Friday, November 27, 2020

Game 47 - Tactics Ogre (wrapup)


  1. Turn type: Turns based on WT (see first post)
  2. Maps: Medium
  3. Character Customization: Characters can change class freely (if they meet the stat requirements)
  4. Character Development: Standard XP/level system.
  5. Party Size: 10 in one battle.
  6. Equipment: Four equipment slots (including items)
  7. Game Flow: Sequential battles, with random battles and training available. Chapters 2 and 3 have multiple routes.
  8. Saving: On the world map
  9. Death: Permanent


As I said in the first post, this game is innovative in many ways. The storyline is strong -- in its complexity and depth it's far beyond any other SRPG that has come before it. I don't know if this game in particular inspired other designers, but going forward there are a number of other games that incorporate the kind of complicated political situations and warring empires that we see in TO.

This also is the first game to really incorporate 3D maps, with height playing a significant role in the game. The game also offers a lot of replayability, with two Chapter 2s and three Chapter 3s. You can also recruit a wide variety of monsters and special characters, meaning you can play the game through with totally different parties.

That being said, I think there are some significant flaws in the game. The first one is how unbalanced the different classes are, and the flawed implementation of the armor system. The second is that being just a few levels below the enemy makes it very hard to fight them -- they can often do enormous damage to you and do very little in return. This means you have to spend a lot of time in training equalizing levels, and if you fall too far behind the story bosses you may even have to grind up.

As I've mentioned in the Fire Emblem posts, I also do not like permanent death. I think maybe it's not as bad in this game as others because you can persuade enemies to your team, but it's annoying when enemies gang up on someone and kill them in just a few hits.

Ultimately I think this game is worth playing, although I would recommend either the Playstation version or just use save states on the Super Famicom version to simulate how things would be in the PSX version (where you can save in the middle of a map).

The designers would go on to implement many of the same kind of ideas in Final Fantasy Tactics, which has some of the flaws and good points of this game.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Game 47 - Tactics Ogre (Part 2)

I have now finished TO so I will try to cover the rest of the game in this post.

I took the Law route, which means I will be doing chapter 2L and 3L. The Neutral chapter 3 is only available from the Chaos route, and then the routes converge in chapter 4. The Law route involves sticking with the Walstan side despite their slaughter of the innocent people in Baramus.

The old LUCT site has a translation of the entire story if you want to see it in detail.

The first few battles of this chapter aren't bad as we head towards Ashton, but the Ashton battle is rough. This is the only time in the game I had to grind levels beyond just equalizing everyone's level. The enemy leader, Aloser, is an archer and is quite strong. She could kill a number of my guys from full HP with 100% chance from the front, and even if she couldn't, the other enemies could pick them off. I found that in general, being more than 2 levels below the enemy leader made it quite difficult.

Kurisu is a berserker there, which was a mistake -- I forgot that his alignment would not qualify him for Terror Knight. By chapter 4 I had changed him to a Ninja and then a Swordmaster. He was never one of the stars of the team, but with a spear he managed to do OK. He also was my main caster of Petrobreath. It took me a long time to realize how good this spell is, but if you can cast it over an area you can take multiple enemies out of the battle completely with one spell. This helps also with collecting the stat cards and healing in multi-part battles.

The next tricky battle is against Wynoa; she has a fire orb and uses it first round to do big damage to a lot of people. So it's time for the Cure Leafs.

After Duke Ronway's feint attempt fails, Leonard decides to have Kurisu assassinate Ronway and assume command of the Walstans. He agrees, and we head off to Amorika, but face Vice and Aloser again on the way. This is another tough fight because they both have bows and can team up on guys.

Then it's on to Amorika, where we fight a big battle inside.

The main challenge of pretty much the rest of the game is just preventing guys from getting ganged up on and killed. I had to try a bunch of different approaches to this until I was finally able to take out the knight.

Then we have a one-on-one with Leonard; his actual plan was to have Kurisu kill Ronway, then he would kill Kurisu to unify the Walstans after killing Ronway's assassin. It's Vice and Kurisu vs. Leonard.

Vice does most of the damage here, but I think I gave Kurisu a bow also so that he could keep out of Leonard's way. With Leonard dead, Kurisu gains control of the Walstan army. The next battle is annoying.

The terrain and weather really benefit the enemies a lot, particularly the dragons. It's a slog to beat them all. I then picked up Jenounes at the next castle, who turned out to be an excellent person all the way to the end. He got a Firedrake sword which made him very effective against dragons.

