.
I do enjoy the character portraits, which have been completely redone from scratch and are a noticeably improvement. Unfortunately, each character only gets one, which prevents a range of emotion and non-verbals from being expressed. Backgrounds and in-battle visuals definitely look and feel a generation or two behind what is possible. Unfortunately this will be a deal breaker for a lot of gamers, especially with the price point. What’s here is acceptable and will no doubt be nostalgic and fun for those of us who have been fans of the Ogre series for the beginning, but for everyone else, the graphics will be underwhelming.
Graphics Rating: Mediocre
The original soundtrack for Tactics Ogre was very catchy and memorable. I enjoyed it and the same can be said for the PSP remake. The music fits the dramatic nature of the game nicely and although none of the tracks are ones I will find myself humming after I’ve turned the game off, each track goes along with its specific battle or story event and you’ll never feel the need to mute your PSP unless you’re in a public area without headphones.
They’ve added a narrator for each chapter. Unfortunately, she is someone monotone and can’t convey emotion or the seriousness of the tale very well. Think a female Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. As well, they’ve gotten rid of my favorite bit of voice acting from the series -which has been a mainstay of the series from the beginning. I’m talking about the “Fight it out!” voice clip that used to come when a battle started. I was shocked how much I missed that, but it’s something that will only matter to people who are longtime fans of the series, and even then it’s a very minor quibble.
Overall, the music is fun and I’m glad they didn’t put voice acting in the game. A bad voice acting decision here or there could have completely destroyed the mood of the story. At the same time, it has me wondering how Square could charge $39.99 for this considering this remake is very no-frills, but hey that didn’t stop them from charging $40 for a straight port of Chrono Trigger either, now did it?
Sound Rating: Enjoyable
4. Control and Gameplay
Sadly, here is where things start to fall apart. There are a lot of changes to the actual PLAYING of Tactics Ogre, and none of them are for the better. The game is still playable, but to anyone who has played the original, Knight of Lodis, or even FFT, this game will like a few steps in the wrong direction and will be a bit underwhelming to most SRPG fans because of it. I’m not sure what was the reason behind these changes, but they are so poorly done, one has to wonder why they were allowed to continue into the final game.
Let’s start with what hasn’t changed. You have grid based combat, where turn order of characters is determined by their speed, their Reaction Time (RT) and what they did on their last turn. If all they did was move, their next turn will come sooner than if they had moved and attacked, or moved, used a skill, and attacked. Each battle has a specific goal you have to accomplish like keeping a NPC alive, killing all enemies, or just killing a specific enemy leader. In this respect the game is unchanged and as classic as ever. The game is VERY SLOW MOVING compared to a lot of other SRPG franchises, and the game is actually slower than when I played a battle side by side with the original game on both my PSX and my Japanese Wii (the SNES original is on the Virtual Console over there). Again, like the graphics, this might be a turn off to people who haven’t played the series, so just a warning that even an early battle can take up to an hour depending on how you play it and how cautiously you proceed.
Everything else is pretty different. First off, the “training” option is gone. Training allowed you to pit squads of your own characters against each other. This allowed you to get a new level character, or one drastically behind the rest of your team, up to the same level as your other guys quickly, while also testing out class changes or new weapons and spells before a real battle. This is kind of a bummer this was gone as it single-handedly prevented the need (or desire) to grind your characters.
