I think I've always liked the idea of the tactical RPG. A kind of a mix between the combat of Dungeons & Dragons and the plot of Final Fantasy, I guess. Before we get to Final Fantasy Tactics, though - and this 1001 will get to Final Fantasy Tactics - there is the small matter of the game that kickstarted the concept, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together.
It is a game I can say for damn near certain that I won't finish, but it is also a game I can say with similar certainty that I want to play. While the SNES original never left Japanese shores, the PlayStation port a few years later did, and so, with absolutely no idea of what lies ahead, I'm going to dive right in.
Oh, okay then.
I read that Tactics Ogre is on the hard end of the difficulty scale, but to walk forward for a few turns and then be surrounded by the enemy and killed in a matter of seconds is not what I expected for an opening battle where you are literally surrounded by teammates better equipped and skilled than you are...
Let's back things up a little.
Tactics Ogre starts with the kind of opening where you have no choice but to accept that all these weird words and names are the norm. It doesn't matter that you don't understand what's going on, just keep making progress through the text boxes and see where things lead.
You star as a young knight, or knight in training, or maybe just a peasant with delusions, I don't know, and are soon swept up in an attack on a castle to introduce you to the kinds of things you'll be doing for the majority of the game - moving people and whacking other people over the head, along with some ranged weapons and magic and all that jazz.
Things were progressing nicely, my objective for the battle was clear, my well equipped and very talented AI buddies were rocketing ahead and doing what they needed to do, and I was left with focusing on myself.
You can move within whatever range you have available to you, leaping small gaps and navigating uneven terrain as required, before coming to a stop and performing another action, usually an attack, but also to use an item or cast some magic and so on. So far, so D&D - nothing unexpected going on here.
Out of the blue though, I had to watch helplessly as my entire health was drained in three hits, to which I had no reply and no other AI character on my team bothered to deal with. Not only was I down, I was dead, and even in a world with revive potions and the like, that was game over. No nonsense, no faffing about, welcome to Tactics Ogre, what you did was stupid and you died.
There were a few things that irked me about the PlayStation port, and the first of which is that those text boxes had me... pausing unnecessarily in the middle of the... sentence, which bothered me far more than it should have.
As well as that, the game looked smeared and paint-like, which wasn't too distracting in some places but was off-putting in others. It's as though I have a filter or something on my emulation, which, to my knowledge, I don't (which means I probably do, so disregard my moaning).
Further Fun Times
The joy of playing great games is that great games have a great chance of getting remade, and Tactics Ogre is no exception, with a PlayStation Portable remake that makes things a lot simpler for the player, as well as adding new features and doohickeys for the dedicated fan to make use of.
I still have no idea who those people are, fancy introduction movie or not, but look at those visuals. Clear, crisp, and something I want to spend time in.
Further Farther Frustrations
If I could just read the bloody text. Context helps, but good luck getting context for all these new place names you're about to discover...
Every text box is like this for me. Another curse of emulation, I guess, and no amount of fiddling has yielded any useful results yet, but I made it much further through the first battle this time around - indeed, I even finished it and got to name my new Order of knights!
Well, there goes any high hopes for the Order of the Workhorses if the character limit renders it as the Workhors...
So my first proper Tactics Ogre battle begins, and now I'm micromanaging eight party members, I think it is, whose names are largely irrelevant because it's their character class who I'm leveling up, not them as a person, meaning if their stats suit one class over another, you can just swap them out and their ready to go.
It's a neat idea, meaning you don't have to spend so much time trying to spread everything out amongst party members like seemingly every other RPG. The difficulties come in not having a clue how each class works, what each stat affects, even what they look like while on the battlefield - once or twice, I confused the enemy for one of my characters because so many of them were dumped upon me from the word go.
Eventually, I won the battle but by that point I was bored. The two fancy introductory battles where everybody did their own thing were great. The one actual first battle in a bland field where I controlled everything was just dull. It sapped all the excitement I had for Tactics Ogre and spat it somewhere else.
I want to like Tactics Ogre, but there's so much of it that feels far too complicated to get into. It's great that I can rewind the battle by 50 turns to fix a cock-up, but when you don't know where you went wrong in a fight, how useful is that as a feature?
It actually is great that you can go back in time through the plot to try doing things a different way at key points, which will likely split you off into a different direction, down a new path that leads... well, who knows? I have absolutely no idea where this plot started, let alone where it's going. But if I got to the end of it, or one possible end of it, and wanted to see where I could have gone differently without replaying the entire game up to that decisive moment? Hell yes, I'd like to jump through the plot and see what would happen.
But the problem is that I don't want to play Tactics Ogre. It's far too busy, even if you ultimately only have to think of 'move, attack, next character'. Even with a remake that makes things easier, I am swamped in options, stats, abilities... I've bought thousands of coins worth of equipment that I don't know how to equip. I've classes that I can level up but I don't know what they are. I've people ready, willing and able to join my party who have come from thin air.
It's too much, too fast, and even if I push through the blurry text, I know that the upcoming battles will take ten or fifteen minutes or more to get through, because of there being close to fifteen characters all waiting for their turn to move.
Tactics Ogre made such an impression on the gaming world that the developers were gobbled up by Square and put to work on Final Fantasy Tactics, which, in their own words, is a dumbed down Tactics Ogre. I'm still looking forward to that because I need this dumbing down for me.
If you're smarter than me and like the sound of a deep, deep RPG world full of tactical battles, then Tactics Ogre could well be what you're looking for. The PSP remake is swish, but you can't go too wrong with the original versions either. If instead you want to watch it - as I might have to - then you could be in for a lengthy time of things, even if you just watch the opening few fights. Sound interesting? Only you will know for sure.
The title takes its name from a Queen song, 'Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)'.
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, developed by Quest, first released in 1995.
Version played: PlayStation, 1998, via emulation.
PlayStation Portable, 2011, via emulation.