Release Date: 4/26/1991 (PC Engine version 8/6/1993). Mega Drive version released in English as “Warsong.”
System: Mega Drive/PC Engine (later remake for Saturn and Playstation)
Publisher: Nippon Computer Systems
- Turn type: Player turn/Enemy turn
- Maps: Medium to large. Terrain gives bonuses.
- Character Customization: Each character has a branching class path.
- Character Development: Standard XP level system. At level 10, character automatically upgrades to a new class, although the player can choose which one to advance to. The four “main” characters have secret classes in the PC Engine version.
- Party Size: You have at most 9 leaders, of which 4-8 can be sent out on each map. Each leader has up to 8 nameless grunt soldiers under them (fortunately the game has an auto-move system for the grunts if you don’t want to move them all individually).
- Equipment: Each character can equip one item (which includes armor, weapons, or items).
- Game Flow: 20 stages, one after another, no repeating stages or multiple paths.
- Saving: Permanent saves only between levels. At least in the PC Engine version you can do “memory saves” during the stage at any point, which go away when you turn off the power.
- Death: The nameless grunts all disappear at the end of the stage whether they die or not. In the Mega Drive version, a leader who dies is dead permanently. In the PC Engine version, they are simply removed from the stage with all their grunts.
This game is probably easiest to compare with Fire Emblem, since they came out around the same time and are both the beginning of long-running franchises. I think I probably enjoyed the two games about the same — there are a lot of rough edges and the storyline barely exists, but it’s still reasonably fun. Langrisser is far less frustrating than FE because of the ability to save and load your game as many times as you want during the stage. I believe this is in the original Genesis version as well although I’m not sure. The lack of permadeath in the PC Engine version also lowers the difficulty a bit but not as much as the save/load.
The soldier hiring is a nice aspect of the game and makes it feel more like you’re commanding large forces than Marth’s band of 20 or so. The use of the “command zone” strengthens the feeling of the squads. The designers thankfully included an auto-move option for the soldiers so you don’t have to manually move 40-50 units every turn.
My biggest problem with the game is that I never felt like I fully understood the system. You can see attack and defense stats, but it’s hard to predict what that will actually mean when the fight starts. There are modifications based on level, terrain, compatibility of units, and remaining HP. All of that means that I had way too many experiences where I just had to save the game, try an attack, and then reload when I saw it didn’t work as I expected.
The next Langrisser game will come up in 1994; I’ll be curious to see what changes have been made (although some of the I->II changes were already done for the PC Engine version).
One point of interest is the CD-ROM technology. I’ve done about 25 games now on PC Engine between this blog and my other one, and there’s a wide difference in how companies actually use the capabilities of the CD system. CDs are cheaper to produce than carts/cards and may entice buyers, so there was an incentive to use the system. Games like the Tengai Makyo series made great use of the system with lots of voiced dialogue, cutscenes, and orchestral music tracks played off the CD. Others barely used it at all, with just a token animated intro. Langrisser is between the two — the music is high quality. There are some voiced cutscenes before each map but the total amount of voice and cutscene is maybe 5-10 minutes (plus the closing credits with the vocal song).
Next up will be another PC Engine game, this time one that was originally made for the system rather than a remake. The packaging advertises the cutscenes and story so we’ll see how it compares to this.