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Let us Cling Together? That’s a really horrid caption, immediately conjuring up the kind of broken, half-formed Engrish sentiment that Square Enix should be doing its very best to try and get away from in 2011. It just doesn’t sound… right.
But the offending subtitle is actually yanked from an old Queen song, fact fans, and this PSP redux of the 1995 original is far more concerned with preserving the sanctity of a bona fide Japanese classic than attempting to ensnare a modern market.
At its core is a typically Japanese rendition of a Western Medieval fantasy – all green fields, horses, and suits of armour – neatly blended with a turn-based gameplay engine that would go on to kickstart an entire genre.
Every character on the grid – both friend and foe – takes their individual actions in turn, which can include movement and either a physical attack, magical spell or perishable item. Up to nine characters (from a maximum roster of 50) can be on the field, but these class-based templates are made altogether more individual and complex from being able to wield two weapons and a wide range of magic abilities.
What’s particularly important, however, is the slight change to levelling from the original. Alongside unit-specific skill points, the game levels up your character classes across the board, meaning a newfound Soldier, Ninja or Wizard can slot right into your party without grinding through a lifetime of battles first. This neatly allows you to experiment with party layouts as you slowly preen your very own cast-iron squadron, though you’ll likely stick with a few solid stalwarts for much of the game.
Individual characters can also swap classes, but only by consuming a class mark of their intended switch. These aren’t particularly hard to find – they drop from fallen enemies of the corresponding class – but you’ll likely focus on keeping characters in prescribed roles rather than refresh your units every few hours. Tarot cards are also in vogue, spawning in the grid and bestowing permanent (though minor) stat boosts to whichever character picks them up.
The devil is in the details, but those are your basics: getting into the nitty gritty of element types and the importance of positioning would turn this review into a tome hefty enough to make J.K. Rowling’s eyes water. It’s certainly a lot to take in, but the game explains itself well and even provides an AI helper for burgeoning adventurers. Be warned, however, that the AI has no concept of item value and will happily gobble through even your most valuable treasures. It’s best to learn to take full control of your team as soon as possible.
Frustrations are inevitable from a game where battles can take well over fifteen minutes a pop, and one where a single misplaced unit can completely unravel your strategy, but the addition of making it possible to rewind up to 50 turns in the PSP version lets you nip those fatal mistakes in the bud without too much grief. The game also buckets its rewound universe into its own mini-timeline, allowing you to compare and contrast between your differing battles.
But alongside an impressively robust and complex battle system, the game also features a competent branching narrative. Much of the game’s original development team were snapped up by Square and put to work on Final Fantasy Tactics, a far more well-known title in the West, but the game’s overarching plot paves the way for Valeria’s hotbed of political and racial tensions, the very same machinations that would later become cornerstones of Ivalice, the gorgeous, delicate home of various other Square Enix games and the one that remains, to date, by far the most beautiful and defined world the company has produced.
Those unprepared to invest a little in the toil of grinding should steer clear, however, as a large chunk of the game revolves around replaying certain areas. Even the storyline, which splits at certain points depending on choices you make, is done to promote the idea of playing the game multiple times.
It’s also worth pointing out that the PSP conversion has been handled with precision and care, deftly modified to fit the device’s widescreen resolution and with sparkly new particle effects to boot. Clumsy loading screens and inelegant slowdowns are also nowhere to be seen, thankfully.
This is a game designed for the purist, and this PSP version of Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together is a charming restoration of the classic game. Connoisseurs of the grid will derive much enjoyment looking at a competent snapshot of the past while bridging the gap to the forward-thinking Disgaea 4 later in the year.