I can safely say that Langrisser I & II has been one of my most anticipated titles so far in 2020. The question – and the risk when you are really looking forward to a game – is whether or not it can live up to those expectations. Thankfully, by and large it has. That being said, I love a good SRPG, and at its core Langrisser I & II still provides a challenging tactics experience.
Now, I’ve talked about Warsong plenty in the past (http://chalgyr.com/2020/01/retro-genesis-warsong.html), which is what Langrisser I was called on the Genesis when it released in North America. I know that since then, there have been some ports of this and the sequel (which I had never gotten the chance to play), but this genre was one of my favorites of that time period (Fire Emblem, Shining Force, Dark Wizard and Master of Monsters to name a few titles I spent entirely too many hours of my life playing, replaying and then playing again). Warsong was arguably my favorite out of all of them. I played it a couple of times here and there over the years, and have generally found that while the presentation did not age fantastically, the overall mechanics and strategy elements were still quite solid.
Fast forward to 2020, and we get a new release on a pair of really old games, and while I had some ideas of what to expect, I still excited to get my hands on the title and find out firsthand. For starters, these games are not built with newcomers in mind. If you sort of/kind of/maybe think you would be interested in dipping your toes into the SRPG genre, I suggest starting somewhere else. This is one of those titles that has a lot of management aspects, and an AI with no mercy. However, if you like to min/max your stats and squeeze every bit of advantage out of the encounters that you can, congratulations because these Langrisser titles are going to be just what the doctor ordered for you.
The first and most notable aspect of this newly packaged release is in the visuals. There is an option to switch between the modern and classic graphics (but even the classic visuals are updated from what I had first played on the Genesis). While it is a neat feature, and your preferences may vary (I find that the original art style is more angular with bolder colors, while the newer one just has a softer all around feel to it), your first time through it is probably best to play with the newer style since it includes new art for cutscenes that you would otherwise be missing. Either way, both options are an uptick over what I recall from the Genesis game, though neither really feels like a AAA reimagining. It’s solid enough, but relatively unspectacular.
I will say however, that the audio has seen a notable improvement. First, the sound effects are far less repetitive than the original game, and of course music has come a long ways since the 16-bit era as well. It would have been nice to have some English voice acting, but I was not expecting it either. The two presentation items certainly dress up a rather basic pair of narratives. In the first game, Prince Ledin is forced out of his kingdom and loses his father to an enemy invasion and has to cobble together an army so he can try and stop the evil army. The sequel focuses on Elwin, who does have a slightly more complex story. Both of these games have some branching narratives. Granted, the stories don’t swing too wildly during the game itself, but some of the outcomes can impact units and ending scenes. I have always loved games with some choice and impact (I won’t even tell you how many times I’ve played branching path Bioware games over the years). So I definitely found value in the branching narrative here, even if the story is really not anything we haven’t seen before. Keep in mind, these games are from the 90’s.
All of this is well and good, but for me it really comes down to the tactics gameplay, and the primary thing that I noticed is that while the two games are dressed up differently, they play pretty much the exact same way. Still, the systems at play were pretty fantastic at the time, and I am happy to see that they still hold up today. Commanders are the key, as they are more powerful than the ‘regular’ units you can hire to surround them with. That being said, these units can dogpile on an opponent and win the day for you if used properly. They also tend to try and stick close to their respective commander unit due to the boosts that they get. Your hired mercenary units can come into play here, as you use them as sacrificial pawns to soak up the enemy commander’s magic points on the offensive spells they cast. This is an old school, grid-based turn-based tactics game that really makes you consider your options carefully. Different types of classes fair better against others in the sort of rock/paper/scissors format that so many other SRPG titles have done so well in the past. Terrain is also incredibly important, as having the right class in the right terrain can be the tiebreaker between two similarly skilled units.
Preparation is a big part of it, and a large aspect of the RPG elements found in Langrisser I & II. Units earn experience (and you sometimes have to balance taking out the enemy commander to get the quick, assured victory or farming his units to grind out some extra experience) and can lead to improved classes. These classes or tiers offer different strengths and weaknesses, so balance to your overall team is key, and some of the characters have access to unique classes that you’ll want to be mindful of as well. In addition to experience, you earn money that you can use to buy more troops at the start of a round. There are also some stat-boosting gear to be found and assigned to characters. If this seems like a lot to manage – well, it is. There is an easy option that gives you a somewhat faster start in terms of supplies and tries to get you off of the right foot. That might not sound like much, especially in a game that is constantly and unapologetically trying to kill you, but having a good foundation to build off of is key to long term success. This is why I almost always try to grind out and kill the lesser units, because in the end, having that extra experience tucked into your units is going to be very important. That being said, the game is not as hard as it was back in its Genesis days when a killed unit remained gone for the duration of the game. It can have an impact on the story lines (which is how the different branches occur), however.
One other important aspect of the game that deserves a mention is that far more often than not, map / level design is really good. There is almost always an ‘intended’ set of moves / routes available that make the most sense, but for those willing to explore a bit and look for less obvious advantages, there is ample opportunity to create a nifty advantage for yourself during battle. There are some maps where having the mercenary units are a must – and others where I didn’t use them because they would just cluster up the narrow passages in some of the castle stages. There are also plenty of surprises in these maps. The objectives generally stay pretty much the same – X character can’t be killed, Y character must be defeated, Z location must be reached, etc. Fairly standard, but there is some variety. However, quite often the maps will update midway through, whether enemy reinforcements arrive from behind your units or you need to escort a character to a destination, making the scenario more challenging, or a monster arrives on the map from out of nowhere and will attack you and the opposing army indiscriminately. All of these things really give the stages some texture that kept me on my toes.