When you look at the sheer number of quality 2D videogames on Sega Saturn that would remain in Japan, your heart breaks. The obsession with 3D polygons at a time when 2D pixel art was reaching its apex feels all too shortsighted, cruel, foolish. And while it’s true that the videogame-playing public was responsible for much of this shift, they were relentlessly conditioned and prodded by software publishers and marketing executives all the way.
In a more sane world, Tactics Ogre would be scooped up for an immediate release and hailed as a classic by fans of strategy and adventure games. It certainly looks gorgeous with its wonderful art and color design, its brilliant world layouts, its vast cast of intriguing characters, and its immensely deep and involving gameplay system? The Tactical-RPG was coming into its own and Saturn was leading the charge with such classics as Dragon Force, Sakura Wars, Terra Phantastica, Wachenroeder, Soldnerschild, and, of course, Shining Force III. Yet, sadly, the genre was almost entirely ignored, aside from the valiant efforts of Working Designs, for whom we shall always remain grateful.
Tactics Ogre was eventually released in the US on Sony Playstation, the console that sparked the whole 3D polygon obsession in the first place. There’s no small dose of irony in that, but also reflects how the decisions of a single executive, Bernie Stolar (first with Sony, then Sega) could greatly impact the videogame industry. Imagine if his self-imposed policy of “No 2D, No RPG, No Anime” games never existed.
In any case, Tactics Ogre is a hallmark for Tactical-RPG videogames. It’s the direct successor to Ogre Battle and directed by Yasumi Matsuno, who would later create Final Fantasy Tactics and Vandal Hearts at Square. Both titles first appeared on the Super Famicom and would later appear on PSX and PSP.
Tactics Ogre always felt a little more involving and challenging than many other strategy games, with its focus on classes, nonlinear story branching and moral alignments of Lawful, Neutral or Chaos. The story can take many twists and turns depending on choices made by the players that result in multiple endings. The political intrigue and complex plotting were inspired by the brutal civil war in the former Yugoslavia and reflected Matsuno’s commentary on such events as the Bosnian Genocide.
If you’re looking for an English-language version of Tactics Ogre, the Playstation is your best choice, although a fan translation of the Super Famicom version is also available. A Sega Saturn fan translation would be near the top of my wish list, but no such plans are in the works. This is precisely why I wish Sega would implement their own version of Virtual Console and finally give these classic games a second lease on life.
In a 2006 Famitsu reader poll of the 100 greatest videogames ever made, Tactics Ogre was ranked seventh. Very high praise, indeed.