If most videogame remakes are dinosaurs trying desperately to find their place in a world that's long since passed them by, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling together is what would happen if a dinosaur cleaned up, got his act together, and managed to work his way up to a steady job in middle management. No, actually, it's more than that. Tactics Ogre – in some incredibly smart ways – speeds right past its modern contemporaries. Disgaea, Final Fantasy Tactics, et al, take note, because this is how it's done.
Above: The specialist brought in to help with troop morale issues... could have been better
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a brilliantly modern re-creation of a 16 year-old game. Oh, sure, it may not look like the bump-mapped Frankenstein child of Unreal 3, CryEngine 2, and Snake's oddly realistic face from Peace Walker, but that's not the point. Tactics Ogre is forward-thinking where it really counts, making a number of “why has no one ever thought of this before?” modifications to the tried-and-true strategy RPG formula. Before we get into all the nitty gritty stuff, though, let's start with the basics.
If you've ever played a strategy RPG, you'll more or less be ready to cannonball right into the deep end here. You deploy a small squad of characters onto the battlefield, and everyone takes turns politely exchanging blows until one side says “Oh, I say, I do believe I've had enough, sir.” Only it comes out more like “aaaargghhh [blood gargle sound]” because, you know, swords. The basic mechanics, then, are simple and easy-to-understand. Pick a square, move to it, and perform an action. Rinse, repeat.
Make no mistake, however: Let Us Cling Together is fairly ruthless in terms of challenge and will not hesitate to take your head clean off if it's not in the game. Generally, however, it's not unfair. The AI simply goes for the jugular when you leave yourself open. Really, the game's only instance of artificial difficulty stems from almost hilariously suicidal friendly NPCs. Even when your ability to complete a level hinges on their survival, they'll wade fearlessly into the thick of battle, typically resulting in an NPC pincushion that's equal parts swords, arrows, and fire. Translation: Game Over.
Above: The part of war Hollywood doesn't tell you about: menu screens
Even then, however, Let Us Cling Together remains one step ahead of the curve. Using a new feature called Chariot Tarot, you can rewind up to 50 turns whenever you want to, handily clearing the slate of all your messy mistakes. (Of course, it's completely optional, so the game can essentially be as hard or easy as you'd like.) It's the sort of thing that we honestly hope becomes a genre mainstay, as there's really no downside to it. We're sure you've had a million “wow, if I just hadn't made that incredibly obvious slip-up a few turns ago, character X would still be alive right now” moments – only you probably said it with a lot more not-fit-for-print profanity. Chariot Tarot, however, tramples all over that frustration by speeding up the process. You were going to reload, fight back to that point, and do everything correctly anyway, so why not just skip straight to the part that matters?
Of course, battles themselves are only the tip of Tactics Ogre's iceberg. And the other major component? Well, it'll pretty much decide if the game's a must-buy or a must-avoid-at-all-costs for you. So, without further ado, try this word on for size: “Micromanagement.” If the idea of meticulously tweaking each and every character in your army has you excitedly fondling your calculator, then Tactics Ogre's almost absurdly wide breadth of customization options is just what the doctor ordered. Hours can (and probably will) fly by as you mix and match innumerable weapons, skills, and classes to create your dream team. However, the game puts a limit on the number of skills a character can choose from at once, so ninja dragoon wizards that give birth to entire universes every time they floss their teeth are out of the question. Instead, you have to sculpt your team carefully, paying special attention to how everyone's skills and specializations dovetail to form a greater whole.
If you'd rather just leap straight into the action without any of that number-crunching nonsense, however, then Tactics Ogre probably isn't the game for you. Even with an optional auto-equip feature, it's still up to you to teach each individual character all of their spells and abilities one-by-one. Fact is, in Tactics Ogre, what goes on behind the scenes matters just as much as all the sword swinging and spell slinging, so if you're looking for a mindless distraction to pick up and play, look elsewhere.
Above: Battles require that you take all sorts of factors into account, including obstacles, positioning, and – yes – even weather
If, however, that is your cup of meticulously mixed tea, then you'll probably question how you ever lived without Let Us Cling Together's smart, convenient tweaks to the system. Foremost, instead of ladling out experience points to individual characters, the game distributes them between entire classes. As a result, if one cleric hits level seven, then all clerics you've ever had and ever will create will also automatically start off at level seven. In other words, say goodbye to tedious afternoons spent leveling neglected characters. Unfortunately, newly unlocked classes start off at level one, and bringing them in line with your other meteor-flinging, time-bending ultra-classes can be a bit of a chore.
Let Us Cling Together's story, meanwhile, is pretty much uniformly excellent, with choices that put most of today's modern epics to shame. There's save a starving orphan/starve a recently saved orphan nonsense. Instead, you're asked to do what you think is right given the situation at hand, and the game changes – and we mean really changes – depending on the consequences. The whole “idealistic youths rebelling” motif may not sound like anything too special, but Let Us Cling Together pulls it off with a maturity that RPGs in general could use a lot more of. The game's re-translated, much-improved script definitely helps as well.
But wait, there's more to the story's, er, story. In yet another move that we really hope to see other games blatantly copy, Let Us Cling Together's “The World” feature allows you to hop in Ye Olde DeLorean and hurtle back in time to pivotal plot moments. In doing so, you're able to make entirely different choices and continue playing to see how the story unfolds. Again, it's quick, convenient, and gives real insight into the weight behind your decisions – as opposed to other games, which essentially say, “Oh man, that was a Big Deal. No, I'm not gonna give you a reason. Why would I ever do a silly thing like that?”
Less impressive, however, is Let Us Cling Together's multiplayer. Instead of putting both you and your opponent in direct control of the proceedings, the game sees you trade customized AI versions of your characters – ghost data, in essence. It's not a bad idea by any means, but a real ad hoc versus mode would've been nice.
Above: While basic, the game's graphics are well-drawn and colorful – which is nice considering how many hours you'll probably end up staring at them
Granted, that's a minor omission in the grand scheme of such a colossal, value-filled package, and it's hardly a deal-breaker. All told, then, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together sets a new gold standard for both PSP strategy RPGs and remakes in general. With the PSP's peak far in the past and its twilight years nearly at an end, it's nice to see that the console still has at least one very potent trick up its sleeve. So dust off your poor, abandoned portable one last time. Sure, the NGP's just around the corner, but this is a pretty great way to go out.
Feb 15, 2011