It's All Ogre Now
Reviewing Tactics Ogre: Reborn, a strategy game not for the faint of heart
Tactics Ogre: Reborn is a remaster of the 2010 remake of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together for PSP. Originally released in 1995 on the Super Famicom, the title came to PlayStation in the US back in the late 90s. The developer behind the title — Yasumi Matsuno — also designed Final Fantasy Tactics when he came to Square Enix.
For those hankering for a Strategy/RPG, Tactics Ogre: Reborn is a quintessential title in the series. However, in an era dominated by Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series, Tactics Ogre: Reborn might feel foreign to those new to the isometric point of view. With that said, it’s still a great entry for newcomers to the genre and curious fans who’ve had their fill of Nintendo’s successful franchise.
On its own merits, Tactics Ogre: Reborn is a great game. But despite its beautiful poetic nature, gorgeous character artwork, and astounding soundtrack, it’s not what I would call perfect. Even despite its quality of life (QoL) improvements, I feel like the game has more to give. Not so much in its base mechanics, but its ability to help the player familiarize with its demanding level of depth as well as hidden side-quests and the prerequisites to get to them.
Tactics Ogre: Reborn's Strengths
The isometric Tactics Ogre was among the first of its kind. Deviating from Nintendo’s Fire Emblem and Sega’s Shining Force, the elevated terrain combat allowed for different strategies. For instance, you can avoid damage altogether from enemies below you and shoot arrows further afield than is possible when occupying lower terrain.
In terms of narrative, Tactics Ogre: Reborn delivers using moral choices to shape your story. Depending on your actions, you can choose to rebel against your leaders or negotiate peace among your enemies. This will take you along either a Lawful, Chaotic, or Neutral route. These routes will change the outcome of the middle of the story, though the overall end will be the same. Rather, it will decide who can join your team later in the game.
A Little Too Subtle
However, Tactics Ogre: Reborn runs into its own little caveats thanks to the sheer amount of depth and customization involved in the experience. Determining the ability to move alongside watery terrain or even hop across gaps isn’t directly made clear. You may find yourself trapped in times you need to move your units out of danger.
Tactics Ogre also loves to be discreet with its methods to recruit units or clear side-quests. Even if you read the Warren Report to unlock paths, you may need to hit an enemy’s HP to just under 10% or say the right things to recruit a unit. None of this is explained outright to you and might be a cause of concern for newcomers not using a guide.
Comparison to Fire Emblem
Players may enjoy the simplicity and accessibility of the Fire Emblem series. Even with later games, like Echoes and Three Houses — which allow you to equip abilities and not just weapons on characters — you still get an ever-changing field of depth. Every chapter’s map is unique, and it features environmental hazards, like lava and geysers, as opposed to blocking off your characters.
Fire Emblem also eases you into the game, adding members slowly with an easier learning curve, and giving you more insight into the characters' lives.
Comparison to Final Fantasy Tactics
Final Fantasy Tactics loyalists will find many of the same staples in Tactics Ogre. Among these include finding all the side-quests unlockable in Chapter 4. Remember trying to get Cloud and others in FFT? It's like that. Tactics Ogre, unlike FFT, doesn't have stats like "Faith" determining the probability of success for a Raise spell, so be thankful for that.
Do be warned, however, of several difficulty spikes.
Even before the final dungeon, you may face battle gauntlets across several maps. Without the ability to restock or revamp your party, the game advises you to create separate save files just in case. While it would make more sense to rebalance the game’s difficulty to modern standards, this is just something to keep in mind as you play. Luckily, the autosave will make sure you have access to your file from before these gauntlets.
The Endpoint Hurts the Game
My biggest grievance comes from the structure of the game's final chain of maps. You'll go into the final dungeon map gauntlet without the ability to retreat and revamp your team. This comes with the caveat of being unable to prepare your team for the difficult maps ahead. But what makes this considerably worse is the high level of difficulty with the final boss. He gains 4,000 HP upon his transformation, which is 3,000 more HP than anything you have faced in the game.
Leaving back to the map via an autosave means wasting hours upon hours trekking through the final dungeon map. Unfortunately, this is somewhere between an old-school design and just an incredibly bad decision. You wouldn't see this level of brutality in Fire Emblem. Yet instead of the reasonable decision to retreat to buff your team after the maps you've cleared, the developers force you to commit to entering the dungeon. You can't even scout one of the harder maps either to allow you to prepare.
Tactics Ogre unquestionably has an esoteric nature. It’s dedicated to the hardcore gamer who loves a strong challenge and with a considerable level of customization depth. As such, it becomes equally alienating to the newcomer. If this worries you, yet you’re curious, I would recommend trying the demo for a similar title released in 2022: Triangle Strategy. It’s also available on PC!
Thankfully, Reborn is a bit more forgiving in its approach thanks to several fixes from its precursors. I feel Tactics Ogre’s future titles would see improvement if they could better define movement across certain tiles or remove the restrictions altogether. A bit more depth to recruiting units — or removing such strict requirements — would also make it more enjoyable without the looming stress of messing up lurking over your shoulder.
There is a lot to take in when playing a game like this. Without the burden of the disapproval I feel for the final dungeon of the game, I would have enjoyed it more. However, Tactics Ogre carves out its niche with its narrative, music, and moral choices. If you’re curious, give it a try.
I know that the overall game might not be for everyone. If the reports on its frustrating difficulty are enough to turn you away, don’t worry. You’ll find several alternatives, including Fire Emblem and Triangle Strategy. But if you’re not intimidated by a challenge, with a lot to take in right away, you’ll find Tactics Ogre: Reborn to be a solid play in the end.
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