SRPG Game 47 – Tactics Ogre (Part 1)

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (タクティクスオウガ) 
Released 10/6/1995, Developed and published by Quest
 

“Turbo File” was a Japan-only accessory for the SFC that allowed you to store save games externally

 

This is the second game in the Ogre Battle franchise, representing Chapter 7 in a theoretical eight chapter story (although the plot has basically no connection to the original game which was Chapter 5). Like the first game and the franchise name as a whole, the title is taken from a Queen song. The game is very different from its predecessor — while it kept the general character classes and the “Chaos Frame” (reputation) idea, the game is a 3/4 view strategy RPG rather than a real time strategy game. Both the story and gameplay are clearly heavy influences on the later Final Fantasy Tactics.

The plot is a huge advance in storytelling for SRPGs; I can see this clearly from having played pretty much everything that came before. Probably the most developed plots before this were Der Langrisser and Super Robot Taisen 4, but neither game really comes close to the complexity of TO’s storyline and characterization. Apparently the designer Matsuno was inspired by the breakup of Yugoslavia and the resulting ethnic conflicts and atrocities. I’m old enough to remember the NATO bombings during Bill Clinton’s presidency. In the TO story, the land of Valeria was united under King Dorgalua, but he died with no clear heir and the kingdom broke up into the former ethnic groups — the Bakram, Galgastan, and Walstan. The main character (Kurisu, the default name is Denim) is Walstan, and at the beginning of the game the Walstani are the weakest of the groups, having been the subject of ethnic cleansing by the Galgastan theocracy, and having these two powerful states around them. Kurisu, his sister, and his friend Vise are members of a resistance force trying to free the Walstani.

Having the main character be in a resistance army is not a new thing; I’ve played several games before that have this. What sets this story apart is the moral ambiguity of all the sides; drawing from real conflicts, Matsuno avoided the usual trope of making the resistance army the band of heroes of the light vs. the dark, evil empires. I’ll put the more spoilery stuff lower in the post if you want to avoid it.

Incidentally, this is the first game I played in Japanese where I actually tried to look everything up and understand it. I played it in 2002 or 2003, although I think I stopped playing in the middle of chapter 2. 

You start with an opening section that’s like Der Langrisser and some other games, where you answer questions to determine the starting stats of your main character. Unfortunately the questions are incomprehensible and give you no indication whatsoever of what kind of character you’re creating or what’s going on. 

The game begins with a few missions that are basically tutorials, where you have a battle mostly with guests and we free Duke Ronway of Walstani. We then become his “young heroes” who will fight to ave the Walstani people. I’m not going to go into great detail on the plot since you can play this in English.

The game is graphically impressive, and apparently the game was delayed as much of a year largely because of how much effort they put into the graphics and especially the sprite animations. Matsuno eschewed the typical anime style of characters and went with a more realistic look.

Of course the victory screen is where the title of my blog comes from — as I said the intro, the phrase perfectly captures what to me is the essence of a SRPG, when you struggle and think your way through a stage to finally beat it and get the Congratulations message.

After that first set of battles, we’re on our own. Kachua (Kurisu’s sister) and Vice are NPCs who you can’t control, and then you have a set of soldiers and valkyries. Just like in Ogre Battle, they need to be levelled up before they can switch to other classes.

The battle system is based on WT — rather than a turn-based system, characters act based on their WT, which is lowered by agility and not having too much equipped. Other games before this have had speed-based turn systems, but this may be the first game where characters act entirely based on their WT and there is no concept of a “turn” where everyone acts. Characters who choose not to move or not to act will act more quickly, and it is possible for one character to take more actions than another. I can’t say for certain that this has not been done before because some games were a little ambiguous, but it could be.

The problem with the system is that they didn’t quite get the balance right. Equipping armor lowers your WT. Everyone can equip any armor, but certain classes benefit more from it because the defense increase is related to a P. RES stat that is based on your class. The problem is that the way they implemented the system means that armor is rarely a good choice for anyone, because the speed, hit, and dodge penalties you get are not worth the defense increase from the armor.

