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Tactics Ogre - Review

By: Gilgamesh


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Gameplay 8
   Music 9
   Originality 8
   Plot 9
   Replay Value 7
   Sound 6
   Visuals 6
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

50-100

 
Overall
9
Criteria

Logo

   In 1995, Quest released the sequel to their highly acclaimed SNES-strategy game Ogre Battle - and they managed to create a game that in many ways stands unmatched to this day. But it wasn't until three years later that the game would finally be translated to English. Atlus decided to translate the Playstation version, though the game had also been rereleased on the Saturn and even the PC by then. But despite its age, the game manages to captivate the player even now... The story revolves around the young Denim Powell, who, along with his sister Kachua and his childhood-friend Vice, sets out to rid the island state Valeria of the constant conflicts between different ethnic groups, and gets involved into a war thats outcome noone can foresee...

   Unlike the first Ogre Battle with its semi-real time gameplay, Tactics Ogre introduces a more classical battle system, that in some ways resembles games like Shining Force, but also has a lot of new and unique features. If you have played Final Fantasy Tactics - which is more or less the sequel to Tactics Ogre, considering it was made by the same team of programmers, and uses the same basic game engine - you will find most of the game's features very familiar. You send up to ten characters into battle, all of which can select from a big pool of classes, which differ depending on their gender and alignment. In the battles, which take place in well-arranged isometric battle fields, you can then command each character to move around, attack, or use magic. The order in which you, and your enemies, are able to act, is determind by several factors - including the weight of your equipment, which adds additional strategy. A lot of small things are very different from similar games, yet they force you to think completely different. Your mages, for instance, always start a battle with NO magic points, which will increase over the time. While most of the early spells use so few MP that you will gain them in one turn, you will have to either wait or use special items or spells to get the amount of MP necessary to use the game's powerful spells.


A typical crowded battle.
A typical crowded battle.  

   The battles often last very long, but are fun and challenging nevertheless. Experimenting with different class combinations, and deciding which risks to take and which not to is what makes the game entertaining, and the relatively good balance of the different classes, and the well-placed enemies keeps the game from getting repetive or too easy. I'm saying 'relatively' though, because sometimes, inbalance does shine through. Some classes are too weak and some are too strong... Wizards, for instance, are outmatched by other magic-using classes before they get to learn any really useful magic. Archers, on the other hand, are easily the best regular class in the game, with powerful ranged attacks, and very high dexterity.

   The gameplay in general is easy to get into and very fun. Even though you will be fighting battles most of the time, there is a lot to do between them. Equipping your army is a very important factor of the game. Unlike in other strategy games, you will only be able to buy very few sets of equipment throughout the whole story, though there is a huge amount of special weapons and armor to be found by defeating certain enemies. This means you will have to judge carefully who to equip with what... since more powerful pieces of equipment usually decrease your speed - which can make a lot of difference - a lot, you will have to find a balance. Also, magic-users can only equip up to three different spells, where the amount and the type of spells - and, of course, the number of magic points - depends on the class. And since many of the game's different spells are useful in various ways, it is often a hard choice which spells to choose.

   However, the gameplay is a mixed bag... While the classes are fun to try out and play with, they also don't have significiant differences, except for their prefered weapons and different growth of abilities... you can't spend hours combining abilities like you can in Final Fantasy Tactics.

   The game's music is some of the most brilliant I've ever heard. Even though the sound quality wasn't improved over the original SNES-version, except for the orchestrated opening theme, an audio track taken from the fantastic arranged soundtrack "Ogre - Grand Repeat", the songs are simply amazing. Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata, who both also worked on the original Ogre Battle, as well as FF Tactics, created a variety of songs that are more varied than their FF counterparts, and almost all of them feature complex, yet catchy melodies... The only complaint I have, and this is the sole reason why I haven't rated the music with a '10', is that some of the music that plays in the menus isn't up to par with the incredible songs during events and battle scenes.


