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Written by  :  Bregalad (972)
Written on  :  Dec 24, 2013
Platform  :  SNES

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Summary

A masterpiece of a T-RPG, if only the EXP system wasn't broken...

The Good

Tactics Ogre is the second game of the Ogre Battle series, developed by Quest (now bought by Square Enix, sadly). While it is the second game they made in the series, it was meant to be the 7th in the chronological events within the series, despite it's full title : Ogre Battle Episode VII : Tactics Ogre - Let's Cling Together.

While this game has a predecessor, it was a Real Time Strategy game whose gameplay has nothing to do with this game which is a T-RPG. This game was released quite late in the SNES lifetime, and quite a few great RPGs were released for the platform before this game so expectations are high. Will Tactics Ogre live up the high expectations ? Let's see.

The first thing you'll notice when starting a new Tactics Ogre is the high degree of professionalism, and high level of details. You can immediately see that whoever developed this game put all their souls to it, and did everything to exploit the SNES as much as possible. The introduction is breath taking.

The graphics are without a single doubt the very best ever made for the console. The game is entirely in isometric 3D perspective, in other words it is technically 2D but it really looks 3D (without the ugly polygonal character models). By this regard, it looks as great as many games released for the newer generation (on PlayStation 1, Nintendo 64 or Saturn). It was also ported to PS1 and Saturn for a reason : It could compete with games natively released on those systems.

Not only that, but the character's sprite actually look just as great, and the portraits are not bad either. The special effects and animations leave nothing to be desired, there is weather simulations of rain and snow which looks very realistic. In short, the graphics is top notch, and you can barely believe it fits the SNES.

The music is amazing. It feels orchestral, and there is really great music adapted to every situation you'll met in the game. Just like the graphics, it competes fine with games released on next generation systems, you can barely believe its sounds from the good old SNES. (By the way the game was also ported to Playstation 1, and for some reason, the music sounds *worse* in this version, god knows why. I have no idea how good/bad the Saturn version sounds.).

The sound effects are a bit worse than the music. They sound realistic and all, but there is not many of them, and they sound a bit too generic and muffled. Still they do their job, and there is nothing to complain about.

Now let's talk about the story. You are on an island called Valeria (technically you start in a small island near a bigger island). There is people from 3 ethnic groups existing on Valeria : The Braccum in the north-est, the Gargastan in the west, and the Walstanians in the south (where you start). Basically it's exactly like the Yugoslav wars of the 90s, there is many clans where everyone hates everyone, it's a huge mess, and it's hard to understand the exact reasons within the conflicts.

The game took place after a big war where the Walstanians lost against the Gargastans, being victims of war crimes and genocides, and are basically recovering while being miserable. The main hero is the son of a Walstanian priest which was captured, and you are seeking for revenge and looking for your father, teaming up with your sister Kachua and your childhood friend Vice.

What exactly you will do and fight for depends on you, depending on the choices you make during the game. You can end up being a Walstanian nationalist bastard (the "Law" route), just a wandering man (the "neutral" route), or to rebel against any kind of violence (the "chaos" route). The last one is probably the one most people will take, but I hear the other two aren't that different. The playable character that will join you, leave you or die also depends on your choices.

No matter which route you take, Tactics Ogre's story isn't for kids. It's all about war, massacres, betrayal, different political point of views, and of course bastard evil guys who likes torturing and killing people for their own pleasure you wonder why they are so evil (they actually are some of them in *all* 3 of the main races of Valeria). This is simply one or two levels above the "good vs. evil" kind of story that makes 99% of video games.

So at least this is a technically good story in the sense it was well developed and all. This is a realistic, complex and somewhat violent story. Now if you actually will like it or not is a matter of taste, but there is room for enjoyment even for veteran gamers who are tired with games stories being always the same clichés again and again.

The gameplay for the most part is good. Battles take place on an isometric tiled maps, where each tile has it's own height attribute in addition to terrain / other attribute. The topology of the map has a huge impact on the battle, for instance, if you shoot an arrow to something higher you have a very high probability of missing it and you can even hit a different target by error (including your own buddies !). If you shoot arrows at something lower, you will have very long range and very high accuracy. It doesn't affect short range weapon all that much, but you can for example push enemies down cliffs with a shield, and they will take damage, or even be instant die.

Your characters are defined by their class (warrior, amazon, archer, etc...). Nothing too specific to this game, the system is a bit generic, but it works fine for this game. Important characters can also change their class, but they will conserve the look of their original class which is weird, so you'd rather keep them their original class.

