Tactics Ogre Battle: Let Us Cling Together is the seventh chapter of the Ogre Battle saga, initially released in 1995 for the Super Famicom. It was originally developed by Quest, and re-made on the Playstation by Artdink-WGC, or World Game Collective, in Japan. It comes to North America courtesy of Atlus, who also brought over the sixth chapter, Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen for the Playstation.
"Can I stain my hands to uphold my ideals?"
Tactics Ogre's story takes place some time after Ogre Battle, and in a whole new land. It is less a sequel than an entirely new game with some recurring themes and returning characters. The story takes place in the land of Valeria; a country made up of 15 islands and is a prosperous center of trading. It is also made up of a wide variety of ethnic groups. As a result of such ethnic diversity, many wars were fought over the control of Valeria and the distribution of wealth.
War raged for more than 20 years on the islands until the great King Dolgare brought about a reign of peace. But when Dolgare died without a successor to the throne, ethnic war once again raged over who should control Valeria. The country was divided into three major factions of ethnicity battling for power or freedom.
Bacrum - Valeria was a newly established country in the north ruled by Cardinal Branta, a former advisor of King Dolgare. They held the most power in Valeria because the country of Lodis' Dark Knights of Roslolian supported them. The Garagastan Kingdom led by Lord Barbatos controlled the southern portion of Valeria and had prospered through the oppression of the third faction, the Walstanians. The Walstatnians made up a small percentage of the population and were forced into slave labor by the Gargastans. They have attempted to gain independence under the leadership of Duke Ronway, but to no avail. They are forced to live on the small island of Gurodohki to the southeast of Valeria.
The only thing that unites Valeria is its religious beliefs in the alignment gods and the elemental goddesses. The alignment gods are Isthar, the goddess of light and war whose purpose is to achieve unity through law and order, and Asmodeus, the god of Darkness who seeks only chaos through freedom. The elemental goddesses are Gurza, goddess of water, Zoshonell, goddess of fire, Bartha goddess of earth, and Hahnela, goddess of wind. These gods play a key role in your character's development as well as the path you will take through the game.
You play the role of a young Walstanian named Denim Powell who is seeking justice for his people. Throughout the game you will make numerous decisions that will affect Denim's path through the game. And many of the decisions are very difficult and will test your conscience. Do the lives of many outweigh those of a few? Are your ideals worth sacrificing for the greater good of the country? You will have numerous personal and political crises to resolve throughout, and there are 8 different endings to the game that you can find. I've only seen one and heard of another, and both are vastly different in how the story is resolved. Your decisions truly make a difference in how the game is played out. This is what makes the story in Tactics Ogre so engrossing. It maintains a strong sense of non-linearity while not sacrificing the complex political and emotional story. More games should build on this excellent formula.
Atlus' translation is more than adequate with a few misspellings and awkward phrases. But there is nothing that hinders the storytelling aspect or blurs the consequences of your decisions. Atlus seems to be setting themselves up as another Working Designs. Not only are they translating and enhancing some very cool role-playing games from Japan, they are also adding humor and a personal flair to their translations. They localized the text in many areas, including plenty of cursing and American slang. There are also a couple of subtle, humorous references to well known American films during the course of the game. One of which had me laughing for quite a while since it fit so well into the scene that was being played out. The only problem is that occasionally characters would seem to step outside of their standard personality in order to provide humor.
"I will see his land with my own eyes one day."
The graphics in Tactics Ogre won't impress too many people out there. But you have to take into consideration that this was made for the 16-bit Super Famicom. In 1995 it was standard setting, but now it feels dated. The colors are rather mono - tonal and the battlefields get to be very repetitious, not only because you re-visit many of them but because there is little variety in texture and color. Where the battlefields excel is in their design. They are multi-tiered 2D and each one presents a new challenge in strategy.
The character sprites are smaller than those we saw in Final Fantasy Tactics but are similarly designed and well animated. The roots of Final Fantasy Tactics really show through when you play this game. Each character class has separate animations for each type of attack, be it direct, indirect or magic. Characters that are directly involved in the story line have their own unique look on screen but use the same attack animation for their class. Character portraits are very well done and surprisingly very western in their look. More out of a well - drawn American comic book rather than the usual anime style seen in previous Ogre Battle games.
Magic effects have been enhanced with the Playstation's effect capabilities as they were in Ogre Battle. Transparencies and polygons are put to use to give the spells a more polished and impressive look. They're still nowhere near as jaw dropping as those in current 32-bit role playing games but they get the job done. All in all, the graphics in Tactics Ogre are an acquired taste. Many will love the classic 2D look and wonderful animations, while others won't be able to get past the leap backward in technology. The style is excellent, but it looks 16 bit so few may appreciate it for what it was.
The music is also well done, but again is a leap back. The majority of the soundtrack is in midi with some nice arrangement. A few of them stand out, but the main battle theme tends to wear on you. One major positive as far as the music is concerned is that the opening and closing themes have been re-done. They now have full orchestra and chorus, and they are both redbook, which allows them to be played in a regular CD player. It's a nice extra and the opening score is excellent and worth listening to every time you start up the game.
"Once more unto the breach dear friends!"
The battle system in Tactics Ogre is simple, yet realistic. You control up to 10 characters in battles across large, multi-tiered battlefields. The battlefields are 2D, not 3D, so they cannot be rotated. This isn't really a problem though since line of site is rather easy to figure out even if you can't see your character. The battlefields tend to get repetitious in their appearance, but not in their design. From large open marshes to huge castles to storm, there is plenty of variety to keep you on your toes and vary your troops. Choosing the right character classes for each battlefield and each opponent is one of the main keys to victory.
