Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together Review
When I reviewed Valkyria Chronicles II over this past summer, I mentioned how every time I finish an SRPG, I swear the genre off forever. I get burnt out on the micro management, the pace, all of it; and, like clockwork, a new one comes out and I end up diving in head first. The SquareEnix remake of Tactic Ogre: Let Us Cling Together for the PSP is the latest such SRPG to drag me in, and I can't help but think that if all SRPGs were this masterfully put together, I wouldn't continually retreat from the genre every time I get through one of these monsters.
The Ogre Battle series, and by extension Tactics Ogre, has an extremely confusing history, so I won't bother trying to explain which games appeared on what systems and in what countries. Instead, I'll just say that Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together previously appeared in the U.S. as a Game Boy Advance title, one I managed to dig up when I was going through my GBA backlog phase. I remember taking to the Internet, armed with the knowledge that there was indeed a better tactics game than the ever-fawned-over Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and my message board proclamations were met with silence. No one had heard of, let alone played, this GBA gem. Years later, SquareEnix remade Final Fantasy Tactics for the PSP as War of the Lions, and this time, with the Tactics Ogre PSP remake, people are finally getting it: Ivalice, the world of FFT, is a shallow, depressing mess when compared to the characters, locations and story found in Let Us Cling Together.
And what a story it is. I'll only give the briefest of overviews here for fear of spoiling even a single moment, which would be a grave injustice. Tactics Ogre tells the story of three warring groups in the land of Valeria through the eyes of Denam, Vyce and Catiua, a trio looking for revenge after the destruction of their village. The three heroes get swept into the three way ethnic war that has raged for years, and the outcome largely falls on Denam's choices throughout the game. The story that unfolds is as deep, rich and, most importantly, believable as any other game known for its plot, though getting emotionally involved will require a LOT of reading on the player's part. You can follow the basic plot from what happens before and after battles, but if you delve into the Warren Report, a database of sorts that contains a wealth of information on the land, the people, the encounters, the races; pretty much everything you'll see and hear in Valeria. Remember the troves of knowledge found in the first Mass Effect? Tactics Ogre is like that, only 20 times deeper and with 50 times the prose. The Warren Report might seem overwhelming at first, especially with the "olde English" slant to the dialogue, but biting the bullet and diving in is the only way you'll get all that Tactics Ogre has to offer.
The game's presentation, though, is more of a mixed bag. The new character portraits that appear during text-based conversations are beautiful and reminiscent of those from War of the Lions, and just about everything shares that soft-edged, watercolor look. Everything, that is, except the battlefields and characters on it. These retain the 16-bit look of the original for some reason, and stand in bizarre and glaring contrast to the rest of the game. I'm not sure why SquareEnix didn't take the extra step and update this stuff as well; I assume it was to keep from infuriating purists, but so with few Americans who played the GBA title, who were they looking to pacify? Either way, the cute sprites eventually took on an endearing quality while I was playing, and the complaints I had at first all but disappeared. The music, on the other hand, is every bit as excellent as the GBA title. The PSP allows for more instrumentation, which beefs up the original score without losing its charm and power. There aren't any tunes you'll be humming at work, but all of it fits the bill nicely and really works in the game's favor.