Raise your hands if you remember an age old title called Final Fantasy Tactics. Now raise your other hand if you've heard of the grandfather of Final Fantasy Tactics. Long before the Lion War raged across Ivalice, a little dev team known as Quest had been busy waging their own war. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is, for lack of a better term, one heck of a blast from the past. Originally released on the SNES in 1995, Square Enix have recently re-released it on the PSP for a new generation of RPG enthusiasts. More of an updated release than a remake, Let Us Cling Together will thrust you deep into a land ravaged and divided by war, and show you just what set the standard for the strategy RPG genre.
The story doesn't just follow the tale of a young hero and his merry band of misfits. In fact, there's a huge amount of back story that sets the stage for our heroes and their woes. The Kingdom of Valeria once saw peace under the rule of King Borgalua. However, leaving no heir upon his passing, war soon broke out across the land as various factions vied for control. This is where the tale of Denam Pavel picks up. I won't go into detail, but the gist of it is that you lead your party through a surprisingly thrilling plot filled with plenty of political intrigue, blood and betrayal. The supporting cast is incredibly fleshed out, each with their own unique characteristics - one in particular whom you will likely want to punch in the face. Each character has their own motivation in the war, some simply seek an era of peace while others are more hot blooded and seek revenge for their losses. In any case, it makes for an engaging story with a frighteningly imposing nature of a war that's larger than you can imagine.
The best part of it all is that the game branches out in a variety of ways depending on the decisions and choices made during specific events. While not as big as recent games like Deus Ex or Mass Effect, the choices players make will present new paths and quests to take on. Choose to save a character and that may come in handy further down the road, choose not to and it might not matter, or you may find that it just might come back to bite you in the backside. It provides to be a pretty engaging experience, especially when you consider that the game is roughly 15 years old.
Admittedly, the game certainly isn't for everyone. Those familiar with strategy RPG titles like Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics will feel right at home with Tactics Ogre. Battles are turn-based and played out on an isometric field with various objectives ranging from vanquishing a specific target to rescuing somebody, or simply getting rid of every unit on the field. Be warned, you'll be spending just as much time in the party menu as you will in battle, some of which can last from anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes. Pre-battle setup is incredibly important and Tactics Ogre has one of the deepest class and level progression systems of the genre I've ever seen. Players will earn both level and class experience points, the former of which determines when you can learn certain abilities and the latter what ones specific to your class. Regardless of class, abilities require either Magic Points (MP) or Technique Points (TP) to be used in battle. This is where it gets interesting as every unit on the field begins with zero MP and TP. As the battle continues, units will progressively gain both. That means no nuke spamming at the beginning of a battle and, as such, an incredibly strong emphasis is placed on strategy.
The new class system works in a way that makes the game a less of a grind. Since each class gains experience points instead of individual units, units no longer level up separately, but classes as a whole. This means that if you're currently a level 12 Mage, you can jump ship to Rune Fencer, which may be level 20 and tad-ah! You can suddenly take on that one stage that's been in your way for quite some time.
New to the battle system is the Chariot Tarot, a history of the last 50 moves. With this, players can jump back to any point of the battle within that history. The system will record the new path separately, giving you the option to return again in case you make a fatal mistake. You know, like in case you nuke a party member, accidentally of course. However, if you fail to meet an objective, it'll be game over and the Chariot Tarot system won't take effect as it can only be used during a player's turn. On that note, failing to meet objectives is what makes the game so incredibly brutal. It leaves no room for error as players will have to load up their last save point to continue. It's also what makes the game so bloody challenging and addictive. Unfortunately, the only confusing bit would be the controls. Since the PSP lacks some buttons, Square Enix had to resort to combining button presses. It's not hard to pick up, but you might be confused for a little while.
Although it's not a full-fledge remake, Let Us Cling Together still features revamped graphics and a remastered soundtrack. Backdrops, character art, the user interface, pretty much every bit of visual nuance has been updated. The game runs incredibly smoothly, looks good and plays perfectly well even after more than a decade. It's not a visual marvel by any means, but the art direction holds a certain charm to it. Fans of Akihiko Yoshida's works (Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, Final Fantasy XIV) will definitely find it rather drool-worthy. Even better, the soundtrack, composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, Odin Sphere, Valkyria Chronicles), has been remastered and sounds absolutely brilliant, especially when played through headphones.
Let Us Cling Together also features a multiplayer mode that pits players' parties against each other. There are more than 20 maps to choose from and you can customize each character to your liking. However, the mode doesn't exactly let you battle it out with someone else, at least not directly. Instead, players will have to import their data which is then controlled by the AI. Quite like battling a doppelganger.
All things considered, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a shining example of a strategy RPG done right. Not to mention, the game was way ahead of its time in what it offered, from an engaging plot to in-depth gameplay mechanics and even branching paths depending on player decisions. This updated release brings even more improvements like the Chariot Tarot system, updated presentation and an overall pleasing experience. While the multiplayer mode seems more like an afterthought, most will likely remain enthralled by the intriguingly long and massive plot. If you love deep and engaging RPGs, then Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is definitely for you.