Unfortunately this decision is accompanied by two other ill-thought out choices that when this unholy triad is combined, kills off a lot of the enjoyment one would have with the original version of the title. See, in the remake, characters don’t level up. Instead their class levels up. So if you have a Mage on your battle team and the XP is enough to level him up, all your other mages level up as well. This, taken on its own isn’t so bad because it kind of replaces Training and makes sure you keep a balanced party going. Unfortunately the game also contains a decision where you can only class change by purchasing or finding a “mark” and then using that on your character. If it’s a new class, that class is starting at level 1. Even worse, you’ll be finding most of these classes and/or monsters in chapters two to four, when your characters are all at level ten or higher. Here’s an example. In chapter one, I received an “Earth Dragon” mark. Unfortunately, I never encountered an earth dragon that I could recruit until chapter three. So when my characters are level twenty+, my dragon would be level one. This kind of kills the desire to use the new character. Another example was getting a Beast Master mark towards the end of chapter one. Sure I could change a character over to this new class, but all my other characters are at level eight or higher, so to use the Beast Master, I would have to take a character, regress them to level one stats and keep a cleric by them for the whole battle (or two… or three…OR MORE, depending on the level gap), giving me a two man handicap since I would usually be using those other two characters to actually help me win a fight. In the original game, you could just change classes based on if you found an item that would promote you to another class or if you had the stats to change over. This new system is just broken on multiple levels and really prevents people from trying out new classes or characters. Let’s say you only have a single mark for a new character class. If you don’t like it, your character is stuck as the new class until you find or buy a mark for their old class. This is just so poorly done that it’s akin to have dozens of characters like Cloud Strife in the original Final Fantasy Tactics. Honestly how many people took the time to level him up? Now you get that same issue over and over again.
The game has also added skill points to the game. Skill points are only given out to people who participate in battles and can be used to buy new abilities or talents post battle. They can also be used to add extra skill slots to a character (to a maximum of ten) so that your character can be all decked out. For example, you can outfit your main character (as a warrior) with the Swords skill, the Anatomy skill (which does more damage to human opponents), Strength (which gives them a damage boost), Counterattack (Self-explanatory), and the Mighty Impact skill (which causes a guaranteed critical hit to occur on your next attack). This makes your guy a killing machine against the most common opponent you’ll face – human beings. Unfortunately, unlike Knight of Lodos. or Final Fantasy Tactics, you can’t mix and match skills outside their original character class unless it is one both classes share. So if I learn Swords as a skill for example (which allows me to wield swords properly) and I become a Mage for some reason, I can’t use it any more. The same holds for if I learn healing magic as a Cleric or a Knight and want to become a Berserker. Again, compare this to Knight of Lodis (or any other Quest SRPG) where you can mix and match skills (Such as a Ninja’s two swords attack with the Knight’s “Wear Armour” skill in FFT) and you can see why this is such a step in the wrong direction. As well, your characters who level up outside of battle don’t get skill points, so you have a choice of either rotating characters so you have a cast of equally built, but ultimately underpowered warriors, or you can stick to a few characters, leaving them in their original class that are able to become tanks of doom before the halfway point of the game. This remake effectively punishes you for changing classes or spending skill points. That’s kind of nuts.
The real problem with all of the above changes is that it actively punishes a gamer from experimenting with new classes and characters and that’s a huge red flag that should be a turn off to any RPG fan. I was actually afraid to use the angel ring (which you get in chapter four) which turns a character into a new class if she dies while holding it because god knows I didn’t want to discover the hard way that one of my best characters was now a level 1 character with skills she couldn’t use anymore, effectively making her useless. Seriously, who approved these changes?
But we’re not done yet. Random battles (Which is how you find rare objects and recruit new monsters and non-story based characters) have all but been wiped out. I encountered less than ten of them in my first playthrough of the game. The random encounter percentage has been nerfed to almost non existence and you may find yourself just walking the battlefield for minutes trying to hopefully trigger one that has a class or monster you haven’t encountered yet. Another huge turn off. Worse is that now each character class can only recruit a single type of character (reptile, beast, human, demon, etc) instead of it being uniform and you need to have that skill purchased and active on the right character class to even begin to recruit. It’s pretty bad.
There are three other changes to discuss. The first is that characters no longer die when they are killed in battle. In the original, when a character hit 0 hit points, you had a timer to revive them or they were lost forever. If the timer hadn’t reached 0 by the time the battle was over but you hadn’t revived them, you still lost them. It was harsh but fair, as well as realistic. Now characters get three lives before you lose them forever AND they still get the countdown. This makes losing a character next to impossible. You also have the “Chariot,” which lets you back time up so you can replay an attack or move a character someplace differently. This is a nice option for if you mess up and accidentally cast heal on your own cleric because the D-pad or analog stick didn’t move over to the next box and you didn’t notice it in time, but it also makes the game exceptionally easy to get through. Honestly, between this and the three lives thing, you should never lose a character in the entire game. On paper, this is a nice option and it does let you try attacks from different angles to make sure you can get a hit, but it also makes the game laughably easy. Finally, we have the “World Tarot,” which lets you replay a game from a branch point with your current team. This prevents you from having to start the game over, but once again it also prevents you from trying new characters, skill combos or classes. Why try that Rune Fencer class that you never used the first time if all your characters still have their gear, levels and powers?
