There's a particular battle in the first chapter of Tactics Ogre: Reborn that I've been banging my head against all week. It's an uphill fort siege where you're facing off against an evil necromancer who's shooting down powerful, magical fireballs at you from above, alongside his never-ending army of undead skelly archers. The challenging terrain alone would be a test of anyone's mettle in this tough, turn-based strategy game, especially when trying to parse all the different heights of its grid-based map. But having every enemy unit resurrect themselves after three turns unless you exorcise them with a single-use item or the lone Priest you've just recruited (who you may or may not have neglected to bring into battle with you) on top of all that? That smacks of the kind of late-game tomfoolery that more modern games of this ilk would normally save until their final acts.
Tactics Ogre: Reborn, on the other hand, likes to make its players sweat early. It was, after all, forged in the fires of the mid-90s SNES era, and looking back at old GameFAQ guides from 2010 (when it was remade for the PSP), it's clear this fight was just as much of a roadblock back in the day as it is now. Think of it as what yer lad Genichiro was to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - a hard, and often gruelling endurance test of everything you'd learned so far, but one that would ultimately set you up for the rest of the game upon claiming victory. I'm still not quite there yet, but having spent six hours noodling around the rest of Reborn's opening chapter, this granddaddy of Japanese strategy RPGs sure does hold up in the cold light of 2022.
Out on November 11th, Tactics Ogre: Reborn will be the second tactics RPG coming to PC from Square Enix in as many months, following hot on the heels of the PC port of former Switch exclusive, Triangle Strategy. Given the close proximity of their respective releases, Tactics Ogre has definitely drawn the short straw when it comes to presentation here, as its blown-up pixel art simply can't compete with Triangle Strategy's crisp, HD-2D visuals and modern lighting effects.
It's nowhere near as offensive as some of the upscaling seen in Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, thank goodness, but many of its character sprites did look quite soft around the edges playing on my 4K monitor. Thankfully, the text, character portraits and battle UI were a lot more legible, but when you can see each individual pixel of its detailed backdrops, you can't help but feel the game's age a bit. It's a shame, particularly when other SNES contemporaries have been given the HD-2D treatment (looking at you, Live A Live), and it makes you wonder what might have been in another timeline.
Still, there's no use dwelling on 'might haves'. What we've got here is still a wonderfully rigorous tactics RPG that has absolutely stood the test of time since it first came out 27 years ago. As you build your army to bring peace to a warring nation, Tactics Ogre will feel instantly familiar to hardened XCOMers. Like Firaxis' seminal strategy game, battles take place on a grid-based landscape, and you'll be shunting your party forward incrementally to bring enemy units within range of your warriors. Despite only letting you move and perform one action per turn, there's a wonderful degree of flexibility in Tactics Ogre's battle systems. Movement isn't set in stone once it's been executed, for example, so you can spend quite a bit of time trying out different tiles to see if you can reach that far-off mage perched on a higher bit of ground. Similarly, if the isometric viewpoint isn't quite working to your advantage, clicking on your mouse wheel will bring the camera directly overhead for a top-down view.
Also like XCOM, you're not so much recruiting individual characters as you are different classes. Building a well-rounded squad is critically important, as is kitting them out with the right items, spells and finishing moves. I didn't manage to unlock any of the latter in my preview, but buying and equipping them with elemental spells, extra skills and revive stones often made the difference between victory and defeat.
There is one area where Reborn makes a key departure from other incarnations of Tactics Ogre, however, and that's in its levelling system. Whereas previous versions had you levelling classes, Reborn lets you level up each individual unit. I never played the original, but levelling up each character certainly gives it a more traditional JRPG type of vibe, and as in XCOM, I quickly found myself getting quite attached to these characters despite most of them being completely blank slates.
Admittedly, I only obtained a couple of class seals during the opening chapter, leaving little opportunity to really put it through its paces. But the idea of being able to switch classes at any time (all while retaining each character's respective banks of EXP when doing so) is an exciting prospect. For starters, it means you don't need to grind and start from scratch every time you want to try something different, a la Bravely Default, and I can also see it giving you a bit more flexibility on the battlefield if you find yourself at a bit of an impasse. Indeed, the game even encourages you to do this in its tutorial, and the thought of instantly being able to retool my entire army (albeit at quite a high cost in terms of accompanying weapons, armour and trinkets etc) is an inviting one.
Not that that helped me much in my old fort battle, of course. I will continue to plug away at that one, although the thought of grinding through endless 'training' missions to level up does fill me with dread somewhat. Thankfully, Tactics Ogre: Reborn has a branching story path, meaning there are plenty of other critical missions to attempt instead while we bulk ourselves up a bit. I completed a few more slightly simpler missions last night, and I'm now feeling a lot more confident about my chances with my necro-nemesis. Sure, each attempt has taken close to an hour so far, but hey, I've suffered worse time sinks in the past (*cough*Fire Emblem*cough*), and it hasn't yet killed off my enthusiasm for the game either. I'll let you know if I succeeded when Tactics Ogre: Reborn launches on November 11th.