Friday, November 18, 2016

Guest Rant: Tactics Ogre and the "Power of Choice"

Guess what, folks? Today you get a break from hearing me carry on with my self-important blathering, and instead hear the opinions of someone a little fresher to the Thinking Inside the Box ranting scene! Today's rant comes to you courtesy of Mr. GrandLethal16, who has his own Tumblr dedicated to RPGs which you might want to check out. It's much more bright, cheery, and interesting than this dump, to be sure. You can also check him out at his Youtube channel, which he uses for Let's Plays and other RPG-related stuff. Thanks for the rant, sir!

Disclaimer: I don't own GrandLethal16's words below, and they don't necessarily reflect my own perceptions and opinions. Although they might, some day, when I play this game. Only time will tell.




Tactics Ogre and the “Power of Choice”

GrandLethal16
November 17, 2016



A month ago, I highlighted Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions and how it focused on two friends and how their paths diverged greatly as they tried to “right” the world. This week, it’s all about Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together and while it shares many similarities with FFT (some of the same team worked on both), the contributions it brings to the SRPG subgenre are distinctly different!


The story of Tactics Ogre: LUCT centers around three youths: Denam Pavel, his sister Catiua, and his best friend Vyce. The three of them grow up in poverty and experience cruelty that often befalls the poor. These experiences mold them into the idealistic, passionate young people we see at the beginning of the game, determined to level the scales towards justice!

Here’s some backstory for them: The game takes place on the continent of Valeria, where the Dynast-King Dorgalua, had died without any confirmed heirs (Sound similar to FFT?). There is a vying for power in the vacuum and when the dust settles, the Wallisters (Denam and Co.’s nation) are at the bottom of the social food chain beneath the Bakram (nobility) and the Galgastani (the ethnic majority with a prejudice against Wallisters). A foreign ally of the Bakram occupying Valeria attacks and kills Denam and Co’s parents and the Wallister leader, Juda Ronwey, is captured and awaiting execution at the hands of the Galgastani.

As the game begins, Denam and Co. gather allies, rescue their leader, and begin their campaign to restore the Wallisters to freedom. After a string of successful missions, they are dispatched to a mining town where many of their fellow countrymen have been held as slaves for years. They’re ordered to kill all of the remaining slaves, their brethren, and pin blame on the Galgastani to rally the rest of the Wallister together to end the conflict once and for all. This is where the game gives you your first big decision. Will you sacrifice a small group of your own countrymen as a catalyst to mobilize the whole nation and end the war in days, or risk a long, drawn-out war with little hope of victory?


Tactics Ogre challenges you to make the tough choices in pursuit of the greatest “good” attainable. You will weigh the needs of the many against the well-being of the few. You will have to make sacrifices where the collateral will be the lives of unseen masses and even former comrades you’ve met during your journey. There are a number of these decisions you must make throughout the game and they will test you! If you fortify one castle to fend off an invading force, the nearby defenseless villages will suffer unprotected. And depending on the decisions you make, people you see as your closest friends may betray you.

I appreciate this story structure because it expands upon traditional SRPG choice constructs. Typically, the most choice a protagonist will have will be between attacking the north or south gate of an enemy castle (FFT), or defeating the boss versus routing the enemy (Fire Emblem). Tactics Ogre made the player define the means they’re willing to use to better the realm overall and living with results. At first glance, some of these choices are not black and white but rather shades of grey, and all are zero-sum situations. From a big-picture view, there is no explicitly morally “right” choice, and there will be consequences regardless of the choice you make. Compare this to the larger JRPG genre, where the concept of choice may give you a slightly different dialogue response in a cutscene, but not change the narrative’s direction in any way.


If FFT explored the realness of humans and their corruptible natures, Tactics Ogre explored the realness of choice and consequences. FFT showed how two people sharing the same ideals could be lead down different paths based on their fundamental beliefs. Tactics Ogre shows how every choice the main character makes serves to form who he and those closest to him become, and how they impact the larger world in many unforeseen ways. It reminds us that the choices are not made in a vacuum; they have a ripple effect on the larger world and just because you decide not to go down one path, doesn’t mean someone else won’t take up that cause. I think many genres beyond role-playing could benefit from exploring this tool to enrich their story and create more replay value for the player. Moving away from linearity, both in gameplay and story, is essential to standing out from the pack.

I think that most of us would say that we play RPGs because we enjoy exploring these kind of choices. These less-than-linear storylines elevate the plot and require more than the simple critical thinking needed to hit a flan with magic or an aerial enemy with ranged attacks. We want to experience the “out of the ordinary” and we love a good game that stays with us well after the final credits roll (i.e. Chrono Trigger). Questioning the choices we made during a game, contemplating real-life similar scenarios, and discussing them with other gamers is possibly the best influence that games like Tactics Ogre can have on gaming discourse!


I would highly recommend Tactics Ogre to anyone who enjoys SRPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem, or Disgaea. The character customization is super-extensive (second only to Disgaea in terms of detail), the gameplay mechanics are the most complete of any game in the sub-genre, and the replay value is off-the-charts with three story path routes, numerous sidequests, and a treasure trove of post-game content (no paid DLC either)! Beating the game allows you to revisit the different pivotal choices in the explore the alternate story paths and recruit route-exclusive characters. Tactics Ogre is available on the PSN for $19.99 and is playable on PS Vita/PSP, so check it out!

Here are some other examples of impactful choices in RPGS worth checking out:
--Bravely Second (3DS) features some great examples of impactful choices within their Asterisk sidequests, where it's hard to say that either outcome is exclusively “right”.
--Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS) does this with a number of drop-in-the-buckets decisions throughout the game that determine late game alignment and ending.
--Fire Emblem Fates (3DS) does this very early on with the allegiance choice, though all subsequent events are locked by that path.


Have you ever played Tactics Ogre: LUCT? What did you think of it? What’s another game that utilized the “Power of Choice” well?

Share your thoughts in the comments section - I’d love to hear from you!

6 comments:

  1. Another SRPG I can think of that used the "Power of Choice" is Der Langrisser for the SNES (there's a spoiler-less chart at http://db.gamefaqs.com//console/snes//file/der_langrisser_scenario.png) but I think that game focuses more on philosophy than good characters/story.

    I've been interested in the Tactics Ogre series for a while since Yasumi Matsuno's games are supposedly good, so I can't say that much about the rant.

    I'm a bit wary about choices in stories, though, because it's difficult to make every choice as thematically appropriate and developing a linear story would help the developers to improve aspects of that story (while all the outcomes of your choices might be more rushed otherwise).

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    1. I took a look at the link you shared, and wow! These branching paths are crazy!

      There's nothing wrong with focusing on exploring philosophy as a part of your game design. Arguably, the best RPGs do that well. IF a story isn't believable and doesn't explore moral gray areas, it won't be that compelling by today's standards.

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    1. Thanks, I'll be sure to check that out!

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    2. Where did you find this? It's awesome!
      I actually read the interview after you shared it, and forwarded to a couple friends of mine who are big FF6 fans! Thanks!

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    3. Shmuplations.com focuses on translating developer interviews.

      There's a list here of games with interviews already translated and it looks like a Tactics Ogre interview might be translated in a couple of months from the voting list, which you'd probably be interested in, but paying for the website's Patreon thing is a prerequisite for voting.

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