This year has been dominated by sequels and franchise reboots. What’s old is new once more, and strategy role-playing game fans can get in on the action with longtime fan favorite, Tactics Ogre, which is getting the new-lease-on-life treatment. On a recent trip to Square Enix’s Tokyo office, we had a chance to pick up the English version of the game, trade turns, and find out where the freshness starts.
As we saw in our first look of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, the title opens with a set of randomly generated tarot cards and three available options for each. Where previously we needed them translated, this time, they were in English. The first asked how we would define victory, the second queried what we would wish for on a shooting star, and the third dug its claws into the morality core of our brain, asking how we would exact revenge--be it incarceration, banishment, or murder. The path you choose here will form the base of your Tactics Ogre experience, determining which characters will cross your path, the roles they play, and how your army will respond to your personality. After making our decisions, we were presented with the option to input our name and birthday, and once the experience had been appropriately personalized, we trotted off into the main story mode.
After meeting up with a band of mercenaries--feeling each other out and narrowly avoiding clashing swords--we enlisted their services and set about raiding a nearby cathedral in defense of a duke. Combat has remained largely faithful to the game's forbearer and retains its slow, calculated approach to turn-based battle. Securing the building rewarded us by unlocking a shop we could use to sell equipment and hire units; it also acted as an auction block for monster units.
Elevation and the direction your character is facing play key roles and make for the difference between getting the drop on an approaching enemy with a sneaky return strike and being clobbered without right of reply. Series fans will be pleased to hear that the game retains its traditional isometric battlefield perspective; it avoids the almost requisite 3D battle system overhaul that comes bundled with the reimagining of the other series. Skill and experience points are determined at the conclusion of each fight and are divvied up among the surviving members of the class based on their involvement in the skirmish. Tarot cards such as The Lovers and Hanged Man are randomly generated on the field, and by successfully approaching and picking them up with a character, your team will receive bonuses, such as improved stats and raised troop loyalty.
While this version of Tactics Ogre: LUCT straddles the line between port and remake with its tweaked visuals, updated audio, and additional story that expands on some of the events of the original, the biggest new addition is the Wheel of Fortune. Essentially, it acts as an undo button, storing the last 50 moves and allowing you to backtrack to alter history. It’s the strategy RPG equivalent of a Mulligan, but it’s not the win button it may appear to be; the 50 actions include those of your opponent. Because the game is rooted in rest time and rotation of squad members, it acts as a learning tool as much as a get out of jail card, though it can certainly give you a second chance at making good on a foolish decision.
Outside of battle, the Wheel of Fortune system also helps simplify the decision-making process during the multiple story paths available to players. Two distinctive endings are available, but rather than force you to start over from scratch to see alternative options, you can rewind to key moments. Players who are unfamiliar with the series but keen to give it a try will also benefit from a reasonable amount of automated help. Healers cast their helpful waves on injured friendly combatants on occasion, while the overarching storyline is well explained and superbly written. Audio follows the same old and new formula, reenlisting the help of original composers Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata to create extensions of the original score, as well as recording new pieces of music for the soundtrack.
The marriage of familiar and fresh content has done fan service to this long-running series and whet our appetite for more play. While Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a game of slight obscurity outside of Japan due to its limited Western release, excusing yourself from playing for lack of experience will only do you a disservice as a strategy RPG fan. The game is due to launch in North American and PAL territories in the early part of 2011. Stay tuned for our full review soon.