Tactics Ogre: RebornNovember 11th, 2022
PlatformPC (Steam), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Despite being wildly influential, there are some classic games whose ultimate fate is to remain in obscurity, appreciated only by a dedicated but small fanbase that keeps their legacy alive any way they can. This is definitely the case of Yasumi Matsuno's Ogre Battle series, one of the finest tactical and strategy role-playing game series ever made, whose standout entries Let Us Cling Together and Knight of Lodis are still widely appreciated decades after their release. Following Square Enix's acquisition of Quest, however, the series entered a limbo from which has yet to come out, as, since the acquisition, the Japanese publisher only released a remake of the aforementioned Let Us Cling Together on the PlayStation Portable, which inevitably limited its potential success due to the console being far from the most popular gaming system available in 2011. The publisher, however, is ready to give the series another chance with Tactics Ogre: Reborn, which is, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy the classic Let Us Cling Together thanks to many quality-of-life improvements and gameplay tweaks that make the experience more enjoyable than ever.
The story of Tactics Ogre: Reborn is identical to that of the PSP remake, which, in turn, was pretty much the same as the original Super Nintendo release, not counting a few additions here and there. The game takes place on the archipelago of Valeria, which was once ruled by king Dorgalua Oberyth, whose reign brought peace and prosperity to all. The king, however, died without leaving an heir, causing the end of the unified kingdom and a civil war between the three main ethnic groups living on the archipelago - the Bakram-Valeria, the Galgastani, and the Walister. Though in constant shift, the war was stuck in a stalemate until the Bakram-Valeria faction signed an alliance with the Holy Lodissian Empire, granting regent Brantyn Morne the power of the Dark Knights Loslorien with which he secures the northeastern part of Valeria, leaving the Galgastani and the Walister to quarrel over the remaining parts of Dorgalua's once glorious kingdom.
The Tactics Ogre: Reborn story begins at a time when all seems lost to the Walister. The Resistance failed to keep the Galgastani out of their lands, and Duke Juda Ronwey, leader of the Resistance, was captured, leaving it without much-needed leadership. This, however, doesn't prevent three youths from the village of Golyat - Denam and Catiua Pavel and Vyce Bozek - from planning an attack on the High Champion Lanselot Tartaros, who is said to be coming back to their village a year after he razed it with his Dark Knights. Little do the three know how much their involvement in the war and their choices will change not only their lives but also those of the entire archipelago.
Despite the years, the story of Tactics Ogre: Reborn is still incredibly engaging, mixing together so many themes in such a masterful way that no other title has managed to do the same to this day, except for Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, whose story, incidentally, was also written by Yasumi Matsuno. It also is an incredibly dark story that doesn't back away from showing the harsh reality of war, making it clear that the innocents are those who always suffer the most from the most horrific schemes of the elite. Not all of these schemes, however, can be experienced in a single playthrough, as the game features a branching story with three possible routes - Lawful, Chaotic, and Neutral. Like the PSP remake, Tactics Ogre: Reborn features the World Tariot system that lets players, once they complete the game once, return to the point when critical decisions are made, making it possible to experience the other story routes without playing through the entire game again. Using the World Tariot is also the only way to recruit all possible characters, as some are exclusive to specific routes.
As the plot and the scheming are central to the Tactics Ogre: Reborn experience, character development takes a backseat most of the time. Denam and his sister Catiua are obviously the star of the show and get the most development out of the vast majority of the cast, but many are the characters that end up being memorable for one reason or another, despite their limited screen time, such as the banished knights from the Kingdom of New Xenobia, and some central figures of some of the many factions that wage war on Valeria. Speaking of the antagonists, Lanselot Tartaros is an extremely believable villain that doesn't fall into the mustache-twirling trope many video game characters fall into. Sadly, the same cannot be said about all members of the Dark Knights Loslorien, but there is enough variety in their order to still make them somewhat memorable.
Tactics Ogre: Reborn doesn't just deliver with its story but also with its gameplay. Unlike the story, however, the gameplay has seen some pretty big changes, most of which are definitely for the better. At its heart, the game is a classic tactical turn-based role-playing game where the player and the AI take turns moving their units on a variety of different battlefields and using regular melee and ranged attacks and magic spells, activate skills, unleash powerful Finishing Moves to defeat enemies. Although the whole experience has been completely rebalanced, with new HP, MP, and stat values for all units, some of its core staples haven't changed too much. Ranged attacks, for example, are quite effective most of the time, but they do not dominate as much as they did in the previous versions of the game, and some units are still far above every other, such as the Ninja, with the ability to dual wield weapons and unleash powerful Ninjutsu spells. As such, strategies that were effective in the original and the PSP remake still apply to Reborn, although with a different degree of efficacy. If any prove to be ineffective, however, players can take advantage of the Chariot Tarot mechanics that let them rewind battles to make different choices with no penalty. The rebalancing work made in Tactics Ogre: Reborn also encompasses other aspects of the gameplay. The magic spells have been reduced in number over the PSP remake, and some of their properties changed to make it easier for players to pick up the best spells they want to bring in battle, as there are only four spell slots, which, at the start, does feel a little limiting. As the main campaign progresses, however, it's clear how this was a good change to make, as it forces players to make choices, which is one of the overarching themes of the entire experience.
