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Der Langrisser (SNES) artwork

Der Langrisser (SNES) review

"I had quite a dream the other day. In it, I went to my local retailer and excitedly bought a copy of "Shining Force, Expanded Edition". However, after I arrived home and opened the box, I was quite disappointed to find out that what actually was inside the box was not the game I bought, but "Final Fantasy 3, Director's Cut: Play as Kefka" instead. I couldn't play the game I actually wanted to play, but still I had some fun after turning on the special "Castle Shikigami 2" mo..."

I had quite a dream the other day. In it, I went to my local retailer and excitedly bought a copy of "Shining Force, Expanded Edition". However, after I arrived home and opened the box, I was quite disappointed to find out that what actually was inside the box was not the game I bought, but "Final Fantasy 3, Director's Cut: Play as Kefka" instead. I couldn't play the game I actually wanted to play, but still I had some fun after turning on the special "Castle Shikigami 2" mode.

I then woke up, and proceeded to try to make sense of what metaphors my syphilitic brain came up with. I soon realized it was all tied to Der Langrisser, the "extended" Super Famicon port of the game the Mega Drive knew as Langrisser 2. The SNES and Genesis never knew of them, for both were released only in Japan during the heyday of these consoles.

Why did name their game Der Langrisser if they never planned to make a german version of it?! I don't know. What I do know is that games with the word "Langrisser" in them are strategy titles: each major character is a general of sorts, and the game progresses in a series of scenarios where you must hire groups of mercenaries to fight with and for them. Your foes also all happen to be generals who have their own personal mercenaries ready to die miserably.

Then again, similarly to Shining Force, if someone claimed this was part of a RPG series instead of a strategy title, they maybe could be forgiven for their naiveté instead of being laughed at and ostracized. The series' character development and setting is as RPG-istic as it gets: in the world of El Sallia, there's always some evil empire that the player has to, basically, stop from conquering the world. Here, the entourage that has to do this job is known as the "Warriors of the Light", the most creative name for the good guy troupe evar. Meanwhile, the evil empire du jour has a grand general named Leon, and his most defining characteristic is his struggle between his loyalty to the empire and its apparent evil deeds. Any of this sounds familiar?

After you create a character; something done in a very Ultima-esque way with several questions which reveal your personality & leadership style and disappointingly end up mattering very little after your first class promotion; you start the game as a fellow who "accidentaly" gets caught in a battle against the empire and starts fighting with the alliance against it. You can play the entire game with these "Warriors of the Light" if you wish. You train soldiers in white armor, they train them in green armor. However, it doesn't have to be like this: you'll get a chance to train units wearing green (and later, even blue or red) soon enough.

After some battles, Leon will come and give his own take on the empire's workings. He thinks the empire is a force that will bring peace to the land by conquering it all and ending all wars. If you then wish, you may leave your companions and join him. By joining Leon, your former party leaves you and you start a new one with Leon and some other imperial generals you met before. Your new enemies shall be your former allies. Your new "player phase" theme song will be the former "enemy phase" song, which is quite an improvement as this song is badass.

Making this switch can be particularly satisfying because it happens only after you've met a lot of the protagonists and seen their capabilities and personalities. This is much different than if you just had chosen a side from the beginning: this is not just one side against the other, this is personal business once you start hanging with a new gang. Your former allies will rue you for your betrayal, and fight you with renewed vigor. Your new allies will also be inspired by you, as you fought them before and showed them how powerful an ally you are. And, as a player, if you loved the cool abilities your foes had and wish that you could use them, well, turns out you can!

But wait! There's more! If you choose the "good guy" path, your fate is sealed: you'll live and die a good guy. But if you choose the imperial way, you can later leave the empire and set out on your own! You'll fight both imperial and allied troops alike, and later choose to join forces with this game's equivalent of Kefka (the bad guy who happens to pull the strings of the empire) or fight him too and end the game with a real chance to end existence.

