Game Review: Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

I bought this game last year because I heard that tarot cards were involved in gameplay somehow, which is the most shallow reason to buy a game ever, and apparently there were choices that matter, in a game from Japan, where, usually, “choices that matter” means that you get an extra line of dialogue for being a jerk. The one thing that made me hesitate was that I kept hearing comparisons to Final Fantasy Tactics (which this game inspired). I’m probably the only Square-Enix fan that doesn’t like that game. I tried playing it once, then the game dumped a party of black mages on me that proceeded to wipe the floor with my poor flammable units. Of the strategy RPGs I’ve played, Final Fantasy Tactics ranks right up there with Disgaea in terms of “games designed by sadists which I refuse to play”.

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This game, though, this game is much better.

For those who aren’t familiar with the series, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is the first entry in a spinoff series of the Ogre Battle games (which I have also never played). It was originally released for the Super Famicom in 1995. It received an apparently craptastic release in North America on the PlayStation, and then in 2o11 it was released for the PSP with updated graphics, completely re-translated dialogue, updated musical score, new quest, new characters, basically everything that a remake should be.

And it’s awesome.

For one thing, the opening sequence is narrated by Simon Templeman, Simon Templeman is fucking amazing.

The story is, shall we say, complicated. There’s a war going on and you have three nations (Walister, Galgastan, and Bakram) taking shots at each other, but it’s way more complicated than that. Dispense with notions of “good” and “evil” because you won’t find a whole lot of black and white situations in this game. Our main character is a Walister named Denam, who, together with his sister Catiua and friend Vyce, join the Walister Resistance against Galgastan and Bakram, who have been indiscriminately slaughtering the Walisters and oppressing the ones that are left. This game definitely isn’t a happy fun times kind of game, as you’ll see in a moment.

In terms of gameplay, it’s a standard grid-based system with attacks playing out in real time, characters move, take an action, and then end their turns, pretty standard stuff. An annoying interesting aspect of this system is the friendly fire you can cause if you aren’t lining your mages up properly (as I frequently do), if you aren’t careful, you can end up killing your own units. Another cool feature of battles is the Chariot system, which allows you to rewind battles (up to fifty turns). However, if you do this, you are a cheating cheater, yes you are, even though I don’t think the game punishes you for it. Leveling up is also handled differently than almost every other game I’ve played, that is, individual units don’t level up, but classes do, so if you want to change a unit’s class to, say, knight, and your knights are at level 9, your new knight will be at level 9 to start, no having to start from level 1 every time!  I had great fun re-classing Denam and my other Warriors to Knights, not only can they take damage LIKE A BOSS, but they also have the all-important “Heal” spell. A saving grace is the way death is handled, when a character’s HP reaches zero, they are incapacitated and you have three rounds to finish the fight before they’re gone forever. I’m the type of person who simply has to restart when I lose a unit like that, so I’ve played the same levels over a lot.

The Skill system can be a little intimidating at first, because there are just so many options to choose from, but the game is very good at letting you know when your unit can’t use a certain skill (just be sure to check before you blow all your money on magic for your Terror Knight that she can’t use).

As I mentioned before, there are opportunities to make some hard choices in the game, and these choices determine whether you get one of three different endings. Law, Neutral, and Chaos alignments are nothing new, but the nice thing about this game is that the “alignments” don’t really take morality into account (which is in contrast to what most games do, where you are either “goody goody” Law or “KILL EVERYTHING FOR TEH EBILS!” Chaos), but unfortunately I can’t say more without completely spoiling Chapter 2. When you aren’t making tough decisions, there are side quests to complete and lots of things to read on top of keeping track of all the politicking going on (you almost need a notebook to keep track of it all).

I could keep heaping praise on this game….so I will….the music is really, really pretty, the dialogue (of which there is a lot) is great (if a little flowery). I even like the little verses characters sometimes say before casting spells.  The story is very complex and dark (it is about war, after all).

Okay, so I do have a couple criticisms, the first is that the AI for your “guest party” members, can be really, really stupid sometimes (although the character that still takes the cake for AI stupidity is the French king in Jeanne D’Arc, who will walk right in range of enemy arrows when he has like, 10 HP, and then he’ll die, and you have to start all over. Seriously, how the fuck did someone that stupid become king?) although Catiua generally does a good job of healing units and attacking as needed, so at least she’s reliable. The game can be challenging at times, though that’s not so much a criticism as it is “Gef isn’t such an avid player of SRPGs”, and something that can either be great or sucky is that once you defeat the “boss” character in a level, the level automatically ends, so you can basically throw your whole party at the boss and win like that (although you won’t get as much loot).

Game-breaking unit: Canopus Wind Caller (Canopus Wolph) Canopus gets my vote for most game-breaking unit in this game (so far), not only can he fly (giving him ridiculous mobility), he can equip shortbows for long range and axes for melee, learn a buttload of magic, and pretty much always have an unobstructed view of everyone (because he can, you know, fucking fly). He’s not quite as broken as say, Marcus from Fire Emblem (who is probably the game-breaking character to end all game-breaking characters) but he’s up there.

I guess my point is that if you like deep, dark, politically-charged stories, reading, a game that will challenge you without being really sadistic, and you haven’t already picked this game up (WHYYY?), do it, I know the $30 price tag might seem a little steep for a game that’s been out for at least a year, but it’s worth it.

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