Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

Confusingly credited as Ogre Tactics Saga Episode 7 in the intro screen (the first five games were never actually produced), Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together is a stunning remake of the second game in the series, launched in 1995 on the Super Famicom in Japan. I find the fact that a game with this depth and sophistication existed back when I spent most of my gaming hours running a blue hedgehog around chequered hoops a little frustrating, but the important thing is that it’s finally available in Europe and, much like the excellent Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (also on the PSP), it’s gotten one hell of a face lift. Whilst retaining the spirit of the original, the graphics, menus and dialogue have all been dramatically reconstructed and polished, my favourite addition being the utterly beautiful illustrated character portraits that accompany each speech and action, giving an emotional anchor to the game’s powerful writing that can’t quite be met by the game’s charming sprites.

As soon as the strings and horns of Hitoshi Sakimoto’s overture kick in on the title screen, it’s clear you’re going to be in for an epic experience, which the game promptly delivers on all counts. The story is set in the Valerian isles where Duke Barbatos, leader of the Galgastani clan, wages blood war on the outnumbered Walister and it has been argued that this formed the designer Yasumi Matsuno’s (Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII) allegorical response to the Yugoslav wars. A year after the razing of their village the player takes control of the heroic young Denam Pavel, his sister Catiua and his childhood friend Vyce, who promptly become heroes of the Walister resistance after freeing Duke Ronwey from his imprisonment. However, as with Ramza Beoulve and his low-born friend Delita in Final Fantasy Tactics, events quickly transpire to put them on opposing sides of the battle lines. The scene is set for a staggeringly complex story of political intrigue, touching on themes of revenge, redemption, sacrifice and the true meaning of freedom.

Considering how notoriously linear most Japanese RPGs are Ogre Tactics is an utter revelation. Not only is the story magnificently complex, but at several points the game gives you a morally weighted choice that forks events in considerably different directions, a strikingly modern feature and a good reminder of what an innovator Matsuno has always been. A case in point is at the end of chapter one, poetically entitled ‘There is Blood on My Hands, How Long Till it Lies on My Heart?’, in which a shocking and ambiguous event prompts you into becoming either a tyrant ruthlessly pursuing victory by any means or branded a traitor by your own people.

While not set in Matsuno’s usual world, Ivalice, Ogre Tactics is certainly unified to the other games in his oeuvre by style and theme (not to mention the gloriously re-orchestrated soundtrack by Hitoshi Sakimoto). Many of the elements here can be seen as prototypes for not only Final Fantasy Tactics, but also his masterpiece Vagrant Story, a progressively unconventional dungeon crawler with a punishing learning curve. Imagine the gameplay of Final Fantasy Tactics spliced with Vagrant Story’s immensely complex detail and you won’t be far off the mark. For instance in both games stat modifications include not only the usual seven elemental affinities but modifiers for race (Dragon, phantom, human etc) and type (piercing, crushing and slashing). This level of detail is likely to delight as many as it alienates, but Square-Enix are to be congratulated for not diluting the game’s complexity in an attempt to appeal to a more casual audience. Additionally, battlefields are at least three times the size of any in Final Fantasy Tactics and accommodate up to 30 units, leading to epic, strategic conflicts.

But there are helping hands within this complexity, including clever AI settings that can be assigned to half your troupes that speed things along. A new addition to the game also comes in the form of the Chariot Tarot, which ingeniously tracks your last fifty moves in a battle and allows you to return to any previous turn and change your actions (a similar mechanic allows you to return to turning points in the story and take a different course). Meanwhile levelling, the big barrier to entry for most RPGs, has been streamlined and grinding minimised; the game’s many classes (the eclectic mix of mages, valkyries, and ninjas all with their own unique abilities) now level up collectively, so a new warrior will join your ranks at the same ability as all your other warriors, encouraging flexibility and experimentation.


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