TacticsOgre: Reborn manages both to be timeless and dated

There’s no doubting the historical importance of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling together. It’s a keystone game — perhaps The keystone game — in a particular And demanding genre, the tactical role-playing game. It’s also the cornerstone of a remarkable, yet sadly not fully realized, career: that of its writer-director, Yasumi Matsuno, who went on to make cult classics Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story Before you start to flame out midway through the tortured process of Final Fantasy 12He appears to have never fully recovered from a personal or professional setback.

In Reborn: Tactics Ogre, this 1995 game — which often ranks highly in polls of the best games of all time in Japan — receives its second major overhaul. Reborn is, nominally, an updated port of 2010’s PlayStation Portable remake (this time for PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, and Nintendo Switch). However, it also makes meticulous and thorough revisions to that one. It tweaks essential design elements and adds features. The interface is also updated and restored. It says a lot about the game’s revered status that it has received more loving care from Square Enix — which bought Tactics Ogre’s publisher Quest in 2002, after hiring Matsuno away from them in ’95 — than Final Fantasy Tactics, a game in Square’s flagship franchise, whose PSP and mobile versions aren’t nearly as well made.

New players should be encouraged to apply Tactics Ogre Be cautious. (I’m one; I knew the game well by reputation, but had never played it before I started this review.) Despite the many thoughtful revisions and quality-of-life improvements, this is still a daunting game that’s slow to reveal itself. It’s a classic in a highly specialized genre, but it can feel dated and rigid. It is often a chore to play.

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There’s both a simple reason for this, and a less straightforward one. The simple reason has to do with the party size. This is a turn based tactical game in which you move characters along a gridded map to play fantasy combat with an AI-controlled enemy force. A typical party size for an encounter is between 8 and 12 units. Turns take a long time to execute; the opening movement round, when engaging the enemy is usually impossible and you’re simply moving each unit into striking distance, feels interminable. Complete battles often take upward of half an hour, and foregone conclusions (which, to be fair, aren’t too common — this is a well-balanced game) are excruciating.

Furthermore, the number of units makes it hard to keep the status of your forces, and overall shape of the battlefield, in your mind’s eye. Though it’s hardly grand strategy, it’s not an easy game to parse, and fights can feel scrappy and piecemeal. It’s notable that Final Fantasy TacticsThe Square’s veteran Square designer Hiroyuki Ito teamed up with Matsuno to reduce the number of units. This resulted in a lot of attention.

To be fair Reborn Many tweaks have been made to make things easier and faster. You can assign AI to take over party members’ actions; there’s a turn-speed button; the skill and spell systems have been redesigned to provide access to better skills earlier in the game; random encounters have been removed from the world map (and replaced with optional training battles if you feel the need to grind), and so on. Yet despite all this — and despite the 3D map design, which uses verticality to create some interesting spatial challenges — the game struggles to stage the sort of clean, intricate logic puzzles that represent the tactics genre at its best.

A party menu screen from Tactics Ogre Reborn, with a character portrait, attributes, skills and inventory listings

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Tactics Ogre Its design clearly traces back to the days of old Advance Wars — a game in a parallel but very closely related genre — had done so much to clarify the rock-paper-scissors balance and problem-solving joy of tactical combat. These days, indie games like Breach into the Breach Or Invisible, Inc. Find ways to present complex strategic challenges faster than you thought possible Tactics Ogre You can manage, but paradoxically you are more overwhelmed. But perhaps this isn’t just about age. Perhaps Tactics Ogre is also, by its nature, less of a tactics game and more of an RPG — and what I like to call a backroom RPG at that.

Backroom RPGs are games where the action is not in combat but deep within the party menus. (Final Fantasy 12One of the best examples is, which has a Gambit programming system and a game-like License Board. In this regard, Tactics Ogre is a theorycrafter’s dream, with enormous customizability and depth, which Reborn It does not intend to streamline. It even removes the class-wide leveling in the PSP version so that individual unit leveling can be resumed. It is possible to recruit party members from anywhere, and they can also be reassigned. This is crucial in battle. Each character is given skills, spells and equipment. It is possible to craft or combine more powerful equipment to increase stats.

There’s a vast amount of inventory and unit management to be done here as you develop and refine your favored squad — as well as satisfaction to be had when that squad works effectively in battle. This will be heaven for a certain type of player. I’ve been known to love that kind of thing myself. But in Tactics OgreIt’s almost as if all the menu work is distracting from a battle system that is already struggling to focus on strategic issues. The combat is inevitably the centerpiece of a game like this, and if it doesn’t sing, all that work in support of it can feel like wasted effort.

An isometric view of a medieval town in Tactics Ogre Reborn. A woman is saying ‘Help... Please, help us!’

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But there’s a whole other grand design at work in Tactics Ogre One that has stood the test of time and will pay back your investment. It’s the story. Matsuno is an arguably even more talented and influential writer than the designer. Despite their fantasy settings, his games tend to be grounded, humanist works that lay out intricate maps of political intrigue — which, loaded with filigree naming and fanciful jargon, can seem dry and hard to follow at first. They are personal, honest, and connect with the real-world. Tactics Ogre It is the same.

Matsuno has said that the game’s devastating branching storyline was inspired by the early-’90s wars in Yugoslavia as that country broke apart in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Tactics Ogre Imagine The Valerian Isles, an archipelago marred by ethnic strife and class conflict between its three main constituencies: The Bakram and the Galgastani and The Walister. After the death of a unifying monarch, civil war has erupted. During a period of uneasy calm, we join a group oppressed Walister revolutionaries under Denam Pavel, Catiua, as well as Vyce, our childhood friend. They’re soon joined by a team of friendly mercenaries as the resistance leader, Duke Ronwey, leads them deeper into a conflict of shifting factions, complex allegiances, and dirty tricks.

This is a branching storyline where the choices — judged on a scale of lawful to chaotic, rather than good to evil — can be agonizing in their moral ambiguity, and the outcomes can be painfully bleak. Denam’s willingness to follow the Duke, and his level of commitment to the Walister cause, are sorely tested. This is a look at the moral and political difficulties of war. Reborn is pretty sophisticated, and Matsuno’s refusal to describe it in black-and-white terms makes the branching outcomes illuminating rather than reductive. The World Tarot feature allows you to explore all branches in parallel realities without losing your progress. (There’s a similar rewind function in battle that allows you to redo your choices and switch between different tactical outcomes without overwriting them — a brilliant feature.)

There’s genius and sincerity at work here. Deepen your understanding. Tactics Ogre and the intrigue of its subtitle Let us cling togetherThis sounds a lot more serious and urgent than it used to. How deep you will get into the game depends on your appetite for micromanagement and your patience with gameplay systems that, 27 years later, are starting to creak, despite all the judicious tinkering that’s been done to them. Reborn: Tactics Ogre is a welcome, polished, and thoughtful update to a game that defined a genre — a genre that has now left it behind.

Reborn: Tactics Ogre The game will be available on November 11 for Windows PC, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. Square Enix provided a pre-release code for the game. The Switch review was conducted using this code. Vox Media has affiliate relationships. These partnerships do NOT influence editorial content. Vox Media can earn commissions for products bought via affiliate links. You can find out additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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