Basically, I’m very, VERY, disappointed in the changes made to Tactics Ogre and I’m having a hard time seeing how anyone could enjoy these changes if they’ve played the original (or any Quest SRPG). It’s not Final Fantasy Tactics Advance bad, but it’s close. The game is still playable, it’s still fun if you focus on the story without fretting on how different the game might feel from the original and the core battle mechanics are still solid. Everything else though has taken a turn for the worse. A huge chunk of the fun in an Ogre game was getting a new character that was higher than you or a class you didn’t have in your team yet and letting them run amok for a few battles to see if they were worth a slot on your permanent team. Now getting something new is a chore at best, and something you’ll never use at worst. I did try to level up all the new classes and monsters however, because I love the series and I needed to for the review’s sake. The average gamer that’s out there? They will be totally turned off by these mechanics. Let’s call it a thumb’s in the middle because more than anything these changes kill the balance of the game more than the gameplay itself.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre
With three very distinct paths (each playthrough should take about 30-35 hours) and eight possible endings that are determined by the path you take and dialogue choices, you can get a lot of replay out of Tactics Ogre. For those that don’t want to start from scratch, you can potentially get all eight endings from the same game by using the Wheel of Fortune option. Sure, I may not be at all pleased with the changes made to the game but I eventually accepted the changes (without liking them) and I did the three core playthroughs of the game (Double chaotic is my favorite since you get to see Vyce take a long walk of a short drop if you will.) The fact the game can have such a wildly different beginning, middle and end will keep the discerning gamer coming back until they’ve seen all the paths, if not all the endings.
Replayability Rating: Good
This is the second real area where the remake falls apart. Many of my issues with the gameplay have an even greater effect on balance. We’ve already covered my issues with how the game actively punishes you for changing classes on multiple levels, or even for recruiting a monster to use on your team rather than for selling. We’ve also covered the fact that the game makes it impossible for you to lose a character this time around which helps to make the game exceedingly easy. Finally, we’ve also covered how both of those combined with the Wheel of Fortune means that if you lose a character’s life, much less a character for good, you probably aren’t very good at tactical RPGs. However there’s one other major balance issue here and that’s the A.I.
Wow, is the A.I. in this game dumb. I mean dumb to the point where it is noticeably erratic and less challenging than the original. Again, I played the original side by side with this on some battles and found the PSX/Wii/Saturn versions all gave me a challenge, while on the PSP, my opponents were complete dunderheads. Here’s a couple of examples.
1. Any A.I. controlled partner you have save for Catiua will go kamikaze on the enemy. To the point where in some missions where you have to save a character if you don’t have a cleric in a particular spot from the very start, they will get themselves killed. Vyce is the same way when he’s on your team, but no one likes or cares about Vyce, so oh well.
2. Catiua is different. She is A.I. controlled for much of the game. She will always hang back and casting healing. Even when you give her the Exorcism spell or the Holy Water skill or even attack magic, she will heal. Do you have a zombie that is about to come back to life right after her turn or a character missing five hit points? Well she’ll heal the character every time. Do you have a boss on his last few hit points and it’s Catiua’s turn? She will run away and heal someone instead of finishing him off. Aggravating and very different from the original where she was sensible.
3. Your opponents will always target specific classes first, even to their own detriment and eventual demise. Wizards, archer and clerics are priority number one. Is an enemy archer near your strongest tank and is missing half his hit points? Instead of trying to finish said tank that will reach him on its next turn and kill him outright, he will attack a fully healthy mage. EVERY TIME. It borders on hilarious.
