Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together – Staff Review

An exceptionally influential tactical RPG, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is responsible for a large number of the more common elements found in the genre today. As the original printing has been more or less relegated to the status of collector’s item, the PSP remake of Let Us Cling Together is an excellent opportunity for fans of the genre to enjoy this seminal title. There have been a great deal of changes made to the game, and although the core mechanics remain basically unchanged, it has been heavily rebalanced, with new systems and ideas added in order to make it a bit more forgiving. The end result is that Let Us Cling Together is a more than worthwhile play, though the hugely complicated nature of the game, along with some lingering balance issues, makes it difficult to recommend without reservation.

The main line of the story follows the path of Denam and what remains of his family, essentially a ragged group of orphans created by the many wars that have ravaged their homeland. As the story opens, Denam and his siblings are planning to ambush a detachment of knights as part of a Rebellion plot, but it quickly goes wrong. The resultant misunderstandings, machinations, and plot twists serve to illustrate Denam’s evolution from an unknown orphan into a full-blown knight commander, with the player guiding his decisions at every turn. The sheer variety of decisions the player is called upon to make, along with the deep and often shocking ways in which those decisions change the plot, leads to an amazingly flexible story, making Tactics Ogre one of the most entertaining applications of this idea seen in a long time.

The game's visual style is nicely detailed, but the interface is kind of an information overload.
The game’s visual style is nicely detailed, but the interface is kind of an information overload.

One extremely unique feature that Tactics Ogre brings to the table is a system called the World Tarot. Once the game has been completed once, the World Tarot system allows players to revisit earlier points in the game’s storyline and see where other decisions would take them. It’s an excellent concept, and vastly improves a plot that could otherwise take multiple playthroughs to understand. It also enhances basic gameplay by allowing players the freedom to make plot decisions without fear of losing some path-specific character or item forever. This is especially useful given that most enemy leaders have their own personal stories, which affect the way the main plot unfolds depending on if Denam kills them or simply forces them to retreat. The parade of characters this creates does add weight to an already bloated roster of characters and political factions, and results in a quagmire of a cast that has trouble producing consistently developed characters. Still, Tactics Ogre’s twisty, deeply complex plot is certain to be a draw for players who enjoy epic political conflict.

These unique features and deep conflict make Tactics Ogre’s story an excellent tale of the ups and downs of warfare. The game works mostly with themes of the conflicted morality that comes hand-in-hand with war — killing others in the name of peace, for example — and does a fairly good job of it as far as the mainline plot is concerned. There is one major point of contention, however. With one of the main points of Tactics Ogre being the huge toll any conflict takes on the nameless masses, it’s more than just a little counter-intuitive that the only characters whose death affects the story in any way are enemy leaders. Though boss characters may die lamenting their inability to, for example, earn enough money to save their ailing children, the waves of generic characters Denam mows through on his way to the boss are treated with no more importance than in any other TRPG.

Tactics Ogre’s combat system is about as traditional as one could expect from a tactical RPG, which is hardly surprising given the vast influence Let Us Cling Together has had on the genre. Gamers who have played Final Fantasy Tactics will find a great deal familiar about Tactics Ogre, from the speed-derived turn order and chessboard movement system to the vast and complex class system. The game does have a few interesting wrinkles, however: for example, Tactics Ogre handles character levels as a class, rather than as an individual unit. A Cleric joining the party, for instance, will be lowered or raised to whatever level the party’s Cleric class has attained. The flip side of this is that Skills are not shared, so your new Cleric is still going to need to collect Skill Points regardless of its level.

This change from the original Let Us Cling Together is one of many that makes it a great deal easier to recover from the loss of a character, along with multiple lives for each character, and an overall tweaking of the game’s balance. On the whole, these alterations make Tactics Ogre a great deal more forgiving and reduces the amount of random difficulty in the game. However, it’s possible that the rebalancing may have gone a bit too far with the addition of the Chariot Tarot system, a sort of combat version of the World Tarot. Using the Chariot, players are given an unlimited ability to turn back the clock in combat, revisiting earlier turns in the battle and allowing for new choices to be made. The Chariot Tarot does allow players to try out some higher risk strategies than otherwise would’ve been viable, and it isn’t hugely overpowered since the game doesn’t alter the outcome of random chances — an attack with 50% accuracy that missed, for example, wouldn’t hit no matter how many times you use the Chariot Tarot to revisit that turn — but it does mean that players can really only lose a battle to a random critical hit on Denam at exactly the right time, or by simply being vastly outnumbered and overpowered from the beginning of the fight. The game does give players some incentive to avoid using the Chariot Tarot in the form of achievements, but since these don’t affect gameplay in any way, they’re not particularly effective.

