|Release: February 15, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p|
by Steve Haske
Tactics Ogre opens in a space outside time, with what one assumes is an omnipotent presence questioning the player. As with many RPGs, you must provide a name and birth date. From here, against the white backdrop of this given eternity, tarot cards dart and dance, face down, before your eyes. As the cards are revealed, Fate asks you questions. "A fire engulfs your home. Whom do you save from the flames?" Fate may ask you. "Your reckless plan has ended in disaster. What has it cost you?" It probes.
Though you're given three multiple-choice answers per question, no one response is likely to leave you completely satisfied, much less fulfilled. In the case of the fire, do you let your parents and child burn to save your beloved? Has your ill-guided plan left you guilt-stricken from the deaths of your friends and loved ones, or led to your banishment? Even when the tarot presents you with an opportunity, the benefits may be ambiguous. Do you ask a sage for the key to winning hearts, wealth, or victory? As in life or war, the answers to one's fortune are never clear-cut. As it happens, the uncertainty inherent in faith and war is integral to the nuanced arc that plays out across Tactics Ogre's narrative stage. Luckily, the game's script, completely overhauled to match the tone and theme of the game's original Japanese version, is more than up to the challenge.
Backstage power plays and the ambitions of corrupt nobility may be familiar ground to fans of Final Fantasy Tactics and Yasumi Matsuno's medieval world of Ivalice, and in some ways, the world of Tactics Ogre bears a great many similarities. However, if Final Fantasy Tactics' narrative actions smacked of Titus Andronicus (read: the lust for power and personal gain results in the violent deaths of nearly the entire cast), Let Us Cling Together is a case study in the subtle and multi-faceted nature of war. Even the broader strokes of Tactics Ogre's narrative paint a tale of political ambition and consequence that is more morally gray—and perhaps more consequential because of it—than its chocobo-inhabited cousin. Fate, too, plays a central role here in the path you choose to walk.
Swept up in the middle of a full-scale war between disparate nations, you are forced into making a great deal of hard choices that can drastically alter the game's narrative. This is thanks to the uniquely open-ended way relationships are handled among characters, almost to the point of trickery. Say a self-serving lord is cast as entirely wicked; you may reach a later point in the branching path of Tactics Ogre's story arc that presents you with a different set of circumstances, bringing a new dimension to a character whose name the game had already convinced you was synonymous with spitting acid.
Yet Tactics Ogre allows you to choose for yourself whose presence you want to have in its war. Everyone from the highest figures of power to the basest mercenary has their own perspective and role they choose to play. No one is free from the undercurrents of varying motivations, no matter how valiant or ignoble, and it's never really clear what unexpected consequences one decision might have over another, particularly given that they usually appear in conversations between battles. However, choice can affect a great many factors on the battlefield as well—characters can and will die unless you have enough of the right skills to prevent fate from cutting their strings.
Of course, Tactics Ogre is a strategy RPG, and despite the uncertainty endemic throughout its Middle English-inspired script, if you spend the countless hours required to meticulously build the units of your army, victory is possible. It won't be a cakewalk, though, and those of you who are used to Final Fantasy Tactic's gameplay principles are going to have some fundamental re-education to clamber over, despite overall similarities in presentation and interface. First, the good news: levels are gained by job class, not by individual unit. Say you have three archers: Their archery level will all be the same at any given point in the game. However, this comes at the cost of abilities. Weapon and armor types (as well as certain types of spells) are understandably restricted to particular job classes, but special abilities—the lifeblood of any job class-based RPG—aren't earned in a traditional manner. In Final Fantasy Tactics, every move a unit made would gain them job points that could then be spent between battles to unlock new abilities within a given job class (e.g., a wizard could spend their accumulated points to learn new spells). In Tactics Ogre, you must learn new skills to even access different types of battle actions, as well as unlocking secondary boosts (like an increase in strength or the ability to wade through water).