[Written Review can be found below our Video Review]
There’s something wonderful about classic gems getting new opportunities to shine like they should. Langrisser is one of those series. If you were a 90’s kid and lucky to get at least one of the 2 main video game consoles available on the market, then you probably know what the excitement to get the tiniest glimpse of any game anywhere. Whether you were all about Super Nintendo or all about Sega Genesis, or privileged to have both, exposure to certain names just wasn’t available because they never made it to other territories. Langrisser is the first game to kick the series off and is one exception that made it to the West in 1991 by its Western name “Warsong” for the Sega Genesis. The only other official release for a Langrisser game was a new title called Langrisser Re:Incarnation Tensei, which released roughly 5 years ago on the Nintendo 3DS, but under-performed in sales.
Langrisser’s formula is a blend of classic Fire Emblem in aesthetic and storytelling with the flashy battle scenarios and unit handling of Advance Wars. While Langrisser seems like a cute marriage of those two Nintendo franchises, it certainly does its own thing and does it well. It’s worth noting that since the initial spark of this series took place in the earliest of the 1990’s, Langrisser shouldn’t be seen as a direct uninspired Fire Emblem clone, but as its real life sibling with its own personality and feats. It’s nice that NIS America has not only brought these two competent Strategy RPG’s to the West in one package with some fine localization, but that they also include a fresh coat of paint, new music arrangements, and some reworked gameplay with additions that make this worth having. Hopefully it doesn’t fly under people’s radars again.
It’s just Langrisser didn’t have the chance to gain certain popularity since its characters weren’t half the roster of a popular fighting game. But I digress…
The games are actually named after its own lore. Langrisser is a sacred sword that yields an infinite supply of power and grants that to the person with possession of it. You might have guessed, but kindgoms fight each other for that power. Each one laying their out plans for the future and discussing their own rationale to justify it. Yes, a classic tale for a classic game. Langrisser I & II both take place in the same canon world, however, it’s more the agency given to the player that makes the story telling impactful more than the story itself. The plot of the two games are fine as is, and it’s never bad, but for its time of their original release, the various twists and consequential choices given to the players not only change the narrative moving forward, but can alter how you play each chapter as well.
In Langrisser I, the game takes place in the land of El Sallia where the kindgom of Baldea is in control and for good reason. For generations, the Baldea family holds the sacred sword Langrisser in safekeeping and out of reach of the wrong hands, but those who crave supreme power soon put Baldea fort under siege and its inevitable downfall. An early tragedy occurs, and soon our main hero Prince Ledin along with his named companions fight alongside each other in order to regain Langrisser and put an end to the corruption.
Staring a new game in either Langrisser or its sequel will bring up a sequence that will ask you various questions. Depending on how you choose to answer will decide your overall stats before beginning the prologue. It’s hard to tell just how much of a difference this ultimately ends up being without answering in all of the many possible ways, but should you not be satisfied with the result, you can always begin the oddly holy interrogation again from the beginning. You might even get different questions the next time around. One option, and possibly recommended, is the “Easy Start” which is asked if you want it. Choosing to accept gives you the essential starting items as well as 15,000 in gold. (I’m a Prince, right? Why shouldn’t I have 15,000 gold to spend on expendables? Easy start? More like the right start).
In these two games, the dialog is serviceable and succeeds in driving the narrative. The Japanese voice overs do the job just fine, in maybe the most standard of ways, but that’s okay. All character dialogues are voiced and that extends outside of the main characters to the one-off commanders who get their few minutes of fame. Despite how one feels about how the story is written and how the characters interact with each other, it does go to say that they do at least have their own individual personalities even if they aren’t fleshed out to any extreme. You have your tough guy ready to slay, your humble sidekick, your sincere friend who worries about everyone else, and some clowns who get mocked. Basically a lot of those tropes that get filled, but, that’s kinda what you want. Prince Ledin himself is a run-of-the-mill average guy. Just… basic cool. He’s always fair, composed, thinking for the greater good and never taking on any victory as only his.
