This year of 2022 has seen a true renaissance in the strategy RPG subgenre, and Square Enix is definitely at the forefront of it. Following titles such as Triangle Strategy and The DioField Chronicle, both new IPs, Square Enix’s final SRPG foray of the year is Tactics Ogre: Reborn. I’m not quite sure how to introduce the game, as it’s a remaster of a remake. However, Square Enix put so much love and attention into Reborn to bring it in line with modern standards that it is almost a whole new game. From its fully-voiced story segments to an overhauled levelling system and more, this is the kind of care I’ve been waiting to see from Square Enix with its ports.
So, to give a brief insight into the game’s history, Tactics Ogre: Reborn is a remaster of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. I always thought the game had a beautiful name, apparently inspired by the title of a Queen song, but I appreciate that Square Enix wanted to clearly distinguish between the two releases. Dropping the “Let Us Cling Together” in favour of simply Tactics Ogre: Reborn also hints that this entry is a true “rebirth” of the series. Is Square Enix testing the waters for future entries? I don’t think that would be too much to hope for, given the renewed interest in the SRPG genre, but I digress. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together was a 2009 PSP remake of a 1995 SNES game of the same name. Rhyming! I can’t think of many games with so many iterations — the SNES edition was also ported to the PS1 and SEGA Saturn — but it’s a testament to how the developers nailed its original formula.
Tactics Ogre: Reborn opens with its protagonist, Denam, plotting an attack on the mysterious Dark Knights. He’s joined by his sister, Catiua, and their childhood friend Vyce. They mistakenly identify a man named Lanselot as the fiend who laid waste to their hometown years prior. Lanselot is a common name in Valeria, it seems. A very brief battle ensues, in which Denam realises his error, and instead, they temporarily join forces to find safety and direction with Duke Ronway. The stage is set with Denam, Catiua, and Vyce fighting under the banner of the Walister Liberation Front. Our tale of holy war, political unrest, betrayal, and redemption unfolds henceforth. It’s hard to summarise the story without mentioning its multiple branching paths, and these choices are often gratifyingly grey. There are three main paths you can take, and it’s fair to say that each choice you make will have an impact.
While I enjoyed the story, it definitely felt like there was far too much exposition early on that I just didn’t understand. Concepts such as the factions and territories are mentioned by name only, but it isn’t until further into the game that you meet their associated characters to give more context. I think this was probably a necessary choice, however, as there is a lot of story to tell, and it has to start somewhere. Throwing you straight into the action means things start fast, and the pace doesn’t let up. Tactics Ogre: Reborn also features mechanics to make multiple playthroughs an accessible option. You can go back and see alternate routes if you didn’t quite understand the implications of a choice during your first playthrough. Despite the story’s intimidating barrage of terminology, I always felt like I was enjoying the ride in line with my comprehension rather than getting lost because I’d missed a specific detail.
An aspect of the storytelling that’s neither a pro nor a con is that character development is heavily weighted toward the three main characters: Denam, Catiua, and Vyce. While there are many supporting characters, none really come close to the development these three receive. The story is about them, though, and the culmination of various other arcs always lead back to Denam and his relationships with Catiua and Vyce. Don’t get me wrong; many other characters have intriguing storylines — Cistina and her sister Cerya’s were a highlight for me — they simply lack the depth of the three protagonists’ stories. Prepare to feel the full gamut of emotions either way.
Furthering this delivery of the story is the newly added voicework, and there’s a lot of it. Every single line of dialog in story scenes is voiced, and units have voiced battle cries. It fleshes the characters out enormously, and now we know how to pronounce everything! I will also give major props to the voice director; it’s clear the actors fully understood their lines and deftly handled the nuance of the script. There are many Ye Olde English phrases used throughout, and it’s clear that the director took the time to ensure every actor knew how to deliver their line. Full credit to the actors, too, as they’re a talented bunch, and it’s wonderful to see such clear synergy between actor and director.
Bringing Valeria and the various other locales of Tactics Ogre: Reborn to life are its visuals and sound design. Depending on what other SRPGs you’ve previously played, both may indeed be instantly recognisable to you. The venerable Hitoshi Sakimoto, who composed the score for the original SNES incarnation of the game, is back with a fully orchestrated rerecording. Those familiar with other powerhouse titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII will instantly recognise his work, music that creates moody atmospheres that perfectly capture the entire range of emotions the narrative tackles. Considering how old the original Let Us Cling Together is, it’s quite a beautiful twist of fate that Sakimoto’s work is now fully orchestrated and sounds better than ever all these years later.
