Several years ago, Quest released Tactics Ogre in Japan on the Super Famicom. Unfortunately, Enix's US office closed before it had a chance to bring it out in the States, and thus America went without. Once again, strategy/RPG fans are lucky to have Atlus on their side - Tactics Ogre is a classic game, better in many ways than its more recent cousin, Final Fantasy Tactics.
Tactics Ogre's story is the seventh chapter in the Ogre Battle saga, two chapters after Ogre Battle. What happened to the other chapters? Who knows. Either way, Tactics Ogre is close enough to the first game's time line to make sense to fans of the series. For those interested in getting into the series, all of the relevant back story is available from the party's sage. Once again, evil is corrupting the world and it's up to a stalwart new Liberation Army to free the people from tyranny. As before, you command an army led by a young knight in turn-based tactical combat. Finally, Tactics Ogre is once again largely political, ignoring the typical RPG's tendency to rely on easier-to-grasp magic-based stories.
Square's Final Fantasy Tactics is actually a convoluted follow-up to Tactics Ogre. Tactics Ogre, however, has far fewer stats, character classes, and spells to juggle. Additionally, you can send up to ten hand-picked soldiers into battle. Compared with Final Fantasy Tactics' five, this is a great improvement. All in all, Tactics Ogre returns to the basics that Final Fantasy Tactics seems to have forgotten, but you will still have to work hard to properly balance your attack squad. You can build your army from a number of different character classes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. From there, you can equip your units with a wide assortment of weapons, armor, and healing items. Units carrying a lot will move more slowly than others, so literally every customization has its drawbacks. Unlike Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre's units are relatively expendable - losing a soldier early in the game is hardly the end of the world, as new units can be recruited in any town. Each campaign will require upwards of 50 hours of solid playtime, and hard-core players are likely to play again, due to Tactics Ogre's eight different endings, nonlinear battle structure, and tons of secrets.
As good of a game as it is, Tactics Ogre will only cater to a niche market due to its severely dated look. Unlike the graphically enhanced Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre is a direct port of the Super Famicom version. Not a single polygon or FMV clip, with the exception of the Atlus logo, can be found in Tactics Ogre. The game is impressive for a 16-bit cart, but far below par for today's generation of RPGs. The game's music is equally low-tech, but the battle themes are of high quality and provide an excellently epic tone for the game. Sound effects are limited to synthesized noises, with the exception of the odd squeak, grunt, or howl of a dying unit.
While the game is new to US gamers, Tactics Ogre will be a blast from the past for just about everyone. Aesthetics aside, however, Tactics Ogre is purer and more playable than its hi-tech descendent and definitely worth a look from strategy/RPG enthusiasts.