As we have been saying since the beginning of this year, 2016 is the year of the JRPG on the 3DS. It seems like every month there are several new games in the genre to entertain us, and as a huge fan I couldn’t be happier. However, this can be a double-edged sword because that also means the competition is fierce. Most gamers have a budget and can only afford a select few games, so companies must bring their best titles to the market in order to get noticed. Unfortunately for Langrisser Re: Incarnation -TENSEI- that means it has to go up against the very similar and highly superior Fire Emblem Fates juggernaut.
You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Langrisser before. It’s a tactical RPG series that hasn’t been released in the U.S. since 1991 on the Sega Genesis, known then as Warsong. In typical JRPG fashion, an evil empire attacks your kingdom and you must take up arms to defend yourself and push back the forces. The beginning mission has the protagonist, Ares, running and hiding from the intruders by escaping into a nearby church. There he discovers an ancient sword, the Langrisser, and wields it to defeat his foes. Only the chosen one can harness this sword’s power, and soon news travels that it has been found and Ares becomes the center of conflict.
The story isn’t wholly original, and in fact the entire game feels like a watered down version of games I’ve already played. In many ways it reminds me of a low budget knock-off of Fire Emblem. This wouldn’t be entirely bad, except the game doesn’t do anything, and I mean anything, as well as Fire Emblem does. The most noticeable problem out of the gate is the game’s graphics. Now, I don’t have to have the most fancy visuals in my games to enjoy them. I played Xenoblade Chronicles on a 55” TV just a couple of summers ago on the original Wii and suffered through the low resolution and jaggies galore. But this game really does look like something out of the 1990s. The overhead battle maps are void of any visual flourish and the tiny sprite characters look like something ripped straight out of a Super Nintendo game. Of course this pales in comparison to the laughably bad battle scenes that look like they’re ripped straight out of the stages of Virtua Fighter on the Genesis, except with even uglier textures and tiny chibi-characters that look like bobble head dolls battling with swords that resemble toothpicks. It can’t be understated just how horrible the character designs and battles sequences are. I only went through a few battle sequences before I shut them completely off as they were simply too ugly and distracting to stomach.
Also missing are any really cool 3D effects. One of the things I enjoy about the Fire Emblem games are the field maps and how little graphical effects pop out of the screen, such as birds flying overhead or fire embers flowing about the map. There’s none of that here. It’s not all bad though, as the anime character portraits look all right, although most of the female characters aren’t exactly dressed for battle and show off a lot of skin. It’s jarring to see the character portraits when compared with the actual sprites and polygon models used in battles. It is such an odd disconnect that makes no sense at all.
If you’ve played tactical RPGs before, you’ll know how this one works. When it’s your turn, you move your fighters on a grid and if you’re close enough to an enemy you can attack. Initiating a battle will show the probable attack and defense so you have an idea what the outcome might be. Each group of fighters has an advantage over another group. Infantry are stronger than Lancers. Lancers are superior against Cavalry. Cavalry bests Infantry. Archers have an advantage over Pilots and Clerics are lethal against Undead. Keeping an eye on your enemies and matching the appropriate fighters to them will aid in your success. One thing that’s a little different with this game is that each character has a specific turn order. I’m not a fan of this as it means you can’t react to unexpected events as quickly as you might like. I’d rather be able to move my characters whenever I want as long as it’s my turn. In addition, with so many fighters on the field of battle and often very limited range of movement, it can take an abnormally long time to get anywhere on the rather large maps. It’s real fun to take three or four turns just to get your characters within striking distance of enemy troops, of which often aren’t that smart and often stay locked in place until you get closer to them.
Another slight wrinkle to the battle system is that you can recruit mercenaries to battle for your leader. These extra fighters will need to stay close to the leader to be effective. If they survive the battle, the points that were spent to hire them will be returned. During the battles you can also raise your affinity up with nearby characters and receive stat boosts if they’re in an adjacent space. This is one more incentive to keep your army of fighters closer together instead of spreading out the forces. In between battles you will be able to talk with up to three of your teammates. They will ask a question and depending on your reply you could elevate your relationship status with them. If you build up a solid connection you will eventually be able to unlock some new skills.
Although the battle mechanics may seem sound, they’re uninspiring and fall flat. The character development isn’t very interesting and even when you’re leveling up it doesn’t seem like there’s a noticeable difference in fighting style. Compared to Fire Emblem where tons of stats are always increasing and you can change your professions, have kids, and see immediate development of your characters based on your decisions, Langrisser once again seems like a game stuck in the ‘90s. There’s just not much here that kept my interest.
I’ve come to love these types of games. My first experience with a tactical RPG was Shining Force on the Genesis. I loved both of those game as well as the Sega CD and Saturn sequels. Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem kept that flame alive and well, with the latter evolving the genre with relationship building and high budget story telling. On paper Langrisser should be a great game. The publisher promises over 100 hours of game play with multiple branching stories and multiple endings. The problem is I don’t think anyone would want to stomach that many hours with such an underwhelming game. Any of the other games I’ve mentioned in this review would be better choices and money better spent. Perhaps this series needs another 15-year hiatus to catch up to today’s gaming standards.