Inverse Game Reviews

Tactics Ogre: Reborn reinvents a classic RPG, for better and worse

Inverse Score: 7/10

Square Enix

A town burns, its people massacred, as soldiers fight in the streets.

Did you try to stop it, or were you holding a torch? And how much can you really change, either way?

Tactics Ogre: Reborn reimagines one of the best tactical RPGs ever made. Reborn is the second such remake, bringing some updates from the PSP’s Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together while adding plenty of its own. The original Tactics Ogre’s genre-defining story and excellent tactical combat remain intact, with tweaks that make it more approachable than ever. The result is a game that’s not what fans remember and not what you’d expect from a modern tactical RPG either. Nonetheless, it’s narratively and mechanically satisfying all the same.

War never changes

Take a look at the Tactics Ogre: Reborn story trailer.

Tactics Ogre tells a nuanced story about war far better than almost any other game. War is devastating, for individuals and for nations, and Tactics Ogre hammers that point home at every opportunity. Even the most heroic characters are forced to dirty their hands while villains make choices for what they believe to be the greater good. You play as Denam, a boy whose people (the Walister) are subjugated by the Galgastani majority. Seeking both personal revenge and freedom for the Walister, Denam eventually becomes a key figure in a struggle to reshape the world’s political landscape.

Since the release of Tactics Ogre, storytelling in games has matured a lot. Its complex story of war and revenge might not sound entirely original on the surface, but its nuance and compelling characters help it hit harder than many of the later games it inspired. That’s aided by its incredible dialogue, with lines whose resonance hasn’t faded one bit. Tactics Ogre: Reborn improves on the original by adding full voice acting, which is uniformly good and often excellent.

Tactics Ogre: Reborn’s soundtrack has also been re-recorded with live instruments, which adds an incredible amount of emotional weight to the story. Its graphics received a similar overhaul, with characters sprites entirely redrawn to smooth out the jagged, pixelated edges of the original. In screenshots, the effect doesn’t look great, but it’s much better in action. The aesthetic is a bit more cartoony overall, particularly compared to Square Enix’s recent spree of HD-2D titles, but after the first hour or so, I was sold. Everything is much easier to see when zoomed out or playing on a big screen.

Tactics Ogre: Reborn has satisfying but slow-paced combat.Square Enix

Wheel of Fortune

You take an active role in how Tactics Ogre: Reborn plays out, making choices at key points that reshape the narrative. Entire factions can go unseen based on your decisions, and no matter what, you’re going to lose friends and allies by the end. A feature called the World Tarot lets you rewind to key decision points and make different choices, so you can see where the path you didn’t take leads. It’s a welcome feature in a game this massive, but important choices are spread throughout its 40-hour campaign, so exploring every possible road is still a major undertaking.

Tactics Ogre: Reborn is a massive game, even more so than its 40-hour playtime might suggest. On top of the campaign, there are side quests you can only unlock by reading through the Warren Report, an in-game encyclopedia of lore, character dossiers, and different perspectives on events from the main story. Optional multi-stage dungeons offer more challenge and huge rewards, both early on and in the endgame. If you’re looking for a game that will ruin your sleep schedule, you’re in luck.

Tactics Ogre: Reborn also has some absolutely stunning art, which is typical of Square Enix.Square Enix

Where Tactics Ogre: Reborn keeps the original’s story the same, combat has gotten a major overhaul. Without cataloging every minute change, it’s safe to say that it feels more approachable than the original in nearly every regard. The resources you spend on spells and special attacks have been simplified, AI and balancing tweaks abound, and the UI is far more informative and easier to read this time around.

Even if you’re a tactical RPG veteran, expect a major challenge from Tactics Ogre: Reborn. In battle, you have the option to rewind a few turns, which can save you whether you’ve made an outright mistake or overlooked some crucial detail. It’s enormously helpful, considering the wide range of strategic options you have on basically every turn.

Balancing your elemental type against the enemy’s, factoring in the right weapon to use, and positioning yourself for optimal effect without exposing yourself to too much damage makes every turn a satisfying tactical puzzle, but weighing all these options for every single attack is sometimes grueling. The plodding pace of combat means battles can run over an hour each. Even fitting more than one into a single play session can be exhausting, regardless of the fun you might be having.

Every battle in Tactics Ogre: Reborn tests you, and going into one just slightly underleveled or with sub-optimal character setups can easily end in your demise. If you don’t have the right equipment, some enemies are nearly impossible to defeat.

Tactics Ogre: Reborn still has one of the best stories ever in an RPG.Square Enix

Pack a notebook

Tactics Ogre: Reborn is much better than previous versions when it comes to showing you important information, but it’s still often obtuse. Flipping through merchant inventories and character sheets to figure out which spells and gear your units can equip, then balancing loadouts across your entire party can take a tremendous amount of time and require consulting multiple menus.

Even just understanding basic combat mechanics and the effects of certain abilities requires a similar amount of research. Take recruitment, for instance. One excellent feature of Tactics Ogre: Reborn lets you convert enemy units to your side, like capturing Pokémon, except they’re just people with swords instead of adorable monsters. To get it to work, though, you need to reduce their health as much as possible, and even then, they won’t join if they have high Loyalty, a stat that’s buried several menus deep. You also need to be standing on an adjacent battlefield square, something that’s only explained within the Warren Report menu.

Tactics Ogre: Reborn occupies a strange space between the original game and modern tactical RPGs. It’s not nearly as fast or approachable as games like Fire Emblem, and its depth is more about fiddling with individual units than the large-scale strategy of XCOM. But it doesn’t feel like a game from the SNES era either, so those who want to revisit the original as they remember it won’t find that here.

Battles in Tactics Ogre: Reborn come with a bewildering range of mechanics.Square Enix

For all its murky mechanics and slow pace, Tactics Ogre: Reborn still blends satisfying combat with a top-tier story in a way that few games can match. If you’re a fan of the tactical RPG genre and want a serious challenge, there’s simply no reason not to play this game. But newcomers may want to start with something more approachable, or at least keep waiting for that Final Fantasy Tactics remake we’re all hoping for.

7/10

Tactics Ogre: Reborn launches on November 11 for PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Inverse reviewed the game on Switch.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.
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