Square Enix has delivered some iconic, genre-defining tactical games. Titles like Final Fantasy Tactics, Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Front Mission (which is also being remade!), The DioField Chronicles (review), Triangle Strategy (review), Bravely Default 1 (review) and 2 (review), and Tactics Ogre. To say we love strategy here at Gaming Trend would be a wild understatement. One of the earliest examples, Tactics Ogre, is the subject of this review, and we’ve got a lot to cover. I’ll do my level best to tell you what’s new without ruining the storyline. Let’s get to it.
Tactics Ogre, or more accurately, Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together, is a turn-based strategy RPG that was originally released in 1995 on the Super NES by Quest Corporation. Praised for its mature storyline, tactical combat, and branching storylines, the title was a smash hit, receiving ports to several consoles, including the PlayStation. In 2011, it was ported to the PSP, bringing with it several enhancements to address fan requests to ease the grind. The biggest upgrade came as part of a new “World Tarot” system that would allow players to revisit choices they had made once they had completed a large chunk of the game at least once. Throw in some revisions to the battle systems, a remastered soundtrack, as well as full voice acting in both Japanese and English, and this very well could be the best version of this game yet.
Reborn is a port of the 2011 remake on the PSP, but coming to modern consoles and the PC, as well as the Nintendo Switch, gave the Square Enix team another bite at the apple to improve on the game. As such, the PC version supports a number of quality of life improvements, including having your character auto-equip their best gear when you change classes, an auto-restock when you hit the store, a quick sell option for coins, and confirmation before charms are used to ensure your team doesn’t waste them. Additionally, you’ll find mechanical improvements like increased cursor movement speed, message speed adjustments, auto-advancing your messages, weather and action notifications, and a toggle for whether animations are played when skills and magic skills are used.
When you hit combat, you’ll find that even this has received a bit of a helping hand. Tactics Ogre was known for its long battles, but now you can speed that up a bit. You can also enjoy a completely reworked ability system, new items and skills, a scouting option that lets you peek at the enemy armies including their levels and troop placements, optional battle objectives that can be completed for additional rewards, and so, so much more. Honestly, it’s an entirely new game in every way that matters.
Unlike other tactical titles that restrict your party to 4-6, Tactics Ogre goes bigger, with a party size of 12. This is where the class and element system comes into play. There are eight elements – fire, water, air, earth, lightning, ice, divine, and dark. These play out in a paper-rock-scissors sort of way you’ve come to expect from any SRPG.
One of the biggest improvements to the battle system is a projectile system. When you are using a ranged weapon, you’ll see a small blue line to show if your target will hit an enemy, or just impact painfully on the backs of your own troops. Ignore it at your own peril, especially if you are using crossbows. It’s a solid improvement to the formula, though I have to admit that I hit my own troops a little too often using mouse and keyboard. Using the sticks on the Steam Deck or a controller was frankly both simpler and better, but I certainly found myself rewinding with Chariot Tarot a few times just to fix a selection “oops.”
You’ll also find dropped equipment from enemies, including weapons, armors, and even new abilities. Additionally, you’ll occasionally see blue cards that can offer up to four boons on a single one of your crew. Red cards, on the other hand, remove any boons, so you’ll want to knock your foes into those. Green cards provide stat bonuses that persist after battle, so make sure you collect those. Be quick, though, as your foes will happily exploit these advantages for themselves, making a tough fight even tougher.
Truthfully, the difficulty ramp and the card system are the only real debatable negatives in this complete overhaul. The cards offer a bit of randomization that approaches luck more than tactics, and that can drive the difficulty from challenging to punishing, or even downright unfair. It’d be nice to be able to disable these, but it seems to be integral to the gameplay now, so that seems unlikely.
Battles often come with a primary objective like taking out a specific target, but there are secondary objectives as well. For example, it might ask you to perform a healing spell a certain amount of times, or have an archer in the party hit a specific amount of targets. If you succeed at these objectives, you’ll be rewarded with additional spoils, so it pays to try to achieve them.
On the graphics side, the improvements are simultaneously spartan but impactful. Yes, the game can now be played at 4K resolution, adjust the gamma and contrast, and set V-sync. I’d have liked to see more granular control over refresh rates, but it’s great to see everything scaled so nicely for higher resolutions. It’s likely a personal preference thing, but some folks might not like the smoothing effect over the sprites, but I think it looks great here.
With the lightest touch on storyline, the major introductory beats are these:
You play a man named Denam – a member of a wandering group of mercenaries for hire under a man named Lancelot. You travel, fighting for honor and coin, when you suddenly find yourself with an opportunity to rescue a noble. Doing so indebts the man to you, and he seizes on the opportunity to reward you while simultaneously protecting himself. He makes you and your team into knights and his personal protectorate. Denam, his sister Kachua, and his childhood friend Vice set out to negotiate peace between the trio of ruling ruling factions. Naturally, things go spectacularly awry, thrusting them headlong into civil war. The storyline in this game is a high watermark level of high fantasy drama, elevated significantly by the excellent voice acting and tight narrative. I won’t spoil it, but it’s the kind of thing HBO might make into a series level of fantastic.
