While the popularity of strategy-RPGs like Fire Emblem is greater than ever, there’s a portion of the community that yearns for the tactical depth, challenge and simplicity of earlier games. You know, the sort of player who really hopes for a Genealogy of the Holy War remake. It’s that sort of person who should really check out Langrisser I & II, a remaster of classic 16-bit strategy games that have a similar scope and feel, but enough original ideas to make things interesting.
First, a quick primer on Langrisser, a franchise that’s had a truly abysmal time trying to break through in the West. The series started with the game localized on the Genesis as the rare release Warsong, then disappeared for the entire rest of its initial decade-long run of releases. Recently, its truly awful attempt at revival on the Nintendo 3DS, Re:Incarnation Tensei, was inexplicably localized, and it also saw some life as a mobile game that, despite its flaws, did have some interesting ideas. In a lot of ways, though, Langrisser I & II serves as the first localized Langrisser game that’s worth playing.
The combat of Langrisser ends up settling somewhere between the Super Famicom-era Fire Emblem games and Advance Wars: Days of Ruin. You build and advance commanders, who do most of the fighting, but they’re accompanied by mercenary units that you purchase when entering a map and that are tied to a given fighter and stronger when within a few spaces of it. It’s a common criticism of Fire Emblem that they don’t depict a larger fight since you just see eight or so people (and Three Houses did make its attempt with battalions at remedying this), so for those people, Langrisser’s more crowded battlefields could hold some real appeal. It’s tedious to move every unit exactly where you want it, but this is mitigated by mercenaries automatically following and gathering around the commander when not given specific orders. (It’s especially helpful on turns when you’re just sprinting across the game’s large maps.)
The joy of Langrisser lies in its management and progression. As you move through the game, you’ll unlock better mercenary classes and more slots to deploy them, but you don’t have the funds to go all-out all the time and you need to pick your spots. Do we really need the better archers for this map? Is this the time we should splurge on amphibious troops? You’ll also get to move units through class trees that can often provide new gameplay options. Maybe a unit has a stronger class if you make them cavalry, but is it worth the statistical sacrifice to push them toward a flying mount so they can lead armies over walls? Should you delay promotion to a new class tier to spend some points on unlocking healing magic?
For the first attempts in the series, Langrisser I & II aren’t lacking in narrative ambition, and that holds up in this remake. Both campaigns include branching paths and many endings, and these aren’t just narrative choices, but are generally based on your success in combat. Did you protect an ally from enemies? Did you make the difficult gameplay choice to spare a rival commander and accomplish the objective anyway? How the plot progresses can change fairly sizeably, and the remake’s story map to show you all the paths can help to understand your progression quite a bit.
You can even jump back and make different choices without replaying the whole game to that point, and carry over a lot of your progress if you do. This is a cool way to have a “New Game+” within the game itself, offering objectives and harder bosses that you’re designed to run from in your first play but can access entirely new storylines by defeating with high-level units.
The remake is certainly a budget-conscious one, but it serves the gameplay just fine. The art is perhaps a bit bland (and even changes characters’ looks sometimes), but it does match the map and unit art fairly well. Included is the option to use the original Satoshi Urushihara art and the original pixel maps, which is nice! That said, since unit sprites still use the new style, it never matches up properly, and Urushihara’s designs show more character but are, perhaps, not everyone’s cup of tea. Also there’s not much music here and the chapters are very long, so we’d recommend putting on some music or podcasts or something while you play.
There was a dedication to the original gameplay in the creation of Langrisser I & II that does feel like it was done with care. Moving units around takes another button press or two than it could, but it replicates the classic’s setup in a way that comes through even if most in the West didn’t get to play it. The AI movement is as dumb as ever, like mercenaries “following” by getting as close as possible to the unit, even if it puts them on the other side of a wall, but it means the same strategies work to bait enemy commanders. The localization plays it as safe as possible and that means it does read as stilted and uninspired, but the meaning gets across just fine.
The few things that were updated should be noted. The new map art does try to give a better sense of place with its meager capabilities. (Sometimes the borders between different types of terrain are unclear until you move your cursor over them, though.) The generous amount of save slots will let you keep progress in however many routes you’d like. An Easy Start option gives you a few items and a bit of money at the beginning, and that’s basically the only “difficulty” change offered. That’s nice to let newer players get settled in early maps that have lower-level foes but aren’t necessarily always easier, and it doesn’t break the economy later for you to have a middling shield or a free blade for your eighth unit to equip.
Japanese strategy game die-hards have long known of the distinct appeal of Langrisser, but until now, it’s been difficult to find a Western release that could be truly recommended. Now, though, Langrisser I & II can absolutely fill that role as a game with very little flash and bland presentation, but that gets the important gameplay elements right.