Afterpatch Review: Tactics Ogre Reborn
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Available On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
A CLASSIC REBORN! - Introduction
As a child, I could’ve easily been labeled as a Sony fanboy, and that wouldn't have been far off. I’ve owned them all, from the very first to the current generation. The PlayStation Portable, specifically, was one that left me enamored. The available library was and still is insane. Though, most of my time was dedicated to FIFA. As a Portuguese lad, it should come as no real shock to find I’m a sucker for the beautiful game. JRPGs were another mainstay. The grand and fantastical stories they told hooked me, capturing my imagination.
As I’ve mentioned before, my dad introduced me to the genre. Still, due to sheer volume of titles, a few skipped my radar - enter Tactics Ogre. While I continued to miss it for years, I heard lots of good things. With a remake upon us, let’s see if the hype surrounding it was warranted.
CHOICES AND STUMBLES! - Writing
The narrative that unfolds is one of grief and struggle. It’s one that allows me to choose my alignments and where my loyalties lie. That’s right; there are branching paths. I don’t mean the mere illusion of them either - your every choice matters. There are actual consequences for the decisions made. For example, I could ally myself with a particular fighter other someone else. Depending on the route I take, it may also lead to the death of an NPC that, in a second go, is kept alive. If I’m lucky, there’s even a possibility that they’ll join the war effort, fighting alongside me and my brigade. As a literary nerd, this facet left me moist due to the excitement of creating a personalized sequence of events. I felt like I was the God of this world - my hand was in so many cookie jars, keeping things intriguing.
Of course, not every deviation from destiny is built to be substantial. Some are ever so slight, wasting no time before returning to a linear trajectory. Luckily, there are more than enough differences in the scenarios to help replayability, making ensuing playthroughs feel fresh - not to mention the existence of unseen hidden surprises. It’s attractive, made more so due to interactions reminiscent of war-torn television shows. The drama is vast, potent, and evident, painting a clear, concise image of the chaos ravaging this land. It’s doubly as crucial to note that, yes, similarities in timelines will be unavoidable, especially if you cycle through them repeatedly. Eventually, the amount of new reveals will be watered down. The fact remains, however, that Tactics Ogre Reborn can be retreaded, at least twice, without incident - there’s enough content to avoid redundancy.
VERY LIVELY?! - Writing
Given the core premise of Tactics Ogre Reborn, it shouldn’t be a shock that, overall, the tone of it is serious. I’d typically lob a great deal of praise at that, but there's something missing. The execution of telling a tale of a continent engulfed in endless combat is exquisite, but what reveals itself as the problem is how one-dimensional it is. Now, there are sporadic instances of humor, but it’s relatively minute by comparison. Not having that lighthearted tinge sprinkled in the story to counter the constant death lends itself to a depressing romp. Not to mention that I can realistically see folks lose interest or grow bored with the consistent lack of liveliness. It puts the characters in a box, giving them no opportunity to be personable or endear themselves to the player. As a byproduct, any demise meant to bring about sadness lacks any sort of impact.
That said, I concede that having the ability to name recruits with no real role in the core plot helps personalize the session. I could somewhat form a bond and, subsequently, a connection since I went ahead and infused a bit of myself into their identity. Despite that, however, I was never overly bothered once the Grim Reaper decided to take hold of their soul. In the moment, sure, I was bummed, and yet, in that same breath, I’d move on quickly, finding someone else to fill the void they left. When it’s a case of main characters, though, there's a heft present, but it isn't as potent as I’d like. Sadly, that does mean they’re ultimately empty husks. If they died because of my pathetically flawed strategic thinking, empathy didn’t follow. They needed far more attention.
I HATE YOU! - Writing
One positive I’ll mention is that Tactics Ogre Reborn does a fantastic job of actively making me despise it. Hell, after an hour, there was someone I immediately had no love lost. I wanted them gone and eagerly awaited their passing. I know it’s counter to the opinion I just put out, but it’s egregiously simple to make a person genuinely detestable. All it needs is a tsunami of insulting behavior and coldness. What proves difficult to do is trying to evoke emotions like sympathy. What’s hard is tugging at the heartstrings, making these piles of code feel breathable. As I’ve already established, that doesn’t necessarily happen. It seems only the heinous side of an individual’s disposition receives effort, while the flowery and pleasant half is shoved off. Again, I saw glimpses sprinkled about, but it leaves a ton to be desired.
