The Greatest Videogame: A Tribute

It’s been several years since I last wrote for myself, and in the period leading up to that I found my writing drop off in frequency quite sharply. I hold anxiety to be significantly responsible for that. After undergoing several years of medication (and some therapy), I’m hoping that that issue has been mitigated.

But even with that in mind, I’m going to start off in easy mode: talking about a less serious topic. I’d like to talk about what I feel is arguably the best videogame of all time. Ironically, it hasn’t been published yet. But it’s also been published twice already. The game in question is Tactics Ogre: Reborn.

A long time ago, in a nation far away (from me), Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together was first released. I’ve never played this version, but given that it sold 500,000 units in it’s Japan-exclusive release, it did pretty well for itself.

Time passed. The SNES (mostly) died. The Gameboy came and went. The Playstation Portable rose up. And in 2010, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together was remade for the PSP. As much as the march of technology is invisible to us, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate the size of the box of the SNES + your television set + controller that was needed in 1995 to create this game, and how all of that was shrunken down merely 15 years later to comfortably fit in two hands. And improved in almost every way.

This is the version that I fell in love with.

As the name suggests, this is a tactical game: most of the game involves moving units around a map into an advantageous position, and attacking an enemy unit. Perhaps you’re attacking with a sword, or a spear, or (if your unit is a dragon) claws or a fiery breath. The terrain that you walk on matters as marshland might slow your unit down, whereas water is impassable to all those that can’t either fly or swim.

While the game is certainly combat heavy (you’ll easily spend 98%+ of your time in a tactical battle, or else organising your units for one), Tactics Ogre also contains a surprisingly deep storyline. 10 years on, and I still recall how shocked I was when a main character was just outright killed! Once you complete the game, rather than having the option of just starting from scratch in a very standard New Game+ mode, the game allows you to instead jump to a critical decision point in the game and choose differently. While many games might claim that your decisions matter, the whole narrative shifts massively here with some seemingly minor decision changes.

Interestingly, when you read over the development of the 2010 version of the game, it was very much NOT merely a port of the SNES version of the game, but several new ideas were implemented (eg being able to undo up to 50 of your moves in a battle). Frankly, almost every change was a good one, and all of this goes so far beyond merely a ‘remaster’ of the title.

It’s worth watching the intro of the game just to see how gorgeous it was on a tiny screen, and just how beautiful the music is. The pixel art is going to be difficult to appreciate as even the smallest youtube uploads are going to significantly stretch the tiny PSP graphics. But it’s less about the individual brushstrokes, and more about the details: someone’s hair flowing in the wind; a bandana slowing falling to the ground as their wearer is cut down. John Williams *wishes* he wrote music this good… (here’s a link chosen at random, I have no affiliation with the youtuber. The intro is roughly 2min.)

And now, 12 years after the prior re-imagining, it’s happening again. While I’m not going to pre-order this game, I will be buying it within a day or two of its release. In the first case, it’s been years since I last played it (my PS Vita was stolen…), and in the second case, the changes look almost as game-changing here as they did in the 2010 release.

My reasons for not pre-ordering have little to do with this particular game, and more about waiting for the inevitable launch-day issues (of any game) get patched. 😛

If ye’re looking for a new game to try, and you’d like something that lets you take your time and think about what moves you’d like to make, you can do worse than Tactics Ogre. If this doesn’t turn out to be the best game in the genre (because the 2010 version already is), then I’ll be shocked.

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