I enjoy freedom. That means I'm evil. I'm fine with that.
Invoking the name “Langrisser” opens that time capsule resting in the hearts of only the most hardcore strategy RPG fans. Known as Warsong on the Sega Genesis in the States, the first Langrisser was the beginning of a five-title series that, despite the epic scale of its battles and its popularity in Japan, never crossed over to our shores another time. Cue the rolling tumbleweeds.
Langrisser is such an obscure reference by now that all of the US journalists at the Gamania Game Show had no idea what to think when we entered the demo room for Langrisser Schwarz. Before we knew what was going on, we were asked life-defining questions by the Goddess, split into three groups, and told to enter separate doors that represented our destiny and the eternal strife of the universe. And there I was still contemplating the meaning behind Taiwanese Dunkin' Donuts.
Needless to say, it's been long enough since Langrisser's debut in 1991 that any developer who wants to revive the series should have full artistic license to do what they will with the franchise. An MMORPG? Why the hell not? Of course, Gamania is smart enough to include more than several references and story elements from Langrisser's universe to fulfill the potential of the license: Böser, the avatar of Chaos; the magician Jessica; the Goddess Lushiris; and the war trinity between the Descendants of Light, the Empire, and the Demon Tribe. Noriyuke Iwadare will even be reprising his role from the original Langrisser as the game's composer. (I'm sure that's amazing if you know what the hell I've been talking about for the last three paragraphs.)
The whole point behind the Gamania staff asking us journalists the questions from the Goddess Lushiris is straight-forward: Based on the answers to those questions, you will be placed in either the righteous Descendants of Light, the powerful Empire, or the wild and free Demon Tribe. (I like freedom, so I was evil.) Don't worry if you don't like the result of the sorting hat, though; you can simply change your mind immediately after you answer the questions. That doesn't say much about the power of the Goddess of Light or her reasoning as to why she would allow anyone to join the Demon side, but whatever, player choice trumps omniscience power all the time.
As usual, you will select a class from a starting spread of six options—warrior, ranger, guardian, archer, mage, priest—but that's hardly the end of it. After assigning starting abilities, you will earn Training Points that allow you to advance to 1 of 2 classes that will grant new traits and abilities once you fulfill specific requirements. From a basic fighter class, you can transform into a swordsman and then a ninja (guess which class I like) and then one of two secret classes per class tree. Moreover, you can switch classes at any time as long as you have enough TP and you can carry certain abilities from class to class for some welcome customization.
In practice, you can join a party of up to five players and complete quests and story missions central to each of the three alignments. That effectively means that Langrisser Schwarz, which is primarily a hub-style instance-based MMOG, is three games in one if you choose to see each path through. The mission we demoed was a linear level in “The Marsh of Despair” graveyard forest with dead trees, hanging mist, and werewolves. At the end was a Japanese-animated version of a beholder beast with laser-shooting eyes and tentacles (of course).
Luckily, most enemies (and those damn tentacles) are easily defeated just by rotating between the available skills, whether with the keyboard or the controller. In particular, the wizard class I tried had command over a gigantic chargeable fireball, teleportation, an ice storm with an incredible windup time but also incredible power, and what can only be called a spell that summons a Bunny Slime. The cavalry knight, on the other hand, not only has a mount, but a range of melee strikes and charge. On top of that, you have access to an attack based on one of three cards that you can bring into the fray, and these cards can be collected as rewards.
Additionally, you will have a troop of soldiers to command; how many mainly depends on how far up the class tree you are. Your personal bodyguards can be given basic orders of following, defending, and attacking, but will largely step aside (perhaps in awe) at your enemy-disposing flourishes. There seems to be a roshambo effect between cavalry, infantrymen, and pikemen, but it's unclear how substantial this will be.
Langrisser Schwarz is close to release in Asia and will hopefully be available in North American territories next year.