I need to preface what I’ve just said with a caveat. Yes, the gripes I’ve listed thus far ring true. That said, I’m not positive if alternate routes birth flourishes of life or the chance to form an attachment. I also have to highlight how legitimately enthralling I found the plot. There are a handful of unexpected twists, though they also felt shoehorned. Tactics Ogre Reborn makes the slimmest of attempts to plant seeds. It doesn’t foreshadow a potential swerve to keep the player guessing. I’d only be along for the ride, and while it’s assuredly worthwhile, with several things to like about it, I couldn’t shake that I wasn’t entirely satisfied. Granted, that does mean it remains faithful to the unpredictability of being in a territorial conflict. It nails the notion that anything can occur, but big reveals are missing that certain jeux né cê quoi.
A SIMPLIFIED EMBLEM! - Gameplay
Sitting comfortably under the SRPG umbrella, Tactics Ogre Reborn has the familiar factors people have come to know. For instance, combat takes place on a grid. One by one, fighters can maneuver along the predetermined area. If you’re coming from other titles such as Fire Emblem, rest assured as the challenge stays tough as nails - make the wrong move, and your life is forfeit - the enemy overwhelms you. Another commonality is the perma-death ideology. Although I’ve got to say, it’s a lot more merciful here. See, whenever I suffer a defeat, I’m given a three-turn grace period to resurrect the dead before they vanish into the darkness. Having this aspect be so forgiving helps make the game accessible. For those that relish in the kamikaze ways of the sword, like myself, the trial-and-error approach is a Godsend. That isn’t the only helping hand, either.
What undoubtedly equates to the most considerable quality of life inclusion is this feature known as the Chariot Tarot. It’s essentially a rewind button, letting you redo commands. If I, say, gave an order that leads to my death, I can reverse that outcome, rewriting history. Based on my tests, I can’t discern a penalty, meaning the usage of it seems to be unlimited. Making mistakes doesn't carry a heavy price. What I find fascinating is that the premise copies the idea behind the story’s branching paths, letting you jump into a parallel world where the strike was successful. Hell, it diminishes RNG, mitigating the aggravation that could have built up - be sure to use Chariot Tarot. There’s nothing worse than teetering on the cusp of victory, only to be parried before suffering fatal retaliation.
I understand the fear that manipulating this mechanic could render things a cakewalk. It’s a valid concern but also widely unfounded. As I said earlier, Tactics Ogre Reborn retains a good challenge, demanding a meticulous hand and utmost focus. It manages that due to a borrowed facet - it remembers. In other words, If I were to charge an enemy from the left, but my attack is defended, trying again from that same direction meets an identical fate. It’s a methodology highly utilized in XCOM, meant to prevent constantly reloading to gain an unfair advantage - save scumming. When it comes to AI, my findings were mixed. See, the soldiers that I face are somewhat competent, picking apart my army. Unfortunately, it seemingly falls off a cliff when it concerns my party. I can also confirm there’s grinding, and this game does to cushion the task.
SHARING IS CARING! - Gameplay
Tactics Ogre Reborn introduces a level cap in hopes of alleviating the need to devote hours to repetitive fighting. Throughout the story’s progression, that same level cap sees periodic increases. This occurrence is spaced out just enough, too, that theoretically, it shouldn’t force you to travel down tedium road. Sadly, despite its best efforts, it still drags, with the culprit being how drawn-out combat is. There’s no sugarcoating how arduous having to watch twelve or so enemies sluggishly select their actions is. Patience is definitely a virtue, but even with a ton, just the commitment is atrocious. The baffling part is that I chose the fast-forward option by default, and it still took fifteen or so minutes. What’s infinitely more annoying is sometimes, the number of experience points is abysmal. Thankfully, it’s rare, but there’s no disputing how disrespectful it is to the player’s time investment.
To borrow an English phrase - my disappointment is immeasurable in regard to sharing. As a proverbial kick to the gut, the grand total is split amongst everyone. Plainly put, if I earn 675 but a band of eight fought, that’s an insulting 84 to each. It’s barely a scratch and makes you feel like you’ve wasted your life. Luckily, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. See, weapon proficiency can also be improved upon with frequent use. Then, at fixed junctures, I can unlock powerful finishing moves. It spices up combat and is the primary explanation for why I blissfully participate whenever given the cognizance. The class system, another mutual aspect shared with Fire Emblem, is also quite robust. What’s interesting about it is I can freely make alterations whenever I please. It introduces a smidge of experimentation as I try to nail the optimal build for everyone.
