2022-10-19: Warsong/Langrisser I -- Because I Had To
For years and years I considered myself to just be a person who didn't like strategy RPGs. I've played through the original Disgaea and ultimately enjoyed it as a chill-out grinding experience and in college I played through Bahamut Lagoon. Aside from that I bounced off every other game in the genre. Fire Emblem twinges my perfectionism too hard and leads to resetting scenarios too often to make progress, Final Fantasy Tactics feels slow and plodding, X-COM is an exercise in masochism for me. These games aren't bad, they're just not for me.
A lot of that changed when I finally tried Shining Force (I do want to do a write-up on that too; soon). After I finished the original Shining Force, I found a niche in the genre I could enjoy and went rummaging for other games with some of the same checkboxes ticked. I landed on the Langrisser series and ended up down that rabbit hole with the Der Langrisser patch. Part of that involved playing through the original Langrisser and possibly prepare to stream Der Langrisser later on.
The original Langrisser was localized in the US as Warsong for the Sega Genesis. This localization changed a few odd things: mostly the names of characters and renaming the titular Langrisser to the Warsong. It also touched up some of the portraits. I applied a pair of revert patches but, to be perfectly honest, I find the touch-ups in the portraits to all be really good, so I ended up only reverting the textual changes. I'm going to use the reverted names for things; sorry for the confusion.
The Langrisser is a legendary sword said to give its wielder infinite power. At the start of the game it's sealed away in the castle of Baltia where Ledin's father reigns as king. A particularly brutal cold open places you in control of a level 1 Ledin and his leveled up bodyguard as well as a small squad of soldiers as forces unknown attack the castle from all sides. Your goal in this first scenario is to escape to the edge of the map while dozens of enemy units battle with NPC generals on the bridges. I failed this scenario twice while I tried to get my bearings. This is how Langrisser starts.
Side-note: People theorize Langrisser is close to the German "Lungenreißer", which can mean "Lung Ripper". I'm not sure if that's the intent, but there you go.
In a pre-battle setup, you can spend money to buy troops for each general and equip any artifacts you found. In this opening scenario you have Ledin and his bodyguard Volkov. Volkov, being a level capped seasoned warrior can hire archers but Ledin is limited to lightly trained soldiers. Each general can hire up to eight units, but money has to last you through the entire game and is replenished at a rate set by the game's scripts. If you overspend you might find yourself short later on. Additionally, your real goal in any given scenario isn't just to complete the task assigned, but to gather experience for your generals to keep them on par with the growing threats around them. Anything slain by Volkov is just wasted experience.
The enemies too follow the "General and eight units" mechanic. Both sides are limited in where they can position their units by the general's sphere of influence. This is a three to eight tile radius around the general where, if a unit leaves, they do not get the benefit of the general's stats in their combat calculations. This is usually sufficient to completely reverse the outcome of a battle. This works pretty well in ensuring a general's squad is an extension of them self, and not just a collective of additional units. This is good because later in the game when you can field eight generals, you could be looking at controlling 72 units, and if they could go just anywhere, the game would become chaos quite quickly.
Further ensuring a squad sticks close to their general is the treating mechanic. At the end of a turn, any unit directly adjacent to their general heals three of their ten hit points. Generals too can heal, but it requires they sacrifice a turn. This softens the feelings of attrition a bit, but more importantly it adds a layer of depth to combat strategy. If you can carefully cycle units in and out of the battle line and back to their general, you can heal them and keep them up for much longer. This is a lesson you learn well by scenario 5, if you want to proceed.
Battle takes place in a somewhat cute little cutscene. You place a unit next to an enemy unit and select to attack it, then a scene plays where ten of your guys rush at ten of their guys and swing at each other. This scene has some strategic value though in that each unit can try to kill one opposing unit and will succeed or fail; but also any unit killed before they can try just doesn't get to try. This becomes very important when archers are involved, as they get to make their attacks before the enemy even closes to make theirs.
The battle screen displays a series of statistics in the bottom-middle to hopefully give context as to why a battle didn't go the way you expected, but it's a mad dash through a series of four displays. When the battle is a couple of seconds, you may see each display for a second before it moves to the next. It does, however, neatly break down base stats, general contributions, and terrain. However it does this with the awkward verbage of "revise the (category)".
Once you grasp all of this, you're still not much better off in scenario 1. While Ledin is a green level 1 fighter, you have advanced knight class generals attacking the castle. Ledin, with the help of Volkov, can snipe some kills to gain experience but you're largely at the mercy of the NPC generals on the bridges to win fights and clear a path for you for your flight from Baltia. Gaining a level or two on your way out here is helpful, but whether or not you can comes down to luck. Care must be taken since if Ledin is killed, you game over instantly. If Volkov, like any other non-Ledin general under your control, is killed, he is lost for the rest of the game.
This is the only Langrisser game to my knowledge with permadeath and I wish I knew that before I got invested.
Presuming you escape Baltia with your skin in tact, you're introduced to new generals every scenario or so, quickly filling out your roster. Volkov leaves after you've had time to get established; not like anyone would expect him to stay around. He starts the game level capped after all. As generals tag in and out, you eventually reach a total of nine. In a couple of scenarios, presuming no one dies on the battlefield, you can have more generals than you're allowed to use. In those cases you can pick and choose who you field. Ledin must always be there though.
As a rule though, if a general dies at any point, you can expect to go into multiple future scenarios with a blank in your field roster. Losing a general is very unforgiving.