In the end, Tactics Ogre’s combat system is an exceptionally complex and satisfying affair but not without flaws. The game continues a rather annoying tradition of not allowing players to see the actual field of combat while deciding the layout of their troops, which makes it a great deal more difficult to place characters effectively. It also renders some of the more situational abilities rather useless, as it’s never clear when they’ll be useful. The AI is also a significant problem, but unlike so many other TRPGs where the artificial intelligence is simply stupid, Tactics Ogre has an AI which is vastly inconsistent. The AI swings between suicidal bravado — such gems as headlong charges into huge formations of enemies or attempting to hit an oncoming knight with a weak 12% accurate poison spell rather than the requisite cleansing fire are depressingly common — and eerily human cunning. In one battle in particular, a knight commander will gleefully bait players into charging his line so that his massed mages and archers can open fire. Additionally, there are still a few balance issues, in particular the game’s serious cash flow problems, and the fact that the huge parties players amass by the end of the game result in obscenely long and tedious random encounters.

Tactics Ogre’s interface is one of its larger stumbling blocks. Though not particularly terrible, the menus cram so much information into such a small area that it can be difficult to tell what part of which menu is needed to perform a specific task. Overall control is actually pretty good, coming off as responsive and reasonably easy to grasp, but between the overcomplicated menu setup and the difficulty involved in managing your character’s classes and equipment, Tactics Ogre’s interface really could have been better.

A great deal has been made of the similarities between Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, and the game it directly inspired, Final Fantasy Tactics, and nowhere is this similarity more evident than the soundtrack. A lot of this is due to the fact that both games used the same team of composers — namely, Masaharu Iwata and Hitoshi Sakimoto — but they also share a very strong thematic style. If anything, the music of Let Us Cling Together is a bit less tranquil, and a bit more violent.

The path the story takes can swing quite wildly right from the beginning, depending on the choices players make.
The path the story takes can swing quite wildly right from the beginning, depending on the choices players make.

Interestingly, this remake takes a page out of the Final Fantasy Tactics remake by adding in animated cutscenes that use both voice acting and a distinctly sketchy sort of visual style. Let Us Cling Together distinguishes itself from Final Fantasy Tactics by making use of more earth tones, and by its much more extensive use of sprites over polygons, though in the end the games still come off as very similar on an aesthetic level.

One area where Tactics Ogre comes out ahead of Final Fantasy Tactics is in sheer length. Let Us Cling Together features a large number of sidequests, plot branches, and more optional areas than we’ve come to expect from tactical RPGs. In a straight run from beginning to end, Tactics Ogre could easily take 45 to 50 hours, with side areas adding in another ten or so hours, and that’s before taking into account the extensive replay value added by the World Tarot system. In terms of difficulty, however, Tactics Ogre is a bit more challenging to classify. On the one hand, the game routinely stacks the deck against players, with just about every encounter in the game presenting players with scenarios in which they are vastly outnumbered, outflanked, and in a poor position. On the other hand, players can turn back time to change the outcome of individual encounters, and can easily take advantage of some of the AI’s more blatantly obvious errors. Perhaps the best way to put it is that the game gets easier the more willing a player is to ignore the openings in enemy tactics in favor of the ones in AI and game design.

In the end, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a wonderfully complex, challenging title that will be a big hit with players that enjoy tactical RPGs and political machinations. The game does possess a number of flaws that can make it frustrating to deal with, however, and fails to escape some of the more irritating conventions of the genre. On the whole, this game is easy to recommend to players looking for a new TRPG to sink their teeth into, but less so for players who enjoy more straightforward stories or combat systems.

This game was played to completion, and reviewed using a retail copy of the game.  RandomNPC received a separate review copy that was not used for this review.

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