 

The game also has height and facing — Front Mission had height and I think maybe Lady Phantom had facing, but neither system was common at the time this game came out. The other unusual system is that everyone starts a battle with 0 MP and the magic points recover as the time passes. This means that you cannot run healers out of MP or anything like that. Magics are equipped, and the AoE of the magic increases based on your caster’s MEN stat.

Each character also has an element, which affects their stats based on the type of ground they stand on, and also their compatibility with enemies.

Denim can recruit enemies by Persuading them; this is more useful for getting their equipment than actually recruiting them for your team, although it’s the best way to get monsters on your team. The problem is that characters have a Loyalty stat that’s pretty low for enemy persuades, and they might leave your team if things get too bad.

The game has permanent death of units. I have said in my Fire Emblem reviews that I do not like this system. Especially in this game where differences in levels make such a huge difference, it often becomes necessary to train between battles just to keep your levels equal, and sometimes you even have to level up more. The grunts in a mission are all set at the highest level guy you have, but the leaders have fixed levels. There are several battles that pit you against archers that can do enormous damage with 100% chance to hit even from the front, making it hard to survive the battle without doing some outside levelling.

The PSX version allowed in battle saves so I have been using some save states, but even so you can’t just keep reloading until they miss (that would be tedious anyway).

This is my party near the end of chapter 1. The Chapter 1 ending has a big choice — Duke Rowen’s plan is to massacre a town of Walstan to try to raise support for fighting against enemies. Denim gets to choose whether to participate in the massacre or go against Rowen. Regardless of which you pick, Denim does not actually do the massacre himself, Vice becomes your enemy, and Denim gets a bad reputation. I went for the massacre route because the “don’t do it” seems like the obvious choice that a lot of people will take. This puts me on the Law route.

Those are some pretty intense scenes for something that your main character approves of!

I’m currently near the end of chapter 2. My party is basically the same as above. Kurisu is a barbarian, but bows are still much better than anything else. The Archers are the overpowered class of this game (I’m using two). I just lost a fight and will need to equalize everyone’s levels and try again. But I don’t want to get in a cycle of “rush the leader and win the battle, train to equalize levels, repeat” because that’s just not a satisfying way to play a SRPG. But leaving the leaders alive often mean opening yourself up to a unit dying with little notice.

12 thoughts on “SRPG Game 47 – Tactics Ogre (Part 1)

  1. Harvester of Eyes

    Wow, what a coincidence. Great timing! I just finished this game today for the first time and I'm really glad I played it.

    "The problem is that the way they implemented the system means that armor is rarely a good choice for anyone, because the speed, hit, and dodge penalties you get are not worth the defense increase from the armor."

    Totally agree on that mark. I believe the weight system is one of many things this game has which are interesting ideas in theory, but badly executed in practice.

    Permadeath was another thing. I enjoy having permadeath in Fire Emblem games personally; my reasoning is that since those games have a finite amount of units and no options for grinding (typically), the deaths actually MEAN something. In Tactics Ogre though, we effectively have an INFINITE repository of units. So when one of them dies, we can just replace 'em. It doesn't make the game more difficult; it just makes the game more tedious. I don't like it. Although I CAN see a case for permadeath for story units (e.g. Aloser, Sisteena, Kachua) but meh… overall, I don't think this game should've had permadeath.

    I also didn't like how grindy the game was. Wish the game were paced better with fewer filler maps and also enemies that didn't scale as high. Particularly in chapters 1-2, enemies rapidly start outleveling you, forcing you to grind if you want a fighting chance.

    Archers are indeed great from what I saw. Bow Canopus ftw. But the most OP class from what I saw was actually the wizards. Archers run into all sorts of problems with range (stupid terrain obstructing me) whereas wizards can flat out ignore height and have HUGE AoE range to boot. They can double wield staves + equip 2 mind rings for massive int bonuses, whereas physical units don't have any str-boosting accessories.

    I'd be interested in reading little snippets of what happens during the law route. For my playthrough, I went down chaos so idk how any of chapters 2-4 pan out for the other paths. Looking forward to reading the rest of the entries for this one.

    Reply
  2. Kurisu

    OK I will put more story details about Law in the next post.

    That's true that you can replace dead units, although aren't they at level 1? I guess you can always persuade an enemy unit to replace a fallen comrade.

