Langrisser V: The End of Legend is, as its name implies, the final installment in the current incarnation of Masaya's epic strategy RPG series (the forthcoming Langrisser Millennium promises to take the series in a radical new direction). It's with mixed feelings that I write this review, because even though Masaya has truly outdone themselves (and everyone else, in my opinion) with this gem, I can't help but think that future 2D Langrisser games could have been even better than this one. At the very least, though, Masaya has ended the current incarnation of what has been arguably the greatest strategy RPG series of all time the way it should be ended: on a brilliantly positive note.
The plot of Langrisser V revolves around Sigma, a synthetically engineered human created by the revolutionary scientist/wizard Gizarof. One night, Sigma is awakened from his slumber inside a storage crystal in one of Gizarof's labs by Lambda, a fellow synthetic human. Lambda tells Sigma that something is wrong, and the pair soon discover what is amiss when a powerful lord named Rainforce, intent on destroying Gizarof's cloning laboratories, busts into the lab with his right-hand man Aizel and starts laying waste to everything in sight.
Realizing that they are no match for Rainforce and Aizel, Sigma and Lambda attempt to escape. Fortunately for the protagonists, Rainforce's pursuit is distracted by the emergence of Omega, another powerful synthetic human. While Omega occupies Rainforce, Sigma and Lambda make a clean getaway. After they are in the clear, Sigma and Lambda decide to head for Regenburg, where Gizarof rules supreme, and find out what is going on from their master.
Although their goal seems simple, the journey of Sigma and Lambda is fraught with complications and plot twists. The writers at Masaya have done a masterful job of delivering one of the most riveting storylines that exists in a game. The scope of Sigma's quest slowly becomes greater and greater as he pushes forward, yet the storyline always manages to stay focused on the characters.
One of the biggest strengths of Langrisser V's storyline is the excellent character development. The cast of Langrisser V is an unforgettable lot, full of personality, and most of the members are very likable. Examples include the aforementioned Sigma, whose strong will and good heart allows him to overcome both his forgotten past and Gizarof's programming, and Brenda, a confident knight whose interest in Sigma slowly turns from professional to personal. Clarette is a frivolous pegasus knight who slowly develops some sense of responsibility, and Alfred, an insecure fighter, comes into his own as well. Even most of the villains and NPCs are developed well in Langrisser V.
Langrisser V marks a departure from past Langrisser games in that its storyline actually takes place concurrently with one of its prequels. Past Langrisser games have had their plots separated by years or even generations, but Langrisser V takes place in its entirety during and immediately after the storyline of Langrisser IV.
Because Langrisser V takes place concurrently and immediately after Langrisser IV, many cast members from Langrisser IV make appearances in Langrisser V. Fans of Randius and company will get to see what kind of role that their heroes play in the post-Langrisser IV war. And some characters from Langrisser IV will even be directly involved with your party in Langrisser V…
Like past Langrisser games (with the exception of Langrisser I), Langrisser V presents you with many choices throughout the storyline of the game. Although the scenarios are linear (unlike those of Langrisser II and Langrisser IV), the choices that you make do affect the outcome of the game. Also, like Langrisser III and Langrisser IV, your choices will affect how well Sigma gets along with the female characters in the game.
Langrisser V plays similarly to past Langrisser games, and is especially similar to Langrisser IV in its execution. The battles take place on expansive 2D overhead maps, and the Judgment Phase System (where characters' orders of actions depend on their judgment level, or speed, rather than distinct player/enemy phases) still guides the turn-based battles. Each one of your player characters, referred to hereafter as "generals," can control up to 6 individual units of 10 troops each, and can deploy two different unit types at once. Each unit of troops can be ordered to attack, and generals can attack and use magic and skills in combat. Like in past Langrisser games, troops are much less effective if they are outside of their general's command range.
Langrisser V makes a departure from other strategy RPGs with its summon system. Instead of summoning a creature to do a lot of damage to everything in sight and then disappear (like in most RPGs), generals in Langrisser V summon creatures and then control them as troops. Later on in the game, the summons become a crucial part of your strategy, since some of them have extremely useful spells and attacks.
The Judgment Phase System, first presented in Langrisser IV, is vastly improved in Langrisser V. Langrisser IV's biggest flaw was that generals and their troops had different judgment levels, meaning that they could almost never move at the same time during a battle. This flaw forced players to either put their generals or troops in needless danger or slow down gameplay to keep their forces safe. Thankfully, this flaw has been corrected in Langrisser V. A general's troops can move every time the general moves, so neither troops nor generals get stranded, and the game continues on at an efficient pace. In addition, both generals and troops can now move after attacking.
Like most of the past Langrisser games, combat is carried out in 2D battle screens, with generals or units of troops duking it out. The long load times to enter these screens that were present in Langrisser IV have thankfully been greatly reduced in Langrisser V. Really impatient gamers do have the option to turn off the battle screens altogether, though.
