Swing low, sweet CHARIOT

Hello, fellow mortals. I regret failing to update yesterday, but I was quite busy! Besides the DS retrospectives I’ve been writing up each day, I also spent last night writing and revising my Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together review. I’ve been going back and forth on the score all week, but finally I decided that there’s nothing I would change about this game. If that’s not the definition of top marks, what is?

There’s no such thing as a perfect game, of course, and A+ isn’t a perfect score. It just means I can’t think of anything it’s lacking, any way in which it’s failing. It’s a remake that improves on the original and officially dethrones Metroid: Zero Mission and Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride as the ultimate expression of what a remake can be.

My one disappointment with Tactics Ogre isn’t with the game itself, but with the reaction of a handful of very, very vocal fans of the original who feel compelled to roam around the web explaining to everyone why this remake is complete garbage. Every major gaming forum I frequent has at least one “super fan” who doesn’t see an opportunity here to encourage everyone to give this revision of their favorite game a shot and improve its chances of not being the last-ever Ogre game, but rather an opening to explain why it’s a worthless, watered-down desecration of all that they love and believe in. Yeah, I know, true fandom is all about working against your best interests, but it’s frustrating to watch.

The crux of many of these complaints revolves around the CHARIOT tarot system, which lets you rewind battles by up to 50 moves and try alternate strategies. It’s a little like having a built-in emulator save state, and yeah, it makes battles a lot easier to win. But it’s not a compulsory feature, and the game cheerfully tracks how many times you use the CHARIOT menu to tweak battles in your favor. It is, essentially, a dynamic difficulty setting; rather than taking a rigid, arbitrary approach to multiple difficulty levels, Tactics Ogre is fairly challenging by any standard and gives less experienced or confident players an out when they end up in over their heads.

It’s easy to abuse CHARIOT, sure; I embarked on the game using it to rewind when I made dumb, trivial mistakes in battle. Singeing my hero’s head with a misaimed fireball, trying to plink a too-high enemy with an arrow, that sort of thing. After a little while, though, I realized I was just being lazy and frivolous, which was no substitute for playing the game. I resolved to stop rewinding for stupid errors, sucking up my friendly fire incidents with grim acceptance and setting my jaw with the determination not to screw up on dopey, simply things.

The CHARIOT system still came in handy when battles went horribly wrong, though. Jumping back a few dozen turns let me take another stab at a mission without having to start over entirely from the beginning — not a frivolous cheat, but rather a time-saving convenience to spare the trouble of a reset and restart. When a single battle can take an hour (looking over my stats, it looks like my fights averaged out to about 43 minutes apiece), I can’t complain about developers having the courtesy to shave half an hour of redundancy off my screw-ups. And it’s occasionally possible to get into a situation so dire that no amount of CHARIOTing will save your butt. But ultimately, it’s a minor feature that can easily be ignored. Kind of like how you’re not obligated to grind for levels and gear at every step in a standard RPG. If something’s not fun, why do it? Play a game your own damn way, whatever that may be.

Anyway, the point is, I guess, that… because I like Tactics Ogre I… don’t really like Tactics Ogre? I don’t know, this sort of thing is still confusing to me even after all these years.

27 thoughts on “Swing low, sweet CHARIOT

  1. If you look closely, you might find that sometimes those superfans are the same obnoxious person.

  2. I remember reading somewhere a theory that a core part of fandom is cognitive dissonance: there really isn’t a sky fandom because most people recognise that the sky is pretty cool. To a fandom to develop, you need the cognitive dissonance of people either not liking it or not caring to the extent that the fandom does.

    This explains why the most intense fandoms tend to be around terrible things; the only people left are totally committed to it because they’re in too deep to realise it sucks.

  3. As a time-saver for the standard ‘screw up, reload last save’ that sounds like one of the most brilliant features ever…

  4. I loved your review and fully intend to buy this game, but I wanted to comment that I don’t think the “just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to use it” argument holds water. I’m not talking about for this particular feature–I mean in general.

    You could imagine putting a button in a game like this that says “win this battle now”. You don’t have to use it, but I would argue that the button is still a bad design decision.

    The thing is, people don’t always know what’s best for their enjoyment of a game while they’re actually playing it. They may be temporarily frustrated with a battle, so they push the button, thinking it will increase the fun to just get out of it and stop being frustrated. But in fact what they’ve done is taken away the opportunity for the much greater and deeper satisfaction of actually figuring it out and winning on their own.

