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Tactics Ogre: Reborn

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Nov. 11, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Tactics Ogre: Reborn'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 10, 2022 @ 3:00 a.m. PST

Tactics Ogre: Reborn is an enhanced edition of the revered tactical RPG, featuring improved graphics and sound, improved battle mechanics, updated game design and much more.

Buy Tactics Ogre: Reborn

This seems to be the year for obscure Square Enix SNES-era RPGs to shine. Not only did we get the excellent remake of Live-a-Live, but similar cult classic Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together also got a remaster in the form of Tactics Ogre: Reborn. While this isn't the first time the game has been available in English, it is the first time the game has been available for everyone under the sun. Tactics Ogre is considered one of the grandfathers of most modern strategy-JRPGs, with anything and everything on the market usually owing at least a little to it. Thankfully, Reborn is a very loyal remaster that updates the gameplay and quality of life while retaining the same engaging story and combat that helped the game's legacy endure.

Tactics Ogre and its ilk are somewhat more in the realm of a Game of Thrones than a Final Fantasy. While there are epic battles, magic and monsters, the game spends a lot of time on the politics and morality of war. Players take on the role of Denam. He, his sister, and his best friend are rebels fighting against an invading hostile nation. Their families were killed by The Dark Knights, an elite band of soldiers. An ill-fated ambush attempt reveals that their target wasn't the man who killed their parents; it's the leader of a mercenary band who shares the same name. This chance meeting is all it takes for Denem and friends to get the forces needed to rescue a captured Duke and find themselves at the center of a complicated war.

Tactics Ogre isn't quite Triangle Strategy when it comes to choices, but it has a nice amount of moral complexity. You're given choices that impact the character loyalty and storyline. There are only two major branching paths, but they are intriguing choices that don't slot quite so easily into "good" or "evil." The game frames them as "law" or "chaos," which might sound familiar to fans of Shin Megami Tensei. Individual choices and actions can play into how characters perceive Denam. If you spout hatred against a certain group, members of that group might leave your army. Make choices they agree with, and they'll be more loyal and more willing to fight — even against their own people. There are a lot of little choices that add some nice texture to the overall experience.

If you haven't played previous versions of the game, Tactics Ogre was one of the earliest strategy RPGs on consoles to go for an epic scope. Its legacy can be seen in games like Final Fantasy Tactics or Triangle Strategy, both of which share DNA with the classic. Tactics Ogre is pretty much a standard strategy RPG because of that. You and the enemy take turns beating each other up on a wide-open battlefield, with all the standard mechanics like HP and spells. It's possible to view it as simplistic, but it really isn't. There's plenty of customization and room for tactics and strategy, and the game feels like it's "simple to learn, difficult to master" rather than feeling like it lacks content.

Reborn also has new gimmicks. Perhaps the biggest change is the introduction of buff cards, which are random cards that appear on the battlefield and can offer massive boosts to a character's stats, friend or foe. A character who gets a few buff cards can effectively become a living god. The buffs only last for the battle, but they still are a major factor in victory or defeat. Even if you don't want a buff on a certain character, it's superior to an enemy getting one, and the enemy will attempt to grab as many buffs as they can. There are ways to weaken buffs, but the best boost is to make sure the enemy doesn't get them first.

I really like this mechanic because it strongly encourages aggression and mobility in a way that changes how the game plays. Safe tactics have their place, but they're no longer the best choice in most cases. The only complaint is that powerful units (due to their mobility or damage) become even more so. Tactics Ogre allowed you to set up a single super-powerful archer to solo half of the map, so this isn't really a huge change. Since buff cards are easier to get for melee attackers, it tends to offer them a nice bonus that's tougher for a ranged fighter to get.

That said, there are a lot of beneath-the-surface changes that won't be instantly clear to newcomers. Skills and abilities have been revisited, and there are many skills that buffed, changed or were outright removed. There are also new skills that have a huge impact on the gameplay. Perhaps one of the biggest is the Pincer Attack skill, which makes positioning a far more critical element of the game. Pincer Attack gives you free bonus attacks if the unit who has it is positioned behind an enemy. Having a unit in position to take advantage of such things is yet another new element of the battlefield you need to take into account. In some ways, it makes the game feel more like Triangle Strategy, which itself was inspired by Tactics Ogre. These changes aren't enough to make it feel like an entirely new game, but they're significant enough to keep the title fresh despite my experience with previous iterations.

Reborn also includes a hefty dose of quality-of-life improvements. Menus have been streamlined, it's more straightforward to equip weapons, and in general, it takes far less time to gear up your army than it did in previous versions. Random battles have been removed in favor of Training Battles, which serve the same purpose but can be done at any time. There's a useful speed-up option that keeps the pace from feeling glacial. There are collectible items that can raise your levels, provide new skills, or change an elemental affinity. (The last plays a surprisingly big role in which units are good in which stages.) None of these really change the game so much as streamline it, allowing you to have more fun with the enjoyable sections and less time fiddling with menus or grinding.

One of my big complaints about the PSP remaster was its strange leveling system, where each class had a level shared between anyone who used that class. On the surface, this reduced grinding allows you to easily swap characters to new roles, but it also has the negative of making it much less satisfying to try new jobs. Reborn goes for a simpler system of each unit having its own level. There is a "party level" that serves as a cap on how far you can grind up, but it's not a significant issue and mostly serves to prevent you from grinding out a billion levels in the first area. EXP isn't wasted but gives you item rewards that can be used once the level cap increases.

Also fixed is the crafting system, which has shifted from a convoluted, RNG-ridden system that discouraged use to a simple "insert items to get new item" mechanic. Overall, Reborn is pretty good about taking the interesting ideas introduced in the PSP version and smoothing them out so they are more fun and less frustrating to use.

Reborn feels like a game made with decades of experience. It is still Tactics Ogre, but it is also clear the developers considered feedback from all versions. The result is easily the most enjoyable version of the game to pick up and play. Some of the twists might feel strange to longtime Tactics Ogre fans, but after getting over some of the strangeness, I thoroughly enjoyed this version of the game more than the previous versions — and I liked the previous versions quite a lot! Pretty much every change feels like an improvement, and I'm hard-pressed to think of anything I truly missed about the previous versions compared to this one. It's an example of how to modernize an older title without losing what made the original fun.

If there's one area where I'm disappointed with Reborn, it is in the visuals. It's still basically the same game that was released for the SNES, and nowhere is that more obvious than the graphics. They've been smoothed over and received some minor tweaks, but that's about it. There's a stark difference when you compare it to something like the recent Live-A-Live remake, which updated the simple visuals into something much more impressive. Reborn's sprite work has charm, but I can't help but imagine what it would be like if it were on par with Final Fantasy Tactics or something similar. It doesn't detract from the game's strong points, but on a big screen, it emphasizes that this game looked dated on the PSP back in 2011. Thankfully, the music is as excellent as it ever has been, and the voice acting is quite well done and lends a lot of personality to some characters who I'd previously thought were a bit bland.

Tactics Ogre: Reborn is an incredibly well put together remaster of one of the cult classics from the SNES era. It's an improvement over the well-done PSP remaster and improves upon it in almost every way. The story and translation remain excellent, and the core gameplay is more fun than ever. The only downside is that it didn't get any visual touch-ups, so you'll need to be willing to accept cute, pudgy little sprites acting out the serious tense political drama. If you're a fan of strategy RPGs and haven't played Tactics Ogre yet, then Reborn is well worth a shot.

Score: 9.0/10

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