It's a true testament to the game that 15 years after release, the original Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is still rated as one of the best titles in its genre. In fact it was such a triumph it's featured in Famitsu's Top 20 Games list for 14 years running.
The premise is simple – you are a humble boy on a quest to bring freedom to the nation of Valeria. To achieve this, you control a group of up to 12 warriors and wage battles on 3D isometric playing fields.
Once you've individually manoeuvred your fighters into place you can attack, defend, cast spells or healing buffs... Whatever your soldier is trained to do. It's these intelligent turn-based battles, combined with razor-sharp AI and an emotive plotline, which have helped the game to stand the test of time.
It's easy to forget that Tactics Ogre actually precedes Square Enix's other strategic super title, Final Fantasy Tactics, especially since it was never released outside of Japan. So it's a pleasure to see Square Enix prepare a new PSP version for a worldwide release.
But rather than simply redevelop this nostalgic gem, Square has gone one step further and reunited the entire original dev team – a process that's taken four years to complete. They've even bagged director Yasumi Matsuno, who was last seen working on Platinum Games' MadWorld.
"We originally thought about re-developing Tactics Ogre after Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions was out on PSP," says new director Hiroshi Minagawa. "It took quite a lot of time because everyone was spread out in different companies. I talked to everyone and finally we came together."
According to Minagawa, choosing the right approach to take when it came to updating the game was not an easy task. "In the beginning we focused on what original fans are going to think about," he says.
"But in the middle of the project we started re-thinking things, because if you think about the original themes too much you can't think about what will attract new fans. So we decided to change it and make something everyone will enjoy
"Towards the end, we added more features that'll attract new players. We added the Chariot System and the camera angle on the map. In the original version, you can't change the angle. But now you can, so you can see everything."
Did the team learn anything from when they worked on Tactics Ogre all those years ago? "The original version is so old. Even we ourselves forgot what we actually did," laughs Minagawa.
"Obviously we researched a lot before we started on the remake, checking with all the communities and fansites. A lot of people were talking about what they wanted and what they hoped for the new game – so we took quite a lot of feedback from that."
Of course there have been plenty more contributions to the tactical RPG since 1995, including formidable titles such as Koei's madcap Disgaea series and SEGA's Valkyria Chronicles. Has Minagawa taken any inspiration from these fresh instalments?
"I've played both series and I really like them," he says. "But for Tactics Ogre... Only my team can create this game and the more I played different games, the more confidence I had in thinking, 'This is what I want, and this is the best thing we can do.' So I haven't really taken much from other games, as I want Ogre to be unique."
Make no mistake – Tactics Ogre has not lost its hardcore edge, judging by the abundance of strategic factors you need to consider before making a single move. Factors such as the terrain indicator, which'll determine both melee and ranged accuracy. For instance, if you're trying to fire an arrow at an enemy's head, the success of it landing depends on where your archer is positioned, if it's raining, which way the wind's blowing....
On which note, is an archer the best class to have in your team? What about a magic-casting, sword-wielding Rune Fencer? Or a punchy Beserker? With over 60 character classes to choose from, half of the fun comes from assembling a crack troop that can take advantage of enemy weaknesses. Our favourite is the Necroprentice, who can summon undead nasties to do thy bidding.
Thankfully, XP and Skill Points earned after battle will level up whole character classes rather than individual units. So, should you want to swap your level 28 Cleric for an Astromancer, you won't have to worry about bringing in a weakling.
Given the encyclopaedic amount of battle stats to take in, it's not surprising that it can take a while to clear a single map. But this isn't exactly new. "There is one map that's really difficult in the original version," Minagawa recalls.
"It took some people five hours to complete. A lot of people were saying, 'This is unbelievable, I can't do it, I've wasted five hours...' We got a lot of complaints. But even though they complained about it, they loved it.
"However a lot of people were saying it should be made easier, which is why we introduced the Chariot System – it's sort of like a save file you can jump back to."
And what a godsend this system turns out to be. The Chariot card keeps a record of the last 50 moves made so if you make a fatal mistake, you can dive back to any given point and try again. When you make the jump, it'll be saved in a separate file so you can compare your decisions post-victory.
It's a neat additional feature which Minagawa encourages newcomers to use frequently. "By looking at your path, your decisions, you can learn what you've done wrong and what you'd done right," he explains. "So you can learn how to play better. But if you're an advanced player, don't use the Chariot System at all. Just play through it."
Powering players through such epic battles is Tactic Ogre's wonderfully dramatic and charmingly medieval storyline. It features a morality system, meaning that decisions you make during conversations will change story events and the game's conclusion. This was something FFXIII was criticised for missing, with many gamers preferring the openness of Fallout 3 and Mass Effect's decision-based stories.
Weighing in on this issue Minagawa observes, "Both [original director] Matsano-san and myself have played a lot of Western games, and when we created the original Tactics Ogre and Ogre Battle we were inspired a lot by Amiga games.
"So when we came up with the multiple storyline idea, we were inspired by overseas-developed games. It's kind of funny because this feature seems to go around in circles."
Speaking of funny, Tactics Ogre's rather unusual sub-title is actually borrowed from a old Queen song, Teo Torriatte: Let Us Cling Together. "Matsano-san is a huge Queen fan," explains Minagawa. "When Freddie Mercury died, he was really devastated. So that's where the title came from.
"Actually there are a lot of tiny hints to Queen in the game. Even I don't know them all, only Matsuno-san knows them all. UK fans will probably be able to pick them all up."
It's quirky tidbits like this which represent the finishing touches on what is clearly a lovingly developed game. Despite its vintage Tactics Ogre really isn't looking its age. It should fill those many hours before Disgaea 4 and Valkyria Chronicles III are released later this year.
So can we expect Square Enix to embark on similar projects in the future? "If I have a chance, I'd like to remake Vagrant Story and other games," says Minagawa.
"But when I chose to remake Tactics Ogre it was after FFXII, which was a big project. I wanted to do something on a much smaller scale, and a smaller team, which is why I chose to do this. Probably after this, I'll do something bigger, like an original game. After that, I'll probably change my mind and return to something smaller."
Final Fantasy XV next, then? "I'm not saying anything," laughs Minagawa. Oh well.