A couple of the most controversial aspects of the PSP remake, the leveling Skill systems, have also been reworked completely in Tactics Ogre: Reborn, and they are, in my opinion, two of the best changes. Units once again level up individually and not by class, and Skills are learned naturally as the units level ups, instead of having to spend Skill Points to learn them from a huge list of abilities, not all of them all that useful. Many Skills, such as the unit proficiency skills that made attacks against certain unit types like humans, lizardmen, dragons, and so on more effective, and reaction skills like Counter and Parry have been moved onto weapons, while others have been turned into Auto Skills that have a set chance of activating at the start of the unit's turn. The weapon proficiency skills are still in, but they are leveled up much faster, making it easier for units to get better at using certain weapons.
The PSP remake's skill system, on paper, gave players the chance to customize their units further, but it often felt nothing more like a massive complication that slowed down pacing considerably with micromanaging and that could be skipped almost entirely. The beauty of the Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together experience was to put together an army that could deal with any given situation effectively, and not how a single unit could be customized like in Final Fantasy Tactics, so I feel the Skill System ultimately detracted from the experience. Tactics Ogre: Reborn puts army composition at the center once again while still offering some degree of customization, giving players the best of both worlds and returning the experience to the great pacing of the original. Rounding up some of the good changes introduced in the game are the ability to speed up battles, side objectives for battles that grant additional experience points and items, Charms that allow players to increase stats permanently and even change the element of units, an improved AI, which, however, doesn't make some suicidal NPCs any less so, improved UI and better crafting, which is no longer RNG-based like in the PSP remake.
Not all of the gameplay changes in Tactics Ogre: Reborn, however, will be met with universal praise. Random battles are now gone, replaced with training battles that are good for leveling up units but not for collecting items, as these battles don't feature any item drop. This choice does make sense to make the optional dungeons more worthwhile, but it's always disappointing when options are taken away. It seems like the developer really wanted to do away with grinding as much as possible, shifting the focus to proper tactical gameplay, as Tactics Ogre: Rebornalso features a Party Level that determines the maximum level of all units at a given time. While this leads to better balancing, again, taking away options or limiting others is not something that everyone will appreciate. One other addition that doesn't feel too good are Buff Cards, special cards that appear randomly on the battlefield that grant a variety of buffs such as enhanced Physical and Magic attack, increased Critical chance, and more. While it does give players one more choice to make during battles, such as going for a specific Buff Card or going for the enemy, it feels like this addition forces players to play in a certain, more optimal way, which feels in complete contrast with the rest of the experience.
Gameplay isn't the only thing that has been changed in Tactics Ogre: Reborn, as the game also features enhanced graphics and an improved soundtrack featuring all of the original game's tracks as well as newly written ones performed with live instruments. The visual enhancements include reworked sprites, animated elements on battlefields, and a visual filter that doesn't exactly look great in still images but fares much better in motion, especially with the camera zoomed out. All lines in the game are now also fully voiced, but the quality of the English voiceovers is a little hit-and-miss, with only some actors delivering solid performances. After playing through the original and the PSP remake multiple times over the years, I had my own idea of how some characters should sound, so this is probably the reason why I felt some of them sound a little off. Speaking specifically about the PC version of the game, there's no denying that it is a decent enough port that runs as well as expected with few issues. Graphics options are limited to resolution and V-Sync, and there is no way to change the graphics filter, so there isn't much users can do to tweak visuals.
My first playthrough of Tactics Ogre: Reborn has been as enjoyable as the many that have preceded it, which is a testament to this remaster quality. While some of the gameplay changes aren't exactly for the best, there is no denying that this is the best version of Let Us Cling Together, one that newcomers and veterans both will enjoy.
PC version tested. Review code provided by the publisher.
With many gameplay changes that restore the original's great pacing without doing away with the deeper customization options introduced in the PSP remake, one of the best stories ever seen in tactical role-playing games and an amazing reworked soundtrack, Tactics Ogre: Reborn is, without a doubt, the definitive version of Let Us Cling Together. While some of the gameplay changes aren't exactly for the best, they are only minor issues in an experience that continues to be excellent even 27 years after its original debut
- Amazing story that masterfully combines magical and political elements
- Extremely solid turn-based tactical gameplay
- Reworked Skill System
- Improved AI and interface
- Excellent soundtrack
- Removal of random battles
- Limiting level cap
- Visual filter doesn't always look great
- Hit-and-miss voice-overs