Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
  • Genre:
    • Strategy
  • Developer:
    • Quest
  • Publisher:
    • Quest
  • Released:
    SNES
    • JP 10/06/1995
    Saturn
    • JP 12/13/1996
    PS1
    • JP 09/25/1997
    • US 1998
Score: 80%

This review was published on 02/04/2014.

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a 2-D, isometric tactical role-playing game developed by Quest and originally released for the Super Famicom in 1995. It later got ported to the Sega Saturn in 1996 and Sony PlayStation in 1997. Both the Saturn and PlayStation release feature a remastered soundtrack, but are basically the same as the original game. The game was originally a Japan only release until the PlayStation version, which finally got a localized North American release in 1998. It was too little too late, though, because North America had already gotten Final Fantasy Tactics by that point, which many regard as superior. Due to the similarities between the two games, many assumed that Tactics Ogre was a clone of Final Fantasy Tactics, but Tactics Ogre actually came first. Many of the folk behind Tactics Ogre left Quest and joined Square to make Final Fantasy Tactics, which explains the two games being so similar. Tactics Ogre is actually part of a larger series known as Ogre Battle, but its game play is a stark departure from the original series. Thus, Tactics Ogre is kind of like a spinoff, spawning its own subseries. Tactics Ogre is a bit dated nowadays, but it did set the blueprints for Final Fantasy Tactics and future games in the tactical RPG genre.

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The protagonist, Denim, and his family are from the country of Walsta. Walsta is being oppressed by a bully nation that goes by the name of Gargastan. The tale of betrayal begins with the protagonist's town being massacred by the mysterious Dark Knights, which are kind of like the medieval equivalent of the CIA. These Dark Knights aren't actually part of Gargastan. Rather, they're foreign soldiers that decided to help Gargastan out. The village burning down thing is a played out RPG trope, but nothing is ever as it initially seems in Tactics Ogre's story. Eventually, Walsta decides to stand up to Gargastan's oppression, resulting in an all-out ethnic war between the two countries. Being that Denim is a Walstanian, he decides to join in on the conflict to help his fellow countrymen. Denim hopes to get revenge against the Dark Knights for the destruction of his village. Meanwhile, the elusive Dark Knights seem to have their own secret agenda. There are enough twists and turns in this story to make your head spin. Almost every character in the plot lies about their intentions, making betrayal the central theme to the story. The plot will keep you on the edge of your seat at all times. There's not much in the way of supernatural elements in the plot. Sure, this is a world of swords and sorcery, but the focus is on the plight of mankind, not magical doodads. That level of maturity is what makes the plot in Tactics Ogre so good. War, what is it good for? Find out in Tactics Ogre.

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Players of Final Fantasy Tactics should feel right at home when playing Tactics Ogre. Both games are all about battles; there is no town or dungeon exploration whatsoever. All battle maps are presented in an isometric view and things progress in a turn based manner. Characters take turns moving across the map based on their speed values, with movement range being represented by a grid. Think of the maps as giant chess boards and each character is a chess piece. Each unit can move and then perform a single action on their turn, actions like attacking, using an item, casting a spell, etc. If there's nothing for a unit to do on its turn, then it can wait to pass the turn on to someone else. The general flow of battle consists of moving units within attack range and then attacking, but due to environmental hazards and other factors, positioning is very important. A character's attack range is dependent on their weapon, so stuff like swords and axes must require the character to be directly next to an opponent, while bows and crossbows allow for longer ranged attacks. The direction a character faces is also chiefly important, as characters will almost always block attacks from the front, but are rarely able to avoid attacks from the sides or behind. This game also has permanent character deaths; if a character falls in battle and isn't revived during the fight, they will be lost forever. What separates Tactics Ogre from Final Fantasy Tactics is that every single character in the game will automatically counterattack an opponent's attack, similar to Fire Emblem. The only way around this is if long ranged attacks are used, but beyond that, expect to get smacked in the face if you smack someone in the face. This changes the dynamics of melee combat tremendously, as every direct assault brings with it great risk. The thing with Tactics Ogre is that, unlike Final Fantasy Tactics, there aren't many special abilities, so the majority of fights are really basic. There is greater depth involved in these basics, however, and that's the main thing Tactics Ogre has over Final Fantasy Tactics.