Each chapter introduces a new battle for your commanders to get through. Ledin and his entire party of named characters are each their own commanders. Before deploying out to the battle field, players can recruit mercenaries by purchasing them for each of their commanders, each then becoming their own squad. However, since each character has their Class Tree uniquely laid out for them, the unlock rewards for both recruitable mercenaries, skills and spells will differ for each commander. And the stronger the mercenary, the higher their cost. There is some overlapping with some classes also being available for other characters, although they might be tied to a different slot. No matter which class you choose to unlock, the rewards that come with it are still accessible for that character even when switching to another class. This makes having a diverse team more manageable since their strengths and weaknesses can be somewhat alleviated by certain buffs or healing spells when the time calls for it. And the more unlocked rewards you have under your belt, the more bonuses you essentially have.
Victory also comes through different methods of strategy and a lot of that means relying on squads staying close. The number of participants on any given map can be 30-60+. There’s satisfying strategic choices to make for these large-scaled battles. Although it’s nothing that seems out of the ordinary by today’s standards, it’s easy to see how grander and new it was at the time. The good thing is it’s still fun to play today. All the maps are designed with this in mind and I never felt like there was only one way to accomplish a mission. At least in most cases. There are various mission types. You might have to act fast and chase a runaway or to come to the aid of an ally. Other times you need to stay close to an ally while you escort them to a certain location. The times where you only just need to wipe out a certain enemy or all of them are more flexible. Perhaps you want to bait an enemy and lure them close to your available squads. You can do that. This is especially useful since commanders and their squad of mercenaries can drastically change the outcome.
Each unit basically has one action, with the exception of attacking after moving if you’re in the attack zone. Essentially once you attack, that unit’s turn is over. Once one uses magic, that turn is over. It’s wise to position magic users where you need them and out of harm’s way so you can use the proper spells when it’s their turn again. Staying close provides the most bonuses to your squad’s stats. Each commander has what is called an Area of Command. Essentially, as long as your expendable pawns are in your Area of Command, they will receive a bonus to their defense and attack. So not only is it useful to have your mercenaries close, but to cover you, the commander, from all angles is as well. There’s even more incentive to stick together since each mercenary directly perpendicular to the commander receives 20% of the health back after each turn. If a commander is wiped, then say goodbye to the remaining squad as well. The brilliance of this strategy is this also applies to your enemies. You may come across enemy commanders who are tough and their squad doing most of the work while they take up their turn to cast a healing spell, but should you manage to focus most of your attention on the commander, you won’t have to worry about the remaining grunts anymore. It’s the most efficient way, but it may not be the most rewarding way. Each unit you defeat in battle grants you Experience Points, so while defeating a commander will earn your commander a sweet load of EXP, you could always squeeze out a little more by taking out the mercenaries first. It all just depends on the situation of if you’re really feelin’ it.
And Langrisser is no stranger to its own weapon triangle. Swords beat lances. Lances beat horses. And horses beat swords. Archers can do damage from a distance, while being weak in 1-to-1 combat. Marines can navigate through waters without penalty to movement and water depth. While sky mounts are unaffected by all terrain types, yet weak to archers.
There’s a decent spread of EXP that can be given to your entire party. Using magic any time will earn you EXP. Since magic users rarely attack, it can be useful to cast spells even if there are no enemies or allies already have that particular buff. An up-close warrior who is a higher level can chip down an enemy commander only to have a magic user who a little lower cast a spell on their entire group and net a decent amount of EXP. Another benefit carefully picking off grunts by reducing their health down to danger zone is by having any of of your commanders with their own reduced health to finish them off as any time a commander gains a Level, their entire pool of HP and MP are refilled to their maximum amount. Sometimes this is a sound strategy for those without their own healing spell or with not enough MP to cast one. One benefit in doing all of this is due to the fact that, with no real penalty to how many number of turns you choose to take on any given chapter, you are free to explore your options. Naturally, mercenaries belonging to their commander will always follow their lead and stick close. If you also don’t feel like moving each unit individually, there’s a faster process where ending your turn has the game automatically move the units towards their commander in best possible tidy way. With toggles of a button, players can see an enemy’s or a combination of enemies’ attack range, the chances of the outcome during a clash before accepting the decision, as well as highlight neutral and enemy participants for easier visibility.