In other words, this is the medieval fantasy game where you can actually play with a character who utters phrases like: "If you do not surrender now, you'll be choosing death. I've found lately that this choice has been quite popular". How badass is that?! Surely you want to play this game now, right?!

This storyline where you can truly turn from a good guy into evil incarnate surely will pull many people into it. It's like Darth Vader without George Lucas to mess up with him. But, unfortunately, if you got into this game because of the Strategy element the Langrisser series is all about, you're about to leave with that gaping X-COM shaped hole in your soul left still uncovered.

The first Langrisser (in the west known as "Warsong") was a somewhat easy genesis game, where he who learns about terrain bonuses gets to keep its head. "Langrisser 2" took note of this: this second genesis game won't really boost sales of Emp's "Death to the Tentaculat" T-Shirts, but boy will it make you sweat.

Then came the time to make the SNES version of that game. They added branching paths, better graphics, and more characters. They also added a really coward AI which turns what once was a challenging game into a cakewalk. And it's the bad kind of easy: if a game is easy because it becomes very obvious from the start what is a proper strategy and what is not, at least you can have the smug satisfaction of figuring out the right things to do whilst learning to avoid retarded moves. But here in Der Langrisser, your foes will fail miserably for punishing you for stupidity. Did you send your main character alone and unsupported to the middle of an open field without defense bonuses? Don't worry! The enemies will get close, surely enough, but they just won't attack him, leaving him alive and well to kick their asses the next turn. And the less we mention the poor aiming technique of the AI's magic spells, the better.

And so it is that Der Langrisser shall gain your interest, but not your respect: strategy gamers won't enjoy much from this shallow challenge. When you feel comfortable leaving your precious commanders alone in the open fields, you know that a game is not catering to its core audience. X-COM would not work if your soldiers started the game with power armor, and likewise Der Langrisser fails to make you bite your nails during the Enemy Phase, for you know that the character they have to kill to win is the one they won't dare to attack.

Fortunately, for westerners, there is a bit of daft fun to be had.

This game was only released in Japan in the heyday of the SNES, but thanks to the miracle of patching you can now have a translated version of it for your leisure. I know of two translation patches for this game. One of them was made with obvious care and love for the source material, and will tell this mighty fine story in the way it was supposed to be told, even throwing in different fonts and dialog boxes to help the characters better express themselves. The other one was made by some bloke who put the Japanese text in babelfish and copy-pasted the results into the game, telling this tale with great hilarity (though surprisingly offering good enough translations for the menus and character classes).

So, do you want your character's default name to be Erwin or L-Wien? Do you wish to meet halfway through the game the mercenary Rohga and his sister Sonya, or do you want to meet the mercenary Low Moth and his sister Soviet Near? Do you want your first spoken phrases in the game to be "What's the Matter Hein?", or do you wish your debut line to be "How, it is the red sandal wood, Hain"?

I love this game for rewarding me so much for taking the evil path over the "good guy" one, but the lack of challenge stifles things a bit. So why not be mischievous in a sense by taking the big hole in the center of this great storyline and fill it with mistranslation hilarity?! Take a look at the screenshots for this game comparing patched versions and make your pick!

And why the hell did developer Masaya think that Mega Drive gamers would be thrilled by a high difficulty whilst SNES gamers would buy more of their product if it was easier?! Now there's something that may fuel a good debate!

zanzard's avatar
Featured community review by zanzard (September 21, 2009)

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EmP posted September 21, 2009:

ONe day, I swear, I shall make a "Death to the Tentaculat" T-Shirt shortly before the lawsuits rain down.

As usual, you pick the best games to cover. I throughly enjoyed the history lesson on this one, and the two difering states of screenshots were hilarious.
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woodhouse posted September 21, 2009:

Here, I gave the t-shirt a try.

I'm sure you can improve it.

Awesome job with the screenshots, z.
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zippdementia posted September 27, 2009:

This is a pretty incredible review, actually. Informative, funny, makes me want to play the game without failing to point out all of its flaws... and yes, the screenshots are epic.

Soviet Near! Ahhahahahbaha!

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