Let me start by saying that this is a terrible game. This would be less a review and more a lesson on how not to make a strategy role-playing game.
It has been a long 15 years since the last Langrisser, and while I am personally glad the license for the series is finally being put to use, let me walk you through the bad part by part. But before that, a short sypnosis of the story.
Our hero, Ares, suddenly finds his town under imperial siege. While retreating into a nearby church, he chances on the holy sword Langrisser (what a coincidence). He repels the invasion and meets with the forces of light. From there, he gets embroiled in a war between the forces of light, darkness and the imperials. Depending on the choices of the player, the story will diverge towards one of three possible routes.
And now for the bad.
This is the first and most glaring issue with the game that could test the limits of your patience. To make it easier for reading I’ve made a list of how not to design an SRPG:
- No soft-reset. Which is fine if you have an in-game option to return to the start screen or bring up a menu to load a saved game, but you have none of that either. Once battle commences, you have to close the game and re-open it.
- No quick-save feature. Or any save features once battle commences, for that matter. Considering each battle could take up to half an hour or longer if you are playing for maximum experience, you’re screwed if the 3DS battery goes out midway.
- The minimum party size is the maximum party size. Like most SRPGs, the game gives you a pretty big character roster, so you eventually get restrictions on the number you can send to battle. Unlike most SRPGs, you cannot remove characters from battle, and it will always default to your starting lineup (of which you need to replace). This means you cannot sit out the extra 5 characters even knowing you can ace a stage with 3. More time spent skipping turns!
- Mercenary strength is unknown at time of hire. You can hire different mercenaries from the guild based on each commander’s class, yet their strengths and stats are unknown until you see them in battle. Wrong hire? Restart the battle!
- Weapons/Armor don’t show you their stats. You can purchase weapons and armor from the shop, but the actual attack and defense numbers are only visible after you’ve bought the item. What any other non stat-raising equipment does is only vaguely hinted at in its description (Rods increase range of magic, wands increase magic damage. By how far and how much respectively? Find out in battle!). Bought the wrong thing? Load a save!
- You cannot unequip/remove equipment from a character. Nope, it’s not a joke. Once a character has equipped an item, the only way you are getting it back is if you equip another item on to the character. This means items like accessories that cannot be purchased from the shop (of which I obtained 3 on my entire playthrough) are pretty much character-binding.
- No preview for class ups. Characters get 2 choices for each class up, but apart from the increase in stats, all other perks that come with the new class (spells and mercenaries available for hire) will only be revealed to you on a second screen after you have selected the class, without the ability to return to the selection screen. Don’t like the class? Restart the battle!
- No viewing of map from the deployment screen. You can only see around where your characters are deployed, and it’s not a generous view. Considering you can see the entire mini map on the bottom screen prior to battle, the design choice is baffling. Made a bad placement? Restart the battle!
- No battle speed options. This is fine for the first few battles, since enemy units are sparse. But once the game approaches 30-40 units on the map, you will really wish you can skip watching every single one of them sluggishly move about.
You would think that after 15 years and on a newer system the graphics would have improved by heaps and bounds. You’d be wrong about that. The sprites representing the characters on the map are extremely low resolution, made uglier if you decide to zoom in (There are 3 zoom settings, the furthest too tiny to properly make things out even on the 3DS’s larger brother, and the nearest too big to make any sense of the surrounding without excessive scrolling).
The biggest offender is what you see above – a redoing of the battle scene in the form of super-deformed chibi figures approaching each other and exchanging attacks. At least there is an option to turn off the animation, which you would likely use to keep it turned off for the entire duration of the game.
Comparing that with the way the previous titles in the Langrisser series were animated (above), you will realize it also took away one fundamental advantage certain Commander classes had – the ability to strike first in battle. They really should have stayed 2D.
Langrisser games are turn-based strategy RPGs which proceed in a linear fashion across stages (which they term scenarios). There is no “stage selection”, so experience is limited to the number of scenarios in the game. Characters level up separately, so some prioritizing between members is necessary. Once characters reach level 10 they class up to one of two different class choices, and this is done 3-4 times (depending on whether you reach the ‘secret class’ of that character based on your final tree).
For example, main character Ares, based on the choices you made at the beginning of the game, can start as a Fighter. His class path can look like this: Fighter > Lord > High Lord > General > King (his secret class)
If you make a mistake in sending a character down a path without his/her secret class, you can start again at level 1 of the first class with a rune stone, an item you have to find on certain maps by moving onto that exact square – which I only found one of the entire game, and that’s all the use I’ve gotten out of the item menu (although with experience limited as it is, do you really want to do that?).
The trial-and-error way of guessing continues with the relationship system, which allows you to speak with the characters to deepen your bond, and therefore increasing your likelihood of assisting each other if within range during battle, taking priority over assists by other nearer characters.
