At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Ed Moffatt PSP Square Enix Sqaure Enix 1
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Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together review

Tactics Ogre is a tactical RPG. These games are to RPG videogaming what dungeon-crawl adventures are to table-top RPGs: the focus is very much on the combat, and you will spend most of your playtime involved in battles. You control a larger team of combatants than you might expect in most RPGs, and the enemy ranks are similarly boosted. To make the inevitable comparison, it's like Final Fantasy Tactics (the tactical RPG that seems to have garnered most awareness here in the UK) - the visuals are very similar, and if you've played FFT you'll be right at home with Tactics Ogre. The important distinction between the two games is that (in my humble opinion), Final Fantasy Tactics was rubbish, whilst Tactics Ogre is not.

You play the part of a generic protagonist who you can name yourself. Because the game's tone is rather serious, and because I knew I'd be writing a review, I resisted my usual tendency to name my character something obscene and went with "Renn". You start by answering some multiple choice questions that you are told will influence your stats. This opening annoyed me: you have no idea how your answers will affect your stats, and immediately before I even started the game I found myself wanting to look up an online guide to make sure I didn't accidentally Munchkin my protagonist's Luck stat or something lame like that! I resisted this urge... I also never really looked at his stats to be honest, I just gave Renn a big two-handed weapon, assuming that he would probably benefit from an enhanced HP pool in-game!

So Renn is a young aspiring knight, whose king is at war with some other kings, and there are all sorts of nobles and lords, and somebody recently encroached on the duchy to the East of the river... Or something like that. The story really failed to grab me at the beginning - it's one of those fantasy settings that has been very well thought-out, but unfortunately explaining it to a new player requires mentioning too many names of people and places that you immediately forget. Oh, and all the characters speak with that annoying "forsooth, my lord, what vexes you?" style which seems to plague the Tactical RPG.

It's just like chess. Or not.

It's just like chess. Or not.

The first few battles soon reveal that the system is nothing ground-breaking for veteran RPG players. The battle field is tiled, and each unit may expend energy moving around between tiles or launching attacks at neighbouring tiles - the units act according to some speed-type stat, and so you may find your units' turns interspersed with the enemy getting to move. A nice touch is that holding a unit's action results in them climbing higher up the turn-ladder in the next round, and getting to act sooner.

Those who are familiar with these games will already be wary of mechanics such as shooting your own units in the back of the head with an arrow or magic missile if they happen to be between you and the targeted enemy; for new players, mechanics like this can be a surprise and an annoyance, which is why it is nice that Tactics Ogre offers you a sort of "undo history" feature that allows you to skip back to a previous turn in the battle. This is a minor thing but makes such a big difference - a Tactical RPG that is "friendly" to newbies is so rare! It is this "friendly" streak that makes Tactics Ogre an above-average Tactical RPG. It doesn't feel like the game wants to punish you throughout for not having read a manual cover to cover before you started.

As in most games in the genre, once a unit dies in combat (and stays dead for a couple of rounds), they're gone forever; most of your units are just hired soldiers with generic sprites and randomly generated names, so this doesn't cause many tears. You may recruit a new unit to replace them, and all units of the same class share the same sprite (I found myself paying extra to re-name my units because it was a pain having to remember whether Tomas or Wilhelm was the one I equipped with the shield when it came to selecting my battle party). Indeed, units can switch classes at any time, allowing you to learn some abilities from one class and then switch to another, which adds some good variety. Mastering the class switching and levelling systems is challenging and good fun for those who like looking through menus and customising units - I say this without sarcasm because I do genuinely enjoy this when the levelling system is as strong as Tactics Ogre's.

No, this isn't turn-based Minecraft.

No, this isn't turn-based Minecraft.