    Some people will obviously be self-aware enough to not take the easy route and ruin the game, but others won’t be. I argue that it’s the designer’s responsibility to ensure that the game is fun and rewarding by not putting that button in, not the player’s responsibility by not pushing it.

    Anyway, like I said, I’m not commenting on this particular mechanic, because I’m not qualified to do so. I’m just commenting on the “you don’t have to use it” argument you used a couple of times in the 1up review and again here. I’m a wannabe (board) game designer, so I’m interested and think a lot about this sort of thing, and it’s also why I’m here in the first place.

    Thanks for the insight, as usual.

    • You have some good points, but I’d say there’s a difference between a ‘rewind’ feature and the ‘fast-forward’ feature you use as an example here. One saves annoying re-runs of content you’ve already cleared, the other makes sections of the game redundent. Using Forza 3 as an example, if you crash you can rewind to a point where you still had control of you car but you can’t use it to shave milliseconds off your laptimes on the leaderboard because you can’t choose exactly where it rewinds to (it’s usually about 5-10 seconds ago) and using the feature invalidates the lap vis a vis the leaderboards. There was a lot of clamouring from noisy fans before release about how this feature would render the game skill-less and whatnot, but it really hasn’t made a difference except that you don’t have to keep repeating the same race in the single player mode (you can’t rewind in multi, for obvious reasons).

      In short, there’s a big difference between a ‘rewind’ button and a ‘fast-forward’ button – one saves time, the other ruins a game.

    • Yeah, I’m gonna pretty much have to disagree completely with your thesis there. If a player is unable to figure out whether they’ll get more enjoyment from a particular game by using cheats and exploits than by foregoing them, that sounds to me like a personal problem. It’s not the developers’ responsibility to be your Dad and tell you the “right” way to do something to have fun. And don’t forget, some players genuinely *will* derive more enjoyment from breaking a game egregiously.

      I’ve pretty much completely lost patience with gamers (not necessarily Eric here, this is a more general point) who’ve decided that any game that doesn’t force everyone onto *their* own acceptable level of difficulty represents some sort of moral betrayal. It’s a bunch of nonsense. There’s no reason why different people can’t enjoy the same game in very different ways, and I almost always see more difficulty-altering free choice as a good thing.

      Remember when almost every FPS had a built-in god-mode cheat? That was fun.

    • I find this to be a really strange objection. I mean, “what’s best” for a person’s enjoyment of a game is entirely up to them, right? It’s an entertainment, not a character-building exercise.

      How is it a bad design choice to include an option that makes the game more accessible to some without affecting the experience of others? When I’m frustrated with a battle that I keep losing and restarting, I may soldier through it and eventually get past it, but I’m not enjoying myself in the process; mostly I’m thinking about how much time I’m wasting by having to fight the same battle over and over again, but some itchy little part of my brain won’t let me walk away until I master it, despite knowing that I have other things I could be playing that WON’T make me angry. It’s not a pleasant experience.

      For that matter, “taking the easy route” doesn’t automatically ruin a game. People who play games on the easiest difficulty level available – varied difficulty levels being a feature most games include that you don’t HAVE to use – are only robbing themselves of a “better” experience in the eyes of people who look down on them for playing games on the easiest difficulty level. Those players are experiencing a game they might not otherwise have had the skill or patience to play, and garnering enjoyment out of it (presumably), whereas otherwise it would’ve just frustrated or alienated them. I can’t think of a single reason why that’s a bad thing.

    • I think there’s a lot more potential in player-regulated difficulty balancing than in the old-fashioned “easy/normal/hard” style. I don’t know that Tactics Ogre’s approach is perfect, but I have come to regard the CHARIOT system as something to fall back on strictly in the case of failure. Using it is the equivalent of seeing a Game Over screen.

      But I also get the impression that I’m a lot better about playing “ethically” than a lot of gamers. I don’t cheat in action games, I don’t exploit glitches, I don’t cheese RPGs. It’s fun to read things like the current Something Awful Final Fantasy Tactics Let’s Play where the dude’s murder machine is a super-tweaked Black Mage with Draw Out, but that’s not how I want to play. On the other hand, immediately after posting this blog, I saw a post on the 1UP boards where someone was complaining that this remake sucks because they’d figured out how to break it, but also that the original Tactics Ogre sucks because they figured out an exploit for it, too. From what I can tell, he’s incapable of playing a game “correctly” as soon as he’s discovered a cheap, easy, lazy way to win; once he’s found that, it’s the only way he can comprehend playing.