Art Director Hiroshi Minagawa and Character Artist Akihiko Yoshida bring a truly nostalgic signature style to Tactics Ogre: Reborn, and it’s a delight to see how relatively untouched the visuals are. Everything is bigger — thus is the nature of higher resolution assets — but they’ve upscaled everything in a way that shows due respect to the source material. When Square Enix initially unveiled this remaster, fans were divided due to the filtered appearance of the 2D sprites. While I’m not going to say they are wrong to feel that way — there is some quite noticeable smoothing of the pixels — up close, it seems a little more detailed than first impressions may convey. It’s almost like the sprites were “inflated” to fit the new resolution and then filtered to create a softer look. Weirdly enough, I did notice that my screenshots seemed a bit more pixel-heavy than what could be seen in-game, but that could just be a difference between the screens on my OLED Switch and laptop. The game has plenty of configurable options, but removing the filter is not one of them. It’s also worth noting that the battlefields are rendered in 3D, unlike the original version. As a result, you can rotate the camera during a character’s turn, with a birds-eye view available for navigating around the terrain.
There is a sense of “lost magic” to Tactics Ogre: Reborn. Many of us have played previous releases in the series or be similarly fond of the Final Fantasy Tactics games. The Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics games have a lot of crossover in development staff, and share many similarities in their gameplay as well. At a glance, battles are almost identical, especially when comparing Tactics Ogre: Reborn with the FFT Advance games. Units are deployed in a grid formation at the start of battle, with a newly introduced Scout feature that allows you to see enemy placement on the map before engaging. The fights unfold in turn-based fashion, with you moving each unit individually around the field and choosing actions via menus. The entire user interface has been redesigned for accessibility, with all relevant information clearly displayed.
A quite noticeable change from the PSP release of Let Us Cling Together is how units level up. We now have a Team Level, which acts as an upper limit for each unit’s individual level. For example, if your Team Level is 20, none of the characters on your team can level past 20. While this might sound restrictive, it keeps the difficulty tailored perfectly for each stage, and means you can grind skill levels to your heart’s content without massively over-leveling your team. In addition, units are levelled individually, unlike the previous system in which only classes levelled up. Finally, you can now switch a character’s class as many times as they want, so long as they possess the required Seal.
There are a plethora of skills available to each class, some of which are usable by multiple classes and retain their level across the board. Yes! Skills have their own levels, which increase by using them. It feels like forever since I last played a game with this system in place, and I love it. It works perfectly with the aforementioned Team Level, as you can switch a character to an entirely new class but grind up their skill levels without overpowering your character levels. Skills play a huge role in building your characters, as there’s so much flexibility. You could have two or three characters with the same class, yet configure their skills so that they each play completely differently in a battle. Battles can be very long in Tactics Ogre: Reborn, but the guilt-free experimentation with builds means you can always try something new. There are no caveats to changing classes, such as lost levels or handicaps, so switching things around is always fun.
I will echo what I’ve said throughout this review: Tactics Ogre: Reborn is hugely successful in its goals to modernise an admittedly old game. I am impressed on quite a deep level; having played these games for nearly 25 years, it’s a pleasant surprise to see Square Enix putting so much delicate attention into every facet. Think of it like an old house. It needed dusting; it has original period features that require a specific wood stain, so it doesn’t rot. Square Enix has given this house a thorough renovation, using the correct tools for every job and restoring the lustre you remember it having when you were young(er). In the context of this game, it’s a big victory, but it also makes me wish they’d put so much effort into other recent remasters.
When Triangle Strategy was released earlier this year, I had an inkling that perhaps they were testing the waters for a larger-scale SRPG project, and Tactics Ogre: Reborn only makes me believe that more. If that nVidia leak is to be believed, then we should expect that Final Fantasy Tactics remake, and I very much doubt Square Enix would be putting so much care into their SRPG releases if something big wasn’t coming. Of course, we can only wait and see what might be on the horizon, but for now, I can wholeheartedly recommend playing this gem of a game. It can be a bit overwhelming at times, and the battles may hinder the pacing from time to time, but this is one of the OG greats — only better.