The PSP has been a haven for ports and remakes of varying quality over the years, but the remastered Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together sets a new standard for remakes on any system. It may not look like much has changed at first glance, but dig a little deeper, and it quickly becomes clear just how much thought the team at Square Enix has put into this remake of the 1995 tactical RPG for the Super Famicom.
This is actually the second time that Tactics Ogre has been ported to another system, the first being a disappointing PlayStation remake that was localized by Atlus. That version was plagued by slowdown and long loading times, which are both mercifully absent in this PSP update. Given that even Square Enix’s Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions struggled with its share of technical problems, it’s refreshing to play a port as tightly coded as this one. It also does much to expand upon the original source material. In the original game for the Super Nintendo, which was never released in North America, enemies scaled with the most powerful characters in the party, making it incredibly difficult to level up the weaker characters. The remake fixes that by having whole classes level up instead; so if a character is struggling to keep up, you can always make them a Knight instead and they’ll suddenly jump to Level 14.
The flipside, of course, is that new classes typically begin at Level 1, and the only way to gain experience is to put the character in a corner during a battle while everyone else does the dirty work. The process can be difficult and time-consuming, and not everyone will have the patience to level up the Dragoon or Ninja when they finally become available. Nevertheless, it’s a unique approach, and one that alleviates that much of the frustration of the original. The skill system has likewise gotten a substantial overhaul. Now Battle Points are distributed following a battle, which can be spent to acquire skills that augment both offensive and defensive capabilities. There are a multitude of skills to choose from, but the key is that it’s extremely difficult to be good at everything. Magic users, for instance, generally have to specialize in one or two types of magic, as each element takes up a precious skill slot. Sure, it’s possible to go into battle with a mage capable of wielding every type of magic, but doing so means you won’t be able to equip skills that augment your magical powers or stregthen your defense.
This balancing act helps to ensure that no character ever gets to the point that they are invincible, which is all too common in other tactical RPGs. Moreover, Tactics Ogre allows up to 12 characters on the field, meaning that there’s a much greater focus on party synergy than in a game like Final Fantasy Tactics, which allows only five characters. You will quickly learn the benefit of having two Mages on the field, each with a different set of skills designed to handle all contingencies.
On the battlefield, the action plays out much like any isometric tactical RPG, which makes sense given that Tactics Ogre helped to define that subgenre in the first place. There are no “Player” or “Enemy” phases; instead, each character moves according to their speed ranking. It remains an interesting approach to tactical RPG design, as it means that time magic (such as haste) factors in much more heavily than usual. Elevation also has a major part to play, as archers and mages with the high ground can pick apart approaching forces with ease. Line of sight comes into play when trying to attack enemies from far away, so it’s important to stake out the high ground when you get the chance. Fire a spell with an ally in the way, and they will get pinged in the back for some serious damage. The fixed camera would ordinarily make things especially irritating in that regard, but Tactics Ogre provides an interesting compromise. By holding the square button, it’s possible to shift the camera to an overhead view, which makes it much easier to get lined up and hit enemies rather than allies. It is one of the new features that make this update such a stand-out.