Don't expect overly impressive visual effects
Don't expect overly impressive visual effects  

   Tactics Ogre has many original features, like the "Warren Report", that displays infos about each characters, and gives you the possibility to replay cut-scenes. Also, the game takes the old AD&D alignment system, meaning that each character's alignment is either "Lawful", "Neutral", or "Chaos", which not only affects what class they can choose, but also has an important meaning concerning the game's story: Depending on you choices in three scenes, you will take different paths corresponding to the three alignments, and the story will branch into three completely different ways, all of which are completely different, and, though they all come together in the last chapter of the game, they all affect what characters you will get, and what course some events will take.

   The story is the game's greatest strenght anyway. It isn't quite as "epic" as other game's plots are, but that's not what it means to be. Instead, the game revolves around the fleshed-out characters, and about ethics, and what roles they play in a time of war. While the story progresses a bit slowly at times - mainly because you have to spend great amounts of time training your army, and because there are some periods where you will merely fight a lot of battles trying to reach a location - it has some of the most memorable - and shocking, scenes I've ever seen in any game. Perhaps not everyone will enjoy the unique style of the story, but if you like deep and diverse characters, this is definitely a game you shouldn't miss. The three different storylines add to the depth of the story, because, unlike most games, they give you the feeling that your decisions really make an impact. Also, the game has at least three very different endings - which are NOT dependent on which path you use.

   The Replay Value is not quite as high as one would expect from a game that basically has three different storylines... The problem is the high amount of training you have to invest in order to win the battles. Especially at the beginning, you might spend several hours just training, simply because levels make a huge difference in Tactics Ogre. Later on, it is easier to go along - mainly because of the powerful magic you will learn, which isn't affected by the character's level as much as attack power and defense is. If you plan to play all three storylines, I recommend you keep a save before each decisive scene.

   Sound effects, are, given this is basically a SNES-game, not comparable to the digital effect possible in newer games, but they do their job. Effects like when hitting an enemy or when blocking an attack are pretty well done, while some other sounds, especially those of magic spells, tend to be more annoying. The game also has its share of the Ogre Battle "speech" samples: Apart from the funny death-cries of the characters, there's also that classical "Fight it Out!" whenever there's an encounter.


Travel all around Valeria on the worldmap
Travel all around Valeria on the worldmap  

The graphics are also affected by the game's age, but they're good nevertheless. Characters are small and super-deformed, which, despite possibly looking a bit dumb to some, at least helps to keep the big battlefields in your view - after all, you cannot zoom out or rotate the field in Tactics Ogre. Character portraits look great though. They're drawn in a very mature manner - even though they're from the same artist as FF Tactics noseless chaps - which adds to the overall atmosphere. All in all, don't expect graphics up to par with the newest eye-candy, but don't expect a minimum of visuals either.

Even if you train a lot, the game remains pretty difficult. Many battles have a great number of enemies, and especially early on, you will have to keep an eye on every single party member. The main reason for this is that when a character is defeated... then he is dead, and thus gone forever. This is a MAJOR problem in the first half of the game, since any careless move may lead to the death of an important army member. Later on, however, the game gets significantly easier: There is ONE spell avaible in the game that let's you revive a fallen character. And even though it can only be used by one regular class, it will still lower the difficulty level by a huge amount, since it can be used on any character, no matter where he was defeated on the field.

No matter what, you will spend a lot of time on this game, but this time will also differ dramatically depending on several factors. First of all, training can take a lot of time, but you can also use certains tricks to speed up the process. Also, the game features one of the longest special levels ever seen in a game... while beating it will give you spells and abilities that basically make you invincible, you will also have to invest up to twenty hours into playing it through. Plus, if you decide to play through all three storylines, and try to achieve all the endings, you might spend well over 200 hours with this game.

All in all, Tactics Ogre is a fantastic strategy-RPG, but it's not a game for everyone. A patient strategist will enjoy its many challenges and long battles, while the same factors may turn off the casual player. If you want to rent it before you decide to buy it, you should still invest some time into it and at least play through the first chapter - the first few hours may give you a false impression about the game since the story won't get really started until a bit later, and you will have to spend huge amounts of time training your army members. But if you are patient, and you want a game that will keep you going for months, Tactics Ogre is a game you should definitely purchase. Hopefully, it will draw you in as much as me.


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