Tactics Ogre: Reborn Hands-on Preview – Tantalising tactics

Posted on October 22, 2022

We’re certainly in the renaissance of the Tactics genre these days. Whether it’s a universe-mashing adventure for Nintendo’s Mario, to a refined and clever new IP in Triangle Strategy, we’ve plenty to get our hands on. However, what has been lacking a little is the classic tactics titles. That is soon to change with Tactics Ogre: Reborn, a remastering of 2010’s PSP title Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. Now, we have what is undeniably a genre staple on modern platforms. We got the chance to check out the opening chapter and walking away left us tantalised for more.

Tactics Ogre: Reborn kicks off following a trio in the young Denam, his sister Catiua and best friend Vyce. Following disastrous events that happen offscreen and having lost all but each other, they’ve no option but to escape, embarking on a journey. That journey sees them forming a knighthood Batallion, working throughout the lands of the Valerian Isles. Alliances and bitter, dangerous rivalries will be made along the way as the group gets swept up in the middle of a great conflict. Naturally, historical and fantasy politics await.

I’ve got only the first taste of this as the preview experience covers the opening chapter. Though in there already I’ve had meetings with Lords in regal cities, witnessing the stranglehold they hold on but some of the Isles. I’ve seen heartbreaking backstories about why some feel urged to join the big fight, and why others want no part of it. Engaging and intriguing dynamics have sprouted as Denam is but one of those feeling getting wrapped up in this political intrigue and bloody war is their duty. Meanwhile, Catiua doesn’t wish for this, wanting only his safety. Opposing this is Vyce, a spanner in the works wanting to join the frontlines with Denam and accusing Catiua of coddling her brother.

All of these small tidbits of tension are backed up by stellar, raw writing. The chapter names alone are poignant. Chapter One is labelled “There is blood on my hands, how long til it lies on my heart?” This is but the start of impactful writing I’ve already found throughout. Throw in the measure that this adventure is fully voice-acted this time around (while admittedly still having some hokiness) and it hits even more. One of the lingering tensions reaches a boiling point by the end of the chapter and I won’t spoil it here, but it left me excited for what’s ahead.

This aforementioned modern mid-renaissance tactics period is admittedly where I’m most knowledgeable when it comes to the genre. Considering that, some of Tactics Ogre: Reborn was a challenging but entirely welcome adjustment. So far, my experience has been focusing far less on positionals and getting off those area-of-effect attacks (something I’ve seen little of in-game) and more constant changing of methods to win battles. A majority of the fights you’re thrust into require you to either eliminate the entire enemy force or at the very least their one key figure.

With how formidable just a single enemy can be, I initially had more or less all of my team attacking a foe at the same time. This is a bit of a monkey’s paw and ended up muddying my understanding and reading of the field. I’d often incidentally damage teammates instead of targets — a happenstance that can be often when all are bunched up.  Tactics Ogre: Reborn expects this and offers ‘Chariot Tarot,’ a system that lets you rewind turns. It’s also where I learned to play smarter, still largely taking enemies down one by one but remembering to cycle placement around an opponent so everyone is each getting their turn, moving in, out and around attacks. While this seems obvious and a given, I will say the environment and battlefields don’t suggest as much.

Environments don’t necessarily foster different channels of approach. There are no twisting and turning channels and paths found so far, just mainly open plains or one small choke point you must break through to reach the more broad spots. Not a downside by any means, and likely just a symptom of early tactics greatness that is more minimalistic in nature. This honestly was a good and humbling refresh and dial-back for me, further seeing and understanding Tactics Ogre as more of a historic genre piece before anything else.

I’ve also seen the start of what looks to be a deep party and skill system. An enhanced UI and menu system makes for smoother navigation and speccing of a member. Across your journey, you’ll gradually get more and more companions to add under your belt and it’s clear you’ll want to diversify to make sure you cover each form of combat. Archers, mages, warriors and the like. That being said, with how much you can work and rework characters, you’ll also want your MVP. So far I found this to be Canopus, a spunky red-head with equipped wings that let him cover large ground. I equipped him with a heavy axe, bow and some magic spells and he was almost untouchable.

Throughout battles, there’s more flavour text in dialogue mid-fight. As particle effects see sparks flying about, and iron swords clashing between blows, characters will take the time to chat and yell at each other across the battlefield via visual novel-style text boxes. Hard-hitting lines also land well here, highlighting the passion and anger that comes with battle, but other instances are more charming and light, seeing teammates quip at and egg each other on. One particular highlight was Canopus giving Vyce a hard time, encouraging him to do better as he upstages him. It’s a nice, welcome touch to enchant yourself with the cast that little bit more.

Tactics Ogre: Reborn already has floaty fantastical music on offer during cutscenes and tense high, sharp string instrumental pieces during battle. If this theme continues, it’s another excellent tonal adventure under Square Enix’s belt. The art for the character portraits is incredibly striking, doing well in distinguishing characters and adding flair along the way. Enter discussion for the game online, and you’ll see concerns that the up-scaling of the graphics has lessened some of the detailing work on characters in the overworld or environment. I can see those concerns already, but they’re unlikely to ruin the experience.

Following six hours and its first chapter, I’ve already had a great taste of what’s to come with Tactics Ogre: Reborn. It seems I’ll soon have quite the journey ahead of me, delightfully overflowing with political intrigue, tense battles and great dialogue. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.

Tactics Ogre: Reborn is releasing November 11 on PlayStation 4 & 5, PC and Nintendo Switch. Tactics fans will want to check this one out.