Originally released in the early ’90s for the Sega Genesis, Langrisser I & II have now been ported to the PS4, Switch, and PC, bringing back classic turn-based strategy and lifting it up with updated graphics and a life-saving fast-forward button.
I fell in love with the genre the first time I laid hands on Final Fantasy Tactics, but I’ve always preferred strategy games that lean more into thoughtful manoeuvring and clever sacrifices. Langrisser nails both of those elements, emphasising the slow accumulation of small advantages in battle until you’re in a strong enough position to crush your opponent. It feels a lot more like chess with numbers than a JRPG where your overpowered characters move like chess pieces. I’ve been playing the recent ports on Switch, and I couldn’t be having more fun.
The collection includes both the first game in Masaya Games’ Fire Emblem-like series, originally released in North America as Warsong, as well as the second game, which had previously never been localised. The new versions sport visually overhauled environments, character portraits, and battle sprites, as well as a number of changes to help streamline gameplay. Chief among them is a fast-forward button that will let you zoom through conversations and battles to make walking back down memory lane feel less like a chore.
One of the key things that sets the Langrisser series apart is the fact that each hero on the battlefield is accompanied by their own set of mercenary guards who can be controlled individually as well. Unlike the handful of characters you go into battle with in Final Fantasy Tactics or even Fire Emblem, Langrisser’s battlefields can be home to dozens and dozens of units clashing at once. This level of scale is what gives the games their strategic depth, but it can also be a lot to slog through. The fast-forward button means battles that might otherwise take more than an hour can be finished in closer to half that time.
Where character progression in some turn-based strategy games is all about learning more powerful attacks and magic, in Langrisser it’s all about upgrading your characters’ classes so they can recruit better mercenaries. These fighters all have different strengths and weaknesses; for example, spearmen are strong against knights, who are strong against soldiers. Levelling up your characters allows you to choose from a greater variety of them and bring more into battle at once. Basically, the stronger you get, the bigger your army grows.
These fighters can go off into battle all by themselves, but they’re stronger when they’re next to their general and they also can get healed a little bit each turn. As a result, you spend a lot of time in battles manoeuvring around to keep everyone in close formation while still being prepared to fend off an ambush or protect someone you’re supposed to be escorting. Early on in the games, the mercenaries you can choose from have pretty straightforward trade-offs, but later on you’ll be choosing between long-range archers, powerful spellcasters, and brutal melee fighters. The better units also cost more money to recruit in each fight, forcing you to be frugal about how you fill out your roster.
While the underlying games hold up and are a lot more palatable thanks to the option to fast-forward, most of what else has been remastered about the collection misses the mark. The new art style looks crisp but bland, and the updated music loses a lot of the spark of the original 16-bit Sega Genesis tunes. The Langrisser games have also always had a penchant for sending their female warriors into battle with unarmored midriffs and plenty of cleavage, but some of the collection’s remastered character portraits look even more ridiculous.
Fortunately you can turn all of this stuff off and play the game with the original music and character art, which is what I did. In this mode everything feels retro except for the actual combat between units, which still plays out in separate screens with sprites that look way better than the originals. While that leaves much of the collection feeling decidedly not remastered, it still feels worth it for two monstrous campaigns with some branching storylines. There are plenty of other great modern strategy games out there at the moment, including Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Disgaea 5, but none of them revel in sweeping wars of attrition the way the Langrisser games do.