Where Nintendo had Mario, SEGA had Sonic. And while a third-party creation, one could argue that in the ’90s, Langrisser played a similar role as a rival to Nintendo’s Fire Emblem.
Not that we would know it over here in the west. Much like Fire Emblem, most of Langrisser‘s legacy was left in Japan up until fairly recently, with the exception of the first game, which had been localized as Warsong.
Nevertheless, Nintendo has made significant strides since the turn of the century with regards to delivering Fire Emblem‘s brand of fantasy strategy role playing game to western gamers’ waiting hands, and so it only makes sense that there would be interest in rekindling this old rivalry for a new era. So we have a new release which not only brings us a more accurate localization of Langrisser but also its sequel’s first-ever release outside of Japan in Langrisser I & II.
Both Fire Emblem and Langrisser share numerous similarities beyond theme and genre (so expect a lot of comparisons here, more as a frame of reference than anything). Both incorporate the same kind of grid-based movement system and use of a rock-paper-scissors format of strengths/weaknesses between various units.
On the other hand, the biggest difference lies in the recruitment of troops, which inform much of the strategy within the game. Rather than battles being one-on-one affairs, which is typically the case in Fire Emblem, each commander will lead a battalion of troops into battle, with the number of troops effectively representing their number of hit points in a more tangible manner. This lends a grander sense of scale to each battle, as all the troops rush onto the field and start slashing, stabbing and shooting at one-another until one side falls.
Beyond that, each commander can pay gold to hire mercenaries before each chapter begins, with the number of types available growing as the game progresses. You’ll start with regular sword-wielding soldiers, but as you progress, you can spend acquired CP (presumably “Class Points”) to choose new classes for each character, offering different skills, advantages and troops. Before long, you’ll have lance-wielding horsemen, mages, flying harpies, trident-wielding mermen, lizardmen and more at your disposal.
No welcome party here
Even with the Easy Start feature, which grants extra money, items, and CP, this game isn’t much for pulling its punches. There is no tutorial to guide you through how to play, though you will find some hints within some of the characters’ dialogue. A manual is there on the pause menu, but it doesn’t quite explain everything (if “MAG” is “Magic,” I’m guessing that “MGR” is “Magic Resistance.” That, or it rates how good each character’s managerial skills are).
The first game starts off easy enough (unless, like me, you weren’t aware of how essential the whole mercenaries thing mentioned above is), but I had a much trickier time with the first chapter of the second game. Fortunately, there are some things to help out with this, such as the fact that even if you get a “game over,” all the items, skills, gold and levels you’ve gained previously stay with you. So while beating a map at Level 1 might be too daunting a task, for example, maybe that level-up you managed before suffering defeat will be enough to see you through your next attempt. You can even replay previous maps with all your gains intact, though you’ll be forfeiting storyline progress in doing so.
Other options, such as Quick Saves, are also handy if you want to try a daring gambit without risking all your hard-fought progress in the current map.
Oh, and if you’re the type who constantly saves your Fire Emblem game after every move, for fear of losing a favorite unit? Good news, as there’s no permadeath here! Slain units simply retreat from the battle, unless the story dictates it’s their time to die.
Spicy or mild?
Definitely worth noting are the video and audio aspects of the game. It’s basically like a big box of Popeyes fried chicken: You can go with classic original, spicy remastered or a mix of the two. In most aspects, at least: Character portraits, map backgrounds and music are the three fields you can choose from, and you can mix and match however you please.
The music comes from legendary video game composer Noriyuki Iwadare, who you might know from his work on the Lunar games, Kid Icarus: Uprising, and a number of Ace Attorney and Super Smash Bros. games. He not only composed the music for the original releases, but if I’m understanding Siliconera correctly, provides arrangements here which “mix its nostalgia with a modern touch.”
On the visual side of things, you can choose between new high-resolution versions of the original character portrait designs by noted Japanese artist Satoshi Urushihara, whose work you may know from Bubblegum Crisis, Record of Lodoss War, and even the ’80s versions of The Transformers (aka “Generation One”) and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. Alternatively, you can select more contemporary versions of the designs by Ar Tonelico artist Ryo Nagi, which includes additional full screen cutscene pieces you won’t get in the original style. You can also choose between 16-bit pixel art and remastered versions of the maps on which you fight.
Lack of side dishes
Unfortunately, there are some elements where you don’t get to choose, such as the voice tracks. While there are multiple text languages supported, the voiceovers are only in Japanese, which is too bad, as NIS America has reportedly done well with some of the other games it’s localized, such as Legends of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. Perhaps Langrisser is too small at the moment to receive that kind of investment?
In addition, you also cannot choose the style of how characters appear on the map or in battles. Many of the remastered designs retain design elements of the originals, so the clash isn’t too bad, but it still would have been nice to be able to go with a full-retro audio and visual presentation. The versions of characters that do appear here resemble the battle versions of characters seen in Fire Emblem Heroes, much more closely than they do to Langrisser‘s own mobile title, Langrisser Mobile. While I won’t say that one version is necessarily better than the other, the mobile game’s versions are certainly more distinct. Maybe the different developers prevented the reuse of assets here?
For a while now, I’ve been looking for something that’s like Fire Emblem, but at the same time not. Langrisser I & II is clearly it, and while it isn’t perfect, it’s still really, really good, and though I haven’t completed the pair (ProTip: NIS America says there are “22 story endings and 560 character outcomes” across both titles, so it’s going to take a while), I’ve been having a blast the entire time.
If you like Fire Emblem, or even just like Fire Emblem but maybe don’t appreciate certain aspects of it, then you should definitely give this a look (ProTip #2: There’s a free demo in the Nintendo eShop and PlayStation Store, and you get bonuses in the main game for having save data from it, so no excuses).
With any luck, the legend of Langrisser will grow big enough to properly challenge its old rival once again.
- Vintage and remastered sound and graphic elements
- Engaging story and likeable characters
- Takes what’s fun about Fire Emblem and gives it a nice twist
- Plenty of replay value to see all the paths, classes, and endings.
- No permadeath for commanders (mercenaries, on the other hand…).
- Starting load-up takes a bit, but it’s virtually nonexistent after you get the game going
- Only Japanese voices
- Can be a little bit of a rough start as you get a feel for how the game is played
- No Xbox One version?
- Can’t skip dialogue; you can fast-forward, but it’s not like you can rewind, so why only fast-forward instead of skipping? Ugh, makes repeating missions a bit of a grind.