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Tactics Ogre: A Reborn SNES Masterpiece


What if you take an obscure 1995 SNES strategy RPG, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together originally developed by Quest, and remaster it for the PSP? In 2010, that sounded like a good idea, and it was fairly well-received. In fact, that release, together with the remaster of a more well-known Japanese SRPG called Final Fantasy Tactics, was the sole reason why I bought a PSP Slim in the first place. The PSP version of Let Us Cling Together completely overhauled the original that was mistreated with a wonky PS1 release—voice acting, redone portraits and rewritten dialog to better cater to the West, and a different skill system almost made for a completely different game.

And then, last year, Square Enix announced Tactics Ogre: Reborn, which could be called a remaster of a remaster. Getting confused yet? It could be more accurately called a remix of a remaster, since many of the quality of life features of the PSP version are present, but the optional grinding from the random battles in-between the storyline have been removed in favor or a party-wide level cap that steadily progresses. The skill system has been yet again completely revamped, more small but important features that make an older game playable have been added—for example, the option to speed up animations—and a random card system to spice things up has been introduced.

If you’re new to Tactics Ogre, the second game in the Ogre Battle series, that won’t matter to you, but if you’ve been in love with the franchise for a while, like I have, some subtle changes have far-reaching consequences as to how you approach each battle. Luckily, AustinSV shed some light on these different versions and ports in this helpful video:

YouTube video -DmOktoA3eQ

In Tactics Ogre: Reborn, you take turns positioning your army of 10 to 12 units, gradually vanquishing enemies on the board using abilities of different classes such as casting nasty area of effect spells, instilling fear upon enemy knights, sniping from afar, encouraging your dragons to tail whip even harder, and performing impressive finishing moves that are new in this revision. It’s the predecessor of Final Fantasy Tactics.

The game feels like a fantasy version of chess, even more so in Reborn, as some battles can be quite gruesome since the enemy is almost always more powerful than you are. This ain’t no Fire Emblem-esque cakewalk: expect the challenge level to go up instead of go down as you level up your squad and unlock better classes and buy more powerful items. Most fights are ended by killing the boss, and while you can take on everyone, it’s usually not a good idea. Dead enemy units leave behind a bag of loot, but it’s hardly anything worthwhile that can’t be bought or crafted in various shops.

Canopus is about to launch an arrow at an enemy ninja unit from the rooftop.
Canopus is about to launch an arrow at an enemy ninja unit from the rooftop.

As the turns progress, blue cards appear at random tiles near you—and near the enemy. These can be picked up to boost (magic) attack, MP recovery rates, or increase chances of an auto-skill trigger. You see, while in the PSP version of the game, you could equip characters with tens of different skills—provided you grinded enough—in this version, that’s very much limited, akin to Final Fantasy Tactics' action/reaction/support/move abilities. You can fill four slots of each: items, spells (provided your class can cast), skills, and double the finishing moves.

Skills are categorized into:

  • Support Skills (e.g. swords that allow you to equip them and add bonus damage);
  • Action Skills (e.g. taming a dragon, these cost MP);
  • Auto Skills (e.g. increasing defense the next turn, these trigger if you’re lucky);
  • Special Skills (unique to certain classes, also consuming MP).

Knights have an important auto skill called “Rampant Aura” which blocks enemy units from penetrating your front line and killing your mages. The trouble is, there’s only a slight chance this skill triggers, so those blue cards become rather important to pick up, but pose an extra challenge: will you pick up one slightly off path and position yourself unlucky or rush towards an enemy unit hoping to distract them?

Skills are automatically gained as you level, and can be (also automatically) improved—Rampant Aura III has higher chances of triggering and spreads across more tiles than Rampant Aura I. It feels a bit like the QoL features that came with the tech trees of Diablo III, where swapping in and out skills isn’t a problem. In Reborn, you kind of have to at the beginning of each battle: scouting allows you to take a peak at the area and enemies you’ll be facing, giving you a chance to adjust (e.g. slot your beast tamer with a skill to tame a dragon or a beast, which are two different skills). That’s quite a breather compared to the grindiness of most SRPGs.

The usual stats are present as well, with each class progressing differently: a knight will have higher VIT than a ninja, but that one will have a higher AGI and AVD. In Reborn, it’s less of a problem to swap classes mid- to late-game: most builds aren’t completely ruined, so you can experiment all you want. Not that I regularly did change classes: you can recruit up to a hundred (!) allies in your army, and most of the time, I assembled a hit squad with my trusty select few. NPCs you recruit as part of the (optional) story are (much) stronger than generic recruits, making you abandon the run-of-the-mill ones quite quickly.

I could go on forever about the mechanics in games like these: once you’re hooked, part of the joy comes from discovering powerful combinations. I love the complexity of SRPGs and the almost required dig into strategy guides and fan sites to help with the recruitment of optional characters or unlocking of powerful classes.