Once you reach a certain scenario, you can choose to confess to one of the characters, and if reciprocated (based on the affection level) you will unlock a new skill for both characters, which differ between characters. Some skills, like Rosaria’s Charisma, passively increases attack and defence, making it good for all classes. Others like Jessica’s Elementary Magic gives a passive increase of magical damage – utterly useless if Ares is a melee class. Unsurprisingly, the confession option happens after the battle, so if you wish to re-do it you’ll have to go through the battle again.
With regard to the turn system, characters take turns moving on the grid, and the turns are indicated on the touch portion of the 3DS in tiny pictures. Yet due to the increasing number of enemies on the map, players will find it easier to simply memorize the turn order instead (Healers, Mages and Footmen first, Horsemen and Winged Riders last). The map is touch-enabled, so you can use it for navigation…if it wasn’t so tiny that you can only get an approximate area with the stylus.
Terrible Map Design
This brings me to the 2nd biggest issue of the game. The maps are stupidly huge. Take the above picture for example. Your team starts on the bottom right, and your objective is elimination of the enemy forces at the top right corner, leaving the left side of the map completely unused. This is not an isolated case either, as nearly all the maps in the game are colossal in size compared to the number of enemies.
This means there’s a lot of turns that are wasted on simply getting your characters to go from Point A to Point B while the enemy largely waits until you come within range. The biggest maps can see many turns without an engagement, translating to a rather boring experience and will doubly frustrate completionists hunting for items hidden across the map.
Compounding the lack of experience points in the game, the AI’s programming also makes some rather mystifying decisions. The game rightfully points out in the tutorial that defeating the enemy commanders will cause all their soldiers to simultaneously explode with them, but also losing out on the experience granted by defeating each individual soldier.
Yet the enemy commanders will usually be the first to attack any target that comes within range, even if it means suiciding themselves against a vastly superior opponent (Ares takes priority as a target, and he’s pretty invincible as a footman).
This forces the player to make silly decisions like diving into the enemy flanks to kill the soldiers, deliberately taking damage (magical or physical) so that your commanders/troops are unable to kill opponents immediately (a 9 HP commander will only max out at 9 damage, unless there’s a critical hit), or bombarding the enemy commanders with spells of your own to bring their hp below 8 so that they heal instead of attack (the AI will never heal until the 7 HP threshold is breached).
The game does have its saving graces though. One of which is the soundtrack, which does manage to hit the nostalgia element quite nicely. It’s no Bravely Default, but even without stand-out compositions it feels unmistakably Langrisser.
Voice acting is partial in most scenes, with one phrase of dialogue uttered per text box during story sequences. Full voice acting is only found in the confession scenes and the final ending scene of the chosen character (Ares still only gets partial voices in those scenes though). There’s little to fault with the effort gone into the voice work, as the cast were able to give their characters adequate personality despite the limited lines of dialogue.
There is also some replay value to the game, with the multiple endings, both storyline and character-wise. You have the option of starting over from a cleared save file, allowing you to carry over all characters’ levels, skills and earned money, and resets the affection counter. A helpful mechanic for those looking to avoid multiple grinds.
I loved Langrisser I-IV, having completed all 4 games. The game could have turned out a lot better than it did if it took a page off its predecessors. Many of the issues brought up here (like battle speed settings) were already available in the previous games.
Despite bringing back the class changes, there is a very poor sense of progression due to the dearth of abilities granted onto each new class. Whereas you could expect at least one to two new skills every class change from previous entries, here you get one or none per change. Your characters don’t feel any stronger than they were before, making you wonder why you bothered scrimping every experience point available in the first place.
Changing the artist of the game might upset a number of Langrisser’s veterans, because Satoshi Urushihara’s designs are practically synonymous with the Langrisser franchise. I fancy his beautiful characters myself, so seeing it change to more generic moe archetypes does dampen the overall happiness of seeing one of your favourite series brought back to life.
Crushing disappointment would be two words that aptly describe Langrisser Re:Incarnation -Tensei-, both for series veterans and newcomers. If the title does get localized, I hope it would include some of the missing features integral to a handheld. I’m also not ruling out an update to the game that can bring such improvements.
As it stands now though, this is a game to avoid. Although with the region-locked 3DS, it’s unlikely you’ll be importing a copy. Even if you could play the game though, I’d recommend sticking with its more polished rival, Fire Emblem.
Update (Nov 2015)
The game received a single update in September 2015, fixing problems with items changing during certain story sequences, erroneous combat predictions and display issues when damage dealt is over 10, none of which I found bad enough to mention in my original review. Aksys Games has announced its intention to localize the game, but at this juncture I’m no longer hopeful of the numerous issues being addressed.