The output of Square Enix titles has really freaked out in recent weeks. The last months of 2022 have become a real outlet for various j-rpg, from new titles to remastering of old glories of the past. And if we can discuss the quality of Valkyrie Elysium, and we cannot yet express ourselves on Star Ocean, there is very little to dispute about the quality of Tactics Ogre.
Still, the new version Tactics Ogre Reborn it was met by enthusiasts with some animosity. The price was considered too high, and Square Enix's technical choices inadequate to bring those pixels back to life. The truth, as always, lies in the middle, and after trying the first few hours of the game, I really want to tell you my preliminary impressions on Tactics Ogre Reborn, played for the occasion in its Playstation 5 version.
For the uninitiated, Tactics Ogre Reborn is a modern remake of the remake of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, released in 1995 and on PSP back in 2010. It is part of the Ogre Battle series, which in the West has never managed to have a large following like other more famous tactical RPGs. Despite this, for fans of the genre it is a real milestone, both for its intrinsic qualities in the genre it belongs to and for being the son of the legendary designer Yasumi Matsuno.
One who knows a lot, who gave birth to works such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII. An author who has built a career with the design of complex systems and passionate and mature narratives, hard to forget.
A new look
At the sight of the pixel art, box maps, and those backgrounds, Tactics Ogre enveloped me with an incredible sense of nostalgia. There is something extremely warm and personal in the aesthetic presentation of this title, which is shown for the first time in years on a screen much larger than the 4,3-inch PSP.
During these first hours of the game, it became quite clear that the developers' goal was not to distort the feel and look of the original, but to translate it to a higher resolution without losing details. Once hot, I can say that the result is not bad at all, and it succeeds. Clearly a production compromise, but manages to display pixel art in a higher level of detail on the PSP, without looking as blurry as on that version. Resolution upscaling and pixel redesigned backgrounds and characters give Tactics Ogre Reborn a classic yet highly digestible look.
We all know how the questionable mobile versions of the Final Fantasy classics fared, completely distorted to be almost unrecognizable compared to their pixel art counterparts. Tactics Ogre Reborn looks much better, despite the filter, thank goodness. And then it's all dubbed into English or Japanese, bringing those pixels to life like never before.
Where Tactics Ogre Reborn hasn't changed, at least not entirely, is in its own gameplay. The incredibly deep soul of a tactical role-playing game is perceived from the very first hours, where the various game systems are revealed to the player through small battles that act as tutorials. At first glance, Tactics Ogre Reborn might look like a rather traditional srpg, and in part it is, but some game systems still make it peculiar today. Shift management, for example, is entrusted to the Recovery Time, the lower this value is, the more the unit will be able to act before the others.
So forget the classic alternation between player turn and enemy turn, in Tactics Ogre it becomes essential to take this system and the flow of turns into consideration, to better manage the moves and flows of attack. If you're impulsive and reckless like yours truly, it's good practice to glance down at the screen, where the turns are being read and the characters who will act next. Taking into account the flow of the action, the positioning of enemies and their elemental weaknesses, is essential to be successful. There are 8 elements to take into consideration, and they act like the classic rock, paper, scissors system. Each of them is more effective than another, and keeping this in mind can make our actions more effective.
Tactics Ogre Reborn is really challenging, and the clashes can go on even for a long time. In this, this reissue does not seem to have introduced particular elements of quality of life, if not the speeding up of the clashes. A redeeming feature, given the general slowness of the action. However, the experience is very traditional and demanding, even in the management of the characters. The management of the equipment, the assignment of consumable items and skills, is all entrusted to the player, without particular automatisms to streamline the preparatory section.
Enthusiasts will be overjoyed, but I'm personally finding unit management rather tedious, also due to an interface that is not exactly comfortable (albeit revised) to navigate and lacks some shortcuts. In 2022 we are all too well used to it, that is clear, but in its unapologetic nature as a classic, Tactics Ogre Reborn offers enough ideas not to fall into frustration.
In the clashes there is in fact the Chariot system, which allows you to rewind turns and change the course of action, if you regret a move or the fight has taken a too unfavorable turn. In this Tactics Ogre Reborn is extremely modern, and it partly mitigates the harshness of the tactical experience it offers. Compared to the PSP version then, the class level has been abandoned, now linked to the single character. A loudly requested change, which I will discuss in more detail in the review.
I do not know if Tactics Ogre Reborn has ambitions to be the definitive version of Let Us Cling Together. After these hours of playing it's hard to believe that they have managed to find a perfect balance between all the game systems, but it is immediately clear that what was great in that srpg experience returns here in a better form and with some interesting tricks. It will be necessary to understand the balance of the experience in its entirety, and of some systems that I was unable to explore in this preview.
In any case, Tactics Ogre Reborn is a title to keep an eye on, whether you have played the original or are simply a fan of the genre. This operation by Square Enix will continue to divide for the technical choices made, but after these first few hours, while dreaming of a world of remastered in HD-2D, I consider myself less critical than before.