A nice feature is that you can recruit enemy characters if they're not too loyal and if they're wounded and hopeless. I think that was a great idea, even if I only used this possibility a few times. You can't recruit bosses, sadly, because they'd be more interesting to get !

The Bad

Well unfortunately all the gameplay is not as shining as the other areas of the game.

First of all I didn't like the inclusion of generic charters (as opposed to important characters). They are ok as enemies, but the game makes no distinctions. The vast majority of characters, both allies and enemies, in the game are generic, that is they have a randomly generated name, and their face is just a reflect of their class. They play no or few role in the story. By the end of the game you'll probably have enough important characters so that you wont' need the generic ones any longer, but still I didn't like that you were forced to deal with generics at first.

This is a minor problem though compared with the two major defaults of the game :

1) The EXP system is broken.

Each character has EXP and levels, as in almost every RPG I know of. When your EXP reaches 100, your level increases and you go to next level with 0 EXP.

You get EXP for any harming or healing action that had an effect. Just moving, waiting or missing your target means no EXP. Each action you do retrieves you between 1 and 100 EXP. The first problem appears here, if you had 99 EXP and get 100, it all goes to waste. So far it's not too bad, but the *real* problem is that if you harm any character with a level higher or equal than yours, you get only 1 EXP. (maybe 2-4 if this is the fatal hit and that he's exactly your level). In other words, you are *supposed* to be always below the level of your enemies if you want to progress at a decent speed. The problem is that the game is extremely hard to impossible if you are below the level of your enemies : All deaths are permanent (like many T-RPGs and unlike many RPGs), so you don't want your characters to die (except maybe generics which you won't care so much about, but you don't want to loose their weapons and spells...)

So ideally you'd be just one level below the enemy, but then comes the boss which is a couple of levels above other enemies and you're screwed because too weak. Even if you're skilled, a lost arrow will very quickly kill your favourite characters if you're under levelled. But if you're over levelled, then you are stuck, can't progress, and will be under levelled a few chapter later.

So the only solution I found around this is to use the train mode for *hours* using an emulator which is able to play the game CPU vs. CPU super fast. This means I let the computer train against itself and level up my characters, very slowly (because they're at the same level, so they'll get 1-4 EXP all the time), but because the emulator can run dozen of times faster than real hardware, this was feasible.

And then I got back to real game incredibly over levelled, and one-shoot the boss with an arrow from a distance, problem solved. Except that the new problem is that playing this game was less interesting, basically it was playing for story.

2) Magic system is complicated, broken, and useless

Usually if you'd have only weapons, RPGs would be pretty boring. Attacking is cool, but it gets old. Unfortunately magic in this game is quite limited and not powerful enough to be really worth it. Sure you'll be using healing, and some spells to do bad states to enemies such as stun or charm, but actual attacking magic is weak. Knowing who can equip is is completely random at last, I never understood the logic the game had to determine who can use which magic. Also, when you'll progress you'll get magic that is able to hit many panels at once. This is a great idea, unfortunately they didn't optimize it, so you have to watch the animation of a fire 15 times in a row, once per panel, even if there is nobody on it. This is extremely annoying.

Who can do the more can do the less, right ? Hell no, if you graduated and are able to use magic for multiple panels (I never understood what triggers this promotion by the way), you can't fall back to target fewer panels instead, so it'll be problematic in tight places packed with both enemies and allies.

The fact magic sucks so much makes bows an absolute must and they're totally overpowered (except when you are on the bottom of the map...)

Now that was for the main problems with the game. There is a third one : If you are not either looking at a guide or extremely lucky, you are very likely to end up with a bad ending which sucks so much that it's indecent of this game. Well I guess this game was all about shocks from the start, the developers just want to shock you, first with the quality of the graphics and music when you start the game, and then with the bad endings when you completed it.

The Bottom Line

Tactics Ogre is definitely a classic, and should not be missed by fans of the T-RPG genre. It exploits the SNES hardware like none else, have an amazing sound track, and a complex and innovative story which is one or two levels above the classic good vs. evil. However, it also have a completely broken EXP and Magic system, and the weapons system isn't very great either (I didn't mention it above because it's not worth it). So I'd say play this game but cheat, so you can enjoy it to its fullest. Unless you like to restart the same stage again and again (and again and again) hoping none of your important characters will get a lost arrow from a remote enemy in their hearth.

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