I am a creature of habit: fast-paced shooters and fighters are my poison. But occasionally, a non-fighting game/shooter is so well-made, it manages to keep my attention for days, weeks, or months on end. Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast. Snatcher on Sega CD. And now, Warsong, a.k.a. Langrisser Hikaru, for the Genesis. Part one of a two part series, this month’s Middle School Gaming will focus on neo-classic games that require gamers to use their noggins, but are fun and fast-paced enough for arcade game fans to get into. Or,
Cerebral Games for Twitch Gamers
For the reader’s edification, I belong to the subgenus of the Mindless Action gamer, in the most stereotypical, drooling, ‘can’t-think-must-mash-buttons-furiously’ sense. As such, I have trouble following the strategy of a volleyball game, much less the intricacies of Warcraft or Ring of Red. I’ve oft picked up Nobunaga’s Ambition for NES or Ogre Battle for SNES at thrifts only because they make good trade fodder. Playing through strategy/tactics games only long enough to see if they work, I’ve traded them off to collectors who will play and appreciate them. Such was the case at NJ Classic XXVII. One of the games I brought with me for trade was a boxed and complete game copy of Warsong, which Dave (aka "portnoyd") immediately snatched up. He was bouncing off the walls about it. A week later, my curiosity got the better of me, as I started wondering what the fuss about Warsong was. So I found the rom and fired up the Genesis emulator.
23 hours of non-stop gaming later…I was officially hooked on Warsong. The translation is full of non-sequiturs, the number of music tracks can be counted on three fingers, and the sound effects possess a garbled quality akin to the 2-way radio system of a WWII German U-boat. On the other hand, the forced translation is good for a laugh, and the few music tracks are catchy as hell. Besides, the insanely addictive gameplay is what keeps me coming back for Vanilla Coke-fueled, obsessive, all-night bouts.
Despite its humongous instruction manual, Warsong was easy to jump into and play. The game is a smidgen less complicated than chess, but more linear. Unlike any other strategy game I’ve ever played, once I mastered the commands, I picked up the gist of the game almost immediately.
The player is assigned control of up to eight commanders, who in turn are in charge of up to eight supporting troop units. Commanders and troops have various attributes that make them ideal for fighting against some enemy forces, but not others. Horsemen, for example, are strong against foot soldiers but weak against archers. Terrain also plays a part in the strategy: some parts of the grid, such as forests and mountains, are advantageous because they boost your troops’ offense and defense. (Archers do very well against atop mountains against flying enemies). The player deploys his or her troops in the best position possible on a grid, and the computer does the same. Gameplay is turn based, and the action takes place automatically after all troops are positioned.
A sample scenario occurs thusly: the prince and his army of mages, clerics, knights, and warriors must traverse a river and fight the opposing army on the other side. Trudging slowly through the river, horsemen, foot soldiers, and archers slowly but surely travel across the water, as the enemy army waits on the opposite bank.
Suddenly, sea monsters appear from the left and right of the screen. Your army is now stranded in the middle of the river, surrounded by enemies on three sides, and deep in treacherous terrain. Only by careful deployment your Serpent Knight Tiberon and his unit of powerful Mermen, or by tricking your enemy into fighting the sea monsters, will you make it to the opposite shore in one piece.
There are more than twenty scenarios that place the player in a variety of situations, such as protecting a village from werewolves (hint: take them out as soon as possible; after several turns, the moon rises), joining forces with a fire spirit to keep an all-powerful dragon at bay, and protecting your own castle from invasion.
Originally called Langrisser Hikaru for the Japanese Mega Drive, Warsong was translated and localized by the long defunct company Treco. Langrisser is the first in a long-running series of popular strategy/tactics games released in Japan, released on a variety of consoles, from Der Langrisser on the Super Famicom to most recent: the handheld Langrisser Millennium WS (WonderSwan). None of the sequels has made it out of Japan, due to the overall poor US sales of games like Warsong and the massive amount of resources required in translating these text-heavy games. The later titles improved on the original’s formula, with plot twists, alternate endings, and beautiful graphics and sound, although these improvements came at the expense of simplicity and fast gameplay. The strategy/tactics also take a bit of a back seat to the deeply embedded story arcs that are emphasized in later Langrisser titles, so a decent grasp of Japanese is required to fully appreciate them. Not so with the original Langrisser, which despite the name change and what some say is a butchery of a translation, remains primarily a strategy/tactics game with some fantasy story elements sprinkled throughout.
The game is a bit of a cult favorite, along the same vein as the early real-time strategy Genesis game Herzog Zwei. As such, few gamers are willing to part with it, except to make a decent profit on eBay: expect to pay around $30-50 for a copy, depending on condition. You never know when it’ll turn up in a flea market bin on the cheap, though, so be sure and grab this diamond in the rough if you see it. But, whether you break down and pay eBay prices or wear out your shoe leather looking for it, I think you’ll find Warsong worth the price of admission, as I did.
I wish for more wishes!
Treco didn't win any awards for this gem
A nugget of wisdom before dying
Interface simple, commands few
Badly outclassed and outnumbered!
Slime is no match for Mermen in water
Torrents of Worth. Or something.
Kraken the knuckles and gettin' to business