4. When I got the undead ring, I sent my chaotic Wizard out on a kamikaze straight line towards the enemy so I could have a Lich on my team. They enemy went after him like Yogi Bear at a pic-a-nic convention. They FOLLOWED him to the point where my other nine characters surrounded, flanked and butchered the enemy without taking any real damage. I did get a nice Lich out of it though! I named him Szass Tam. I hear after the war ended, he got a nice country called Thay to call his own.
5. The enemy just doesn’t finish a character off. They just pick at various characters leaving you with a series of minorly injured characters while you attack en masse and finish off opponent after opponent. No worries though. Catiua will heal their single digits worth of damage!
6. In the original game, Dolgare was a level 34 nightmare that almost hit SNK end boss proportions thanks to his “I can hit everything for tons of damage” attack that it used frequently and with malice. Here, I took him down without a single character getting knocked out, even temporarily. It was kind of depressing.
So the game is not only wildly unbalanced in terms of the engine and character building, but the game is exceedingly easy as well. The original was a game where you micromanaged every move possible and always provided you with a challenge. The remake is laughably easy. Ouch.
Balance Rating: Bad
In truth, there are a lot of new mechanics and things that have been overhauled in the Tactics Ogre PSP remake. Sure, most of them aren’t very good and are actually a detriment to the game if you are familiar with the original in any way, but at least Quest went in a different direction instead of giving us a straight port for forty bucks. I also want to reiterate that while the changes aren’t very good, it does put an entirely different spin on how you play the game or what troops you put on the battlefields. As well, the story is exactly the same, but the battles can be slightly different. For example in the original game, in your first battle of Baramus City, you had eight opponents. Now you have ten. Levels in each battle in the game are also noticeably lower, which is no doubt to make up for the slower progression you have in the game due to how classes level up instead of specific characters. (Also, I just wanted to point out that leveling up as a crew instead of individually can be done very well, ala Valkyria Chronicles..)
The core gameplay and the story are exactly the same and they are as timeless and wonderful as ever. The rest of the game is a complete overhaul and although it’s for the worse, it’s at least something very different from what we’re used to. Another thumb’s in the middle.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
Now I know I’ve been harsh on the changes, but remember this is also coming from someone who have devoured every Ogre game ever made (and actually translated the Neo*Geo Pocket Colour one for my friends) as well as most every SRPG that comes on the market. One or two of these changes on their own would have been fine, but the way they interact with each other is what causes the drop in severe drop in quality. It’s just bad product control.
With that in mind, you may be surprised that I devoured the game and found it hard to put down. That’s because that even though the game is noticeably worse than the original, that merely means that we’ve gone one of the best video games of its genre ever made to one that is merely fun while being unforgiving towards new classes and monsters. The story alone makes playing through the game worth it and if you just create a set of eight to ten characters and just stick with them through the entire game (or until a new story based character joins up), it will feel exactly like the original game but with slightly improved visuals and skill selection. It doesn’t improve the A.I. or the easiness of the battles, but it does make the game feel more like its original self. I’m still quite pissed at how the game punishes you for trying new things including the inability to check what skills a new class has unless you use a mark, so you have to save, look at a new class, then load the old save and repeat if you have any other new classes or creatures. However, the game is still a fun one, and the story more than makes up for the new gameplay issues. It simply isn’t one of the best SRPGs ever anymore. This, more than even potential low North American sales figures for the game, makes me worry for the future of the Ogre series. Still, I enjoyed my time with the game for what it was, even in spite of the new flaws, and that’s what counts.
Addictiveness Rating: Enjoyable
9. Appeal Factor
This category is really hard to judge. Long time Ogre lovers, or even SRPG fans in general will almost instantly see the new changes for the detriments that they are and be disappointed with the overall game. The new found easiness aspect of the game will also put some people off. However let’s be honest, the percentage of people that are still gaming that have played the original Tactics Ogre is a very small one. The game, and indeed the series, doesn’t have the love here that it has back in japan. Of course part of that is that the original print run from Atlus is so small that the PSX version for between 80-155 dollars on the secondary market (which I hope drops with the release of this game). Newcomers to the series won’t likely “get” the graphic style of the game and many will find the story to be the Masterpiece Theatre or night at the opera equivalent to the average JRPG that they are used to. Factor in the even slower pace of this game than one usually finds in SRPGs (a very slow style of play to begin with) and you have to wonder what the audience for the game will be. The remake alienates long time fans of the series and the general SRPG audience by punishing what many love about this genre – the difficulty and the class changes. However the things it doesn’t fully change, like the visuals will alienate casual or younger gamers as well as those that make up Square-Enix’s core North American audience which have come to focus on graphics over storytelling. The entire production is kind of a lose-lose scenario on Western shores.
