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When a company messes up a game with standard, unspectacular play mechanics with one or two major flaws, I usually shrug my shoulders in apathy, tossing the game aside and giving it its just due with a scathing review. However, when a company - especially a reputable RPG developer - messes up a game with magnificent, extraordinary, genre-redefining play mechanics with a few major oversights, then I get passionate. I loathe scenarios such as this, and I feel nothing but contempt for the idiot that allowed this to happen to what could have been an excellent game. And to whichever fool at Quest ruined Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together by forgetting to include Revive items and spells, and allowing the game to be released with some of the cheapest AI I've come across in this genre, I hope you become the victim of some adult-targetting, Tatsumo Miyazaki-type serial killer. You deserve it.
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together takes place, from what I gathered, a few years after the formation of the Zetegenian empire. It has been a few years since the death of the widely loved King Dolgare, who brought peace and ethnic equality to the land for 50 years. Now, Branto, a power-hungry Bishop from Bacrum, has formed the Bacrum-Valerian state with the invading Lodis army, and seeks to take over the entire continent of Valeria with the help of the Roslolian "Dark" Knights. Meanwhile, in Southern Valeria, the Gargastan King Barbatos has received approval from Branto to invade Walsta and enslave its people. Tactics Ogre begins in a small docks village in Walsta, where two teenagers, Kachua and Brodie (you can name the latter character whatever you wish - I chose Brodie), join a team of five knights from Zenobia lead by the Holy Knight Lans in an attempt to reclaim the Walstanian State from the imperialistic Gargastans. Such is the basis for the beginning of the plot, a plot that is truly wonderful and well-told.
The story, like Vandal Hearts 2 and the other Ogre Battle games, is deeply rooted in political conspiracy and war. These two themes are perhaps the most prevalent in the entire Saga. And in a move that may surprise most RPG players, during the game, your team has the option to become antagonists in Valeria by slaughtering a good deal of innocent people. Unlike other RPGs, where the happy-go-lucky party always does what is good and moral, your party in TO has to do what is beneficial for Walsta, and that could mean committing atrocities. A definite first for the genre, and perhaps the main reason why I view this particular episode of the Saga in such high esteem.
Character development is strong in Let Us Cling Together. In the course of the game, the hero develops in his understanding of the cause of the unrest in Valeria, which in itself marks a major turning point in the game's plot. Kachua loves her 'brother' dearly at the beginning of the game and opts to never leave his side, but eventually even she becomes aware of certain things about that that challenge her. The characters have a richness and humanity to them that few games of the time (five or more years ago) offered.
Calling Tactics Ogre a typical Strategy RPG, even nowadays, would be inaccurate. Let Us Cling Together abandons turn-based combat altogether in favor of Wait, which is a statistic that counts down from a certain number (usually around 400) to 0 and allows whichever character has 0 to take their turn. This could be the enemy or the player. Aside from worrying about statisticis such as Attack and Defense, the player should make sure that each character's Wait is as small as possible so that they attack more often. The Wait can also be manipulated to allow certain characters to attack in a consecutive sequence. The Wait system has endless strategic potential over the typical turn-based combat of a Vandal Hearts Final Fantasy Tactics.
Regarding magic, there are a few levels of magic for each element (there are six - Wind, Earth, Fire, Water, Light, and Dark), though not all are attack magic. For each element, there might be two or three offensive spells, with the rest being supportive or healing. Unlike most RPGs that have a class system, Let Us Cling Together allows non-Mage characters to cast certain spells out of each element, though they will have a limited capacity unlike Mages, and will not be allowed to cast the more powerful spells.
There is a Class system in Tactics Ogre, but it's not too restrictive. Characters can still equip a variety of different weapons and armor regardless of affiliation. Classes mostly affect character statistics and magic. There are about ten classes for males and eight for females. Each gender has classes that specialize in physical attack, offensive/supportive/healing magic, and beast and dragon taming. As characters master lower-level classes, they gain access to better classes that offer increased stats and access to superior magic spells.
Perhaps the most annoying flaw in Tactics Ogre is the relative ease of losing characters, and how time-consuming it is to replace them afterwards. Enemy teams often have long-distance archers that can easily destroy one of your weaker characters with two devastating hits. These units often attack in succession, so you might lose a perfect-health character with no chance of interventional healing and no way of reviving them afterwards. That's right - you could spend hours raising a mage and boosting their stats up, and then lose them in a matter of two turns. There are even certain enemy mages that cast top-level magic that can kill a single character with one spell. Where is the fairness in any of this? Why is the AI allowed to knock out your characters with one or two shots? And where is the ability to revive those characters so that you don't have to spend hours replacing them afterwards? This is the worst flaw in the game, bar none.
I know that giving Let Us Cling Together such a low score is an eye-opener. It is even for me, someone who loves SRPGs more than even traditional RPGs, but there is simply no excuse for how badly massacred the gameplay is. Quest expects you to spend hours after every battle recovering your mages and weaker characters like an idiot, only to lose them again and perpetuate the cycle. And before you think that there are ways to avoid losing weaker characters, let me tell you that I've tried, and in most cases it's impossible. Enemy archers, especially from high inclines, manage an extremely long-distance attack accumulates power as it drops, resulting in a devastating, merciless hit. I'm amazed that this glaring oversight was ever made.
Seemingly conscious of this error, Quest offers an automatic level up system which you can use to boost up your characters while doing something else. Simply set the two teams to Comp vs Comp and have them annihlate one another while you do something else. While this will eliminate the challenge (a challenge that would be almost non-existant if your characters could be revived - something to think about), it does give better protection against the aformentioned instant-death attacks. Overlevelling seems like the only remedy for this gameplay disease.
Drawing away from the negative aspects for a second, Let Us Cling Together offers a unique two player mode. You and a friend can pit your own Tactics Ogre teams against one another in a mode especially designed for that. It's a neat idea, if only for the bragging right that one attains from having a superior party.
The American translation for Tactics Ogre: LUCT is both fantastic and horrible, depending on where you look. The menu screens and Save/Load screens both feature some laughable English instructions, while the dialogue between characters is excellent. This translation is definitely a notch above its contemporaries in the RPG genre. It wasn't until Vagrant Story that a translation was really given serious effort.
Tactics Ogre is visually pleasing. The graphics have a slightly subdued color scheme which matches the setting. The units in the game are superdeformed with big heads and child-like bodies, which allows more facial detail. Battle settings are large, too, always maintaining a feeling of freedom of confinement, unlike FFTactics. Despite being rather small, sprites boast impressive details, though the magic attacks are perhaps the best. The menu system also retains the same appearance that the Ogre Battle series is known for, which has since been ripped off by FFTactics.
The soundtrack is excellent as usual. This series is known for its powerful musical scores, and Let Us Cling Together is no deviant. The soundtrack is particularly good at accenting the evil intentions of villains and the courageous nature of the protagonists. While the soundtrack in FFTactics is infinitely superior, Let Us Cling Together is nontheless an aural satisfaction.
It's a shame that Quest managed to massacre this potential masterpiece the way it did, as Let Us Cling Together could have been among the best Strategy RPGs ever. As it stands, it's a magnificent game rendered somewhat mediocre by its painfully time-consuming gameplay and cheap AI. I would still get it, if only for the rarity of the game, however (it is quite a collectable). There is some good news in all of this, though: the GBA sequel, Knight of Lodis, improves on all of the flaws in Let Us Cling Together. At least Quest isn't like 3D0 - they learn from their mistakes. It's just a shame that THIS game had to be learnt from.