    Reply
  3. Mars

    There's a lot of things (I've only played FFT):

    – Isometric camera (not a deal breaker, but its a huge pain when games use them.)
    – Tiny maps
    – Everyone can be any class, so units are just stat sticks with no identity and there's no reason not to just make everyone the best class.
    – Grinding is free and (seems to be) necessary.
    – The weird speed based turn system.
    – No counterattacks
    – Unskippable cutscenes
    – Permadeath doesn't even matter since everyone is generic.
    – Terrain doesn't seem to be a thing
    – Moving and attacking are separate actions (you can't cancel your move if you want to attack)

    Basically it's the exact opposite of FE which is a huge turn off to me lol. It's also why I really liked Vandal Hearts since it's basically FFT if it was an FE (minus permadeath and no easy to calculate damage, but pretty much nothing besides FE lets you calculate exactly how much damage you will do for some bizarre reason).

    Reply
  4. Kurisu

    Thanks for the response. I believe the TO maps are similar size to FFT. TO does have automatic counterattacks, although I don't always like this system. I personally favor the Super Robot Wars system where you can choose counterattack, dodge, or block. It seems like a wizard or priest or archer should be able to do something else than an ineffective counter attack.

    Terrain does have an effect in TO, but it's not the same as in FE-like games. Everyone has an element, and the terrain types give bonuses or penalties based on the elements.

    TO does show you the damage you will do (within a couple of points).

    I agree that the necessity of grinding in TO is a problem. It's less of a problem in FFT if you know how to build your characters from the start.

    Reply
  5. Mars

    yeah, one thing I really like about SRW games is the ability to choose if you want to counter, so many times in FE someone will die because they keep killing more and more enemies during EP and getting hurt back lol. Though it does slow things down quite a bit having to choose what to do every time.

    Yes it shows you how much damage you will do, but only when you have selected a target. Unless I'm missing something, you can't easily calculate this yourself. My best guess is just Attack x Weapon Power, x2 from behind, and +/- 25 to 50% based on the confusing zodiac, but that doesn't seem to be entirely accurate. With FE it's very simple, just (Str/Mag + Wpn Mt) – enemy Def/Res, with +/- ~1-5 points depending on stuff like terrain, support and weapon triangle.

    Almost every other series seems to have some ridiculously convoluted way of calculating damage that you have no hope of doing yourself (look at the SRW damage formula for example), so it's more of the case of rolling the dice. it just makes absolutely no sense why they make things overly complex for no reason.

    Reply
  6. Kurisu

    Thank you so much for your detailed response, I wish more people would comment and discuss.

    I guess I'm just too lazy to calculate damage on my own; I never do it if the game doesn't automatically do it for me.

    Reply
  7. Mars

    Well, SRPGs are a very niche genre, especially anything that isn't FE or FFT, so it's not surprising that there isn't a lot of activity here.

    Perhaps you should promote the blog a bit more. I found your blog through your posts on the Langrisser forum. Maybe make some posts on the Fire Emblem Reddit or Serenes Forest.

    Reply
  8. Kurisu

    Self promotion is often frowned upon in a lot of forums, especially coming from someone who registers just to post a link to their blog. I did post on the FE reddit back when I started FE1 at the very beginning, and I've posted links a few times on the strategyrpgs subreddit.

    Reply
  9. Harvester of Eyes

    It's tough. The SRPG genre is niche. Blogging is also niche, outside of the 40-something suburban mom demographic, and even then, they mostly like to read about subjects like cooking, crafts, and cats.

    The FE subreddit really isn't good for advertising anything unless it's art. And the SRPG subreddit… idek what to make of it tbh. Like most subreddits, it's an insular bunch of people who all share the same opinions and who pride themselves in all having the same opinions. I quit visiting there because it was a waste of time and the people were generally unfriendly.

    Kurisu is a pretty cool guy though. I hope the blog eventually gains more viewers somehow.

    Reply
  10. Kurisu

    Yeah I agree with both. Even people who like SRPGs don't necessary want to read about old obscure ones from the 1990s, half of which can't be played in English.

    I mostly do this just to have a record of my own plays, but it's always nice if people respond as well.

    This blog has noticeably fewer visits than my other Super Famicom games blog, which is interesting.

    Reply

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