The amount of content in Tactics Ogre on the PSP is staggering, and being another tactical offering from Yasumi Matsuno, there was never any doubt that it would be good. There’s a number of wonderful characters, and the ability to unify this cast into one great army by time-travelling in postgame is profoundly cool. The game is even more ambitious than Final Fantasy Tactics, although often not as balanced or fun, and much of the late optional content requires a soul-crushing grind.
In gameplay, I particularly liked the Rampart Auras and fragility of mages, who really had to be protected from even a single hit. The portrait art, presumably completely new to the PSP version, was gorgeous, even if the sprite art often wasn’t, even for main characters.
The bulk of the main campaign is pretty fantastic, and most of my issues were with design elements that could have been given more attention to make the game user-friendly. Otherwise, I was only disappointed by a few cases of inconsistency. For example, I travelled back in time to see what would happen if I hadn’t made a choice that caused a character to oppose me, and found out that they disagreed with my new choice.
It would be simple enough to keep the review short, but I think it would be more interesting to look at the numerous design issues and suggest what might have been done to make the game much better.
- First, explain things better. Things should be more self-contained, self-explanatory. How do you know that you need 30 glass pumpkins to get the Wicce class? By asking the wiki class. Never mind, there is no wiki class, so you’ll have to turn to Google for your recondite nonsense. A few secrets aren’t so bad, you might say, but what about basic operations? How do you know what magic you learn from Griomoire Oeildaigle? You don’t. Well, it teaches Ballistics. What does Ballistics do? Well, if you wait an eternity for the help text to scroll across the screen, you’ll find that it casts Trueflight on one target. How do you know what Trueflight does? Well, you might be able to figure that one out on your own, but others are more confusing. What does the Withered effect do? What’s the difference between Touched and Attuned? Which stat will be raised when you pick up the Temperance card? In the Japanese version, it was likely that the slowly-scrolling text help wasn’t as annoying, because the messages were shorter in kanji. But even if you’re patient, that text will only tell you a small subset of things.
- Limit the grind. The aforementioned glass pumpkins? They take an eternity to get. Some slow-paced things are fine, and I’m okay with needing to get hit half a million times to get the Parry skill up. But when the cast is as large as it is, to have any hope of using more than the same small few of them all the time, it’s asking too much of the player to train up a late-game character from Lv.1 before using them, especially when the enemies won’t show them any mercy and the max-level party members still get an even share of the experience. You even have to buy them 6 empty skill slots before you can start buying skills. It’s insulting.
- Crafting also draws things out painfully. It takes forever to craft something, maybe thirty seconds, because of the animations and the unwarranted dialogue. You need to craft thousands of things for the best items. I should be able to tap A once on a list and get two bars of wootz steel. Let me hold down the button until I have a hundred of them! And get rid of the random chance of failure, because everyone just reloads when crafting fails anyway, making the whole thing take even longer. The game is slower than it needs to be all over the place. When grinding, every little banner that pops up for five seconds at the start of a fight to say “Vanquish the enemy!” or “To battle!” just makes things that much more excruciating.
- Damage seems to need to cross some threshold to do anything at all, and in most fights, my characters could either do 1 damage to a foe, or they’d take off more than 40 HP in a hit. It got to the point that whenever a Rune Fencer or Ninja came at me, I would think, “Oh, he’ll only hit me for 1 HP, I can breathe easy.” A Dragoon could hit for 1 HP, or use a power-up skill and suddenly deal 300. This is far too high of an imbalance.
- The level and class system doesn’t work very well. First, I’d recommend getting rid of the shared class levels. Canopus doesn’t have to be a Level 30 Terror Knight just because Denam is. In Final Fantasy Tactics, you received bonus JP when witnessing someone of the same class gain JP. That was much more elegant. Next, get rid of character level entirely, so character stats would drop all the way back down to what they were at Lv.1 when they switch classes. Make them gain class levels faster and reduce the overall importance of level, so it’s more about mixing and matching abilities by training in as many classes as possible, and unlocking cooler skills from better classes later in the game. Instead of worrying about stat growth, chose your ultimate plans for each character based on inherent dispositions in their base stats which aren’t influenced by the jobs they’ve held. These dispositions should be intensified at higher levels, rather than getting smoothed out.
- Make most class abilities usable in all other classes. If the locking down of these abilities was meant to keep each class balanced, they failed, because the classes aren’t balanced as they are. If I buy Swiftfoot II, I should get to use it. These sorts of abilities should ideally serve as the difference between a character at Lv.1 at the start of the game, and a character at Lv.1 who has already maxed out three other classes.
- Some of the totally worthless activated abilities would have been great as passives. Who wants to eat up RT and TP just to increase katana strength by 25% for one attack? Skills could at least be passive in their native class, and require activation and a TP cost when ported into another. This would help a character’s primary class remain important.
- Customizable or smarter menus, so ranged characters don’t have “Melee Attack” at the top of their command list.
- Don’t zoom in at the start of battle. It makes the already somewhat gaudy-looking sprites blurry as well, and is less useful to look at.
- It’s often unintuitive where ranged attacks will land. Trajectory should always be active without taking up a skill slot. Similarly, sometimes someone is just barely in the way, and it would be nice if they were just nicked in the arm, or slightly grazed by a fireball, instead of taking the entire hit.
- Activating a counterattack should be based on the actual distance, not the type of ability. Being attacked by a ranged weapon from one square away should provoke a counterattack. There’s also no reason I shouldn’t be able to just shoot the unit directly in front of me if I can still hit him by aiming at a spot ten squares behind him.
- There are too many magic skill abilities. (Please eliminate three! P.S. I am not a crackpot.) I feel like it would be better to combine Air, Earth, Lightning, Water, Fire, and Ice into one Elemental skill, and to do other things to encourage specialization, like equipping augmentation passives. Even after merging those skills into one category, there are still separate skills for Divine, Dark, Necromancy, and Draconic magic to obtain later in the game. I guess it does give you a reason to keep ten unique mages in the party, but it seems a little absurd.
- Increase the party roster size to a maximum of 100 or so. There’s not enough for all the story characters plus a little menagerie of beasts, and I should be allowed to keep some custom characters as well.
- You should be able to rename non-uniques and get more use out of them. Their stats shouldn’t be worse than the main characters either, since the heroes will invariably get personalized classes anyway. They don’t need better stats on top of that.
- No missable items. It’s a real bummer when you can time-travel and still not even end up with 100% completion.
- The titles, which are like achievements, are impossible to collect all of, as if they were put there just to mess with people. Beat the whole game without any units getting knocked unconscious? Not dead, but unconscious? Ridiculous. I think it would be cool not just if some titles were taken out, but if players could set an “active” title that would provide some slight gameplay bonus, like “Using meditate won’t delay your next turn.” If these titles could all be obtained by use of the time-travel system, or otherwise saved globally for follow-up playthroughs, it could make for some interesting challenges that might actually pay off.
This is a game well worth getting if you’ve got a PSP, but I gave up on completing the postgame dungeons, and I’ve historically been proven willing to do some wretchedly tedious things in games. If it could one day be enhanced further, particularly in fixing the class balance and the grind, Let Us Cling Together would be a legendary title.