Der Langrisser is a strategy RPG for the SNES created by Career Soft (whose latest works include the Shin Megami Tensei spinoff Devil Survivor series). It is an enchanced remake/port of Langrisser II which proceeded to set down several of the series tropes and gameplay features.
Some background information: The series has a pretty short history in the U.S: the first game for the Sega Genesis was localized as Warsong with questionable results: the localization made extremely random changes to just about every character name while keeping the basic plot the same.
While trying to get rid of all Japanese influence in localization and “Americanizing” names was a thing back in those days, Langrisser 1 was already set in a “Medieval Europe Fantasy” world and characters were appropriately named, making the changes superfluous.
The game was a cult hit but it never really took off in popularity. It remained obscure and I’m fairly certainly it wasn’t financially successful. When Langrisser 2 hit the Sega Genesis… well, it seems like the company decide to pass on it for localization.
Continuing it’s trend in poor business decision making, the Langrisser series proceeded to focus on Sega consoles while passing off half-assed ports to other consoles years after they’ve stopped being relevant. Witness the Playstation port of Langrisser IV, widely considered to be terrible compared to its original Sega Saturn version.
Shockingly enough, Der Langrisser is one of the few times where the end result port is worth playing over the original.
Langrisser’s unique contribution to the SRPG genre is its combination of the “Tactical” side of the genre, exemplified with games like Final Fantasy Tactics where a small group of 5-10 people fight it out in a localized conflict, with the “Strategic” side, such as Advance Wars where armies of troops clash over a wider area.
In Der Langrisser, you are given “commander” units that to lead your armies that work like characters from a SRPG. They can level up, wear equipment, cast magic spells and are overall very powerful. The game also cribs some elements from another popular SRPG series: Fire Emblem, with its class change system. Each commander has a mix of class sets that fall into certain categories:
1) Infantry – i.e “Walkers”. Both physical and magic generals that are unmounted are in this category. A general all-purpose class that can be fit into any strategy.
2) Flier – The most mobile and also squishy commanders who rely on their troops to enact tactical strikes on strategic locations. They almost never see front-line combat, and use their commander bonuses to help out the team.
3) Calvary – Glass cannons that move fast and hit hard. They’re terrible in indoor battles though, and paradoxically might sometimes be more squishy than Fliers, because if a Calvary commander doesn’t smash through the ranks of the enemies fast enough, he’s in real trouble having put himself in the thick of things.
4) Naval – The sucky class that strategy game designers always put in the game and then promptly forget to create more than 2 stages where water is actually a factor. I’M NOT BITTER!
Each time a character hits level 10, they can pick from 2 choices to class change to until they reach the end of the tree. This leads to a lot of possible combinations to customize of your commanders: You could level up in a magic using class for the first few tiers, and then switch to a flier in the end for a mobile spellcaster. You could switch from a Priest to a General for a Tough as Nails healer and so on.
(Sidenote: Langrisser 1 was extremely blatant about stealing stuff from Fire Emblem. In particular, it was the only game in the series with perma-death, and it even used tropes such as giving you a Jeigan at the start which punished you for overly relying on him instead of training up your other characters. I’m really glad those elements are gone now.)
But no man fights alone. Each commander may hire “Mercenary” troops to back them up, whether to accentuate their offensive prowess or to shore up their weakness. Whether it’s the indestructible Phalanx, the defense-smashing Grenadier, the magic-immune flying Angels or the underwater fortress Leviathians, there’s a wide variety of units to utilize against your foes (or be used against you, as it were.) More expensive units cost more money to hire, of course, so you got to strike a balance logistically.
Ironically, unlike most wargames, Langrisser encourages to treat your mercenaries as valued men instead of cannon fodder: each surviving member returns part of his hiring cost and commanders who keep their troops alive learn to command them better with increased stat bonuses. You don’t normally see many wargames that do this: in Advance Wars you would throw 10 infantry battalions to a tank if it meant gaining a tiny strategical advantage.
Unlike the simple “Weapon Triangle” used in many strategy games, Der Langrisser actually utilizes a troop strength/weakness chart more common in strategic wargames (have I brought up Advance Wars yet? Yes?). Each unit has its own individual strength charts, but the underlying rules are pretty simple to grasp (compared to something like a World War 2 wargame where you really have to nerd out over the specific details of German tanks in order to enjoy them)
1) Calvary beat most ground troops, except Polearm infantry (which were specifically designed to take them out in real life). They also don’t fair very well against flying units.
2) Archers beat fliers. They’re beaten by just about any unit that gets close enough to them.
3) Priests and other “religious” units don’t do well against their human brethren, but are excellent at taking out monsters and undead.
4) Naval units beat everything in water. Outside of water, have fun.
5) Some units don’t have any strong matchups and rely solely on their cheapness and pure numbers to mob their enemies.
