While the Final Fantasy Tactics series is certainly at the forefront of the tactical RPG sub-genre, Tactics Ogre might very well be considered the granddaddy of them all. The hardcore will no doubt recognize this title immediately and newcomers will have good reason to rejoice the classic game’s re-emergence – dare we say “remake” – on the PSP. Especially given the fact that Square is making the game roughly 30% larger than the original with a few graphical revisions that nicely supplement the old-school look of the game.
The story, for those who aren’t yet familiar, takes place on the island of Valeria as three main races and numerous sub-factions fight control for the kingdom. You play as Denam, a hero whose village has been razed to the ground by a group called the Dark Knights lead by the villainous Lancelot. Your desire for revenge will drive you and your well intentioned sister through the expansive adventure, forcing you to make a complicated series of choices that will determine the allies you make, who lives and dies, which races and factions embrace you (or war against you) and ultimately how the endgame plays out.
The first choice you make will be responding to five tarot cards that are dealt to you before the game begins. Your answers will determine the orientation of your stats, faction standings and overall morality. Throughout the game, you’ll encounter characters and scenarios that require responses which will determine whether various members will join your cause or battle against you. Being strategic about these moments can only benefit your crusade as the more followers you have, the larger and more capable your units and overall army. In total, there are more than 60 characters in the game with whom you can develop relationships and alliances.
The battle system is roughly the same as fans might remember with a few tweaks and improvements to smooth things along. The battles are quicker than in the original but feature significantly smarter A.I. as well as a few changes to the user interface to keep the screen cleaner and the menus more navigable. The graphics are still sprite-based, but both the gameplays and the battles have had a few 3D effects applied to the environment to make them feel a bit more vibrant and alive. Random weather effects have been added and, yes, these absolutely do have some effect on the battle – namely, how smart is it to cast lightning in a rainstorm? Players can also opt to see a top-down, chessboard view of the battle map as opposed to the leveled, 3D view, although you lose the sense of height afforded by the latter.
Players will also be happy to know that classes – not characters – gain levels, so if you lose a particularly high-leveled archer in battle, the next archer you recruit will come in at that level, avoiding any unnecessary grinding to catch up your new character.
Lastly, the game’s “Wheel of Fortune” system will allow players to turn back time by up to 50 turns – not exactly a lot in a large-scale battle – in order to save the life of a comrade who failed to make it out alive. Players must try something different, however, or the die-rolls will play out exactly the same, and while 50 turns may feel like a lot, the strategy that lost you the battle was likely set in place far before that. So whatever you do, make certain it’s impactful. Tactics Ogre also features a comprehensive – and damn impressive – map of the narrative, showing where things branch off and where different choices might have yielded different results. Gamers are allowed to go back to pivotal points and create a new branch of game-saves in order to explore what-might-have-been.
While there are two main endings to Tactics Ogre, there are dozens of combinations of outcomes depending upon who survived and the choices you might have made along the way. For a PSP remake of a classic tactics title, there’s tons of new content here to make this a fascinating redux. The game should drop sometime in the first few months of 2011 and we’ll be anxious to get our hands on the game for a longer play-through.