In today's gaming landscape, it can be easy to get tired of remakes. With a number of popular franchises such as God of War, Prince of Persia and Tomb Raider getting a HD makeover, it is definitely a trend on the rise. Many of these packages come about thanks to a new title regenerating interest in a franchise again, while other products like The Sly Trilogy serve as welcome way for gamers to replay their old favorites without having to dig up the old hardware. Titles in the latter category also have a knack for generating nostalgia to the point that players may wish for a new entry in the series. Then you get the remakes that are more than a simple port with a shiny new exterior, a remake that changes the title enough that it may as well be a completely new title. Occasionally, these remakes can even eclipse the original original version - and this is where Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together solidly slots itself. At first glance, it may look like a simple re-release of the SNES original, but once you delve into the title you'll find that it proves to be much, much more.
Appearing in the early 90s, the Ogre Battle of games was both critically and publicly acclaimed throughout Japan. Sadly Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together was never afforded a European release, so very few Western gamers have had the opportunity to delve into the series - unless they were able to get their hands on a remake which surfaced on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn in the late 90s. If you have been lucky enough to play the original Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, you'll find that this remastered edition presents a polished and refined adaptation of an already excellent game.
To be certain, this kind of game is an acquired taste and if you feel no love for isometric strategy role-playing games you best turn away now. Tactics Ogre sticks to many of the traditional conventions of the genre as it features a prosaic, yet often meandering style of writing which means that you'll find yourself scanning a lot of dialogue as you play through the game, but ultimately this provides gamers with a large payoff as the storytelling of the title is sublime. Although the background story of an oppressed people fighting for their freedom is fairly trodden ground in as far as role-playing game plot devices go,Tactics Ogre individualises itself by featuring a unique non-linear branching storyline. As players make their way through the title, the player will have to make key moral decisions which can significantly alter the course of the game. Depending on the way you wish the story to unfold, your friends and allies of one playthrough can be your bitter enemy in the next, all based on the choices you make. Tactics Ogre fully explores the tough decisions of players by providing players with consequences which dramatically play out, and more often than not end like a Shakespearean tragedy. The course of your actions not only affects the relationships that you have with certain characters, but it also can significantly alter the ending of the game depending on whom you aligned with and what path you have followed to unify your homeland of Valeria. While it's not as all-encompassing as the story branches of Mass Effect, this storytelling process keeps the title fresh and entices players to have more than one crack at the game.
Fans of Advance Wars and Final Fantasy Tactics will feel immediately at home with the gameplay of Tactics Ogre. The game retains its isometric point-of-view, but thanks to the PlayStation Portable, you are able to spin the camera to an overhead view - allowing you to zoom in and out as you please to provide yourself with a broader view of the battlefield. There is a lot to take into consideration, with everything from each character's elevation, direction, disposition and even the weather over the battlefield providing a lot modifying factors to access in the back of your mind before you commit to a particular attack. However, for those who really soak up the intricacies of the game's mechanics, you'll find a deep and truly balanced strategy experience.
Players are thrown into battles with a wildly diverse toolbox of equipment and abilities at their disposal to carve their way through a large number of challenging foes that stand into your path. You will be able to mix and match dozens of character classes with a huge number of passive and active skills to create a party which will suit any crazy strategy that you can concoct.
The tarot card motif flows throughout Tactics Ogre, but the biggest part that it plays is through the magical elements of the game; as players will pick up cards through battle which can be used to instantly boost stats or cast spells. Battles can be pretty unforgiving at times, so it is critical that you constantly cast an eye over the equipment and skills of your battle party to ensure that your team has enough to go the distance with their next opponent. Going beyond the usual 'rock/paper/scissors' strategy to pull apart your enemies strengths and weaknesses is something that differentiates the game from other titles in the genre, ultimately forcing you to fully utilise the abilities and skills of each of your characters in order to vanquish your foes and it is here that the true depth and flexibility of the title shine through.
That said, the grand experience provided by the title can at times be petered down by the hardware, with the PSP itself not necessarily proving to be the best platform for this type of game. With battles raging from 15-20 minutes right up to an hour, the battery life of the PSP can complicate matters if you aren't able to find somewhere to charge up instantly. Even so, Square Enix has trimmed away a lot of the grinding associated with the original title and left this game to be one lean, mean RPG machine.
While the battery issue is quite a small negative, the largest issue with the title rests with the interface itself. Utilising all of the PSP's face buttons, Square Enix has also often doubled up on what each button can do. For instance, in one context you'll need to hold two or three buttons just to fiddle with the camera view. If these functions weren't used often, you could forgive the overlap in the control interface, but frustratingly enough all of these different functions are used on a constant basis making the title a lot more fiddly to execute commands than it needs to be.
One feature that works swimmingly is the newly introduced 'Chariot Tarot' replay system. This nifty little feature allows you to turn back time and backtrack your actions in order to rewind a particularly horrendous gaff that you made, and given the challenging nature of your enemies and the number of characters that you control, it also creates a more accessible experience for those that are new to the genre. Expert players are able to bypass the 'Chariot Tarot' system and ignore all of the game's 'auto' features, but if you're not feeling too confident the auto-equip or in-battle AI control functions are a great tool for new players to have at their disposal.
Capping off the game is a new multiplayer component which allows players to pit their party against that of another human player.Essentially, players are asked to import their current single-player team data into multiplayer. From here, you are able to choose from more than 20 maps - which have been pulled directly from different portions of the single-player campaign. Players can also customise their party with different outfits and battle cries to give each character more unique flavour.
However, we recommend that you don't dip into the multiplayer until you've completed the single-player campaign as the multiplayer menu is shockingly peppered with numerous spoilers.
Presentation wise, some will balk at the largely 2D, sprite-heavy visuals of Tactics Ogre, but there are a few refinements to the presentation that help fill in the cracks that age has worn into Tactics Ogre. The look of the magical spells is more impressive than it ever was, while the overworld map and character art have also seen some cosmetic enhancements. Overall the rich colours and textures exemplify the quality art direction of the game.
The game's soundtrack is composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto - a favourite composer amongst Square Enix fans - has been very carefully remastered and the impact of the musical selection is breathtaking. Some of the themes rank amongst the most memorable scores to come out of the Square Enix catalogue and prove to be an audiophiles dream. Sadly, the sound effects and the voice work of the game ultimately let the audio down as they are unable to reach the dizzying heights of quality that the music does.
Ultimately, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a solid handheld role-playing title that will hold an appeal for both veterans and new players alike. While it has a couple of small flaws, the overall polish and depth of the title outweigh the negatives as the game truly sets the bar for what a good remake should be and certainly cements itself as one of the best isometric strategy role-playing games around.