GameSpite Journal 12: Warsong

With the Fire Emblem series in the early ’90s, Nintendo had a veritable hit on its hands. The fine mixture of strategic battles, RPG-style leveling and classical anime-fantasy resonated greatly with the Japanese players. The only problem: Fire Emblem’s perma-death feature frustrated many players. A few of these players worked for shooter specialist NCS and decided to make their own tactical game and to improve the rather rigid systems of Fire Emblem. And so, the Langrisser series was born.

The key difference between the two games: While the story characters in both games can die permanently if they fall on the battlefield, every general in Warsong (Langrisser’s U.S. title) can take eight units of soldiers into battle. Every unit represents ten men. Their victories raise the general’s experience, but at the same time, these soldiers are expendable. If you lose a few units, that’s no problem—you just buy new ones before the next battles. If troops fight in proximity to their commander, they fight much more effectively. Commanders are almost infinitely stronger than their troops. Often, they will wipe out an entire enemy unit with a single attack, and you rarely will best an enemy commander using only regular troops. Add to these complex mechanics a classic rock-paper-scissors-triangle and a few special units that are only effective in the right terrain or against a specific enemy and you have a game with an impressive tactical depth.

However, that is only one reason for Warsong’s success. A young illustrator called Satoshi Urushihara helped. While he’s mainly known as a notorious hentai artist with a fixation on detailed female breasts, he’s actually a pretty good designer of fantasy heroes and villains. For many Western players, the outlandish armors with their gigantic pauldrons and the beautiful female warriors struck a nerve. After all, these were the days when anime just arrived in the West. Even with the slighty modified portraits of the U.S. release, players were fascinated by the designs. The killer soundtrack by Noriyuki Iwadare, Hiroshi Fujioka, and Isao Mizoguchi helped as well.

It’s a real pity that the series never saw Western release after Warsong. Although there were many sequels and also a few remakes in Japan, no one bothered localising them. Langrisser’s spiritual sequel Growlanser had more luck: Most episodes came here. Gameplay-wise, however, Langrisser is the superior series. By mixing powerful-but-vulnerable heroes and expendable troops, Langrisser’s battles feel huge and epic. In the latter stages, it isn’t unusual to take several hundred men into battle.

If you play Warsong today, I hope you’re smarter than me. By relying on crutch-character Baldarov in the first couple of stages and always going for enemy leaders, the heroes of my first playthrough were seriously underlevlled by the games’ midpoint and couldn’t stand a chance against their enemies—starting over was the only viable option. Nevertheless, thanks to my newly acquired knowledge, I eventually beat all 20 stages of Langrisser. You should try it! G

Article by Thomas Nickel

GameSpite Journal 12Warsong

9 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Warsong

  1. This was my first strategy RPG as a kid, and its brutal initial difficulty (and my childish stubbornness to beat it) helped get me hooked on the genre throughout my life. And it wasn’t too much longer after Warsong that I played the original Shining Force, and even though the games are diametric opposites in their design approaches, they were both incredibly important formative games for me.

    I was such a huge fan that the Langrisser 2 and Der Langrisser fan translations were a massive deal to me when I first started getting into that scene. The Der Langrisser translation remained like a sort of holy grail until it was finally released just a couple of years ago. Oh man, good times.

    It was thoroughly frustrating how ignored the rest of the series was in the US, and I think it would stand up well under the scrutiny of western players these days, in the midst of the post-Renaissance brought about by Fire Emblem finally arriving (and becoming a hit) in this country. I remember back in the old days, people begged and pleaded for Working Designs to bring over the Langrisser games, but Vic always said that he thought they were just a tad too unpolished and visually underwhelming compared to the level they should be at for him to do so, which he felt CareerSoft finally resolved when it moved on to Growlanser. Which is a shame, because I agree with the article’s consensus — that Growlanser is a great series, but it’s never matched up to its predecessor.

  2. Gah, yeah, that’s pretty much what happened to me in Ogre Battle — managed to get a handful of overpowered characters and far too many underpowered ones, and got stuck.

    Didn’t help that this was last year and I no longer have much patience for items with oblique names that don’t tell you what they actually do short of using them or consulting a walkthrough. (I hear OB64’s much better about this and available through VC; maybe I’ll give that a gander.)

    There are probably fan translations for the unreleased Langrissers, right?

  3. @Ron Jon: You should probably have saved that for Alien Soldier. It’s coming, eventually.

    As for Warsong, the one major thing I remember from the game, as I haven’t played far into it, is the _awesome_ music. Dang, that’s some catchy stuff. The Genesis sound chip may not have been my favorite, but there were at least a few people that knew what to do with it!

  4. The Genesis had a distinctive sound… It was definitely limited in comparison to the SNES’s vaunted sound chip, but in the hands of certain composers, it really was used to fantastic effect. Warsong is definitely one of the prime examples. Crusader of Centy (Iwadare had a hand in that one too, I believe) and Phantasy Star IV are others… but perhaps my favorite, in terms of how unknown and underrated it is, is the brilliant music done by Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata for Gauntlet IV. Sounds very different from a lot of their later, more orchestral stuff, but doesn’t lack in any way as far as quality goes.

  5. Thad:

    1 (improved PC version), 2 (both Genesis and “Der” version for the SNES) and 4 (PSX) have been fantranslated. Which leaves 3 and 5 untranslated.

    And personally speaking, I believe that it’s unfortunate that 4’s translated version was the PSX one, as I found it inferior to the original Saturn version, even though it was probably chosen to be translated because the PSX is more accessible.

  6. See? Like I said, unknown and underappreciated! Alas. Still, two more people can now go out and appreciate it, so job well done, self.

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