Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together sits precariously in the history of strategy RPGs. While the genre has become more synonymous with Ogre Battle’s cousin Final Fantasy Tactics as well as Nintendo’s Fire Emblem franchise, many of the conventions that later became quintessential to the genre began with Yasumi Matsuno’s vision for Let Us Cling Together. Being the second entry in the Ogre Battle franchise, Let Us Cling Together ditched the blend of RTS and traditional, turn-based JRPG combat that defined its predecessor. This flow, defined by instanced battles with cutscenes before and after, hireable mooks that are malleable in class and abilities, and tile-based arenas with various terrains and elevations to overcome, has become an essential of Japanese strategy RPGS and can be seen in nearly every single one with more or less experimentation on the format.
Reborn, the game’s latest release, is something of a Frankenstein title, being the fifth official release of the game and based on the PSP remake released in 2010. It has numerous new and streamlined mechanics that both help to avoid alienating younger SPRG fans not used to some of the game’s more archaic original systems and to make the game a fresh, new experience for old time lovers of the series. Aspects of these new features verge on bloating the game, but shake out rather interestingly and even improve on the experience of the original in some ways.
One of my favorite additions is the card system, Periodically throughout battles buffs like increased strength and magic or improved critical chance will appear on the grid. If you land on one of these spaces, you immediately take the buff before finishing your turn, meaning you can benefit from that buff without having to wait till your next turn. These buffs stack, allowing you to mix and match which you pick up. You can also stack them to allow yourself a gargantuan offensive boon. Because the cards can also be exploited by your enemies, they also act as hazards; you might find yourself scooping them up just to prevent your enemies from landing on them. At many points in Reborn you may find your army lacking. Because the game’s level cap is mediated by the universal “Union Level” which increases as you progress through the game, you will come to fights where you feel vastly underwhelming compared to the might of the opposing army. These buffs then allow for you to bolster your best units or balance out the stragglers to keep you afloat. In essence, the card system allows for any of the units on the board to be consequential to a battle’s outcome.
The cards impact the meaning and gravity of each of your moves in such an extreme way that it allows Reborn to toy with more rigorous decision making than its previous incarnation. While some might find this addition game breaking, the exploitable nature of the cards make the game’s battles more unique and random, which pairs excellently with the Chariot Tarot function. Using this mechanic, the player can rewind up to 50 turns in battle and continue from there; this allows for a plethora of new possibilities due to the “alternate timeline” that’s created when you do so. Basically, if you end up disliking how this new timeline shakes out, you can go back to your original and play from there. Even moving a unit one space over from where you initially placed them can cause a vastly different outcome, because each roll the game makes is unique and not bound by any predetermined force.
Reborn’s fascination with possibility doesn’t end with the Chariot Tarot, though; the game retains the PSP remake’s WORLD System, which is unlocked after completing the game once. Using this, you’re allowed to return to pivotal story moments and go down a different path. Reborn also does away with the level reset when you reclass one of your party members, allowing you freedom in switching up the party dynamic whenever you please. This, coupled with the game’s fluid use of learnable skills, equippable spells, and flexible weapon proficiencies, means you can finetune your otherwise uncomplicated units into something fully unique from one another, even if they’re the same class. Two of my most essential units early on were both enchantresses, one equipped solely with status effects and the other with elemental magic.
The joy of Reborn lies in the numerous mechanics you can optionally engage with. You can avoid using the Chariot or World tarots completely, or exploit them as you see fit. The game allows you up to 100 units, meaning you can experiment without much repercussion. With all the recruitable named characters and obtainable monsters, you can easily tailor a strange, overpowered team or focus in on the generic units you can hire. If you’re clever, you can benefit greatly from crafting weapons and armor, which will allow you to make up for the statistical deficiency you’ll find if you sustain yourself solely on found or bought equipment. Bonuses like increased movement or melee weapons that set status effects are tricky little ways to set your units apart and make them feel situationally imperative. There’s also a lot of tiny mechanics the game doesn’t necessarily tell you outright that make you feel extremely ingenious; for one, if you have a ranged unit who’s too close to your intended target, you can target someone they’re blocking the line of sight for (even an ally!) to cheat your way into hitting them.
While Reborn might seem by-the-numbers by today’s standards, the game’s simple presentation belies a lot of depth and oddities that take loving experimentation to come across. While Final Fantasy Tactics might remain the darling of the genre, Reborn proves there’s still plenty of reasons to care about Matsuno’s original vision, the game that inspired the much-beloved world of Ivalice. The game’s original quirks mesh beautifully with the cavalcade of additions it has received in its many rereleases, making Reborn the most flexible iteration of Let Us Cling Together—one of the most flexible SRPGs period, really—and the best way to play the game today, despite how you might feel about the game’s revamped look.
Tactics Ogre: Reborn was developed and published by Square Enix. Our review is based on the Switch version. It is also available for PC, PlayStation 5, and PlayStation 4.
Austin Jones is a writer with eclectic media interests. You can chat with him about horror games, electronic music, Joanna Newsom and ‘80s-‘90s anime on Twitter @belfryfire