While most people may think of Final Fantasy Tactics when it comes to early Japanese tactical role-playing games, it was developer Quest who started it all with the Ogre Battle series. After key members of the team left to join Square and eventually create Final Fantasy Tactics, Quest continued the series and made a sequel, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. The game initially appeared on the Super Nintendo in 1995 and was then ported to the Sega Saturn and the PlayStation. North American copies were hard to come by, but now Square Enix is bringing the game back to dedicated fans and remaking it for the PlayStation Portable.
Tactics Ogre is not only based on the standard strategy grid-based battle RPG formula that you still see today, but it also gives you control of the story and the outcome. As in Fable and the upcoming Disney Epic Mickey, your actions and how you interact with the other characters will determine the outcome. Before you start the game, random tarot cards are drawn, and you're given five questions to answer to determine your alignment (high, low, or neutral). This part of the game wasn't translated yet, but our Square Enix rep was able to give us a general idea of what the questions were. One question asked us what the meaning of victory was, and we could answer with "completely wipe out your enemy" or "when the war ends" or "making sure your buddies are still alive." Another asked whom you would want to take with you if you were to go on a long journey. Your options include a family member, a lover, or a close friend. Your alignment will fluctuate as you play, but this is just to get you started.
You play as Denam, who is out to get revenge on a band of dark knights that killed his father. You're accompanied by your sister, Catiua, a priestess who loathes war and violence, and Vyce, the polar opposite, who is bloodthirsty and eager for payback. The story jumps right into the action as you're chasing down a band of knights that appear to be the people you're looking for, but it turns out that it's only a band of mercenaries looking for work. Your initial confrontation will give you options during the dialogue to determine what kind of person you are. You can choose to be aggressive and mean or more humble and respectful. Your alignment will affect how others treat you later down the road as well. If you've played Final Fantasy Tactics and know about the political drama that was involved in that, Tactics Ogre is similar but is set on an island called Valeria, which is inhabited by three races--the Gargastan, the Walstanian, and the Bacrumese--who are all fighting each other for control of the nation.
In between story segments are strategic turn-based battles that take place on a grid. Tactics Ogre will be familiar to anyone who has played a strategy RPG before, with commands to attack, defend, and use special abilities while moving your characters around like chess pieces for the best placement on the map. At the end of battle you earn skill points, which are used to activate new skills. Your turn is based on recovery time, so depending on your character and what action you performed, there's a resting period before you can take another turn. The twist to Tactics Ogre is that how you perform in battle will affect the story as well. Whom you kill and whom you let live will change the way the story progresses. While we were told that there are two main endings, there are many paths that lead to those conclusions. That is partly why a "wheel of fortune" has been added, so that you can go back and revisit these anchor points, which are key moments in the game's storyline. This allows you to start from those specific parts of the game so that you can play it differently to see how the story changes. The wheel of fortune also gives you a chance to rewind up to 50 turns in battle if you are not happy with where things are going. It might seem like a lot, but you can build a massive army with 30 or 40 units, and the turns include the ones that the enemy takes. This lets you backtrack a little if you killed someone you shouldn't have or if you decide you want one of your team members to survive.
We didn't get very far into the game, but from what we've seen, the remake looks great on the PSP with the updated character portraits, and the soundtrack has also been remastered and expanded by the original composers. The heroic themes by Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata (Final Fantasy Tactics) are now fully orchestrated and performed by the Sydney Scoring Orchestra. For the fans, there is also 30 percent more story content when you compare it to the first game, with new characters and more event scenarios. Tweaks to the interface have been made to keep things more streamlined, like seeing which units come up. We'll have an opportunity to see more of the game when it gets closer to release. For more information and the demo, see our recent Today On the Spot episode. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is set to be released in the first quarter of 2011.