That being said, I still enjoyed the game in spite of its flaws. Sure it’s not as good as the original and because of this remake we’ll never get the original as a PSN classic or a Virtual Console title in the states, but this is what we’re getting. Although I want this to sell well in hopes of getting a new TO or even an Ogre Battle game down the road, I also don’t want it to succeed because if it does it vindicates the horrible changes made to the game. See, not only is the game in a lose-lose scenario, so are Ogre fans.
As such, newcomers that aren’t graphics oriented will be the audience that most likely benefits from the game. They won’t care that it is ugly by comparison to other PSP games, including other remakes in the same genre like FFT or Disgaea. They won’t have experience with the original game so they won’t be grumpy about the changes (and might actually like them!) and the story should hook anyone with a deep love of period dramas. Let us Cling Together is Japan’s answer to Bridge of the River Kwai for me as it’s the best showcase for the futility and tragedy of war in electronic format save for possibly our 2008 GOTY winner, Valkyria Chronicles, but even that is a happy ball of joy compared to TO. I don’t think Square-Enix is going to get the sales or critical praise they were hoping for with the Tactics Ogre remake, but that’s because they changed the things that didn’t need to be changed and left alone that things that would have made it more accessible to a modern audience. I think the game will still sell based on the Ogre franchise and Square-Enix brands labels alone, but again, it won’t sell as many copies as S-E hopes, nor will the majority of people that pick this up be happy with the end result – especially those familiar with the Ogre series or who play SRPGs for the general class change mechanics.
Appeal Factor: Poor
On paper, Tactics Ogre looked wonderful. Quest was reformed to make this game. It was a reintroduction to a franchise that has been dormant for a decade. It was meant to be a love letter to long time Ogre fans while bringing new gamers into the fold. Unfortunately the end result proved to be anything but. It kind of managed to do everything a SRPG shouldn’t while at least keeping the wonderful story intact. The good news is that the changes-slash-mistakes made in the remake aren’t enough to keep the core gameplay from shining through. Nor are they enough to overshadow the cast and characters that make up Ogre Battle Episode VII. Still, Square-Enix is asking use to pay $39.99 for a second rate version of the original game which, had it been released as a PSN classic or on the Virtual Console would have cost between $5.99 and 9.99 and better a better overall experience.
At the end of the day a particular adage I heard several years ago rings ever more true after my time with the remake of Let Us Cling Together. Quest on its own? Awesome. Quest working for Squaresoft as an independent contractor without Square-interference? Still pretty good. Quest working with a hands-on Square-Enix? Drastic drop in quality. Tactics Ogre keeps that line of thinking going in many a Quest/Ogre fan. What’s here is still fun, but the game is certainly a shadow of its original self.
Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Poor
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a textbook example of how not to remake a game. The game completely overhauls the character mechanics to the point where the game actively punishes you for gaining new character classes or monsters while also making the game laughably easy instead of the challenge you would feel proud for having beaten a decade ago. At the same time the game DOESN’T update the graphics as it looks on par with 2002’s Knight of Lodis. The end result is a game that will possibly alienate newcomers and long time Quest/Ogre fans alike. However the saving grace is that the story is still one of the best in video game history and thankfully that hasn’t been mucked around with. The core gameplay is still relatively untouched as well. Make no mistake about it – the changes are for the worse, but the game is still playable and enjoyable on its own merits. It’s definitely overpriced at $39.99 and the game has dropped in quality from a truly great one to one that is “merely” above average, but it’s still great to see Quest back together. Just cross your fingers that they won’t let these kind of changes happen to Knight of Lodis if that ever gets remade as well.