TACTICS OGRE: LET US CLING TOGETHER / Square Enix / Sony PSP
 
 
The Ogre Battle series burst onto the scene in the mid-90s with aspirations of having like a dozen entries eventually. It wouldn't get much farther than a handful before the primary talent behind it was poached by Squaresoft to make their Final Fantasy Tactics games instead. The new world crafted for those games was called Ivalice, and it went on to be used in FFXII and action-puzzler Vagrant Story as well. Ivalice games have a few distinct hallmarks to them; they take place in this very generic and dingy approximation of medeival Europe, they prioritize complex "political intrigue" over everything else, and in doing so they usually have these overly huge casts of flat, underdeveloped characters with weird names that you give 0 fucks about and turgid, forgettable plots. Ivalice games only work when the gameplay really stands up to support the burden of the boring, plodding story.

So why all this talk about Ivalice? The Ogre games don't take place there, but they might as well; the setting and writing style are so similar as to be nearly identical. Ogre Battle got away with having a somewhat boring (and sometimes total nonsense) story thanks to unique and original gameplay paired with miles of panache in its music, sound and visual style. Tactics Ogre didn't fare nearly as well, being a much more conventional, slow-paced, plodding SRPG, and unfortunately this remake doesn't do anything to adress that; just gives it an aesthetic facelift and adds a few new gameplay mechanics/features.

The story is basically your stock mid-90s Ragtag Rebels vs Evil Empire script (as Ogre Battle was). Main character Denim Pants and his friends want revenge on some assholes for some reason which, through various contrivances, will lead to him and his unit of 12 becoming the main force in the global battle for etc. and whatnot. Some of the characters from Ogre pop in for no particularly good or necessary reason other than nostalgia value and to tenuously connect the two games; Warren the wizard is your Sage Advisor (though doesn't take to the battlefield in this one), and Canopus is there to handhold you through the early missions when your team of generic mooks really sucks ass.
 
                                                              Ribald Dicktoucher


For a game that's supposed to have been totally overhauled, the control is unacceptably poor. You can't rotate the map with the shoulder buttons. Granted, that's the way that the game was designed on the SNES originally, but enemies still end up getting hidden behind buildings and in trenches, and it wouldn't have been an unreasonable addition. Characters look so generic you'll sometimes have serious trouble telling your forces apart at first. Navigating the battlefield is also done exclusively with the D-pad (with the analog nub solely reserved for scrolling the screen around), which is not only slow, but counterintuitive in the direction that each button moves the indicator. Outside of combat you're faced with clunky and needlessly old-school shop and equip menus, and a MMORPG-inspired "crafting" system hammered in that's so grindy and stupid it isn't even worth bothering with (nor does it end up being really necessary, being a tacked-on piece of content.)

Let's balance this out a bit by talking about what the game does well. One welcome new addition is the "Chariot Tarot" rewind system, which keeps track of the prior 40 turns in each battle and lets you rewind to any point in the middle of them at any time, largely preventing the common SRPG issue of sinking an hour of your life into a battle only to have it undone by one mistake (or just some cheap bullshit) towards the end. That's a feature nearly every SRPG should have. Another is the soundtrack, which was excellent to begin with, but not only gets a fantastic "grade up" here, but also the digital equivalent of "liner notes" from the composer. I haven't personally encountered another game yet that has done this, and now I wish that every game with a great soundtrack would.

Now back to the negativity. Many battles have "guest" characters who are not under your control, and sometimes you have to protect them from getting slaughtered. Unfortunately, their AI is godawful. They all seem to be programmed to rush headlong into battle regardless of what's going on, which is often a real problem because they start the map well ahead of your forces and can easily get surrounded by the enemy before you can get to them. An early example is a map in which you get a healer who is capable of turning the undead. He starts as a "guest" in the middle of the map and, thankfully, you don't have to keep him alive ... but he's the only character at that point capable of permanently killing the undead, who will revive after three turns with full HP when you knock them out. Instead of doing THAT ONE JOB THAT HE IS THERE FOR, he first chooses to rush headlong into the enemy ranks dealing the enemies a hard blow of 1 HP with his cane ... then when your forces catch up to him, he spends the rest of the battle choosing to cure dubious wounds rather than putting down skeletons that are about to revive right at his feet. On the other hand, this shoddy AI is also often the only thing that saves your ass, as the enemy is usually not only way better than you, but also has shit tons of good range units to rush you right from the jump. A lot of maps force you to rush the enemy leader early before either a vital "guest" does something stupid, or the heaps of enemy mages and archers swarm your main character and peck him to death with attacks you can't respond to. It often feels like there's little in the way of actual "tactics" occuring; especially when Canopus can simply flap across the map in three turns and solo the enemy leader in much of the early going.

The back of the box claims the game has been "re-imagined from ground up", which is a pretty bold case of false advertising that's able to slide because only a relatively small handful of people who speak English and are into emulation and fan-made translations have ever actually played the SNES original. The game is really the same grindy plod that wasn't considered good enough to be translated for commercial release back in the mid-90s, and never really did anything to either innovate in or advance the SRPG genre.
 
 
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