Occasionally you’ll have to make tough choices when navigating a map. Each map introduces two spots on the grid that sparkle. These treasures can be out of the way or even on the way, but depending on how your squad navigates, can sometimes be tricky. Perhaps you just want to send off one of your mercenaries to retrieve it and then come back, only to find out that a surprise ambush was just around that area and closed in your unit with no escape only to be mauled from every side. Whether it’s a useful amount of a gold or a unique item, it will always beg for your attention until you pay it a visit. But those aren’t the only things to change how you proceed to play a chapter. You might feel like you know where the story is going, only to be introduced somewhat halfway that it’s taken a slight turn. You think you have the map figured out, only to be ambushed by mythical creatures in the form of water demons or sky demons, who, take no side and attack anyone which can then change how your initial enemy approaches the battlefield. One feature that’s useful is the Quick Save that can be used at any time during a battle for each of their respected games in the series. The quick save is only used for when you are already deployed and the nice thing is that remains there even after you quit the game and boot it back up again. If you like your progress, you can perform a quick save and then feel safe about trying out a tactic they may or may not work and then reload your quick save. Standard saves allow for many save slots, but can only be used between chapters. And how Langrisser handles chapters makes replaying them for story purposes a bit interesting. Especially if one enjoys some grinding.
You will eventually be greeted to different outcomes after certain chapters. While this also the same for Langrisser I, now’s a good time to talk about Langrisser II and how it excels that doing the same thing and giving the player more freedom to not only change the story, but change who the player is.
Langrisser II begins in Salrath, taking place centuries after Langrisser I, where we are introduced to an aspiring mage Hein who calls out to our main protagonist Elwin, an energized adventurer, that the militia of the Rayguard Empire has come to the village of Salrath declaring that they need to take Liana, away to a meeting with the leader of the empire. Liana, who’s a friend of Hein’s, is a special girl with certain mystery attached to her. It isn’t long before havoc breaks loose and soon Elwin embarks on this journey with Hein to aid Liana to safety. Different choices made by the player will determine just how the story will play out. While this is somewhat present in Langrisser I, it is fully expanded upon in Langrisser II. In both games, players always have the option to fall back to previous chapters, retaining their current level and keeping their money and items. This is good to get some extra experience in, but also to change progression. The only caveat is the game treats the story only having happened up to the point of the chapter you rolled back to. Meaning if you dropped down to chapter 8 from 14, you’ll need to play Chapter 9 onward again. The chapters are no slouch either as they can take anywhere upward an hour. However, with your higher level and everything you’ve gained, it’s more of a breeze and is rewarding those wanting to have different playthroughs.
The different outcomes created by completing objectives differently are more frequent in Langrisser II almost immediately, that all those different save slots suddenly have more meaning. If you like to have one save slot and live dangerously like I do, this provides a good reason to actually do what saving a game implies, to be safe. Aligning with certain factions or making difficult decisions when it’s life or death… you’re gonna feel those things.
It might even be worth it to replay some story just for the sake of playing it in a different style altogether. Langrisser I & I includes both classic and remastered styles, whether it’s having classic pixel graphics for the maps and retro chip soundtrack, or the entirely updated HD visuals and rearranged soundtrack. One of my favorite additions is also being able to change whether you want to use the classic character portraits or the updated ones. Everything can be changed in-game in the middle of a battle as well, the only downside here is changing music styles takes longer loading than one would like. Even the initial booting of either game has long load times. However, once you’re loaded, it’s pretty quick from there. It’s not all one way or the other, either. You can mix and match. If you want to play on HD maps with classic tunes, go right ahead. If you want to play on classic pixelated maps with a modern soundtrack, you can do that too. I often found myself switching between them. Personally, I’m a sucker for the early 90’s anime art direction so the classic character portraits hit home for me. There’s an slight upside for using the remastered portraits is that it include scenes in place of character portraits during certain portions of dialog, which ultimately became the deciding factor for review and “newness” purposes.
The only thing that remains modern and never changes are the character sprites and battle animations. This might be a downer for some who were wanting a full-on classic.
The remastered sound is no slouch. The soundtrack is a joy. The original soundtrack with its bass kicks and grungy synths are satisfying to any retro ear. A large part of that is due to veteran composer Noriyuki Iwadare, the same composer for beloved JRPG’s such as the Lunar series and Grandia series. When it comes to the remastered version, it’s just as great. Not only making the snyths and guitar solos intensify what’s happening on screen, but there’s even additional compositions added to the original songs making them longer and pleasant to listen to. Even if one track in particular makes me want to play Splatoon for some reason.
The game runs fairly smooth at 60 frames per second at 1080p resolution on the Nintendo Switch when docked. There’s an occasional chug only for a brief moment during some clashes or magic effects, but it’s a quick occurrence.