Each general has its own level that is only raised by they, or their units, landing the killing blow on a enemy. When a general reaches level 10, it can promote to one of two higher classes. Most generals can promote two times, for a final selection of four classes. Class determines stats and what spells that general has access to. A general's class also determines what units they can recruit.
For the most part Fighters can only recruit Soldiers, Basic Knights can additionally recruit Horsemen, and advanced Knights and hybrid characters can recruit Archers. These three unit types form a triangle: archers are strong against horsemen who are strong against soldiers who are strong against archers. The triangle is the most significant factor in a battle. Even with strong level differences, attacking "on-triangle" will net you a big advantage.
In addition to these, casters can recruit Guardsmen who are weak to everything but non-human foes. One specific aquatic combat general can recruit Mermen that are strong in the water but weak out. An upgraded Cleric gets the ability to recruit Monks that are super strong against undead. Being stuck only able to recruit Guardsmen is a significant barrier to getting your Cleric general leveled up, though a couple of scenarios look to be purpose-built for her: they contain only weak slime monsters Guardsmen can reap for massive rewards.
Generals have unit types too. Fighters and Lords are soldiers, Knights are horsemen, Clerics and Warlocks are archers. While in most cases generals are quite capable in combat and can destroy entire enemy units safely, attacking at a disadvantage on the triangle can just get a general instantly killed; especially if you're attacking Archers with a Knight. Given this results in permanently losing the general, the reset button becomes a pretty close friend.
Two things became clear fairly quickly to me: first generals are often better to use as attackers than their troops. Generals are all ranged attackers, meaning while the enemy troops are running to you you're picking them off. Their stats are also frequently significantly higher than that of troops meaning you're likely to go 10-0 against enemy soldiers.
Second, while each scenario has an objective you must meet to finish it, the far bigger objective is experience. There's a limited amount of experience on the battlefield and anything not killed by your units is lost opportunity. It's not a given you'll level cap even one general in the entire game, let alone everyone. Long-game strategy is key (which is a bummer since you don't really know what the promoted classes can do for you until you get them).
These epiphanies hit me in scenario 5, which is the first real out-and-out fair fight in the game. It's you and an opposing army on a field divided by a mountain range. The enemy composition is mixed and the AI will pivot to attack you with units strong to yours. That is... unless you position in the mountain range and create a choke point. Then they'll just funnel to you in a neat row. I eventually ended up sticking Ledin in the chokepoint and let him just murder everyone, boosting him deep into the tier 2 Lord class before anyone else promoted at all.
With Ledin so far ahead, he ended up my go-to for tough spots. I'd give him a cadre of soldiers (who frequently couldn't kill an enemy unit on their own) and tried to use them to soften up enemies for other generals to finish off. Frequently though, the going would get tough and I'd have to have Ledin himself step forth and level entire armies on his own. He'd come to outlevel the opposition and eventually level cap as a King. As a result though, the rest of the squad lagged behind, forcing me to use Ledin more and more often.
I did eventually get five generals to their final promotion, but not before having to take major risks to get them experience against superior foes. The real wake-up call on the sub-optimal nature of my farming came in scenario 12, where your generals are split four and four and placed into an ambush situation. I almost feared I was softlocked here as the four generals placed in the bad side of things were my weakest fighter, my mage, and two knights who were up against archers. I just couldn't make this work until I deathballed the enemy and killed their generals, which despawns their entire squad.
After that close scrape I started focusing more on experience for my lagging knights.
Scenario 12 is also when you actually get Langrisser back in your hands. That's not the end though. Turns out Langrisser is powered by evil, and now that someone has unsealed it, evil forces are summoning monsters and resurrecting old evil warlords. This kicks off the endgame where you initiate a campaign into a deep forbidden land host to a dead kingdom and find its evil emperor has been resurrected. It's a lot of evil!
Upon putting the warlord back in his grave, the very elemental force of Chaos is summoned to attack you. I could only really damage this with Ledin swinging Langrisser at him, and even then it was close. Once defeated, Chaos explains he is summoned as a sort of reset button by the planet when mankind's avarice threatens the world. So basically you killed the world's reset button and are now on your own in handling the evil power of Langrisser. This isn't a bad deal considering Chaos likely would have killed you.
Any general that survives to the end gets a little "Where are they now" bump in the ending. I managed to reach scenario 20, the finale, with all of my generals alive but Thorne and his level 7 unpromoted butt couldn't stay alive. Almost perfect, alas.
Langrisser I, as noted, is the only Langrisser with permadeath. Other games resurrect your generals after each scenario but if you repeatedly get your allies killed the ending changes. I'm not sure how yet; I have to get there to find out. The permadeath mechanic made the game far more frustrating than I desired, but I stuck with it out of a deep interest in this series. Ultimately I had a good time, even if I did resort to a save state each turn (which isn't that out of bounds. You can save between turns anyway. It just saved me hitting the reset button).
Langrisser can also get really micromanagement heavy as in the endgame you can control 72 individual units. Each of those have to be moved each turn. The game offers a pseudo-automatic system for you where you move only the generals and their units will form around them, but the formations are all really, really bad. Most of them spread your units out in a diamond around the general where the treatment mechanic doesn't work. Your units will also attack with no regard for the triangle, causing massive unnecessary losses. The automation can be good for moving generals when there's no risk of conflict though.
The story of Langrisser is also kind of crufty. It definitely feels like a one-off excuse for the battles rather than an epic plot with continuation in mind. But continuation it got: Langrisser II got ported to the Super Famicom as Der Langrisser and apparently has not just a massive expansive plot, but a dozen plot divergence points and paths through the game. I'm excited to try it.
Probably Shining Force CD first though. I need a simpler game.