Over 40 Hours In and I Haven't Finished the Third Chapter Yet
If you're an SRPG buff, this is one you simply won't want to miss. Be forewarned, though, the story in Tactics Ogre isn't fluffy like FFT, or silly and quirky like the Disgaea games. Like Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, the tale Tactics Ogre weaves is a sad and dire affair, filled with murder, deception, and many other mature themes. And like Covenant, the writing here is superb. Translated once again by Alexander O. Smith, Tactics Ogre delves deep into the realm of Valeria and hits its story cadences with power and finesse.
When it comes to presentation, few handheld games put as much out there for players to enjoy as this one does. There are so many wonderful, little nuggets to unearth, and the marriage of gameplay and storytelling is executed masterfully. The strategy elements are interesting and challenging, and you'll get lost in seemingly endless character customization.
Unlike many SRPGs, leveling in Tactics Ogre is tied to class, rather than specific characters. The developers of this revamp seem to have taken a page from Valkyria Chronicles, and it's a system that cuts out much of the grunt work and tedium of grinding. Weapon ranking, however, is tied to each individual party member, so there's still incentive to focus on each character. The maximum party size is capped at 12, and missions are varied up nicely in terms of the scope of skirmishes.
If you frequent the forums, you'll notice some folks are mining hundreds of hours out of this game. That's because outside of the main quest there's tons of other great gameplay elements to get lost in. Item crafting is fairly deep, and there's post-game content that seems to offer even more bang than the storyline itself. Of course, you can also recruit many unit types, such as dragons, golems, and faeries, building up your party to a maximum of 50 units.
To be honest, I was hesitant about Tactics Ogre for one simple and seemingly shallow reason: it's completely 2D. That might not sound like an issue worthy of consideration, but in an SRPG it's important to be able to view all areas of the battlefield. This updated version of the game allows you to change the view to a completely top-down perspective, which reveals any obscured areas of a given map.
On a less pressing note, I wasn't necessarily keen on 2D landscapes because, well, I love the look of polygonal SRPGs like Disgaea and Covenant of the Plume. But the polish of Tactics Ogre holds up incredibly well, and the new effects and other additions invested into the game just give it that extra little sheen that makes it look and feel like a brand-spanking-new game.
You'll get to revisit cutscenes and musical themes at your leisure via an archive the game calls the Warren Report (a nod to JFK-era history?) There's a treasure trove of plot pieces to catch up on, with backstory being constantly updated as you progress through the game. It's obvious a lot of time, effort and love went into making the world of Valeria feel complete.
The game isn't above criticism, though. My main gripe is that status buffs/debuffs aren't clearly defined, and though you can use the Select button to get a better description of status effects, there's still quite a bit of guesswork going on.
Enemies also scale to the highest-level member of your battle party. This is kind of a double-edged sword, in my opinion. On the one hand, it ensures you're always presented with a challenge; conversely, the level scaling can make it difficult to level up newly recruited/class-changed units. Still, even with these minor gripes, the game is overflowing with personality and depth, and in an age where online discussion plays a major role in the life of a game, this SRPG is simply buzzing right now.
Tactics Ogre is a serious strategy game for discerning gamers. It's one of those "not for everyone" games but a boon for players who appreciate a story that's focused more on quality than instant gratification. There's deep lore here and a story and dialogue to back it up. There's also a satisfying adventure that has consumed many a gamer's days and nights. Tactics Ogre riffs on the best elements of games such as Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics yet leaves behind most of the extraneous systems of SRPGs past. If there's only one game you purchase for your aging PSP, this one is sure to give your money's worth.
Footnote: I've actually put in about another 20-25 hours with the game since I initially began writing this review. Hasn't gotten old yet…