Clinging Together

Tactics Ogre is a remake of a SNES game, but it still has plenty of progressive features.  Tactics Ogre has always been an ambitious game, but the limits of both the previous systems it has been released on, the SNES and an apparently borked PS1 port, and of it adherence to some frustrating design choices has held the game back from it greatness.  It is the predecessor to Final Fantasy Tactics, and the similarities are apparent.  They play almost identically.  While Final Fantasy Tactics largely improved and refined what the game did, Tactics Ogre is actually more ambitious in one category: the story.  One of the draws, or flaws, of Final Fantasy Tactics is its plot, a political drama that plays out like a Shakespearian tragedy (This is not meant to mean that there is a similarity in quality, only in tone).  Tactics Ogre’s story is largely the same, but it gives the player to ability to choose his path through the game, resulting in 8 different endings.  Unfortunately, to sees these ending you would have to play through the game 8 times.  There is also a progressive leveling system, unlike any I’ve encountered before but so simple a change that I’m surprised I’ve never seen it before.

With the new PSP remake, this is no longer the case.  In the Warren Report, the games ludicrously detailed repository of world history and character profiles and information that is entirely unnecessary but largely interesting, there is a feature called the Workd.  In battle there is the Chariot, this allows the player to rewind the battle in case things go badly.  The World works along similar lines,  it allows the player to go back and choose another path, changing the response the player made when it first occurred.  Therefore, instead of multiple playthroughs, now you can play to the end, then go back and see each branching point to see how it played out the other way.  While some progress may be lost–I haven’t reached the end and unlocked it yet so I don’t know–it allows players to see much more of the game easier.

The leveling system is brilliant and removes much of the hassle of grinding from the game.  Instead of each character leveling independently, the classes gain levels and every character in that class is that level.  Characters must still learn skills, with skill points that are accumulated separately from experience.  So new characters may be the same level as the old hands, allowing them to function in battle, but the will lack the accumulated skills of the others.  This allows the player to get characters quickly up to speed, but rewards them for smart use of skill points.  The new system is not perfect, though.  When each new level opens up it starts at level one.  Just like when raising to a character to match other established ones, the new classes will be mostly useless for several battles.  This is exacerbated by most random battles allowing only six units on the battlefield instead of the 10 allowed in story battles.  But this is a minor speed bump in an otherwise terrific system.

These two features make Tactics Ogre:  Let Us Cling Together more than a musty old SNES game with a facelift, but a new and original experience.  And an early favorite for game of the year.

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