Tactics games have been enjoying a little bit of a renaissance of late. Square Enix alone has released several of them this year, including Triangle Strategy, Front Mission, and The DioField Chronicle. But the oldest and most important of them is Tactics Ogre – the strategy game that led directly to Final Fantasy Tactics along with a host of imitators.
Currently in the midst of its second major update in 10 years, Tactics Ogre Reborn will heavily rebalance the series’ classic gameplay while adding full voice-acting and several quality-of-life improvements. Its development team includes veterans like producer Hiroaki Kato, whose history with the series stretches all the way back to the days of the Super Nintendo. Renowned for its dense story and strategy, it’s clear that Tactics Ogre is special to this Yasumi Matsuno-led team, which is a big reason it’s being remade once again for modern consoles.
During Tokyo Game Show, Kato sat down with IGN for a wide-ranging discussion in which he talked about his time with the series and the return of tactics games. He also talked about Tactics Ogre’s inevitable comparisons to Triangle Strategy, why it’s not being made in the famous “HD-2D” style, and more. The full interview can be found below.
IGN: Can you tell me about how this project got started? My understanding is that Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age was a very important factor in that.
Hiroaki Kato: So the thing that kind of led to our whole project getting started was in 2011 when we did the PSP version of Tactics Ogre, we saw basically the customer reaction. And we saw it was pretty good, and we always wanted to make another Tactics Ogre. And when Final Fantasy 12 Zodiac Age came out, they were able to really upgrade visuals, the sounds of battles, kind of rework all that stuff. And we were able to use that knowhow. We were able to bring it into the making of this new game, and kind of create a new play style for our games.
IGN: Was any consideration given to an HD-2D style for this version?
Hiroaki Kato: No, we didn't think about making it HD-2D. We kind of played with the idea of making it 3D, but what we were really thinking about was, “What are the major parts about this game that are really appealing to everybody?” And in the 2D original, it was really well done pixel art, so we realized that we couldn't have a Tactics Ogre game without this really high-quality, awesome looking 2D pixel art. So to bring that sort of resolution and that sort of fidelity to new hardware and new technology was a lot of effort. But yeah, I think we did it.
IGN: What do you think of the HD-2D style?
Hiroaki Kato: I really do like it. I think it's a really interesting and kind of new graphical interface to display things with. So yes, I think it's really cool.
IGN: And how does it feel to release Tactics Ogre in the same year as Triangle Strategy?
Hiroaki Kato: I think it's generally a great thing that they came out in the same year. For a long time, there were no new tactics RPGs, so now suddenly, we have both Tactics Ogre and we have Triangle Strategy, and what this has done is allow both core users of this kind of genre to get their feet wet with it again, and for new users as well to learn what a tactics game is about. Triangle Strategy had good feedback as well, it seemed to be a success. So for us to see that, we are able to release our game and go, "Well, okay, here's another tactics game. Here's actually one of the original tactics games." Triangle Strategy let people know that this series exists and has existed for so long, and it helped bring new users to the whole genre.
IGN: Tell me about your history with Tactics Ogre and your own journey.
Hiroaki Kato: I've been involved in the Tactics Ogre series since the SNES. When we were making the SNES version of the game, I worked for a company called Quest as a part-time employee. I did debug, a little bit of marketing, that sort of thing. But when we made the PSP version, I moved to Square and I worked as a project manager handling the organization of the project as a whole. Now, for Tactics Ogre Reborn, I'm here as the producer.
IGN: And what's it like to work with Yasumi Matsuno again on this project?
Hiroaki Kato: The original was a really well-made game, and I think [Matsuno] was somebody who really contributed to making the game as great as it was. So for me to be able to work with him again is just a really exciting experience.
IGN: Did he give any specific instructions or any requests for the team for Tactics Ogre Reborn specifically?
Hiroaki Kato: Yeah, Matsuno is involved in pretty much every aspect of the game. He is helping design the script. He's checking all the things that kind of come out. He's involved with the battle design and UI and cutscenes. So he's kind of seeing the whole width and breadth of the entire game and checking everything, offering feedback.
IGN: Tactics Ogre has had several updates now and a lot of the original team is still working on it. Tell me about your feelings and emotions around the series. Is it special to you?
Hiroaki Kato: So when I first was involved with the SNES version of it, it left this massive impact on me. I mean, it was pretty much the ultimate level of game. It's got amazing pixel art and the sound is really impressive. I mean, it's got just SNES sound, but it gives you these orchestral sounds. That was just kind of amazing. The battle system was really good, and it tells this really interesting story that mixes fantasy and politics, that kind of whole thing. So, yeah, I think it just left a huge impact on me from the SNES era.
Now that we've come to where we are now, I've always wanted to make it even better and I wanted to put effort into it. Hopefully all this effort that we put in will allow young users – people who haven't played the game before – to experience the joy of Tactics Ogre for themselves.
IGN: There are many gameplay changes to this one so maybe let's talk about that a little bit. Will this version have online multiplayer?