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Like most games of this sort, Tactics Ogre has a class system that allows you to customize the roles of your characters. It's not quite as exciting as the job system in Final Fantasy Tactics, though, because changing classes in Tactics Ogre doesn't do a whole lot. The main purpose behind classes in Tactics Ogre is to influence a character's stat growth and what spells they can use, if any. Some classes will have special abilities that can be used in battle, but there aren't many of those. It really comes down to stats. Whenever a character levels up, they gain stats based on what class they are, so soldiers will gain more strength while wizards gain intelligence. There are also some stats that are immediately and temporarily imparted when becoming a particular class, like movement radius and resistances. Knights don't move very far and take forever to get their turn, while ninjas can move great distances and get many turns, for instance. While characters themselves do level up, there are no class levels. The way in which a character unlocks a new class is by reaching a higher level and having certain stats, as most classes have stat requirements. There are other factors, of course, like alignments, but that's the main way it works. As a result of this, leveling up in a given class will open up other classes related to it, kind of like a path. It's kind of tiered in a manner of speaking, since some classes are merely more advanced versions of previous ones. Gender also plays a role, like how archers can only be female for some reason. Whereas Final Fantasy Tactic's job system rewards experimentation, Tactics Ogre's class system punishes it. You're rewarded for consistency, so it's best to keep characters in the same class for long periods of time. Classes don't have an incredible impact on your characters in Tactics Ogre. There are physical attackers and spell casters, and everything in between is pretty similar. It's a little unexciting when compared to other games with class systems, like Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy Tactics.

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One of the unique aspects of Tactics Ogre is the alignment system and the multiple paths present in the story. There are instances throughout the story where you get to make choices. Many of the choices don't have any significant consequences, but a few do. The ones that do will alter the course of the story in a major way, making way for new missions, new characters, and new dialogue. Depending on which of the major paths you take, the protagonist's alignment will change. The majority of characters in the game have their alignment permanently set, but the hero can change his by making certain key choices in the story. Tactics Ogre's alignments are Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic. Alignments effect what classes are available to each character, so they have practical game play effects in addition to their story implications. This isn't a simple matter of good versus evil, either; the main character has to kill a bunch of innocent people in order to go down the lawful path. It's a tough decision that most people wouldn't consider very lawful, but that's the idea. Choosing to not kill the innocents has you defying authority and going down the chaotic path. It's a strange set of circumstances, because you'd think the Chaotic choice would be the evil one, but that isn't necessarily so. There are variations to the game's ending depending on your choices, too. Because of the multiple story paths, Tactics Ogre has a good amount of replay value to it.

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Due to the lack of special abilities, the main thing that differentiates one character from the next, besides their class and statistical attributes, is magic. Characters will have a couple of slots to equip spells on, depending on their class. Some classes don't have any spell slots at all, but most have at least one. The type of spells that can be equipped also varies by class, though a lot of magic can be shared across multiple classes. Every character has an affinity to one of four elements; fire, wind, water, and earth. Opposing elements, such as fire versus water, will do increased damage against each other. It's best to use spells of the same element as the caster's affinity to do increased damage, though it's not necessary. All of this is pretty standard fare, but what makes the magic system different in Tactics Ogre is the way MP works. MP is needed to cast spells, but all characters will start every battle with 0 MP. MP slowly regenerates as time goes on in battle, which means you'll have to wait a while before you can cast any spells. This is kind of annoying, but the positive side effect of this system is that everyone has regenerating MP. This means you can essentially cast as many spells as you want, provided you wait for MP to return. It's particularly useful for low costing spells, as you might find yourself regenerating more MP per turn than the cost of the spell, basically allowing for unlimited uses of that spell. That might sound overpowered, but it's not too bad. This MP system is pretty cool, though it is a little on the strange side. The unique MP system is the main thing that makes Tactics Ogre's otherwise generic magic system interesting.

