OPINION | GAME ON: ‘Tactics Ogre: Reborn’ shows right way to remaster a classic

"Tactics Ogre: Reborn" is a 2022 remaster of a remake of a 1990s tactical role-playing video game.  (Photo courtesy of Square Enix)
"Tactics Ogre: Reborn" is a 2022 remaster of a remake of a 1990s tactical role-playing video game. (Photo courtesy of Square Enix)

'Tactics Ogre: Reborn'

Platform: PC, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch

Cost: $49.99

Rating: Teen for fantasy violence, mild language, war themes

Score: 8 out of 10

The classic tactical role-playing adventure "Tactics Ogre" has, as its new title implies, been reborn, as Square Enix brings an epic tale to a wide range of platforms.

Originally published for Japan's Super Famicon in 1995, and then remade only for the PlayStation Portable in 2010, this remastered version of a game that heavily influenced the tactics genre features tons of upgrades.

The fantastical war story, full of political intrigue, schemes and devastating consequences, remains untouched.

The Valerian Isles knew peace for 50 years, but after the king's death, fighting devolved into three factions. The Walister were the big losers, their clan devastated. Players take on the role of Denam Walister, accompanied only by his friend Vyce and sister Catiua. Seeking to reclaim what they lost, they get involved in an expanding, bloody war that makes a mess of their ideals and will cost them dearly.

Unlike many games where player agency is an illusion and the game plays out the same no matter what choices players pick, in "Tactics Ogre: Reborn" decisions will drastically affect game-play and the future, such as what characters live or die. "Reborn's" ending is affected by all the choices made throughout the game, such as whether a character goes on to live a happy life or meets an ignoble end.

For newcomers, "Reborn" offers a sometimes grindy and tough (the difficulty setting cannot be changed) adventure — upwards of 50 hours of play — and you will have to manage a squad of 15 to 20 units, equipping them with weapons, armor, skills and magic abilities. Battles take place on a three-quarters-view, isometric grid with elevation changes, tricky terrain and secret doors.

A large number of classes — many of the classic fantasy variety, such as warrior, archer, mage and cleric -- plus the ability to switch up weapons, classes and skills for any unit, make "Reborn" a minmaxer's dream and give lots of variety to how battles are approached. (Minmaxers are players who analyze the game so they can minimize their characters' weaknesses and maximize their strengths.) Enemies can also become allies, as a recruiting system makes it possible to convince wounded enemies and even monsters (such as gryphons, golems and dragons) to join the party.

This newest version of the game has been updated with high-definition graphics and a new user interface, fully voiced cut-scenes (in English and Japanese), new sound effects and re-recorded music. The leveling system also changed, making it easier to customize units, easier to train new units and adding an improved AI for battles.

The 2010 remake introduced a Tarot system that continues, allowing the ability to rewind turns mid-battle and avoid costly errors; and once the game has been beaten, a World Tarot system lets players jump back to certain key moments, called anchor points, and make different decisions (while still keeping your team and units gained). That way players can explore other choices, see the outcome (such as saving a character who before was destined to die) and explore other routes, while keeping their roster.

The grimness of the storyline (which should be expected, really, because it's about a war spreading out of control) is oddly juxtaposed with the cutesiness of the character sprites, but given they were originally created for the 16-bit Super Nintendo, much can be forgiven.

If you've played this game in the past, the $50 price tag can be a pretty big pain point, as while there are some game-play updates, most of the content hasn't changed drastically, although the ability to play it on modern consoles and on PC is an attractive draw.

Many tactics games are just complicated puzzles — find the trick, solve the puzzle and the battle is won. But "Reborn," with a level cap and the threat of permanent death for units that fall in battle, makes each fight challenging and intense. The ability to rewind actions gives the tension a nice balance.

Many remasters are just minor tweaks to graphics and a couple of quality-of-life fixes, but "Reborn's" overhaul to many of the game's core systems (while keeping the story intact) takes it leagues beyond the typical remake. If tactical RPGs are your thing, this is definitely a title to look out for.

A review copy of "Tactics Ogre: Reborn" was provided by the publisher.

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