Hiroaki Kato: No, there's going to be no online content. But in a sense, we are kind of preparing the game so it's almost in a way like a solo play MMO. Not in the way that the game plays, but in the fact that there's lots of end content that you can enjoy. For example, we've put tons of effort into making the character growth and leveling and those systems something that you can really sink your teeth into for a long, long time.
IGN: Why did you change the way the characters level up?
Hiroaki Kato: In the PSP version, you manage your levels by classes. For example, Archers are level 12, Knights are level 11, that sort of thing. But in the newest version, you're managing levels by unit. The reason why we did that was twofold. The first is because when you're managing by unit, you can really freely customize the unit and make them your own and really get connected with them that way, and I think that’s a really fun mechanic to have. The second reason was that initially, in the SNES version, that was kind of how things were managed, so we wanted to bring it back to its roots a little bit.
IGN: What are the overall goals taken together with all of these gameplay changes for Tactics Ogre Reborn?
Hiroaki Kato: I think probably the major goal that we had for the changes in the battle design system was to support the story. So for Tactics Ogre, this story is a really, really important part of the game. By adding in all these little elements, we are able to link them with the battles – with the story itself – and kind of embed them together so that you can feel lots of emotion and excitement while you're playing through these stories. So that's kind of the overall goal, if that answers your question.
IGN: Tell me about the challenges of making this game fully voiced.
Hiroaki Kato: It's something that we always had wanted to do. When we made the last game, we said, ‘If we make another one of these games, we want to make sure it's fully voiced.’ So yes, it was definitely tough, it was definitely challenging. There's lots of characters, so recording all that was a lot of effort. But we think it's really important, because it’s a story told with these pixel dolls. We want to do our best to make it sound real, to convince players that they're really witnessing this kind of human story, this human drama…so we put tons of effort into realizing that.
IGN: Is being fully voiced why you decided not to include new story content?
Hiroaki Kato: So yes, that is part of it, but a more important part is that we figured this was enough. We have enough story content in here, and it's really high quality. We don't need to go in and tinker with it. That being said, Matsuno-san for the Japanese version did actually make a couple changes to the script, in addition to a lot of small tweaks.
The original script was not intended to have voices – it was meant to be read, not listened to. Now that the new script is meant to be listened to, he went in and changed some lines to make it sound better when spoken, if that makes sense. He’s also kind of tinkering with some characters to give them a few more unique characteristics. That’s the second.
IGN: The character classes are also getting some changes. What would you say is the class that has been most heavily rebalanced and why?
Hiroaki Kato: I can't say if we changed any one of them the most. We went in and we kind of adjusted everything, like all the skills, all the equipment that they can use. The entire breadth of the game is being tweaked, and edited, and changed. Whether or not a player wants to use mages, or knights, or archers, we've done our best to ensure that there's a nice balance so that players can choose which characters that they like and still have a fun time.
IGN: Something that people notice with the graphics style is that the sprite art looks very smooth. I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about how that came to be.
Initially when we remade the pixel art, we were thinking about how to show it on new modern technology with high-resolution screens. That was the main goal: to show the power and beauty of the original pixel art on modern technology without them looking terrible. If you just took, for example, the SNES or the PSP graphics as they were and threw them up on a high-resolution modern monitor, they would just look like a mosaic. You'd be unable to make anything out.
We really did our best to make sure that the new art would – on new monitors, on new technology – be displayed nicely. We put in tons of really small pixels and really small dots to achieve that effect. The thing is we designed them for most modern monitors that people would be using. But if you're seeing it on a small screen, or maybe a trailer, it could look a little bit strangely smooth. But I think if you played it on your home console or on a standard monitor, you would not feel any oddness to the movement. It would all seem right.
I mean, we could make it as smooth as we wanted to. We could just have spent lots of hours and made it extremely smooth and nice, but we wanted to make sure it retained the original's feel and style. We’re constantly looking at the original and comparing it to the new version, and checking back and forth to make sure that the new art that we're making still retains the qualities of the old.
IGN: You mentioned earlier that there weren’t so many tactics games, but now there are lots of them. What do you think is behind that change?
I think there's two major reasons that I can point to. For a long time people didn't make tactics games. They're very hard to make because they require tons of data to simulate – more than an RPG. There's tons of units in the field and there's tons of things that you have to simulate. It tends to be very hard to make and requires lots and lots of data to create…It's just really hard to do. It takes a lot of time. But because no one made them for a while, wow people are like, "Hey, these things existed. We like them, but they're not out, so let's make them."
The other one is that they’re very hard to play. They take lots of time to play through and there's lots of things that you need to do. But we've entered into an era where we're able implement all these new techniques, for example, a 2x speed mode. That makes it easier for a modern audience to play it more easily and smoothly.
Modern gaming systems have been able to find ways to overcome the problems that tactics games have faced in the past. Now new audiences and younger audiences can play them as well.
Tactics Ogre Reborn releases November 11 on PC, PS4, PS5, and Switch.