The rest of the chapter was fairly smooth, especially once I got Vice and the other new units who were quite good. This was essentially my party for the rest of the game, except that I replaced the cleric with Kachua once I got her:

I had some trouble with this fight near the end of chapter 3:

The enemies don't move until you cross the river at the base, and as usual they can team up on someone and kill them pretty easily. So you have to play it cautiously (and if you realize how broken Petrobreath is it's probably easier than it was for me).

The most bullshit fight in this chapter, and possibly the game, is the 1-on-1 vs Oz near the end of 3L. I don't like it when games spring this kind of battle on you, particularly as the second battle in a sequence where you can't save. Oz can kill Kurisu in two hits which makes it very hard to survive here -- in the end I had to do a lot of class changes and different combinations until I beat him (I don't remember the exact setup).

Chapter 4! Kachua is now a queen and we just have the Lodis people and Branta left. From here to the end, the majority of battles were overall the same -- the basic tactics involved just waiting for the enemies to come, going mostly for the leader, and equalizing levels between battles. By the end of the game I had developed by team enough that I could do more than just beat the leader.

The Barbas fight was tough until I could get him to move into the right spot where I could gang up on him. The next fight against Lancelot was quite difficult. I honestly can't see playing this on a real console where you can't save at all during or between battles. Lancelot did an enormous amount of damage to my guys and it was just a chess game to make sure that he and the Warp Knights could not kill anyone.

Branta at the end is not too bad because he's a Bishop, so his defense is quite low. As long as you can avoid the Terror Knights killing anyone, just getting a few units into his range should finish him off (although those Angel Knights he summons are annoying).

The last section is Sky Garden, which is a sequence of as many as 18(!!!) battles without any saving, followed by a sequence of 4 battles without saving. Before this I went to Hell Gate just to get Fudo on level 6.

I ran into trouble when the Dragon with a Wind Orb showed up. I had to do a lot of maneuvering before I could survive that battle; in the end I had to take a death of my Wizard, but he had the Death Ring so he became a Lich. I gave Fudo to Jenounes since he had high DEX and good defense.

The final battle is rough. Dolgare has ridiculous defense and comes with a lot of scary dudes. Fudo is really the key here since it ignores defense -- two hits from Jenounes was enough to kill him along with one bowshot. Canopus died in the final battle, which was sad since he had been one of my most important characters for the whole game.

Overall I have mixed feelings about this game but I will sum them up in another post.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Game 47 - Tactics Ogre (Part 1)

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (タクティクスオウガ) 
Released 10/6/1995, Developed and published by Quest
"Turbo File" was a Japan-only accessory for the SFC that allowed you to store save games externally
This is the second game in the Ogre Battle franchise, representing Chapter 7 in a theoretical eight chapter story (although the plot has basically no connection to the original game which was Chapter 5). Like the first game and the franchise name as a whole, the title is taken from a Queen song. The game is very different from its predecessor -- while it kept the general character classes and the "Chaos Frame" (reputation) idea, the game is a 3/4 view strategy RPG rather than a real time strategy game. Both the story and gameplay are clearly heavy influences on the later Final Fantasy Tactics.

The plot is a huge advance in storytelling for SRPGs; I can see this clearly from having played pretty much everything that came before. Probably the most developed plots before this were Der Langrisser and Super Robot Taisen 4, but neither game really comes close to the complexity of TO's storyline and characterization. Apparently the designer Matsuno was inspired by the breakup of Yugoslavia and the resulting ethnic conflicts and atrocities. I'm old enough to remember the NATO bombings during Bill Clinton's presidency. In the TO story, the land of Valeria was united under King Dorgalua, but he died with no clear heir and the kingdom broke up into the former ethnic groups -- the Bakram, Galgastan, and Walstan. The main character (Kurisu, the default name is Denim) is Walstan, and at the beginning of the game the Walstani are the weakest of the groups, having been the subject of ethnic cleansing by the Galgastan theocracy, and having these two powerful states around them. Kurisu, his sister, and his friend Vise are members of a resistance force trying to free the Walstani.

Having the main character be in a resistance army is not a new thing; I've played several games before that have this. What sets this story apart is the moral ambiguity of all the sides; drawing from real conflicts, Matsuno avoided the usual trope of making the resistance army the band of heroes of the light vs. the dark, evil empires. I'll put the more spoilery stuff lower in the post if you want to avoid it.