Shopping for fancy jewelry that raises the DEX stat.
Shopping for fancy jewelry that raises the DEX stat.

This remixed version isn’t without its flaws, though. Stormlock at the Steam Community page lists a few of their gripes, which I all have to agree with. Compared to the PSP version, archers have been severely nerfed. Status effects are wildly unbalanced, elements don’t really do anything, the enemy AI is prone to making dumb decisions, … The game is very obtuse in its rules: you kind of have to figure out yourself what works and what doesn’t, there is little explanation in-game, and sometimes, things seem unimplemented. At more than one point, I wanted to land an attack, and the UI says “100% accuracy” before confirming the action. I confirm, and the attack is parried. Uh, okay? What is accuracy anyway? Elements should have a complex rock-paper-scissors system like in Fire Emblem, but if my wizard is air-imbued, casting an air spell all the time and ignoring those rules does more damage than strategically deciding when to cast what.

While the random battles are gone, the level cap that unlocks still encourages engaging in training battles as all enemies you face are suddenly much more powerful than you are. In Every odd story battle, I feel like a wimp facing a giant boss that is able to one-shot my guys in a pinch. On top of that, while you don’t need to grind to gain skills, you still need to do that to level up your weapon skill, which kind of beats the purpose of having flexible skill slots if you can’t easily swap out weapons.

The Chariot Tarot Wheel system allows you to undo moves in case things go south.
The Chariot Tarot Wheel system allows you to undo moves in case things go south.

Tactics Ogre: Reborn isn’t just a complex SRPG with satisfying albeit obtuse mechanics: the story line is surprisingly deep as well. The maturity and darkness of the conflict becomes clear at the end of Chapter I when a whole city is burned to the ground and women and children die because of you. Gamers familiar with the original Let us Cling Together story won’t find anything new here, but it’s amazing to see that the 1995 story still holds up remarkably well.

The game is not linear: you can choose to be a lawful freedom fighter, obeying your boss no matter what, or be the rebel that follows his heart but spreads chaos—and there’s the neutral path in-between. Each path completely chances the contents of the four chapters: battles, banter, and more importantly, recruitable characters and even some unlockable classes are all completely different. I’ve heard it takes 40hrs to finish one story mainline, but HLTB suggests 56+.

The Bakram express their concern to regent Brantyn (Chapter II).
The Bakram express their concern to regent Brantyn (Chapter II).

This game is huge. And it doesn’t stop after you’ve finished the main story. Another giant post-game section unlocks with more high-level stuff to chase after, and during the main quest, you can wander off the beaten path to explore completely optional dungeons like the Palace of the Dead, which is a hundred fifteen levels (!!) deep. Holy crap. You can turn on the AI to let it fight on your behalf—the inclusion of such a feature perhaps suggests that there are simply too many battles to be fought, that all start to look alike.

Forty hours in, I still need to tackle the last dungeon, and I have yet to tackle the optional content. I’m taking a break to return to Valeria later. Bigger “dungeons” or castle sieges called Strongholds consist of a series of battles, of which some of the more challenging ones like the hanging gardens even have branching paths. That means that if you’re randomly selecting a path instead of looking up the optional one, you might up adding even more hours of gameplay fun/slog.

Is the Reborn version the definitive version? Since the original SNES title is simply unavailable, the PS1 CD version sucked, and nobody still owns a PSP, the answer is a definite yes, although honestly, I think I still prefer the PSP version, where the bosses weren’t souped-up gargantuans and the randomness involved in the auto skills and blue cards on the battlefield weren’t there. Yet it involved even more grinding, which I probably won’t be able to muster. There was a reason why I never finished that version. Plus, in Reborn, speeding up animations is a godsend!

Storming Barnicia castle: the outer walls (done), the courtyard (doing), and a '?' masking the staircase inside (Chapter IV).
Storming Barnicia castle: the outer walls (done), the courtyard (doing), and a '?' masking the staircase inside (Chapter IV).

To conclude, Tactics Ogre: Reborn is still obscure, but it’s a (successful) remix of a remaster of a masterpiece, making it a masterpiece in itself. I know I’m biased since Tactics Ogre: Knights of Lodis is my favorite GBA game, but I didn’t even talk about the grandiose soundtrack that was completely re-orchestrated and is available at Apple’s Music store. I love everything about the game, the frustrating shortcomings included, and I see myself regularly revisiting it to take on the high-level dungeons and see what’s there. The Switch version is clearly the superior one, since the twenty-or-so-minute length of each battle is a perfect fit for a hybrid handheld console.

Too bad they removed the Fight It Out! announcement.

Some more bonus links:

Verdict: 5/5 —Amazing.

Categorized under: srpg

Me!

I'm Jefklak, a high-level Retro Gamer, and I love the sight of experience points on old and forgotten hardware. I sometimes convince others to join in on the nostalgic grind. Read more about The Codex here.

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