Unpopular Opinions and Tactics Ogre: Reborn

I was looking forward to this game. It was one of my most anticipated games of last year, and it dropped within a month of Persona 5. I thought for sure that the two games combined were just going to eat away my time, making me want nothing more than to keep playing them, to delve into these masterpiece games that had passed me by due to console qualifications or other issues.

See, I did play Tactics Ogre on the original Playstation back in the day. I distinctly remember renting it, thinking it would be like Final Fantasy Tactics (a game still used as a touch point for how to make tactical RPGs), and playing through the first few maps. I got burnt out after that, though I can’t remember what it was that held me back. Now, years later, the game has seen a rerelease onto modern consoles, with a few modern updates to help players enter into the game.

The game looks pretty good. The sprites are chunky in a way that a lot of these older games are, and in a way that feels charming. The portraits look pretty fleshed out and artistic, even if they do have that sort of fae look that comes with a lot of JRPG artwork, particularly from Square-Enix.

There’s also added voice acting to a lot of the scenes. This feels a bit more mixed to me; some people sound pretty good (like main character Denam). Others sound a bit… off. Catiua, seen above, is the main character’s sister and a huge character in the narrative. I’m pretty sure my experience DMing for Dungeons and Dragons would leave me able to produce a better voice than hers, and I’m assuming that’s a professional voice actress.

And the plot is absolutely amazing; it’s easy to see why that sticks with players for years. Denam is caught in this intense political fight between his own people, a ruling class, and outside forces. He’s asked to make weighty decisions that could impact not only his own future, but the future of his continent.

Not every decision is going to impact the entire world; the one above just changes some dialogue, for example. But some will shape Denam’s character, and will severely impact the direction of the plot. These are almost always the culmination of several scenes and decisions that Denam (the player) has made, and it usually feels organic. This made me thoroughly invest in my version of Denam, who believed in fighting to make the right cause and treat others well, while bucking laws and traditions to do so (basically I made him Chaotic Good).

This all probably reads like praise, which will probably have my readers curious, given the title. If the graphics are decent, the voice acting alright, and the plot absolutely stellar, then what’s so bad about this game? I’ve often said that plot, for me, is the most important aspect of a game, or at least up there with characters (good characters can trump a mediocre plot for me). So why don’t I like this game? Why have I not finished it, despite owning it for several months? Why did I put off a review of this instead of releasing it right around Persona 5, seeing as they both had similar release dates?

Because the progression in Tactics Ogre: Reborn is bad.

I would actually argue it’s bad in general, not just from my subjective stance. But let me try to break this down for you.

Most games, particularly RPGs, feature character progression. As you move through the game, new abilities and strengths are unlocked that make you feel stronger and more capable than when you began. Sometimes this is as dramatic as, say, being able to double-jump and traverse areas that used to cause you problems with ease (like in most good metroidvanias). Othertimes it’s as simple as your numbers going up.

Games manage this in various ways. Sometimes abilities are locked behind bosses or chest or something along those lines. In RPGs, you’ll often gain experience from winning against various foes. This goes toward leveling you up, which represents your character’s overall power and experience. RPGs also generally include equipment, which expands and becomes more powerful as you progress through the game. There’s sometimes abilities as well, often done through a separate path.

This is basic stuff, something that likely even those of you who don’t regularly play games like this understand. The game rewards the player for their effort, and the player should be getting better at the game. The further in you go, the more you can handle, as you’ve got experience playing the game. This is pretty much how every game functions, and is essentially the basics of game design.

Somehow the creators of Tactics Ogre missed that.

Part of this comes from an element I actually like: a level cap. At various points throughout the game, a “party level” is set for your group. No one character in the party can exceed that party level, and experience they earn is dumped into jewels which you can use later. The idea is not to overlevel a character so they become the one you rely on for tougher maps (something I’ve done a few times), and to balance the level of the game. It’s not a bad idea; it’s just poorly implemented.

If you have a max level, then it should be something that you could probably hit if you were grinding. It should be a signal that you’re grinding too much and that you won’t want to get overpowered. It shouldn’t be an unnecessary cap on the players to arbitrarily create difficulty, yet that’s what Tactics Ogre: Reborn does with it. I went upwards of four to five maps with my entire party at that max level.

