What is it that is so appealing about turn based strategy games? It is the uncertainty of moving your troops around the battlefield without knowing how your opponent will react? The thrill that comes when the tide of battle turns and you suddenly pour through the enemy defenses like a tidal wave of ass-kickery? Or just the excitement of watching one of your generals ride his crocodile into battle, mowing down hordes of attacking luchadores?
I guess this is a good time to tell you that Warsong is completely nuts. And I don’t mean that in the same way Shining Force was, where they let you have a werewolf and a Terminator on your team. Warsong is totally off it’s rocker. One of the units you get early on is a Crocodile Knight, which is exactly what it sounds like, and with enough experience, he can be upgraded to a Serpent Knight. Though I suspect that’s a mistranslation, because the guy’s clearly riding a plesiosaur. And that’s just one type one of two options for having a character riding a dinosaur into battle.
Which is just the tip of this game’s ultra madness. Sure, the usual fantasy staples – knights, dragons, slimes, werewolves – are there, but there’s also Easter Island heads, giant ants, and some really pissed off sea shells. One battle late in the game seems to have been inspired by Godzilla movies. Fortunately on your side, you have the aforementioned dinosaur knights, and a priestess who tosses around crucifixes like throwing stars (I like to imagine her yelling “the power of the cross compels you… to die!” as she does this) and isn’t afraid to shoot her enemies in the back with them. Level her up enough, and she becomes an Egyptian Pharoh who annihilates her enemies with lightning bolts.
Unless you’re paying close attention though, a lot of this madness might actually go unnoticed. A heroic effort went into translating the game in a way that downplays its more bizarre elements. Mexican wrestlers becomes “bandits”, and our lighting infused Pharoh is simply called a “Saint”. The end result doesn’t really make a ton of sense, but it’s hard to say for sure whether it was poorly translated, or if it was just impossible to weave a coherent storyline out of nothing but sheer insanity.
Still, it would be unfair to characterize Warsong as a game that waltzed onto our Top 3 based solely on the appeal of its craziness alone. This is one of the deepest tactical strategy games we’ve ever played on a console. Where the game differentiates itself from similar titles such as Shining Force or Disgaea is that in addition to the main characters that you take into battle, each of those characters is allowed to have up to 8 support units. On top of that, each type of unit has it’s own strengths and weaknesses against other types of infantry, and is affected by the terrain as well. Cavalry charging out of a forest to attack foot soldiers will slaughter them to the last man; but against archers sitting atop cliffs, it quickly turns into a recreation of the Charge of the Light Brigrade.
On top of that, units suffer a dramatic decrease in abilities if they are too far away from their commander. This applies to your enemies as well, because even monsters can benefit from a little bit of leadership. You kind of have to wonder just how effective a commander a slime is though, especially since they seem to choose which one is the leader based solely on color.
Slimes are notorious racists, and their entire military is set up under an apartheid system, with the minority pink slimes ruling over the green majority.
That might sound like a lot to keep track of, but the game makes it easier by doing a nice job of displaying most of the relevant info for you and, more importantly, by putting you up against an enemy AI that doesn’t understand this stuff at all. The computer rigidly follows a few simple rules – always heal units when they get below a certain strength, attack the units with the lowest number of troops in remaining first, never ever move troops out of the range of their commanders, etc. And while these are all good guidelines in general, they don’t always account for additional complications, such as terrain/troops matchups or “hey, we just did that and it totally didn’t work.”
Here’s a perfect example – let’s say the enemy commander, El Diablo Rojo, has a group of 8 mexican wrestlers, and your own commander is sitting atop a wall in front of a large body of water, with some archers. Attacking ranged units firing from an elevated position with non-aquatic units standing in water is a suicide matchup, and if the situation were reversed, your best bet would be to try to create a more favorable situation by luring the luchadores to some sort of ambush point. But the AI isn’t that bright, so it sends its first wave of troops to fight your archers. The wrestlers thrash around in the water ineffectively and yell various insulting things at your archers in a feeble attempt to at least hurt their feelings while being murdered by arrows. This outcome is utterly baffling to El Diablo Rojo, who then sends unit after unit to the same fate. By the time his turn is over, all the wrestlers are floating dead in the water and the only thing he has to show for it is a dramatic decrease in interest in the town’s annual swim meet.
Somebody go get a pool skimmer.
This simplistic AI might seem like a problem, but it actually helps emphasize the value of strategy. Your opponents will frequently have advantages in numbers and strength, but they’re also predictable, uncreative, and not knowledgeable about how to get the most out of his troops. By relying on superior tactics, you can divide their strength, lure units into traps, and create favorable matchups for yourself. It’s a triumph of your strategy over their brute force, and while outsmarting a dim AI like this might not seem like a major achievement, the scales are generally tilted so far in its favor that you will be facing a lot of tough decisions along the way.