Getting into the game, there is a long list of brand new features in Tactics: Ogre: Reborn. I’ve already mentioned one – the World system. While the campaign is linear, the game features a lot of branching paths peppered throughout the entire game, and often they aren’t small ones. After you’ve completed the game, you can consult the Warren Report – the system that catalogs your decisions, character profiles, bestiary, stats, and much more. You’ll even unlock new locations to visit by digging through this report, making it one of the few useful catalogs I’ve found in RPGs. Combined with the World Tarot system, you’ll be able to effectively “put your thumb on the page” of this adventure, flipping back and forth between them as choosing a different path doesn’t overwrite your current one.
The cornerstone of Tactics Ogre: Reborn is the combat, and the team has given this aspect a serious overhaul. Just know that you won’t have a walk in the park this time as a big part of that overhaul is a completely revamped AI that can be downright brutal. The AI in the original, and again in the PSP version, was fairly single-minded, often charging forward into my poorly-laid traps. This new AI has enough sense to target the casters, flank, and not rush headlong into dumb mistakes. Thankfully, there’s a new weapon in your arsenal to help counter your now-smarter foe.
The World Tarot has a bit of a twin in Tactics Ogre: Reborn – the Chariot Tarot. This system allows you to pull the same rewind trick, letting you rewind certain tactical outcomes so you can approach them differently. This can be handy in particularly tough battles where you’ve made a decision that had catastrophic follow-on consequences. Sometimes we all just need a do-over, right?
Once you are past the tutorial missions, you’ll unlock the ability to recruit troops to your army. There is a massive class system in the game, and it too has gotten an overhaul. In the 2011 remake of the game you’d use a management and upgrade system that applied to all characters of a particular class, upgrading them as a whole instead of individually. Now, you can manage each character individually, down to their equipment, skills, magic, and even their class. By using a new tool called a charm, you can seamlessly move to another class without losing your level, making the class system far more flexible than before.
One of the aspects of combat that differs from the norm is the way equipment and skills are handled. Using a system not unlike what we saw in Final Fantasy XII, you get better at a piece of gear or spell the more you use it. “Using it” means having the item equipped so it can collect XP in battle. If you want to be a better sword fighter, you’d better start bringing a sword to the fight! It’s an elegant but simple system that once again allows you to mix and match a bit. There are still class restrictions – you can’t make a sword-wielding wizard like Gandalf, but you can strap a ranged weapon on just about everyone, for example.
Some of my favorite improvements are actually pretty subtle. Crafting no longer has a failure possibility, so you won’t need to grind out nearly as much materials. Also, the randomized battles are thankfully gone. No more moving inch by inch across the map. Instead, you’ll find each location has a “Training battle”. You’ll only be able to level up to the current cap for the area, ensuring you can’t overlevel and unbalance the game. This keeps it fair so you can’t just steamroll the AI by grinding. To hit that level, you’ll run these training missions before you re-engage in the story. It’s a good compromise and an improvement over the non-stop barrage of “random” battles.
Another aspect that I didn’t expect to have as large of an effect as it does are the new charms. You’ll find charms in the battlefield and these can have four effects. They can immediately raise the unit’s level by 1, grant additional XP, permanently upgrade stats like strength and agility, or even switch a unit’s elemental alignment from fire to water, as an example. This level of immediate customization lets me build my team my way.
The sound work in Tactics Ogre: Reborn is an absolute masterpiece. The team re-recorded all of the music using a full orchestral band. They re-recorded all of the voice work, modernizing it and fixing translation errors. They also reworked every sound effect in the game. It’s very, very rare to see this level of attention paid to a remaster – normally it’s a graphical punch-up and that’s about it, but not here. Audio leveling is split across seven different audio sliders, allowing you to adjust it to your liking in a very granular way.
I don’t normally comment on game length unless a game is extraordinarily short, but I need to talk about Reborn. This game is big. Very, very big, in fact. The main storyline will take you about 50-60 hours, with side quests pushing that far closer to 100. Once you do reach the endgame, you’ll run into a brand new feature – extended dungeons. The Palace of the Dead, a mysterious Pirate Graveyard, and the dark Phorampa Wildwood forest await you, offering a tremendous amount of challenge for endgame players. Not unlike the Deep Dungeon in Final Fantasy Tactics, these massive locations can extend your gameplay nearly indefinitely with new challenges, fresh rewards, and new exclusive recruiting opportunities. Just beware – once you enter there is no restocking or returning. If you leave, you start over.
I’m very happy to say that the Steam Deck performance on Tactics Ogre: Reborn is fantastic. It’s very easy to get 60fps at max detail and resolution, and it doesn’t waver even when the particle effects start flying. Even cranking the GPU down to maximize the battery and limiting it to 40fps, the game looks fantastic. I frequently play this one on the go, and I’m appreciative of the work the team put in to make that possible.
Truthfully, I could easily double the length of this review covering all of the ways Tactics Ogre: Reborn has been improved and still not have covered it all. This truly is the best version of an already genre-defining SRPG. Whether you are returning to the game, or if this is your first time with Tactics Ogre, Reborn is the ultimate version of it and the new benchmark for remasters.
Tactics Ogre: Reborn
With improvements in literally every single area of the game, Tactics Ogre: Reborn is the new standard for remasters.