There are plenty of classes to choose from for both male and female warriors. Picking the right balance of strength, speed and magic is essential. Some classes will be unlocked after you reach a certain level, and some will be unlocked based on that specific characters previous class. Each class has strengths and weaknesses and you need to balance them. Tactics Ogre has a training mode that is used to level up characters between battles. It can also be two players so you can train with a friend controlling the other team. Training is essential to balancing your characters. If one character has been a ninja since the beginning, he will have high speed and good magic attack power. But he will have low hit points and power. By changing his class to a Knight or a Berserker during training, you can improve your strength and hit points and then return to the regular battles as a ninja. By doing this you can make up for the ninja's lack in hit points and power. Combinations are limitless considering how many classes you can choose from.
During battle, characters have three attack options. First is the direct attack. This is an attack from an adjacent square or two squares away if your character has a spear. Direct attacks deliver the most damage for most classes except for archers and magicians. The drawback to a direct attack is that there will always be a counter attack by your opponent. There is a lower chance of this hitting, but you have to be careful when you use a direct attack. If you attack from a distance with a spear there won't be a counter attack unless your enemy also has a spear.
Second is the indirect attack. All classes have an indirect attack, but only archers have truly effective indirect attacks. And only females can be archers. The archer's height determines the range and power of her attack. As the height increases so does the range and power. Another interesting aspect of indirect attacks is that it is possible to attack beyond your character's range. Your chances of hitting are significantly lowered, but you could get lucky. A high level archer with a major height advantage can be deadly and take out numerous foes before they even get close to your party.
Third is the magic attack. Many classes have the ability to use magic, but what magic they can use is limited. For example, Ninja's can equip only one attacking spell, and only a spell that is in alignment with the character. A ninja that is born under the goddess of water can only equip a water spell. Magic specific characters like priests or exorcists can equip up to 3 spells that are in alignment with their class. Your foes in a particular battle will determine which kind of magic user you will take into battle with you. If you're up against many undead foes, and exorcist in invaluable since they are the only class that can completely defeat the undead.
Death in Tactics Ogre is also handled somewhat differently. Unless a defeated character is revived during the battle in which they are killed, they can never be revived. And since you cannot get revivify magic until quite a ways into the game, you have to take death quite seriously. You especially have to take it seriously when a battle involves your team saving a certain character. If you don't save that character, the game will continue but the story will likely be effected later on. So saving or not saving guest characters is up to you, but with 8 different endings you never know which characters may be vital to the rest of the game.
Besides recruited and guest characters, you can also buy monsters to aid you in battle. There are dragons, golems, and griffins, harpies, skeletons and ghouls that can be purchased at certain shops, or persuaded to join your team by your main character. Each monster has its advantages. Dragons and golems have very high hit points and defense and can be great as blockades to cut off your opponents. Griffins and harpies can fly and have tremendous attack power. Skeletons and ghouls are rather average in their battle skills but they have one major advantage over the other monsters. Since they are undead, they can only be truly defeated by an exorcist. Even if they lose all their hit points, they will fully recover in a few rounds unless an exorcist disintegrates them.
One of my favorite battle-plans, although one of the most expensive is to take 9 skeletons into battle along with my main character. This plan only works if your opponent doesn't have a character that can perform an exorcism. If there are no exorcists, just send those skeletons head first into the enemy. I prefer skeletons to ghouls because of their higher attack power and hit points. The skeletons will rip into your foe and do decent damage, but will usually be defeated after a period of time. Now your opponents will go after your main character leaving the skeletons behind. But within a few short rounds, the skeletons will revive and be at your opponent's flank. Now it will turn into a slaughter with you achieving an easy victory. I never lost with this plan when it was viable to use it. The only drawback is that skeletons can't change class and your other characters might be neglected in the process. When the time comes that you can't us the skeletons, you could be in trouble if you haven't kept your other teammates at the same levels.
There are plenty of secrets hidden throughout the game from objects hidden on battlefields that you have to reveal with fire magic, to huge hidden scenarios that are unlocked by saving certain characters or reading the Warren reports. The Warren report is a log that lets you look back on previous events and characters. It will also list miscellaneous news that will unlock the hidden scenarios when you read them. I have barely scratched the surface on many of the secrets hidden in each chapter of the game.
The enemy AI in Tactics Ogre is not as vicious as it was in Final Fantasy Tactics, but your opponent will take advantage of weakened allies so you'll have to stay on your toes. It is fairly easy to outwit your enemy, and the best strategy is simply to wait for them. Tactics Ogre uses the same attack time system as seen in Final Fantasy Tactics, so by being patient you can quickly gain a speed advantage over them. This works well on flat battlefields, but won't work on those where your team is at a height disadvantage, especially if there are archers and magic users among your opponents. Then it is wise to split your forces and into a group of powerful allies and a group of quick allies with distance attackers. The power group moves out first to draw the enemy's attention while the quick group outflanks them and gains the high ground. Ninja's and flying allies can be invaluable because of their movement capabilities when using this strategy. But in most battles, patience is your best ally, as your enemy will usually make the first mistake.
Tactics Ogre is a top-notch strategy game. The gameplay is fun for both veterans and amateurs, and the story is fantastic. I never thought I could enjoy a non-linear story, but this one does everything right without sacrificing depth in the process. I highly recommend this game unless you're someone who cannot get past the fact that the graphics are outdated. And even though they are outdated, they are more finely conceived than the graphics in many next generation games. Atlus has quickly become one of my favorite companies, and this game is a perfect example of why that is.