The "friendly" factor is present in the levelling and customisation system too: if William your Level 3 Wizard dies and you hire Wally the Wizard to replace him, Wally gets to start as a Level 3 Wizard too, because it is the class you are levelling and not the unit. This is really nice because it limits the number of battles in which you are dragging around a new unit keeping them out of the way whilst your good characters kill things so that the new guy can level off the vicariously earned Experience Points. Units that take part in battle also earn points to spend on learning new abilities, which is another nice touch. There's a great sense of satisfaction when you've finished 5 minutes of re-balancing your unit and spending all those saved up points and take him into battle... That's when you realise that you switched his class and forgot to equip a weapon he could use, at which point the satisfaction evaporates. Still, Tactics Ogre wouldn't want to be too friendly, eh?

So the battle system is average, the levelling system is above-average, and the game is kind to less-experienced players. But what about the story? This is after all a crucial part of most RPGs. Well, despite the fact that all your characters talk like they are trying to goad you into punching them in the face, and it is difficult to remember which Duke is your enemy and which State you're at war with, the story is actually pretty engaging. Although, as stated before, most of your army is made up of generic, expendable units, there are a few named characters in there who take part in the story sections. Very early on, these characters are developed, and plot twists are thrown in - it's all pretty cliché, but it grabs you because of another important mechanic: the ability to time-travel! You are told fairly early in the game that later you will get to travel back along the timeline and re-play an event that might have caused the story to branch. Immediately after that the game throws a major choice at you - cunning, cunning games designers! Suddenly your mind is whirring away thinking "I wonder what I could do in this battle to make the story branch - what would happen if this character were to die: would it end the game, or would it take me off down a new path?". The great thing is that because the game tells you that it's going to let you see what would have happened if you picked the other path later on, you don't have that nagging feeling that maybe you should create 20 different save files to make sure you don't miss the path to the good ending. At the same time, you start to realise that whilst in some battles a given NPC will probably die, you might just be able to select a make-up of party that allows you to dash in there and save them, and then you might get on to a different story branch, and, and... It's all just so exciting!

This is close to becoming a rave review at this point, so I need to drag it back to reality. Yes, the way the branching story is handled is cool; and yes the levelling system is very fun and in-depth. However, I said earlier that the battle system is average. Just average. I also mentioned that in Tactical RPGs, you spend most of your playtime involved in combat. This is what stops Tactics Ogre from being a great game: there are some brilliant flourishes and finishing-touches, but the core of the game is a rather unenjoyable battle system that is difficult to polish up. Sure, I can indulge in multiple story branches, but all of them will involve dozens of dull battles; I can make my characters awesome and enjoy the brilliantly designed and deep levelling system, but then I remember that what I've been preparing them for is another round of dull battles. It doesn't help that the better you get, the tougher random-encounter enemies the game throws at you, so you never really feel like you're grinding or time spent tweaking is very worthwhile. Then you get to a story-fight and the boss drops in a few rounds, at which point you suddenly realise you've grossly over-levelled for that point in the game!

This looks explosive

This looks explosive

In conclusion, Tactics Ogre is a very good Tactical RPG. It is still good today (it's a re-release of an old game that was only ever really enjoyed in Japan), and it suits the PSP platform well - I've seen reviews that complain about a complex control system, but I had no issues with it myself. There are some very good things about the game, including the levelling system and the way that the designers handled the branching story. However, at its core it's a Tactical RPG with a very generic battle system. Maybe this is a sign of its age, as we've seen enough bad Tactical RPGs using this same battle system over the years to be sick of it by now. No matter how good the nice-touches are, they are not enough to make you look forward to that next battle, and sadly I soon found my enjoyment of Tactics Ogre waning.

Additional Note: If I were to factor in the art-book to my score (which I won't, because it's not strictly part of the game), I would have to increase my score to a seven. Some of the concept art really is stunning and I love the unit designs; if you fancy picking this title up, I'd definitely recommend grabbing yourself the special edition even if it's a few bob more than the PSN download or standard version.


Overall If you absolutely love Tactical RPGs, this one will probably knock your socks off as it's one of the better examples in the genre. But for those of us who struggle to enjoy the battle style, I'm afraid it's not quite good enough to win us over. I'll stick with Disgaea for my Tactics fix. 6/10

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