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Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is the kind of game one could lose hours upon hours with. I would know; about seven years ago, the Game Boy Advance installment (Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis) saved me from unspeakable boredom during a particularly long road trip. This PSP remake of the original Super Famicom release offers the same kind of experience: lengthy, challenging, rewarding, and insanely deep. It's not the easiest gameplay experience to get into, but those who make the investment will be delighted to see just how much it pays off.

Visually, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is vintage Square, a precursor to the era when "feminine" became a requisite characteristic for the majority of characters in Japanese role-playing games. Anime is not this game's muse, and thank goodness for that. The conflict in this game is more political than fantastical, and the characters look very much at home in the world they occupy. Of course, I'm mainly referencing the portraits that accompany the game's dialogue. On the field, units won't surprise the eyes of anyone who's played a Japanese turn-based strategy role-playing game. There's just enough individual detail to help you distinguish unit types from each other, and that's really all you need. The same goes for the animations; though most landed blows look powerful enough, all that really matters is the little damage counter that pops up when the weapon strikes true.

The Tactics Ogre franchise is big on military fanfares, and Let Us Cling Together features a soundtrack that is simply loaded with them. This kind of stuff fits with the overall theme and mood of the game, and as a matter of fact, I'm not convinced any other kind of music would work. Every time you win a battle, you're greeted with a victorious number accompanied by the triumphant roar of your party. It's really rousing, and helps sell the key premise and story. On the battlefield, there isn't a whole lot to hear other than the clashing of weapons, the triggering of magical abilities, and death cries. There's no voice work; this may be a good thing, as several characters take the time to call their attacks before unleashing them (a distinctly Eastern idiosyncrasy that just plain doesn't work anywhere else).

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together drops you into the eye of the storm from the start. The Dynast-King, Dorgalua Oberyth, has died. The same appears to be true of his ability to unite the three central clans of Valeria, as all three of them (the Galgastani, the Bakram, and the Walister) are ready to pounce. Long story short, Valeria is set to become the stage for a bloody civil war, and you belong to the clan that is thought to be the weakest threat. It's up to you to prove them wrong. So, as Denam (or whichever name you choose), you take your ragtag band of rebels on a journey that forces you to make a series of difficult decisions that have widespread consequences throughout the main narrative arc.

Despite the last paragraph, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is not a digital choose-your-own-adventure book. It's not even close, in fact. There are battles to win in this game, and they're all fought on similarly-shaped isometric grids. If I had to describe this title's gameplay to a neophyte (and I do), I'd call it "chess meets Dungeons & Dragons." Okay, so it's not quite that intimidating, but make no mistake; this is a deep and complex experience.

Across the grid, units are scattered. In accordance with a special order (dictated by each unit's speed statistic), units take turns moving around each grid in an attempt to fulfill a set objective. Your opponent usually exists simply to give you a headache, but with you, it's not so simple. Perhaps you have to decimate all the enemy forces, or maybe you have to take out the leader (and only the leader) while heavily outnumbered. Different situations present themselves spontaneously over the game's lengthy campaign, and each of them requires you to sit back and continuously plan several moves ahead.

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is all about welcoming new players into the turn-based strategy role-playing experience. And let's face it; this is not a genre that's known for accessibility. This game makes a significant stride in that department, thanks to the C.H.A.R.I.O.T. system. If you've played a game like this, you know that defeat at the end of a very long and hard-fought battle is nothing short of agonizing. The moment you know there's nothing more you can do really stings. The ability to rewind time (or, in this case, turns) can transform the most difficult battles into bonafide learning situations. In games like this, the where is every bit as important as the when -- and the how ties it all together in a clean tight knot. Learning these things through trial-and-error isn't fun, even if it's in a video game.

Concessions to casual players aside, this is still a very challenging game that features a ton of depth. To many players, it will be too deep. There's a lot of menu navigation, and those who don't get friendly with the dense user interface in a hurry will find themselves drowning under the weight of it all. Micromanagement is a huge part of the experience, and those who shy away from getting their hands dirty will pay the price on the battlefield.

Game Mechanics:
In Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, what happens off the battlefield is every bit as important as the events that transpire on it. Growing and customizing your units to your specifications takes a lot of time, care, and consideration. And shopping. Lots and lots of shopping.

Above all other things, character growth is handled differently from all the other strategy role-playing games I've played. Maybe it's because they don't grow as individual units. Here, entire classes level up, bringing any characters belonging to that class along for the ride -- regardless of whether or not they participate in each battle. This is a departure from most other strategy games of this type. In most SRPGs, if you want to level up a new recruit, the chances are high that you'll have to make him/her part of a fight that he/she cannot possibly win without the help of much more powerful units. That usually means shoving the weakling in the corner, and that's not a whole lot of fun. This system is more efficient, but it comes at the cost of being less "hardcore."

At this point, you may be wondering if there's any room for individual unit customization at all. Thankfully, there is. Each unit earns Battle Points, which can be used to unlock new abilities. The list of skills to choose from is long and varied enough to the point where you'll come to rely on certain characters for abilities that several others in your party might not have.

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a remarkable example of what to do with a remake, and it's easily one of the PSP's best role-playing games. It's bursting with replay value and offers a little something for everyone. If you don't like strategy games, this one certainly won't change your mind. However, if you're in the market for something slower and more methodical, this should be your next purchase.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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