I first heard about Tactics Ogre about 1 1/2 years ago. I had just gotten involved in the emulation scene and was hungry for great RPGs. I loved Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, so when I found the Tactics Ogre ROM I was thrilled. There was only one problem... It was in Japanese! I can't read Japanese and to me, storyline is the most important part of RPGs. I was devastated. I had heard this was the game FFT's gameplay was based upon and I loved FFT. I didn't think I would ever be able to play this game in English. Then I was browsing Atlus' website and I chanced upon a section about Tactics Ogre. I found out that this game had been translated into English and ported to the Playstation. It was hard to find but after about 8 calls to various stores I found a copy of it. And so my fantastic gaming experience began.
After playing SaGa Frontier and Baldur's Gate, I was wary about games which claimed to have "non-linear" storylines. I was very pleasantly surprised with the storyline in TO. The strongest aspect of TO is its story, hands down. This game has such a fantastic complex plot that the whole story cannot be revealed by going through the game just once. Basically you start off as Denim a young Walstanian man. On the island Valeria (where TO takes place) there are 3 ethnic groups: Gargastan, Bacrum and Walstanian. The Walstanians, the smallest of the three groups, have been oppressed for years since the King of Valeria died. The Gargastans exiled the Walstanians to a small island, south of the main island of Valeria. It is here where your story begins. In the first chapter you always start out as a member of the Walstanian Liberation front but depending on the choices you make, the entire story is different (not just a little different, it is like a new game with the same characters). I've only finished the chaotic route, but I'm looking forward to completing the Lawful and Neutral routes as well. One small area of confusion lies in the Alignment system (Lawful, Chaotic, Neutral). One might believe that Lawful is the same as good and Chaotic the same as evil. This is not the case. Chaotic is actually the "righteous" path, where as Lawful merely means you value order and honor as a warrior over life, freedom and your ideals. Like I said earlier, the story is fantastically complex and also the characters are well developed (A rare thing from a strategy RPG).
The gameplay in TO is wonderful. It is challenging and innovative. The battles are very similar to FFT (TO came first though) except you get to have 10 characters on a battlefield, and the battlefields are larger. There are many normal job classes, many unique ones (that specific characters have), and some cool secret ones like gunner and lich. There are many spells to equip your magic users with that have a variety of effects. Something which really added to the fantastic gameplay in TO was the wonderful amount of secrets and sidequests. For those of you who have played FFT you will know of deep dungeon. Well, there is something similar in TO called the Hell Gate. It is 100 levels deep and the only place you can find the dragon magic and a lot of the better armor and weapons. Also there is an extensive 8 battle sidequest for the forbidden magic, there are many more secrets but I'll let you find them for yourself. The strategic foundation of this game is marvelous and it really makes you think, or else you will be destroyed. Oh, I forgot to mention, before chapter 3 there is no resurrection magic, and no counter over the dead like in FFT. That means for the first 1/3 of the 100 hour game, if one of your characters dies, that character is permanently dead! That makes good strategy really important so the important characters don't die.
The sound aspect of this game is also very good. The sound effects are decent, though there could be more of them. The music in TO is great. It sounds similar to the wonderful tunes found in FFT. However, although the music is very good, like the sound effects, there is not enough variation. Had there been another 10 pieces of music in the game, its score from me would have been higher. All in all, Tactics Ogre delivers a solid musical score and decent sound effects.
The worst part about TO is the graphics. In '95 these were the best graphics around. I have never seen Super Nintendo look better (Not even Seiken Densetsu 3). But now, the graphics don't look that good. The best comparison would be that in terms of graphics, TO is to FFT what FF7 is to FF8. The sprites look nice but FFT's are better. The magic is pretty underwhelming. The battlegrounds are decent though. With that said, we all know graphics don't make or break an RPG, so it didn't ruin my experience in the least.
After all is said and done, Tactics Ogre is a superb and challenging tactical combat RPG. Like Final Fantasy Tactics, it draws the player in with a complexly weaved story and fantastic gameplay. There aren't enough good tactical combat RPGs out there but when they are good, they are wonderful. I highly recommend this game. It might take you a few calls and a bit of traveling to find it, but in the end you will be happy you did. I know I am.