Tactics Ogre: Reborn (Switch) Review

Tactics Ogre: Reborn (Switch) Review
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Experiencing Tactics Ogre: Reborn after playing modern Fire Emblem, or after so long since my last visit to Ivalice, felt like a sort of lightbulb moment. The strategy RPG has seen a handful of competition in recent years—not least of all from Square Enix itself, which released two others this year—but there’s still so much potential in the classic formula laid out here almost thirty years ago. 

To make a long history lesson short, Tactics Ogre: Reborn is the latest remaster of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, a Super Famicom title developed by Quest in 1995. The original saw re-releases on Sega Saturn, PlayStation, and the PlayStation Portable, while its director Yasumi Matsuno was hired by Squaresoft to re-bottle its lightning as a spin-off of its flagship series—giving us Final Fantasy Tactics in 1997. 

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Tactics Ogre has remained even more niche than the cult classic it inspired, commanding high prices on the resale market. Its PSP update did moderately well, despite not living up to the success of Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, which enabled it to see the light of day in the first place. Now modern-day Square Enix has put the horse before the cart, giving the progenitor its due. However, a lot has happened in this department since that PSP revival in 2010—namely, the sweeping mainstream success of Fire Emblem Awakening and its kin. How does this hidden gem shine today? 

If you’ve played Final Fantasy Tactics, you’ll take to Tactics Ogre: Reborn quickly; these two titles are siblings in every way, despite their different names. The crux of its gameplay is an isometric tactical RPG, where the player pits their army against the opposition turn-by-turn. Units can move and act once each turn, unless using certain buffs; movement ranges and available actions are determined by each unit’s class, and set before engagements. 

“Tactics Ogre: Reborn plays into the heavy sort of language and politicking that you may recognize from FFT.”

Party management is the game within the game, in which you’ll spend as much as a third of your time. Beyond the story characters you pick up along the way, you can also recruit generic allies, commanding a force up to 100 units strong. Each can be customized with a class and according equipment, skills, spells, and finishing moves. 

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In this department, Tactics Ogre: Reborn feels a little short of its successor. The class system doesn’t quite meet the robustness of Final Fantasy jobs. Instead of earning Job Points for a certain class by taking actions and spending them to unlock new features or other Jobs, Tactics Ogre uses consumable items called classmarks. In a vacuum, it’s a fine system, but it felt less fulfilling, knowing the system it would inspire. 

Applying the fruits of those party menu labours in combat, however, felt like coming home. It’s clear to see how the original game shaped an entire genre. Despite never playing this series, I adjusted to Tactics Ogre: Reborn as though I’d played it a half dozen times before. Battles are a little slower, even by genre standards, but a faster animation speed setting makes a world of difference—and so do a handful of modern quality-of-life changes. 

Random battles have been removed in favour of the ability to partake in a training battle while stationed in cities. These battles are low-stakes and can be retreated from at any time, but allow players to keep their team up to snuff. A new level cap feature prevents the party from power-leveling, keeping the challenge fair. Eagle-eyed veterans may also notice overall changes, like improved AI and rebalanced enemy matchups. 

Downed allies still have three turns to be revived before succumbing to perma-death, while those unfamiliar with the franchise will quickly get acquainted with Tactics Ogre: Reborn’s buff card feature. These cards will appear around the battlefield between turns, offering temporary stat boosts (stackable up to four) or permanent increases to skills. Seek them out for a boost, or prevent your opponents from picking them up, as they can turn the tide of battle. 

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Should the battle turn against you, the Chariot Tarot feature will allow you to rewind a few turns and try a different tact. Being able to quick-save and duck out to the menu is a similar mercy, especially if playing an exhausting battle on the go. Fights can be fairly protracted, especially if you haven’t removed any enemy healers from the field yet or if the weather is affecting your units’ accuracy. 

Battles progress the player through Tactics Ogre: Reborn’s grand plot of discrimination, politics, and war. Again, if you’ve played Final Fantasy Tactics you may have an idea of what you’re in for—the parallels between Denam Pavel and FFT’s Ramza Beoulve, and the machinations they get caught up in, are legion.

“If you’ve played Final Fantasy Tactics, you’ll take to Tactics Ogre: Reborn quickly; these two titles are siblings in every way, despite their different names.”

Tactics Ogre: Reborn plays into the heavy sort of language and politicking that you may recognize from FFT. If this rubbed you the wrong way in Square Enix’s Ivalice games, there’s not much to change your mind here, even if the script is very well adapted and now fully voiced in compelling fashion. If you find some tactical RPGs Shakespearean and impenetrable, they’ve been taking notes from their grandfather all this time. 

Fortunately the Warren Report menu offers an accessible in-game reference guide, recapping events so far and helping you track characters—a handy feature in a game with two different characters named Lanselot, among a sea of unusual, nigh-indecipherable names. Its most important feature is the World Tarot, which eventually allows you to return to one of the plot’s crucial decision points and choose a different path. 

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Coursing through it all is a brilliantly remastered and orchestrated score. Thankfully new songs are added to a menu within the Warren Report, complete with commentary from the staff. 

Now I’m actually a little disappointed that I didn’t try this game twelve years ago with the PSP remake. It’s like playing another faithful instalment in a series I loved, which veered off in a different direction long ago—a hefty experience worth revisiting, with branching paths I must investigate in full. 

And as Tactics Ogre: Reborn proves the genre’s remaining potential by going back to its source, it also makes me that much hungrier for a new remake of Final Fantasy Tactics. This was an excellent table-setter, but c’mon Square Enix, we’re ready for the main course. 

* This article was originally published here


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