It has been over 20 years since the original Fantasy General released, but the core formula still holds up incredibly well. Fantasy General II: Invasion has the look and feel of a modern game but retains the core strategy and roleplaying principles of the original, creating a thoroughly enjoyable experience that was originally built for PC but works quite well on console.
The original Fantasy General was a PC strategy game that released in the mid-90’s. Now, I did not originally play it back then – I was more of a console gamer at the time than PC one. Thankfully there’s sites like Good Old Games that have allowed me to catch up on these missed classics over the last several years. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Fantasy General when I finally did get around to playing it, and as such I was really excited to hear that Slitherine was bringing us a sequel – to consoles no less.
Fantasy General II came out last fall, and it was a natural fit on the PC. The gameplay is very detail-oriented, and while I was happy to hear it was coming to consoles, I admit that I had concerns about how the controls would translate to a controller. Admittedly, there are times it was a little clunky – the design feels built for the free movements of a mouse, but it certainly works well most of the time. This is mostly due to having a lot of units on the screen at any one time, and a lot of menus in the interface. These menus are necessary to the game’s flow, but jumping around box to box is a little awkward with the controller, especially at first. After a few hours with the game, I had built up a bit of muscle memory around the buttons and shortcuts, so that doing things like cycling through units and noticing which ones are ready to level up, and then jumping into the upgrade tree and selecting what path I want their growth to adhere to… but it took time to get comfortable with it.
While the title of the game is pretty generic, the characters and story are actually interesting and memorable. There are two basic unit archetypes: troops and Heroes. This distinction is very important, as they function differently and impact mission objectives as well. Your clan is led by Falir One-Eye, and you are his son and future leader of your people. He is your first and primary hero, a balanced warrior-type with good mobility and survivability, but other hero units – including his sister – are introduced and join the party along the way.
Troops and Heroes both gain experience and have a branching tree of enhancements available to them. Heroes are certainly the more important characters, and the ones meant to be more permanent. Mission objectives often have you hunting down enemies, or reaching certain points in the map – but also indicate that all of your heroes must survive. That is not to say that your non-hero troops are destined to be redshirts from Star Trek, but they are certainly more expendable. I went into the game fully expecting that I would keep all of my units alive and grow them over time, but reality hit me rather quickly and sacrifices sometimes have to be made in order to ensure victory.
The biggest reason for this is how health is handled. Heroes have a health bar – they either live or they eventually die, but there is no in-between. The troops are built up of multiple people – so a unit of spear maidens may have ten people comprising it. If they are wounded, you need to get them to rest or they may die off. As they die off, they become less effective in combat, and there is also a better chance that the unit as a whole may get wiped out. Once they die – they die, you lose your unit. Even if the unit survives the map, but loses several of its people, you will refill their ranks at the end of the mission with fresh recruits. This may lower the unit’s overall experience or levels, because they’re now a mix of rookies and veterans. This makes it much harder to effectively level these units up – but they can also be quite powerful in later stages, making successful progression very rewarding.
The actual tactics here can be brutal and unforgiving. Some units seem really powerful at first glance, but there is a role for everyone if you use them right. You have ranged attacks, that are squishy at close range, but if placed properly near melee units, they can provide additional cover fire defensively while offensively chipping away at opposing units safely. Rider units have hit and run tactics, capable of moving along roads and fields very quickly – but poorly on rough terrain. Some melee units have high mobility over a variety of terrains and deal high damage but also can be swiftly wiped out because they have lower defense. Once you get a dozen or so of these units moving around a map, you can see how tactical Fantasy General II can be.
There are additional layers baked into the game as well. Different terrain yields different bonuses and vulnerabilities, items come in two flavors (consumables or equipment) that can offer stat bonuses, additional skills or health refreshment, and different types of magical spells. Exploration is a key component of the gameplay as well. Often times you have specific objectives such as reaching a zone on the opposite side of the map, and you can make a beeline for those objectives and move on. However, there are often other areas of note on the map (ruins, caves, etc) that can be found that yield bonuses or sometimes grant you new artifacts that could be dangerous to try and acquire – but also help make units more powerful going forward if you are successful.
Most of the stages were not terribly difficult, but I have been plying strategy games for about 30 years now, and I thoroughly enjoy the tactics / RPG hybrid. That being said, some of these scenarios are will definitely provide a challenge. There are additional settings to make the game even more brutal if you are looking for a challenge. The computer is particularly adept at using hit / run / recover tactics that make their forces feel much larger than they are. I won’t go so far as to say the higher levels of difficulty cheat – but there were definitely times where I swore and asked myself: how are they able to…
In terms over overall presentation, Fantasy General II delivers a quality upgrade over the original. The musical score is moving, and the loading screens deliver a variety of tidbits – including one that says that this game’s theme is a re-orchestration of the original. I did not recall the original theme, so I fired up my GoG copy and sure enough, there it was. Nice nod to the original. Visually there is plenty of detail to be had. You can zoom out to see more of the battlefield (at least the visible parts, as the game does employ a Fog of War to obscure unexplored sections of the map), or you can zoom in and see the reasonably detailed units and environments. There are RPG elements beyond the unit progression also, as you get to make choices that can impact story elements later down the line.