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The way equipment works in Tactics Ogre is vastly different from Final Fantasy Tactics. In Tactics Ogre, any character can equip any piece of equipment, regardless of their class. That means it is in fact possible to arm a wizard to the teeth with large swords and bulky armor, though it's not recommended. It's pretty cool that you can do that, though. The reason you shouldn't do that is because most classes have equipment preferences, like knights are good with swords while archers excel with bows. It's still possible for knights to use bows and archers to use swords, but they won't be good at it. It's even possible to give a single character both a sword and a bow. This does add a lot of versatility to equipping characters, as it doesn't always matter that you aren't equipping the preferred weapon. In some cases, the more unusual setups will actually work better, depending on what you're going for. As cool as that is, the identical equipment options make the characters in Tactics Ogre lack identity. The other big thing about equipment is that every piece of gear in the game has a weight value associated with it. Equipping heavy stuff will weigh a character down, reducing their speed in battle. A character's stats determines how much weight they can handle, so higher level characters can carry more weight without being slowed down as much. Weight will always be a major issue, though, even for the brawnier characters. You have to balance attack and defense with speed, sometimes sacrificing one for the other. This is one aspect of Tactics Ogre that is significantly more complex than in Final Fantasy Tactics, due to the weight system. It's a unique system, but it's rather annoying. The weight system is like a nagging wife telling you that you can't equip all of the most powerful weapons and armor to the same person. It's the kind of innovation that most people can do without.

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Training mode is a big feature that's unique to the Tactics Ogre series. At almost any time on the map screen, training mode can be initiated to have your own characters duke it out. In this brilliant mode, you can select characters from your entourage to fight against each other in opposing teams. Characters that die in this mode don't die for real, so you can go all out. Real experience points are still earned in training mode, which makes this the best method to level up. You can set whether teams are controlled by human players or computer players. This means it's possible to sit back and relax while you watch two computer controlled teams fight it out, automating the process of grinding. It's also possible to hook up a second controller and have a two player versus match, which is freaking awesome. Abuse is inevitable with a mode like this around, but it's still radical. The way the game tries to equalize things is by scaling enemy levels in real battles, so power leveling in training mode isn't always the best idea. It's very easy to screw yourself over by over leveling a few members of your party, resulting in enemies that are almost impossible to kill for the rest of your team. The level scaling thing kind of sucks, because it never feels like your characters are truly getting stronger. It brings about the same conundrum from Final Fantasy VIII. What's the point in having a level system if the enemy is always matching your level? Fortunately, enemy levels do cap off at a certain number for each mission. Anyway, training mode is still awesome, but its awesomeness is somewhat mitigated by the way leveling works in Tactics Ogre.

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Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is an influential game that practically defined the tactical RPG genre, but it's kind of hard to tolerate nowadays. Games like Final Fantasy Tactics are just so much more streamlined that it makes Tactics Ogre a tough sell. Tactics Ogre is essentially Final Fantasy Tactics without all the bells and whistles; the core mechanics are almost identical, but there's no robust ability system to keep things interesting. For as basic as it is, Tactics Ogre does have an immense amount of depth to it. It's also more balanced and challenging than Final Fantasy Tactics, and there are a lot of people that prefer the Tactics Ogre series for that reason. The Tactics Ogre series is like Final Fantasy Tactic's more mature counterpart, being darker in tone and more punishing. Tactics Ogre is a good game that's worth checking out, but only for veterans of the tactical RPG genre. For those new to the genre, it's better to start with something more inviting like Final Fantasy Tactics.

Word Count: 2,550

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