|Release: February 15, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p|
Let's say you have a warrior whom you eventually want to be able to use special one-handed sword-related actions on the battlefield. In order to accomplish this, you would have to learn the "one-handed sword" skill and equip it. Though you can still use weapons without their accompanying skill equipped, you don't gain the weapon experience needed in order to progress your skill level and gain new battle actions without it. If you want to make your warrior counter-attack, that requires learning and equipping the counter-attack skill. Going back to the wizard example, any mage entering battle without the various prerequisite elemental magic equipped won't be able to cast anything. (Units also have to individually gain the ability to cast new spells from consumable grimoires, a la Vagrant Story.)
The kicker is that the game only allots any given character ten slots for both primary and secondary skills. Unlike Final Fantasy Tactics, which allowed you to max out as many job classes as you wanted, Tactics Ogre more or less forces you to choose the job classes you want to use. The upside is that the larger battles here can include a party of up to twelve members—and stick with them. Since the design does not reward switching job or weapon classes, this makes maintaining a good balance of magic, melee, and range-based combatants vital to survival. You may find yourself winning some battles with ease, as the design here has a built-in system of strengths and weaknesses between classes. However, if you're expecting to steamroll your way through the competition in the same way it was possible to do with Final Fantasy Tactics, you may have some problems.
Still, if you did enjoy Final Fantasy Tactic's gameplay, you'll feel right at home here. Battles are presented in the same isometric style, and though it's a bit disappointing that maps are not fully rotatable, the option to switch to a top-down view can be invaluable in close quarters. Fate over your own actions—governed by a spin of "the Wheel" as characters in the game refer to it—is also present even in battle: thanks to the game's "Chariot of Fate" system, you can rewind the flow of time up to fifty moves in order to change the outcome of a battle without penalty. Best of all, this feature is completely optional, and even if you do choose to use it, you can expect a significant challenge. Understandably, Tactics Ogre is not for the faint of heart when it comes to the genre.
When held up to Final Fantasy Tactics, the number of similarities between Ivalice's debut outing and Tactics Ogre are fairly staggering. That's probably because Matsuno created the world of Tactics Ogre before he envisioned the world that would eventually provide the setting for Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and Final Fantasy XII. The few degrees of separation that do exist in Tactics Ogre, however, do set it apart in some ways. Despite the size of Ivalice's overall mythology, Tactics Ogre's narrative is more ambitious, and in some ways perhaps more robust, given the variation of events and the overall moral ambiguity. You can also go back and play through the entire timeline after you finish the game, changing the outcome of various situations and then bearing witness to their consequences. For these reasons—and I say this despite the Final Fantasy Tactics remake War of the Lions being one of my favorite games ever—Tactics Ogre may even be superior to its Final Fantasy-branded counterpart. However, if you're a fan of any Matsuno game, you'll be in heaven here. From its open-ended gameplay and deep strategy to what may be Square's best quasi-Shakespearean translation to date (not to mention the gorgeous artwork and music of Matsuno regulars Akihiko Yoshida and Hitoshi Sakimoto), there's very little not to like here. Tactics Ogre may be the last great PSP game, but if so, I can't think of a better way to bow out.
CCC Freelance Writer