I've heard of the Tactics games, but never played them for whatever reason. I got my chance to turn that around recently with Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, a new title from Square Enix that is exclusively on the PSP. I thought this was some kind of sequel to Tactics Ogre, and in a way, it is. However, it's more of a remake or re-imagining of the original, highly acclaimed and loved game from 1995 known as Tactics Ogre. All that aside, if you are in the market for an outstanding strategy RPG experience, you need not look any further.
Improving Upon A Classic
Without being familiar with the Tactics games or really even the SRPG genre, I have had to look around at other reviews and comments on this game to get an idea of just how much it's done with the original. The consensus seems to absolutely be that it has taken a great game and made it even better by implementing not only some updates to the graphics and sound, but also by adding smart, useful new features and lots of new content in the form of characters and items.
The premise remains true to the original, however. Players take the role of a young warrior who must lead a group of other warriors to victory. The setting is the Valerian Isles, a place where war between the different factions seems endless ever since the death of the king that had united the isles. Three main groups struggle to gain full power now, including the Bakram, Galgastani, and the Walister. The Walister are by far the most outnumbered and oppressed of the bunch, and perhaps it is no surprise that the player's character is a Walister. After choosing your character name and birth date, you are asked six or seven interesting multiple choice questions that help define who you are.
Gameplay is very deep and involved. The story is outstanding and is told through many dialogue sequences between the game's diverse cast of characters. As you progress through the story, decisions you make alter relationships with strangers and party members alike. While there is a core group of characters, there are also numerous characters that you can recruit and dismiss from your party at will, to never be seen again. Dialogue and a character-driven story are a big part of the experience, but of course the many battles you encounter are what you could call the meat of the experience.
Becoming adept at battle takes some time, and I thought the game did a good job of easing you into it. It completely avoids the rote tutorial route and instead puts you in battles that get the story moving and get you introduced to the variety of character classes. From looking over the manual and just in playing for a couple of hours, I realized that this was the type of game that has a whole lot of customization and depth available to anyone that wants to put the time into it. A few hours later, I was still 'finding the edges' of this depth. Indeed there is a learning curve, but I think the developers have done a nice job of building that difficulty and learning curve in as you go.
One of the new components in this remake to help both newcomers such as myself and veterans alike to get a more fulfilling experience, is the Chariot Tarot. It sounds odd, but basically, once you get a few battles behind you, from then on have access to the Tarot which allows you to rewind the battle up to fifty moves. That's a neat idea, but it's also implemented really seamlessly and nicely. During battle, just press L and a menu pops up that provides a picture and brief text description of each of the last fifty moves. You can skip back to any of them and try another tactic. For the inexperienced, this is a great way to help learn the ropes and handle tougher battles without having to lose a bunch of party members or die and restart, etc. For vets, it's a very convenient way to try other strategies and characters, so kudos to the devs for implementing this feature. Oh, if you decide to step back in time and change your strategy, your 'first run' is not overwritten -- instead, you are able to choose between the original run and the modified one.
Another welcomed new feature allows you to revisit key decisions that alter the story of the game. For gamers who like to try out all the alternate paths in a branching story, but hate to have to start a game all over again to do that, this is awesome.
Other changes and additions in Let Us Cling Together include characters and items that were not in the original experience. I do not have enough detail to be able to offer a real comparison of the two, but passionate fans of the first will likely recognize the differences, all of which I believe it safe to presume were made in good taste.
There's no doubt that the spruced up art and sound package were done in good taste. While I really don't like how the characters walk in place on their tile, the other graphics are very pretty. This game shows off a lot of color and some neat little (literally) animations. The soundtrack was redone and also expanded -- fifteen new tracks are here, and while I haven't heard them all, what I have heard to this point is great. To further help the flow of the game and the presentation, an optional 800MB data install function is included, too.
Several hours into the experience is perhaps too early to make a judgment on, although given what I have seen thus far and the game's rich history, it's hard to find much fault with it. It's truly a staple of the genre and in no way does it seem that this remake, which was done by most of the original developers, has done anything to take away that status.
To the summary...