ONLY THE BEST! - Gameplay
The strategic part of SRPG runs deep, not only applying to battle but also through equipment. It isn’t the generalized notion of throwing on the cream of the crop and calling it a day. A semblance of that might still be here, but the core facet to consider is a value called RT. You see, every piece of armor, shield, protective trousers, and weapon has weight. It affects the RT, which then determines turn order. It rapidly becomes a balancing act of retaining defensive bulk and lethal strength while ensuring you aren’t massacred, thanks to being slow as hell. It’s an interesting curve ball and requires some serious thought. The engagement is lovely, too, but it’s thanks to this feature that in no world can I see the casual fans of the genre embracing Tactics Ogre Reborn - the hardcore audience that lives and breathes SRPGs fantasy is the target demographic.
I HAVE THE HIGH GROUND! - Gameplay
You better get Botox injections because terrain elevation adds wrinkles to the already addictive gameplay loop - depending on height, the opposition can evade harm. See, every unit has a reach, meaning if an enemy isn’t within those bounds, attacks are ineffective. I admit it can cause frustration, but it also throws a wrench that complicates matters. Not in a bad way, mind you, because it gives additional opportunities to be tactical. By carefully considering the peaks and valleys of a battlefield, it’s viable to negate bloodshed due to having the, well, higher ground. Granted, it’s not foolproof, and truth be told, it’s not easy to strategize around. Hell, I honestly stumbled into taking advantage of it accidentally. My dumbness doesn’t detract from how beneficial it could be if harnessed correctly, though. With the proper skills, I could see folks exploiting this aspect to great effect.
OH, NOW THAT’S CUTE! - Presentation
When I was a wee toddler, I had this weird adoration for tiny objects. Thanks to that oddity, I find the sprite work in Tactics Ogre Reborn adorable. They remind me of these figurines I used to have as a kid. The pixel art style as a whole is deliciously good. The character animations aren’t overly intricate, with simple, smooth movements taking center stage. When looking at this version against the PSP release, the UI has gotten a major boost. Not only is it cleaner, but it’s easier to navigate. My sticking point is the absence of variety when discussing the environment. Yes, the little touches, such as the vegetation, water, and the trees, are wonderfully crafted. I love the diorama aesthetic and how it sublimely compliments these toy-like models. My gripe is solely on how they don't have much variety, but that’s a nitpick.
SHUT UP AND LISTEN! - Sound Design
When I first heard the voice acting, I wasn’t immediately sold. It took a bit for me to grow accustomed to everyone’s accent, but I did. Despite that, my general reception floated in the lukewarm spectrum. See, the delivery of half the script was flat. The inflection in most of the lines was subpar. Emotional snippets demanding oomph came off like a feather - soft with no weight. Cadence needed work, too. Maybe it’s exaggerated to say, but I felt disgruntled. Whenever I’d cross a cutscene that was begging for urgency but didn’t get it, it was upsetting because, in rare instances, it hits it, yet can't elsewhere. Tactics Ogre Reborn is bang-on with stoicism. After sixty hours, it's evident that my annoyance is due to the glimmers of colorful reactions existing. The ability is there but barely shown. Yes, the dub is serviceable, but it could be better.
AND THE METHODICAL VERDICT IS…
Tactics Ogre Reborn does a magnificent job bringing a classic into the current decade. It has a collection of quality-of-life additions that modernize the gameplay, making it palpable. There's also been a noticeable push to release patches that streamline several mechanics further. For instance, at launch, I couldn’t optimize equipment automatically. Everything had to be done manually, which meant trying to decide the best combative outfit took a while, especially if I settled to have a massive party. Square Enix has done a lot to perfectly fine-tune the mechanics. It’s brilliant and kept me engaged throughout my session. Regrettably, it does come with the fatal downfall of alienating a whole side of the audience. It's crystal clear that this game targets a particular niche and hits it out of the park. For them.
TACTICS OGRE REBORN IS RECOMMENDED!
Special thanks to the Publisher for the review code used for this coverage.