As you might guess from where you’re reading this review, tactical RPGs are a genre that’s close to my heart. Starting in my earliest days with Shining Force and growing into an obsession with Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena, I’ve been on the hunt for years for a title that could offer an equally thrilling experience. Langrisser 1 & 2 are the most recent successes on this journey, even if they may not top the three aforementioned legendary classics.
If You’ve Played One JRPG, You’ve Played Them All
The story and characters of Langisser are likely hit or miss for the masses. If you are a fan of classic JRPGs, they will be right up your alley and very familiar to you. If you’re looking for something that’s unique and not entirely soaked with anime inspiration, it might not be for you. I fall into the latter camp, so one again ‘being a prince who experiences the death of his father in a last stand battle followed by the death of his overleveled mentor before marching forth to face an ancient evil with his new friends’ wasn’t the most appealing to me. There were few surprises and anyone who’s played a JRPG in the past will see the twists and turns coming from a mile away. That said, the narrative isn’t terrible if you can get past those points, even if some choices in its design seem like odd ones. Yes, I’m looking at you, first few scenarios that forced me to watch the AI fight itself.
An Army All Your Own
While the story and setting never pulled me in, the party management system made the playthrough more than worth it. Every character in your party has a class tree with a unique setup, attributes, a set of skills, a batch of spells, and an inventory. Classes stand out for being a bit outside of the norm as, although there are mages and knights, there are also serpent riders with a knack for combat at sea, lords with a talent for buffing their associated mercenaries, and so on. As your commanders perform admirably in combat and gain experience, they’ll level up, increasing their attributes and gaining class points that can be used to unlock new and superior classes. It’s important to note that character progression is more akin to something like Shining Force or Vandal Hearts than it is to Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy as you’ll mostly be using it to upgrade from your current profession to a superior one, carrying over previous abilities while receiving new ones and a nice attribute boost as well. Classes are by no means unique to any one character, though each character’s class tree is organized differently, no two have the exact same setup of professions available to them.
Your commanders won’t be going into battle themselves. Instead, they’ll be hiring mercenaries at the start of each combat based upon their current class and those that came before it. These units come in a wide variety, differentiated from one another by their role, attributes, and cost. Roles tend to be classifications such infantry, spearman, cavalry, flying, and so forth, and each has something of a rock-paper-scissors relationship that makes them ideal for countering another type. If you see flying units incoming, for example, ready your archers, if you see a squad of marine units, lure them onto the land. The price to hire these mercenaries is based on their stats, they aren’t created equally and many units are simply superior to others in their category. You’ll have to gauge on a case-by-case basis how much firepower you need prior to each scenario or risk losing plenty of gold on units that never draw their swords as they’ll be disbanded at the end of a scenario either way.
Spells and skills are somewhat similar to mercenaries as they are determined by the class line that you’ve progressed down. You’ll unlock plenty of skills that offer passive benefits, either directly to that character or to the mercenaries that they lead, though you’ll only be able to equip two of them at any given time. As with classes, many of these are simply better than previously unlocked options, but there are plenty of exceptions where you’ll have to decide what you’re focusing on in that character’s build. On the other hand, all spells that you’ve learned on the class branch are retained so your magic-focused characters will have end up having hefty spellbooks at their disposal.
Managing your inventory is surprisingly deep. Characters have three slots: weapon, armor, and accessory. There’s a significant variety in each of these and characters are free to equip any item that you’d like them to. Different types of equipment in these categories can be divided up into tiers and those of a similar tier are rarely straight upgrades. One weapon, for example, may simply add a sizable bonus to your attack, while another may offer less attack but more defense or a nice buff to your mercenaries. This system succeeds at keeping you invested while you tweak your party between scenarios.
Form Up and Fight
Chapters in Langrisser are defined by their battles and, unlike most tactical RPGs, this title has large-scale battles. In what might be compared to Wargroove, almost every unit is composed of a large group. A berserker, for example, isn’t just a single person but a sizable squad of similar-looking berserkers and every hero in your army has a unit that fights with them in the zoomed-in battles. As you’d expect, commanders tend to be the units that have the most impact on the battlefield, but they also hire several mercenary groups to accompany them and a number of them tend to be quite powerful themselves, particularly when their associated commander is specialized for leadership.
I was quite impressed by the variety found in battles. Many games fall into a repetitive pattern that feels like something of a grind but Langrisser manages to avoid that particular trap. Battle maps differ significantly from one another and objectives follow suit; nearly every combat encounter is unique and memorable in some way. However, as unique as they may be, the same villains show themselves multiple times, sometimes even in a handful of scenarios consecutively. There’s a nice variety of classes and units, but characters are in short supply and frequent encounters give the overall setting something of a Dynasty Warriors vibe where your foes just won’t die.
A Second Tale
Langrisser II is an improvement over the first, but just barely. The mechanics are the same, the units are the same, and the overall style of atmosphere is the same. The story is a new one though, and with that comes a new cast of characters for you to become acquainted with. Though you’ll have strikingly similar equipment, skills, spells, and classes available to you, the most significant improvements are on the skill trees. For the most part, the sequel manages to enhance character customization by making more end tier classes available for them, thus cutting back on a clear best option for each character that was prevalent in the first title.
The Bottom Line
Langrisser 1 & 2 are surprisingly strong entries in the tactical RPG genre for titles that were originally released nearly three decades ago. Their presentation is spot on for modernizing the old visuals and audio and the flow of the story and combat is surprisingly fluid and superior to many modern releases. The braindead AI can be a bit of a downer at times, but fortunately, it never gets in the way too much as long as you make sure that you give your most important orders manually. All in all, these are two fantastic titles that show that if there’s one genre that is truly timeless when done well, it’s strategy.