      In those cases, I don’t think that’s indicative of a defective game, and I guess there’s no percentage in arguing with them, just the same way I’ve stopped telling players who grind every job in Final Fantasy V to mastery the instant its crystal becomes available that they’re doing it wrong. Some people just approach games with very blinkered or compulsive perspectives, and it’s no indictment of the games they play.

  5. The only thing I don’t like with the English localization is the decision to use an ALL CAPS font that makes the characters look like they’re shouting.

  6. What a terrible time to be jobless. Now I want to play TO more than ever… And I liked the PSX original. I hope I won’t turn into an annoying fantype, though I’d expect you to be better at ignoring them. It’s gonna be very annoying having to keep looking at CHARIOT done in all scream-type over the course of the next few months.

    • This was not a “woe is me, these terrible people have a different opinion!” post. It’s a “please disregard these guys as the statistical anomaly they are, because this is a brilliant revision and I want you to buy it and make it a success so that Yasumi Matsuno and his pals will make more awesome Ogre games for us” post.

      • I’d like to see a lot of the NGPC titles revisited, even if they were to lose some charm from competent localization and no clicky-stick. Faselei!, the two Metal Slugs, *all* the fighters.

        But the Ogre Battle title is certainly the highest profile “lost” game.

  7. I remember when the original Alien Vs. Predator came out for PC. It had limited saves based on the difficulty level you selected, and it was one of the stupidest design decisions ever made.

    More player choice, especially in regards to difficulty level, is NEVER a bad thing. I’m in the midst of playing through Dragon Age: Origins without a Mage in my party. Sure, I’m playing it on ‘Easy’, but to me, it’s still a challenge and a lot of fun.

  8. I can hardly begin to express how excited I am for this game. Despite being a huge fan of Matsuno and the Ogre series, I never actually got my mitts on Tactics. I can’t imagine another release that would be able to convince me to tune out the fact the DQVI releases the same day.

  9. This complaining about the CHARIOT system seems very similar to complaints about “auto battle” in FFXIII.

      • Wrong, you do have a choice. Even you have the slowest fingers in the world, you have the choice.

        And if you’re really that slow, go to the options menu, slow down the battle speed. You can have the last commands you’ve entered auto recalled so you don’t have to enter them every turn.

        Really, the game makes it very easy for players to not select auto battle every turn.

  10. So, to sum up, if I understand correctly, the CHARIOT system will destroy me and all that I hold dear. Is that pretty much it?

  11. I think I’d be looking forward to it less without the Chariot system.

    I only really game on handhelds these days due to time and if I need it, the option to use the Chariot system is going to a nice feature.

    I honestly can’t get more hyped for this game.

    15 years of waiting is nearly over.

  12. The game is not perfect – as surely has been noted around the internets, that’s the lamest subtitle ever.

    That’s not entirely irrelevant, either, because it surely won’t help sales on a game that’s probably destined to bomb anyway.

    I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of my PSP.

    • Queen references aren’t lame!

      Well… I guess they are if you don’t recognize them. Or don’t like Queen.

  13. The Chariot system will single handedly allow me to complete this game. I tried playing it on the playstation, it is fantastic, yet I can only repeat so many hours over and over again before nothing about the game is fun anymore, before I’ve lost sight of the story and end up in a training match throwing rocks at myself for countless more hours just to be able to give my self an edge up on that battle in hopes I won’t screw up badly enough to once more have to repeat it.

    I am incredibly excited for this game, bought a psp soley to play it.

    As an Ogre Battle Saga I am even more excited because as you point out, there is now some hope of more Ogre Games.

    Which I would think these die hard fans would be excited as well, worst case scenario they still have the old “perfect” “hardcore” version that they love and can now look forward to new installments if the version they hate is successful.

    Nothing stops them from playing the version they love and nothing forces them to play the new version that countless more people will love due to its brilliant changes. Its win-win-win, they get the old frustrating experience they crave, we get the improved version and we all may get an entirely new Ogre experience down the road.

  14. Something I’m unclear on, I’ve heard that the enemies scale to your own, but also that some battles are tougher then others because the enemies are at a fixed level. Is it more like the original, where enemies would scale to your level but had a cut-off point? Also, considering the class leveling system, I’m a little unclear on how enemies can “scale to your parties level” at all.

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