It took me 76 hours, but I finally beat Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together for the PSP. To say it was an arduous journey would be putting it lightly. I’ve had the game in my possession since it was launched in February 2011. My romantic notions of the game were quickly realized: this was no half-hearted attempt at a remake. This was a quality product. The effort shown in updating the visuals and introducing a system that allows you to remake game-changing decisions is welcome. It’s a meaty adventure, with hundreds of characters and unlimited possibilities to customize them. Sounds pretty good, right? But by the time the end credits rolled, I experienced a sense of relief instead of glory.
I can finally put this baby to rest after nearly three years of on-and-off sessions, but it won’t go down as one of my favorites, and I wouldn’t recommend it to any but the most hardcore fans of tactical RPGs. I could talk about how battles take an eternity to get through, or how managing your inventory is frustratingly monotonous, but my main complaint with my Tactics Ogre experience doesn’t have anything to do with the game itself. My biggest problem: I regret not using a walkthrough.
After completing the main storyline, I read a review. I noticed that the reviewer’s army looked a lot cooler than mine. My names were obviously superior since they were based on friends and family, but what I was seeing wasn’t what I saw in my game. Upon further research I realized my army, the result of my 76-hour journey, was lame. I didn’t have any cool dragons. I didn’t save numerous characters that were savable. I didn’t collect any faeries, tame beasts or persuadable enemy units, among myriad other mistakes. I hadn’t felt this dissatisfied after beating a game in quite some time. It’s like I missed half the content, yet I have absolutely no desire to go back and try again.
Seeking out FAQs and watching videos on how to complete levels is considered blasphemy in some gamer circles. I rarely used them when I was younger. My rule: only use them when I’m stuck, or when the game is totally devoid of fun and I want a fast finish. As I grow older, the conditions become more lenient for numerous reasons. Primarily, I enjoy watching people play games. The online communities surrounding game walkthroughs, reviews, opinion pieces, theories, conspiracies and tactics have exploded in the last 10 years. “Let’s Play” videos are particularly popular because they combine endearing personalities with a longtime favorite hobby of millions. If I’m in a time crunch, or don’t have the money at the time, I’ll watch a Let’s Play of a game instead of playing it. It isn’t quite the same experience, but it’s there all the same.
The second reason I use walkthroughs more often now is that I’m 29 years old instead of 19, or nine. A younger me had ample time to completely dedicate myself to a single game. I didn’t need to use an FAQ because, in a few months’ time, I was a walking FAQ. Getting stuck in a game meant a challenge I would overcome with time and experience. The thrill of beating something on my own and the satisfaction of figuring out a puzzle was, and still is, immensely rewarding.
But I don’t have time for that now, nor are there as many games that I find are worth the effort. I really should have used a recruitment guide for Tactics Ogre. Nobody would know, nor would anybody judge me if they did. I had more fun looking at YouTube videos of the game, showing different party member and story variations, than I did playing through the game myself. Is that a knock on the game, or a compliment to the ever-growing gaming community? I can say with confidence that this was not the fault of Square Enix; none of the qualms I have with the game are due to bad design. This is all self-imposed criticism, and I’m using my experience to learn how to maximize my enjoyment of future games.
I don’t know why I didn’t learn my lesson, because I’d experienced nearly the same thing with a previous entry in the same series: Ogre Battle 64. One of the few RPGs for the N64, it was released in October 2000 and remains one of my favorites.
I was sixteen, a perfect time to not spend any time with girls. Ogre Battle 64 doesn’t look good by today’s standards, but there’s still an endearing quality to the bizarre character models and simple backgrounds. It’s aged better than many first-generation 3D games, at the very least. I can’t recall how many hours it took for me to beat the game, but I do remember loving every minute of it. I relished in exploring as much as I could, restarting battles to get better results and spending way too much time tinkering with my army.
The menu management system was much more forgiving in this one. It didn’t necessitate the micro-micro-micro-management found in Let us Cling Together. You had units represented by their leader on a map and, in real time, you ordered them where to go. Once you set your commands, you could sit back and watch your party march through a forest until they ran into an enemy, resulting in a more traditional RPG fight screen. Battles were automated, but you could input commands recommending basic strategy. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked.
Again, upon completion, I looked up reviews and guides. I realized I had missed quite a lot; the princess character (among others) and a number of amazing, catastrophically-effective magic spells. The difference, this time, was that I enjoyed the game enough to go back and try again. The second time through was far more rewarding; I already knew the story, so I could either skip some cutscenes or choose different dialogue choices to see the results. I was more familiar with the structure of the game, and there was less internal pressure to beat it. I just wanted to see what I missed. Boy, I missed a lot.
I didn’t even realize that certain party members’ “alignment” mattered when capturing specific towns. This opened up a whole new world of strategy, and I found myself learning just as much the second time around as the first. The walkthrough didn’t hinder my enjoyment; far from it. By the end of the game, I had every secret character, and it was supremely gratifying.
I didn’t enjoy the game less because I’d “cheated.” If anything, I appreciated that the game had more content for me to explore. Feelings of idiocy or inadequacy never entered my mind. I didn’t feel guilty; I was more enthralled at the notion that I’d missed a character who allowed each party member to add an additional attack during a fight. What would they look like? How dominant would the party be? What circumstances would I use them in? Outside knowledge of the game increased my happiness and overall evaluation of the game.
I’m well beyond feeling guilty about using walkthroughs. If I feel like using one, I’ll use one. It probably won’t be a trend, but I won’t hesitate if I get around to playing Fire Emblem: Awakening, or Valkyria Chronicles II, to consulting numerous sources before starting the journey. The satisfaction I got out of beating Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together wasn’t enough. I’m curious as to how the story would have progressed if I’d played it differently and I’ll have to remain curious.