GameSpite Journal 10 | Tactics Ogre

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together | Dev.: Quest | Pub: Enix | Genre: Tactical RPG | Release: Oct. 1995 (JP only)

Tactics Ogre did not invent the tactical RPG, but it certainly defined the genre. Its path was paved by luminaries such as Shining Force, Der Langrisser, and even its own predecessor Ogre Battle. Quest’s take on the subject, however, was so refined, ambitious, and generally addictive that it single-handedly laid down a blueprint for the majority of tactical RPGs to come.

It was so good, in fact, that RPG giant Square (and chief rival to Tactics Ogre publisher Enix) took notice and poached the majority of developer Quest’s key personnel -- director Yasumi Matsuno, composers Masahiro Iwata and Hitoshi Sakamoto, and designers Hiroshi Minigawa and Akihiko Yoshida -- to put together their own blatant clone, Final Fantasy Tactics. It’s a game good enough that Atlus felt compelled to bring it to the U.S. several years and one system later in an imperfect PlayStation port. Good enough that 15 years later, its creators banded back together to recreate it from the ground up in a glorious rendition that isn’t simply the definitive version of Tactics Ogre, but the definitive tactical RPG, period.

Tactics Ogre was one of the many latter-day RPGs to grace the Japanese Super Famicom; late enough that it made no sense for anyone to port it to the declining American market, which was all the more frustrating for RPG enthusiasts for -- like so many RPGs of the Super NES’s twilight years -- how absolutely wonderful it was. Aesthetically appealing yet hardly compromised in terms of substance for all its graphical and musical prowess, Tactics Ogre recast the traditional side-by-side turn order of games like Shining Force into something that felt more akin to the Final Fantasy Active-Time Battle system. Rather than moving entire teams at once, players instead controlled their individual units according to their specific stats; faster units enjoyed more frequent turn order, adding another layer of intricacy to the genre’s grid-based battles.

In a way, Tactics Ogre defined a split from strategy RPGs, one hinted at in its title. Where its forerunners (especially Ogre Battle) traditionally gave players control on a larger, more abstract scale, controlling armies and thinking strategically, Tactics Ogre was about determining the specific tactics of the smaller skirmishes. The ability to equip and define the skill paths of every single unit placed a huge emphasis on separate characters, giving a flavor more akin to a standard role-playing game. Yet the chess-like battle system combined with the fact that the player’s team was invariably outnumbered and overpowered by computer-based opponents (whose power scaled according to the hero’s current level) meant that large-scale thinking was still essential. Sending single units off to fight on their own was invariably a sure way to die, as Tactics Ogre’s most fundamental mechanic was divide-and-conquer. Only by moving his uniquely defined characters as a cohesive team could a player hope to triumph.

In fact, the only real flaw in Tactics Ogre was its ridiculously front-loaded difficulty. The scarcity of equipment and skills in the early going, the CPU’s preposterous advantages, and the rarity of healing and resurrection options make the game’s first chapter as much a test of tenacity as of skill. Those who weathered Tactics Ogre’s seemingly insurmountable challenges, however, were treated to one of the finest tales yet told in a video game: A shifting tapestry of intrigue and moral ambiguity whose changes were determined by the player himself and had a tremendous impact not only on the story’s outcome, but on the road to those various endings as well.

By Jeremy Parish? | March 25, 2012 | Previous: Castlevania: Dracula X | Next: Secret of Evermore