My first impression of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Togther led to conflicting feelings — I’d heard that its predecessor, Ogre Battle 64, was one of the best N64 games of its time, yet the subtitle "Let Us Cling Together" was such an odd translation of a game title that it set me on edge. Luckily, my sense of doubt was quickly assuaged when I learnt that "Let Us Cling Together" is based off one of the titles by the rock band, Queen, and the game quickly grew on me once I began to play it.
Let Us Cling Together’s story is too complex to be described in a short paragraph, but here’s a try. The protagonist (whose default name is Denam), his sister Catiua, and his best friend Vyce are orphans from Walister, a state that is oppressed by the Galgastan. Tactics Ogre starts off with our small group discussing what to do; they’re tired of being treated like serfs and they’re planning their own small revolt (yes, just by themselves, the three of them).
Luckily, they meet up with a band of mercenaries who were exiled from the neighboring country of Xenobia, who agree to help them free the Duke of Walister from Galgastan hands. The story continues with Denam and co. helping the Duke rebuild Walister. However, paths diverge when the question arises — just how far are you willing to go to fight for your country? For your ideals?
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together actually sports the subtitle of "Episode VII." It is the third game in the series, with the first two being Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen (Episode V) and Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber (Episode VI). Luckily, no previous knowledge is needed to play this game. If you really want to know the background history behind the wars, the countries, and the more nitty-gritty political aspects, you can watch a narrated video from the start menu (by not doing anything) that explains some of the previous events. I’m not sure if it’s about what occurred during the prequels to the game, but it does provide helpful background information.
One of the highlights of Tactics Ogre is its infusion of "choice" into the game. At the beginning, you’re given a selection of six questions, based off twelve tarot cards, that help adjust Denam’s stats. At certain points in the story, you’re given choices. Most of these determine how much your units like you, but there are a select few that are especially important and decide which story branch you walk down. Broken down, you start off on Path 1, which branches into Paths 2 and 3. Path 3 continues into Path 6, while Path 2 branches into Paths 4 and 5 before reuniting at Path 6. Aspects of Path 6 differ depending on which routes you took to get there.
The route you take affects more than just the plot. Similar to Shin Megami Tensei, the main character has an “alignment” in Let Us Cling Together. Depending on the route, it’s either Law, Neutral, or Chaos. Also like in SMT, these categories don’t refer to "Good" or "Evil," but rather to whether you believe more in loyalty and following rules or more in freedom. Every character in Tactics Ogre has an allegiance, and every character also has an invisible "loyalty" rating that fluctuates depending on the choices you make and the path you’re on. It’s obviously easier to keep Law-allied characters with you if you yourself are on the Law(ful) path because their beliefs coincide with yours. If you don’t keep the loyalty of your allies high enough, they may desert your army, even if they’re characters important to the story.
This theme pervades battles as well. Fairly early in the game, you get an ability called the “Chariot Tarot” (as you can tell, there’s a strong tarot card theme running rampant as well). By holding the L and R buttons, you’re allowed to rewind up to 50 turns in the battles; if you’re not happy with a choice you made, you can rewind the battle and try a different option. I personally never made much use of this for major decisions because the battles aren’t that hard if you’ve trained properly, but it is extremely handy if you make some sort of stupid mistake (like landing a critical hit on your healer because you accidentally miscalculated the trajectory for an archer…).
After finishing the game once, you’re also given access to the World Tarot, which allows you to restart the game from major checkpoints. This way, you don’t have to restart the game three times (or create three different save files) to play all the different routes.
Tactics Ogre has quite a few other unique aspects to it as well, some of which are designed to bring you further into the world. One of my favorites is the Warren Report, which includes all sorts of useful background information. There’s a character section that constantly updates with information in the game and some that’s not in the game. There’s also a section for events that allows you to view any of the story events again and an accompanying route map that puts the events in perspective of other routes. There’s also an interesting "news" section that is written like editorials in a newspaper (sometimes, reading these unlock sidequests as well).
I also loved the way characters are recruited. One way is by purchasing them at a local Shop, but another way is to grab units straight from the battlefield. Almost every class can learn a skill that recruits a certain class of characters (human units, dragon units, beast units, reptile units, etc.). Recruiting works kind of like in Pokémon, normally. The weaker the enemy, the easier they are to recruit.