Der Langrisser games are statistically simple. The only stats for troops are Attack, Defense and HP (and I guess movement). HP is capped to 10 and determines both how strong the unit attacks and how close it is to death. It’s very simple to learn and Advance Wars veterans should feel right at home with the system.
To help players out, whenever units clash, a side-view reenactment of the battle plays which are both fun to watch and provide surprisingly useful information. Watch your elf archers units get slaughtered by Calvary once they close the gap while their arrows plink off them and you’ll definitely get the hint that maybe you should wall them off from the enemy. You’ll also see what sort of fortifications units are utilizing: for example, if one of them standing on top of a wall beating down on poor sods trying to climb up the castle walls from the moat.
Langrisser is a great strategy game because of its interplay between commanders and troops. A commander provides an “Aura” bonus that increases the AT/DF of troops in its radius – isolated troops are easily taken out. Without troops to back him up, a commander is quickly swarmed and taken out.
As a remake, Der Langrisser adds some extremely cool features that have become a staple of the series. One of them is the additional of Character Creation: whereas most RPGs present a character sheet to fill out, the Langrisser offers a personality quiz that determines the main character’s starting class, equipment, troops and stats.
While this isn’t an original concept (it’s more famous for being used in Ultima IV, a rather historically significant WRPG), it’s an extremely flavorful method of defining yourself as a character and really should have been used much more often in other games. This feature was so popular it has appeared in every other Langrisser game, including the remakes/ports of Langrisser 1!
The other big feature is the introduction of multiple “paths” to create a non-linear branching storyline. The original Langrisser 1 and 2 only allowed a single linear path (known as the “Light” path) which is a solid “Good defeats Evil” story, but Der Langrisser takes it to a new level and answers all the “What if?” scenarios that players sometimes construct for themselves.
What if you could join the “evil” empire (who turn out to actually be pretty nice people, just overly ambitious) instead of the band of goody rebels? Heck, what if you could join the ancient mythological force of evil instead? Or what if you could just say “screw everyone, every man for himself!” and set out on a indepedent crusade against everyone? For anyone who has ever played a JRPG pondering these questions, this is the game for you.
And unlike something like a Bioware RPG where the choices are cosmetic and inconsequential, Der Langrisser provides actual new content for choosing to walk off the beaten path. You get an entire new storyline AND gameplay missions. For example, join the empire and you’re forced to take out your old rebel friends “for the greater good”, including the girl who would have been the main character’s love interest in the canon route. It’s pretty heart-breaking and philosophical at times when you experience plots outside of the standard JRPG mold.
Special note must be made of the game’s aesthetics and several of its contributors: Satoshi Urushihara, known for his works in rather old and obscure anime like Plastic Little and Megazone 23, added his rather distinct art style to the entire series (in fact I’ll say this is his biggest contribution to the Videogame industry). He’s more known for his female character designs, which are rather “90s fantasy cheesecake” but that’s not necessary a bad thing. Noriyuki Iwadare, composer of games like Grandia, contributed to the soundtrack of this game, explaining its rather rocking soundtrack.
Der Langrisser was sadly never available in the English market. The good news is that a fully completed fan translation is available for everyone to enjoy. There are upgraded ports of this game such as “Langrisser Dramatic Edition” for the PSX with a little bit more extra content but nothing too dramatic (HAHA, GEDDIT!?). The SNES version is fine for play.
So here’s a shock twist ending that will surprise no one who constantly reads my blog: the series suffered a rather sad fate through a series of poor decisions. Langrisser III was an overly experimental game that tried to be a strange version of Dragon Force rather than a Langrisser game and was disliked by the fanbase. Langrisser IV was considered very good and a return to form… on the Sega Saturn. The Playstation port was heavily butchered and only retains non-gameplay elements such as “the plot” as its selling points. Langrisser V was a so-so entry that ended the series and its dip into sci-fi territory is controversial.
The series then went into some kind of licensing hell, it was used to create a Dreamcast game that no one will talk about, and also a strange short-lived Browser game that was more like Shining Force than Langrisser, whose only proof of existence would probably be this little fan trailer for it right here. It’s safe to say that the series is extremely dead.
Many people would say that the series continued as a spiritual successor of sort in the Growlanser series by Atlus. It has the same artist and probably many of the same old team members working on it and aesthetics wise it gives off a lot of the same “feel”. However, I believe that the Growlanser series gameplay is much inferior to Langrisser’s and as such, it cannot be considered a good replacement.
The fantranslation community for the series is working hard to bring more games to English speakers, and it can be a little confusing because they aren’t working in any set order. As of 2013, here are the available games that have been fully translated.
Langrisser 1 (both the original Genesis version and the PC port)
Der/Langrisser 2 (both Genesis and SNES version)
Langrisser 4 (PSX version)
Clouds of El Sallia – Probably the only English fansite for the series. Includes the translation patch for this game.