Kiku Ichimonji
United Kingdom
Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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Why? - Think of the games that followed it. In fact think of the singular game that followed it: Final Fantasy Tactics, a game with many fans (myself included). Other games have taken the template and worked with it to greater or lesser success: games such as the Vandal Hearts series (with its memorable fountains of blood) Kartia and Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth spring to mind. It's true that there are other games out there that contributed to the development of this kind of game, but Tactics (be it FF or Ogre) is a recognisable influence.

Regardless, Tactics Ogre predates FFT. In fact, Squaresoft's offering is sometimes claimed to have stolen vast swathes of plot development from TO, in addition to the obvious grab-bag of mechanics, so why not see if the game they took their cues from is as good? It might even be better! Besides, I've personally had the game sitting around in the PS1 collection for years, constantly being passed over in favour of it's shinier, Squarer descendant, so it's well overdue a chance to impress.

Why might you not have it? - Well, for all that the version I'm playing came on a Playstation disc, and I'm using a Playstation controller... it's a SNES game. There's almost no update to the game at all: the graphics are almost completely unchanged save for swapping in the Playstation controller buttons for the original SNES ones in the interface, and the soundtrack (bar one track) is the same chiptunes as before. If you can get over this aesthetic hurdle (and some people can find the old-school vibe an almost insurmountable obstacle), the hope is that you will be pleasantly surprised.

So how was it? - The first impression was "...uh-oh." This is not a game that wants to bowl you over with CG in it's revised form. The opening text-on-a-background sets the tone, before an orchestrated version of the main theme, which is about the only concession to modernity this port makes. If you put yourself in the right frame of mind, though, this is still quite pretty for a SNES game. Despite the subdued grey-and-brown palette it doesn't look too bad, although compared to FF Tactics Advance for the GBA, it can sometimes look very drab.



The game starts with a little animated montage of the town of Griate being burnt down and people being killed amongst the wreckage, while a sinister figure watches from the clifftops above. The main character's father is carted off by the oppressive Gargastan army while he can only watch. From there, the story unfurls, with your hero initially caught up in an attempt to strike back at the occupying forces which, er... attacks the wrong people. Fortunately they're forgiving sorts, and agree to tag along to help you free the leader of the resistance movement.



Before you even start the game proper, you can delve into an interactive tutorial which takes you through the basics of how the game works and demonstrates each point. Once you've gotten through a couple of battles (with the odds stacked heavily in your favour: you don't even control anyone but the main character until your third battle), you're given a large wad of cash and sent off to equip and train your new squad of newbie resistance fighters, and you WILL be training.

The training mode can take place on any location that also has a battle map; You take your squad and split them up into two teams of up to ten a side, then wage war against one another. You can even have the computer play both sides for some low-maintenance auto-levelling! Here you can play around with the mechanics of the game, and see for yourself that if you go into battle unprepared and underlevelled, the computer will grind you to dust. The difference of a single level, especially at the lower levels, can lead to massive inequality between individual fighters. A team of four level 4 soldiers can sometimes just about hold its own against a team of TEN level 3 characters. In training, no matter how many turns pass and who dies, everyone comes back to life at the end of the exercise, levelled up and ready to take part in a real fight.

The game puts a large emphasis on ensuring that you're ready for battle, which makes sense when you realise that your little soldiers have four item slots, which can be used for armour, headgear, footwear, weapons, items... So you could give someone four healing items, but they'll have to go naked and be defenseless to carry them! Given the scarcity of healing magic (and even classes who can use it are relatively rare), you will need to level up fast, because until you unlock the one class who can use the one spell that can reverse it, death is absolute in this game. Once someone takes a dirt nap, no amount of cursing will bring them back, so you will want to protect your team as best you can. And they NEED protecting: the enemy has no reservations about sneaking up behind the weakest members of your team and picking them off one by one.

Anyone who's ever played a tactical RPG will know roughly what to expect from battles, but for those that don't, it's a turn-based affair, with the speed stat determining who acts when. When a character's turn comes, they may move according to their range and take an action. Certain classes are more manoueverable than others, some can fly, some are unaffected by water. Attacks can be direct to a character next to you with a sword or shield-ramming, or at short range with a spear, or long range with bows. Magic also plays a part, although, as in the later FF Tactics Advance, all magic users start each battle with zero magic points, gaining a set amount as each turn passes. In this way, you can't simply spam the best magic straight off, but have to balance the effectiveness of using a weaker, cheaper spell sooner, or saving up to unleash a more powerful blast. Your objective will also vary between maps, with some requiring that you take down the leader, some requiring that every enemy is defeated, or sometimes just that you get your team across the map.

Defeating enemies will grant you a big hit of EXP, as well as either an item of some sort, or else a spinning card: collect these to permanently increase a character's stats! In much the same way as the jewels left behind when human enemies die in FF Tactics sometimes granted you skills, this is a good way to augment the growth of a character, and can allow you, if you're careful, to improve some classes beyond their usual confines. Collecting a couple on one character will noticeably elevate their strength beyond that of their peers.

Speaking of classes and spells, Tactics Ogre is not lacking for combat options. Basic classes become available with time and levelling up, but are split between the genders: each has its own classes to master. Beyond the basics, access to the advanced classes is sometimes restricted to characters of certain alignments (Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic) with certain kill-counts, making them harder to attain. Finally, special classes require meeting a set of conditions before being allowed to change. In the case of the "Angel Knight" class, this includes dying in battle... How confident are you that the character you've spent so long nurturing makes the grade? This is an idea the series takes one step further and clarifies in the prequel/sequel Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis for the GBA, where particular actions in battle will earn each character emblems, with certain of them either enabling or blocking access to particular classes.

The alignment system also informs how the story plays out, as there are multiple endings to the story, and different ways of getting there, as the choices you make will eventually decide the battles you will fight, the companions you'll be fighting them with, and how the game will end.

Still worth playing? - For all that this game is fifteen years old, it's still a solid tactical RPG, with a wealth of good ideas and things to discover and unlock as the game progresses. The flipside of this is that the game emphasises preparedness; unfortunately this means grinding. Tactics Ogre is also pretty unforgiving: if you were to compare it to another game, the one that comes to mind isn't Final Fantasy Tactics, but Fire Emblem, with that same flare of frustration every time one of your precious, hard-to-replace characters dies. It's also not exactly the prettiest game ever, though it's by no means ugly.

Despite all this, the game is entertaining, and a very solid example of the genre. It also features a reasonably compelling story to follow, and once you get past the grinding, things start to progress at a reasonable pace. If you have access to a copy, it's definitely still worth looking at.

In conclusion - Harsh, but fun, about the only drawback to playing Tactics Ogre right now is that a remake is in the works, with enhanced graphics and sound. If it succeeds in capturing the spirit and balance of the original, then that will definitely be the one to play.
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Железный комиссар
United States
Indiana
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Seems odd to refer to FFT as "stealing" plot development from the game - Matsuno left Quest to work for Square. Both are his projects.

I have to admit I'm curious about this series. I've just discovered Final Fantasy Tactics and am loving every minute of it.
 
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Randy Miller
United States
Westminster
California
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There were quite a bit of revision to the PSP version as I understand it, specifically the random battles instead of training, adding skills, and tracking exp by class instead of character.
Oh yes, and each unit now has 3 lives before being perma-killed.
 
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フィル
Australia
Ashfield
NSW
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I am the wasp / that burrows in! I am the shriek / of twilight din!
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How does it compare to the Shining Force games?
 
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