Version tested: PSP
Did Yasumi Matsuno jump or was he pushed? The truth behind the departure of the game designer – whose work includes such heavyweight classics as Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy Tactics – from Square Enix, three quarters of the way through the development of Final Fantasy XII, may never be known.
The company claimed it was due to illness, while insiders pointed to a growing rift between the producer and other executives. Regardless, whether due to infection, disaffection or a non-compete clause in his severance package – and other than having a hand in the script for Platinum Games' MadWorld – it appeared as though Matsuno had left game-making for good.
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a comeback then, but of the cyclical variety. Originally released for the Super Famicom in 1995, this medieval-themed tactical RPG impressed Square CEO Hironobu Sakaguchi enough to headhunt Matsuno from his job at Quest. This was the game that gave Matsuno a shot at the big time – and in this exquisite, loving re-release, this is the game that has given him a second chance.
In Japan, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is seen as a classic every bit as significant as Super Mario World or Sonic the Hedgehog. It routinely tops the best-of-all-time lists, which goes some way to explaining why Square Enix has lavished such care and attention on this PSP remake.
The game has been carefully refitted for the PSP's widescreen, and reworked with depth-of-field effects and new particle-effect animations for spells and special moves. Akihiko Yoshida's character designs, which will be familiar to players of the Final Fantasy Tactics series, are as detailed and expressive as ever, but the weather effects and shimmering menu animations make this a 2D world of beauty as well as intricacy.
At its heart, this is an orthodox tactical RPG in which you take turns with the AI to guide a clutch of soldiers, archers, mages and healers around a gridded map in a chess-like game of dominance. The aim is almost always to overwhelm the opposing team; victory is won either by decimating their ranks or taking out their leader.
While Tactics Ogre was released before Advance Wars and Disgaea introduced their innovations to the genre, its basic interactions in no way limit the strategic game, and it remains one of the most demanding theatres of war for armchair commanders. Careful deployment of your squad is paramount to survival and victory. Place a vulnerable unit just one square too close to danger and the mistake will be punished in the most extreme terms.
Units don't earn experience points as they defeat enemies; rather, your character classes net the rewards for a hard-won battle. Every class represented on the field, from Knight to Cleric to Beast Tamer, earns points in victory, the entire class levelling up as you progress. This means that it's possible to acquire a new character midway through the game, and they will be able to be slotted into your team right from the get-go.
With space for up to 50 characters on your 'bench' but only nine slots in most fights, there are however benefits to investing in specific units. At the end of each successful battle the units present earn Skill points used to buy and equip new abilities and buffs specific to them. There are scores of these skills, which range from merely improving a character's proficiency with a certain type of weapon to increasing the chance of landing a counter-attack, with more becoming available as you increase the level of the associated class. In this way you begin to carefully tailor your squadron to your tastes.