I wasn’t grinding. I wasn’t spending hours min-maxing my characters to make them as powerful as I could. I was just playing the game, yet Tactics Ogre: Reborn punished me for this. It set an arbitrary cap and stopped me earning rewards for playing through the game. It’s more of that anti-player game design that I hated so much in games like Carrion, where it feels like the game designers weren’t thinking about the player when they made it.

If that were it, I could probably deal with it. that’s just one element. But instead there are two more caps to growth and development.

First is the equipment. Like most RPGs of its ilk, this game has shops and hidden items. You can actually go in and upgrade items, though they only go as far as +1 equipment. In a game with a level cap, you’d think that they’d instead have you rely on items and equipment. However, this just isn’t the case.

I put on a pretty good staff and a slightly above average robe for my wizard. He did alright, and it makes sense that physical attacks would mess him up. However, 20+ hours of gameplay later, that character is still wearing that equipment. Again, this isn’t because I’m trying to challenge myself, but because the game simply wasn’t giving me new options.

That leaves the third option for progression: abilities. Tactics Ogre: Reborn uses a class system, with different classes filling different roles. Knights are your front liners, able to wear heavy armor and wield basic restorative magic. Wizards stand in back and chuck spells. Archers use bows. There’s nothing here that’s too outrageous; the most original idea is probably the beast master, who can tame wild monsters to join your party (I never got one as monsters only interest me in monster focused games like Pokemon or Shin Megami Tensei).

These different classes should have different abilities, tied to different growth trees. They should expand and grow as you progress, possibly unlocking more powerful versions of these same classes. A cleric becomes a bishop; a knight, a paladin; a wizard, an archmage, and so on. They should be learning abilities, usually based on something like AP or even level.

Yeah, that doesn’t happen here.

The most obvious one is spells. This game opts to have those be something you either need to buy or find as items after a battle. They’re all tied to various elements, and if you cast the element that matches your character type, it gets a boost. If you hit the opposite element, it does more damage. There are two types here: a sort of long distance missile and a more indirect cross-shaped burst.

That’s it.

I’m not lying. There’s essentially two offensive spells per element: a launched missile and a multi-hitting square. Oh sure, you can imbue people with various elements to do more damage. There’s also a whopping two levels to each spell (possibly more; I gave up at the 50 hour mark).

Non-casters have it even worse. Archers pick up about one to two special shots, for example. Some have even less than that. There are these special attacks that essentially function like limit breaks, and they’re tied to weapons, which do level up by use.

But this is just frustrating. My level is needlessly capped for multiple battles; I can’t buy or earn new equipment in battle; and I’m using the same spells I’ve been using the entire game. I want to see where the story leads, but the battles get oppressively repetitive. Strategy Role Playing games already suffer repetitive battles as it is. It’s all enemies on a grid, with a few different elements to keep track of. But in this game, it’s just a slog.

It doesn’t help that every single character is a damage sponge. My party has at current 800+ HP. A strong attack will do 200-300 damage. That doesn’t seem too bad, but enemies can heal, and you’re essentially committing multiple characters to taking down an enemy. Mix that with the lack of variation in enemies (who fortunately operate under the same abilities and classes as you), and the game is just this tiresome slog to get through.

This is inexcusable, and it would have been at the time too. Final Fantasy Tactics is a contemporary of this game, and it had multiple classes, constant upgrades via abilities, new classes that were upgrades or different from the old, a rotation of equipment, etc. This wasn’t something new and revelatory for the time, and it goes doubly for a game releasing in 2022!

Put simply, I expect more from the budget titles I buy from the store. The Mercenaries series, from which I reviewed a few games at the start of this blog, are blatant copycats of Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics, but they do a better job of progression and rewarding player effort than this.

The story is amazing, yes. I can see why that lasts. But it would have to be so much more gripping for me to up with one of the absolute worst progression systems I’ve ever seen in my gaming life. Games have moved past this sort of thing, and they’ve left Tactics Ogre: Reborn behind.

4 An excellent plot and decent graphics do not make up for a slog of a game, bogged by spongy characters and poor progression


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