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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (PSN download for PSP)

In 1988, a little development company, called Quest Corporation, was formed in Japan. In 1993 it released Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen on the Super Nintendo, and one of the greatest tactical RPG series’ was born.

Ogre Battle is a real time strategy game with some RPG elements, and is still loved today for the incredible depth and epic scope that was crammed within the relatively primitive visuals.

In 1995 came Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. Same game world, but this time around it was a turn based strategy game, where you move characters around a grid, rather than direct them over giant maps. It was a very different style, but it too was magic. 

There's some serious talking going on here


In 2002 Square Enix purchased the Ogre franchise (no surprises there, since the publishing giant had already poached Quest’s finest talent). It’s been a long time since the last new release in the Ogre franchise – 2002’s GBA gem Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis, so it’s nice to see the series return with such style with the PSP remake of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together.

The first thing you’ll realise on booting the game up is that it is a mammoth endeavour. The story itself is incredibly long (and offers alternate paths depending on the decisions you make), but length aside, there is an intimidating number of things you need to do to even get to the end.

There is a mass of character classes and types available, from the mundane to the monstrous. Given that there can be up to 12 characters on the battlefield at any one time, coming up with a winning combination of characters whose skills match one another’s is a long process of trial and error and deep thinking. 

Dramatic


There’s a definite sense of reward for coming up with a strong force, though, because Tactics Ogre can be a very difficult game, so each win – especially if it’s an easy win – is a pleasant experience. Part of the difficulty is alleviated by the ability to “rewind” turns – if you don’t like the result of one of your actions, you can just jump back to an earlier turn and try something different.

The downside to this is it can make battles a very protracted affair. Many people will be coming into this game with a working knowledge of the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem, and perhaps less experience with Tactics Ogre. Both those other tactics RPGs are far speedier experiences. Tactics Ogre boasts large maps with lots of terrain effects to work around and some enemies that can soak up serious damage before falling. Throw in the rewind effects and the sheer depth of customisation required outside of battle, and the plot advances at a very slow pace indeed.

It’s an enjoyable plot to play through, if somewhat clichéd and forgettable. There’s the usual political strife working behind the scenes (a hallmark of the Tactics Ogre series), and epic overtunes that somehow also manage to give the characters some genuine, if basic personality. It’s not the kind of plot that’s going to win any ‘best of’ awards (and remember, this is a remake of a SNES game), but it’s also not going to bore you to sleep. 

This is a big world. You'll be exploring all of it


The game’s only real Achilles heel comes from its visuals. The art direction within the game engine is typical Square Enix quality, with stunning character portraits, varied landscapes and beautifully presented menus. The music sets an incredible atmosphere, and does indeed feature the classic Ogre Battle theme that will hit series faithful with a solid dose of nostalgia.

In battle, however, the character sprites themselves have a fuzzy quality that looks strangely out of place with the crisp backdrops and those lovely menus. They’re still charming, and anyone who has played an earlier Tactics Ogre game will get a kick out of those sprites, but newcomers will perhaps find things a little basic – especially in the early stages where there’s not a lot going on and special effects and character variety are minimal.

It’s a tiny chick in an otherwise solid suit of armour, however. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is the first PSP title in a while that is worth buying a PSP for. Such a deep, lengthy quest is going to have you going for a long, long time to come. 



Review: Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (PSN download for PSP)
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