In addition, the less loyal they are to their original allegiance, the more likely they are to switch sides. However, if you overdo the damage and bring it down extremely low, their starting loyalty with you starts out low too. All of this adds a different dynamic to battles, since keeping a character alive just enough to grab them is much harder than killing them outright … while the opponent is affected by no such compunctions.
Another factor that affects loyalty is the number of people from each allegiance that you kill. If you kill too many Walisters, the Walisters will slowly start growing less loyal towards you. Luckily, the effect of this is so slow it would take a lot of deaths to alienate yourself from most of your allies. Still, the inclusion of this factor makes the game seem more realistic, which is something I really enjoyed. You can check the number of units from each allegiance you’ve killed by checking the Warren Report as well.
Battles in Tactics Ogre, unlike in most strategy RPGs, are focused on completing the campaign rather than defeating as many enemies as possible in the process. Usually battles are won by defeating the commander of an area, although sometimes you do have to vanquish all enemies on a map. When it’s the former, there really is no advantage to killing everyone other than increasing your skill aptitude and getting more dropped items.
Enemies sometimes also drop Tarot Cards, which function both as items and permanent stat upgrades. You don’t even have to worry about running around to collect all the items; all item bags are automatically collected at the end of the battle. The Tarot Cards, on the other hand, are not. (Oh, but the enemy can get to the items first; and then they’re gone forever.)
Also, the amount of EXP and skill points you get for each battle is the same no matter how many enemies you defeat. One unique aspect of Tactics Ogre is that levels are attributed to classes, not individual characters. (Skill points, on the other hand, are for every character that’s participated in the battle.) For example, if you get a new character that’s a Warrior, and you’ve been training your Warriors up to level 14, your new Warrior starts out at level 14. This seems very handy, but the problem starts when you receive a new class. I really wanted to use the SwordMaster class when I obtained it, but at level 1, it was hardly useful when every enemy on the field is level 16. Enemies level up with your team, and the only way to train new classes is to put a unit in a battle and keep him at the back of the line.
Units that have fallen gain EXP for their class and individual skill points as well. Well, that is, if they’re not incapacitated. Dying is fairly complicated in Tactics Ogre, but it’s all for the better. Once a unit’s HP falls to 0, they collapse on the field and a number "3" appears over their head. For every one of the unit’s turns after they fall, the countdown goes down, and only when the counter reaches 0 does the unit actually disappear from the field. Until then, you have the chance to complete the campaign or revive the character. If a character does "die," his life counter will drop by one. Once it drops from 3 to 0, that character is gone forever (a la Fire Emblem). All in all, this system makes the game much more forgiving, since permanent deaths are very much preventable.
Tactics Ogre definitely isn’t the hardest SRPG I’ve ever played. It is, however, the most enjoyable, story-wise and system-wise. I absolutely love Denam and the rest of the army, and I can personally relate to Denam as he makes what he (or rather, you) thinks are the best choices in the war. In fact, when I played a second route, one that I hadn’t chosen during my first playthrough, I felt disgusted with myself because the actions I (Denam) took didn’t agree with my moral values at all. Not many games can make one relate on that level.
Food for Thought:
1.) The font in the game reminds me a lot of the font used in comic books. I can’t name it (though I know some font fanatics who might be able to…) but it gives the dialogue a unique feel.
2.) About the only complaint I have about Tactics Ogre is the fact that because there is just so much to scroll through, the menus seem very crowded. Luckily, the game attempts to alleviate this by creating subcategories that are easily navigable.
3.) Every projectile weapon has a trajectory that is heavily affected by height. You can even aim outside the highlighted range and snipe the enemy from far away if you’re standing on a cliff. Magic attacks are also affected, though in a different way. If the elevation is too high, the direct-line trajectory would hit a wall instead of the target. Magics and arrows also tend to hit whoever is directly in line, so if an ally is standing in the way, they are hit rather than your intended target. This can actually be used to your advantage, since long range attacks typically can’t hit units less than 2 blocks away.
4.) If some aspects of the game seem familiar, like the art or the music or even the less unique aspects of the game system, that may be because there are many familiar faces from the Final Fantasy Tactics team.