Incidentally, this is the first game I played in Japanese where I actually tried to look everything up and understand it. I played it in 2002 or 2003, although I think I stopped playing in the middle of chapter 2. 

You start with an opening section that's like Der Langrisser and some other games, where you answer questions to determine the starting stats of your main character. Unfortunately the questions are incomprehensible and give you no indication whatsoever of what kind of character you're creating or what's going on. 

The game begins with a few missions that are basically tutorials, where you have a battle mostly with guests and we free Duke Ronway of Walstani. We then become his "young heroes" who will fight to ave the Walstani people. I'm not going to go into great detail on the plot since you can play this in English.

The game is graphically impressive, and apparently the game was delayed as much of a year largely because of how much effort they put into the graphics and especially the sprite animations. Matsuno eschewed the typical anime style of characters and went with a more realistic look.

Of course the victory screen is where the title of my blog comes from -- as I said the intro, the phrase perfectly captures what to me is the essence of a SRPG, when you struggle and think your way through a stage to finally beat it and get the Congratulations message.

After that first set of battles, we're on our own. Kachua (Kurisu's sister) and Vice are NPCs who you can't control, and then you have a set of soldiers and valkyries. Just like in Ogre Battle, they need to be levelled up before they can switch to other classes.

The battle system is based on WT -- rather than a turn-based system, characters act based on their WT, which is lowered by agility and not having too much equipped. Other games before this have had speed-based turn systems, but this may be the first game where characters act entirely based on their WT and there is no concept of a "turn" where everyone acts. Characters who choose not to move or not to act will act more quickly, and it is possible for one character to take more actions than another. I can't say for certain that this has not been done before because some games were a little ambiguous, but it could be.

The problem with the system is that they didn't quite get the balance right. Equipping armor lowers your WT. Everyone can equip any armor, but certain classes benefit more from it because the defense increase is related to a P. RES stat that is based on your class. The problem is that the way they implemented the system means that armor is rarely a good choice for anyone, because the speed, hit, and dodge penalties you get are not worth the defense increase from the armor.


The game also has height and facing -- Front Mission had height and I think maybe Lady Phantom had facing, but neither system was common at the time this game came out. The other unusual system is that everyone starts a battle with 0 MP and the magic points recover as the time passes. This means that you cannot run healers out of MP or anything like that. Magics are equipped, and the AoE of the magic increases based on your caster's MEN stat.

Each character also has an element, which affects their stats based on the type of ground they stand on, and also their compatibility with enemies.

Denim can recruit enemies by Persuading them; this is more useful for getting their equipment than actually recruiting them for your team, although it's the best way to get monsters on your team. The problem is that characters have a Loyalty stat that's pretty low for enemy persuades, and they might leave your team if things get too bad.

The game has permanent death of units. I have said in my Fire Emblem reviews that I do not like this system. Especially in this game where differences in levels make such a huge difference, it often becomes necessary to train between battles just to keep your levels equal, and sometimes you even have to level up more. The grunts in a mission are all set at the highest level guy you have, but the leaders have fixed levels. There are several battles that pit you against archers that can do enormous damage with 100% chance to hit even from the front, making it hard to survive the battle without doing some outside levelling.

The PSX version allowed in battle saves so I have been using some save states, but even so you can't just keep reloading until they miss (that would be tedious anyway).

This is my party near the end of chapter 1. The Chapter 1 ending has a big choice -- Duke Rowen's plan is to massacre a town of Walstan to try to raise support for fighting against enemies. Denim gets to choose whether to participate in the massacre or go against Rowen. Regardless of which you pick, Denim does not actually do the massacre himself, Vice becomes your enemy, and Denim gets a bad reputation. I went for the massacre route because the "don't do it" seems like the obvious choice that a lot of people will take. This puts me on the Law route.

Those are some pretty intense scenes for something that your main character approves of!

I'm currently near the end of chapter 2. My party is basically the same as above. Kurisu is a barbarian, but bows are still much better than anything else. The Archers are the overpowered class of this game (I'm using two). I just lost a fight and will need to equalize everyone's levels and try again. But I don't want to get in a cycle of "rush the leader and win the battle, train to equalize levels, repeat" because that's just not a satisfying way to play a SRPG. But leaving the leaders alive often mean opening yourself up to a unit dying with little notice.