In fact the stakes are significantly higher in Warsong for two reasons. First, if a character dies, that’s it – they’re gone for the rest of the game. Second, experience is pretty limited – there are a finite number of enemies, and you can’t go back and replay battles in order to gain extra levels. Not only that, but killing an enemy leader automatically wipes out all his troops, but you don’t get any XP for troops eliminated this way. So there’s definitely an incentive to try to maximize experience by killing your enemies down to the last man, even though this tactic does tend to put your generals at more risk of being killed and lost for the remainder of the game. This is especially tricky because quite often, your troops will fall victim to attrition throughout the course of the battle and late in the fight it will be up to characters to fend off wave after wave of troops all by themselves. Which most of the time they are perfectly capable of. Even so, it’s really hard to simply trust in their abilities and let one of your generals be the middle layer of a “hey let’s kill this guy” sandwich, while you sit back, hope for the best, and think about how long it will take to replay this damned battle again if he gets killed.
Warsong game doesn’t mess around, either. Press the start button and you get a quick introduction screen. Then it’s right to battle, and you’re getting your ass kicked. In fact, you basically spend the first few battles desperately running for your lives – the second battle teams you up with Mina, who eventually becomes St. Here’s Some Fucking Lightning Up Your Ass, but at this point she’s much weaker, being controlled by the computer, and has a deathwish. Also, her “troops” appear to be 10 year old girls that are quickly and mercilessly wiped out. Your job is to keep her alive. It will take a ingenious combination of strategy and foul language to pull that off. Around the halfway point, the game laughs at your silly notion of keeping your commanders alive at all costs, and throws you into a battle where your army is split in two, with your weaker generals surrounded by powerful enemies. I’m still not sure how I got through that battle without casualties, but I think it involved a lot of yelling and making the actual game cartridge genuinely believe that I was going to destroy it if it didn’t let me win.
Pictured: Me in real life.
One nice touch is that is each skirmish is accompanied by a brief cutscene that accurately illustrates what’s happening in the fight, including troop numbers, terrain, and if one side has the first attack. For example, if a group of eight archers on flat land attack ten cavalry units in a forest, you’ll actually see a scene with 10 mounted units rushing out of the woods under fire from eight bowman, with the ones that survive that barrage cutting down a few archers before returning to the trees. Besides giving you something fun to watch, it’s a very effective way of really understanding what’s going on in the battle and why. Besides, what’s the point of having a guy on a dragon fight a group of Easter Island heads, if you don’t actually get to watch it happen?
If this was a real thing, it’d be bigger than the Super Bowl.
In addition to all that, there are some other small details that contribute to Warsong’s appeal. If a battle takes place in a town, it actually takes place in a town – you can hide troops in buildings, set up choke points at the city walls, or prevent attacks on your flank by lining up alongside a wall. This adds some variety, opens up a bit more strategy, and lends a much-needed feeling of believability to a game where priests occasionally fight giant ants. And though the game doesn’t give you much in the way of spare characters (because that would undermine the additional difficulty that comes from losing them), they can be promoted to different classes, which encourages replay so that you can go back and see how they turn out if you took them down a different path.
Though, much like real life, any career path that doesn’t end with them riding a dinosaur is going to be a little bit of a letdown.
Availability: Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that if you live in Japan, Warsong (which is known as Langrisser) has been a part of a few re-releases, and is available on both the Wii’s Virtual Console and on PSN (most of time when you see something available on the VC and PSN, but not Xbox Live Arcade, it means “only in Japan”). Langrisser is actually the first of a popular series, so you have a bunch of sequels to play, also. I haven’t tried them but I’ve heard several of them are very good. So that’s pretty awesome.
The bad news is that if you live in Japan, probably half of the jokes in this article didn’t make any sense, so, uh, sorry about that. If it makes you feel any better, most Americans don’t think I’m that funny anyway.
I really need to start more sentences with “Listen to me, stupid human beings”
The other bad news is that if you live in the US, your options for playing Warsong are a lot more limited. Basically, you have two options – get a Genesis copy, or don’t play it. Or move to Japan, I guess. That seems kind of extreme though, and while Genesis copies are rare and kind of pricey, it’s still cheaper than moving to Japan. Copies online typically go in the $30-40 range, and can get even higher at times. A little footwork might save you some money though – two years ago I bought my own copy (box, no instructions) at a flea market, from a reputable vendor for $20. So maybe shop around a little.
What’s even worse is that almost all of the games I would recommend as substitutes are also expensive. Apparently not too many people like these types of games, because almost all of them are super-rare. Dragon Force for Saturn? Don’t even kid yourself. Any of the Fire Emblem games? Some are cheaper, but not much.
That still doesn’t justify jumping off a castle, though. Get a grip, man.
Anyway, it’s not for me to tell you how to spend your money, and for some of you, I’m sure it might be worth the expense. And if not, well, you’ll probably be able to resell it and recover your investment, anyway. Just know that this one’s hard to get, expensive compared to other Genesis games, and there aren’t any suitable alternatives.
Hmmm, now I feel a little bit bad for telling all of you how awesome this game is.