It’s been over two decades, but the West has finally received a new entry in the cult Langrisser franchise (the first one was brought overseas in 1991 as Warsong.) A long-running strategy series in Japan, Langrisser was one of the first games to jump on the SRPG bandwagon after Fire Emblem made waves in the early 1990s. Throughout that decade, Career Soft’s franchise acted as a sort of a deeper alternative to Nintendo’s hit, never once setting foot on a system put out by the Big N.
There’s a sort of irony, then, in Langrisser Re: Incarnation – Tensei – being the first entry on a Nintendo console. That irony lies in the fact that Career Soft’s revival of the very franchise they were formed to create is a blatant rip-off of modern Fire Emblem games. While retaining certain elements of past entries, a lot of concessions have been made to make the game relevant to fans of the post-Awakening games that Intelligent Systems have put out.
And while imitation might be the greatest form of flattery, it unfortunately tarnishes some of Langrisser’s lustre. For starters, the absence of series stalwart Satoshi Urushima’s signature art is a massive blow to the overall aesthetic. The new characters look generic at best, cringe-inducing at worse, and are an unnecessary attempt to “modernize” the series’ defining look. That’s not to mention the new focus on character relationships, which is clearly hopping on the Fire Emblem “support conversations” bandwagon. Throw in a bunch of characters that are well-worn modern anime tropes—some of them just excuses for dumb fan service—and you’ve got a package that posits itself as a competitor to Intelligent System’s newly revitalized series.
From a sheer production values standpoint, it doesn’t even come close. The visuals in this game are fairly awful, to be blunt. The grid on the battlefield has aliasing issues. Character art sometimes looks weirdly archived. Battle animations are laughably cheap, like the sort of bad 3D visuals you’d see at a bowling alley in the 90’s. Despite some cute sprite-work, it’s an ugly game that wouldn’t look out of place on the original DS.
Luckily, there are two saving graces here. Firstly, the gameplay, while seemingly impenetrable at first (seriously, look at the manual and tutorials,) is actually quite good. Between each battle, players link up disposable mercenaries to their main stable of units, giving them a sort of buffer. From there, players are locked into a turn order, given an objective, then get set loose on a grid-based map. Battles can take anywhere from 30 minutes to well over an hour. There are a lot of confusing little nuances that don’t make sense at first, but do yourself a favour and stick with it. Langrisser houses some genuinely good strategy mechanics, despite some presentation issues.
The other redeeming factor is the narrative, and the cast within it. In fact, a case could be made for this having a better-delivered story and more fleshed-out characters than Fire Emblem Fates. Because the cast isn’t bloated, there is a sense of closeness and camaraderie that builds between the central characters. Improving your relationships doesn’t just feel like a gameplay mechanic, it actually invests you further into the narrative, and that’s something impressive for a game that was obviously limited by budget and overshadowed by a bigger release. From a narrative standpoint, Langrisser is engaging and somewhat intimate.
That could be applied to Langrisser Re: Incarnation – Tensei – as a whole. While it’s an undoubtedly sloppier, cheaper game than its bigger, more polished competitor, it also nails a sense of being a more humble, more earnest game. While it is very much a knock-off of the direction new Fire Emblem games have taken, it’s a knock-off with heart, and that goes a long way. Despite the inept presentation and initially daunting gameplay, the latest entry in this franchise is worth a look for strategy fans willing to look past some glaring faults.