Langrisser V features some of the deepest strategy I've yet seen in a console strategy RPG, yet it never gets bogged down in its complexity. The subtleties of its gameplay are too numerous to list, and really have to be experienced to be appreciated. Gameplay-wise, your characters are unique, though there is some degree of customization because you can choose between 2 classes for a character to advance to every time he or she reaches level 10 in a previous class.
Although Langrisser V is one of the best-playing strategy RPGs out there, it still has a few flaws. One of these is its speed when things get really busy on the screen. When the overhead map screens get packed with troops, the computer is often slow in determining what moves your enemies will make. This was not a problem in past Langrisser games, and I see no reason why it should be one here. In addition, when the overhead maps get packed, there is significant slowdown when area-effect spells are cast.
Out of all of the Langrisser games, Langrisser V has the fewest playable characters, with a total of 6. On the plus side, you can always bring all of your generals into battle at one time, but with so many riveting and well-developed characters in the game, it would have been nice if more of them were playable. Also, there are a few bugs in the game. Fortunately, they most likely won't come up during the course of regular play, but gamers who really like to experiment will likely run across some of them.
Contributing heavily to Langrisser V's amazing gameplay is its near-impeccable control. Like past Langrisser games, the control consists mainly of cursor movement and menu navigation. The cursor can move in 8 directions, and your control over it is pinpoint-precise. One of the buttons speeds up the cursor, too, so you can pan across larger maps more quickly.
The menus are extremely well-organized, and are the best that I've seen in the series. Menu navigation is quick and responsive, too. In the shops, you can see the relative strength of the weapon or armor you are buying and compare it to what the character in question is wearing now, so you save time when shopping for equipment. The shops also allow you to buy and equip weapons and armor at the same time, thus adding additional efficiency.
The only weakness in control is the fact that in the maps, the cursor sometimes sticks for a fraction of a second when you are moving it through a character's move range. This takes away some of the precision in cursor movement, but fortunately doesn't detract much from the overall control.
Langrisser V also impresses in the graphical department, containing perhaps the best 2D hand-drawn graphics that I've seen this side of Seiken Densetsu: Legend of Mana. The overhead maps are stunning in their detail, and the colors used for them are both plentiful and aesthetically pleasing. The characters are small, but very detailed for their size, and the sprite sizes used are bigger than those of previous Langrisser games. The spell effects, while not spectacular, are vastly improved over those of past Langrissers as well. The only weakness here is that the animation of both characters and backgrounds (such as streams) is fairly choppy.
The battle scenes are 2D and viewed from the side, and their graphical quality is very comparable to that of the overhead maps in terms of both the backgrounds and the characters. However, character animation is a lot smoother in the battles, and some of the generals' attacks are quite impressive visually.
There's also a bit of anime FMV in Langrisser V. Although the quality of the FMV is pretty grainy, the anime is beautifully drawn and animated, and displays amply the talents of Mr. Satoshi Urushihara, the artist of the Langrisser series.
Langrisser V's character designs and art are, in my opinion, the best to ever grace a video game. Satoshi Urushihara has long been my favorite anime artist, and Langrisser V is arguably his best work yet. The female characters are about as sexy as anime characters get, and everything in the game is drawn with an impressively high level of panache and consistency. It's a shame that Urushihara won't be doing the art for Langrisser Millennium, because the series will lose a lot of its distinctive feel without him.
Consistent with the other aspects of the game, Langrisser V's sound ranks in the top echelon of games. Sound effects are robust, from the cleanly sampled battle cries of troops to the explosions of attack spells. And the voice acting is brilliant. The talented cast includes Michie Tomizawa, perhaps my favorite seiyuu of all, as well as many returning members of the brilliant cast of Langrisser IV. In addition, the quality of voice sampling is at an all time high here. The voices are extremely clear, and the volume is at an optimum listening level in relation to the background music and sounds.
Langrisser V also contains one of the top soundtracks that I've heard in recent memory. Composed in its entirety by Noriyuki Iwadare (of Lunar and Grandia fame), Langrisser V's soundtrack is mostly rock-based, like most of the other games in the series. The twist here is that, like Langrisser III's soundtrack, the Langrisser V score has more stylistic variety than those of most of the other games in the series.
Fortunately, unlike the Langrisser III score, varied style does not result in varied quality. The individual tracks in the score are almost invariably excellent, and the overall soundtrack gives the Langrisser II soundtrack a run for its money as the best in the series. Some of the tracks prove to be incredible; highlights include "Collapse," a driving rock number that continuously builds on an intense yet catchy central riff before segueing into a brilliant harmonized melody, and "Puppet Show," another rock piece that keeps the listener off balance with its combination of false-start time changes and overlay of a slow beat with an excellent double-time melody.
In spite of its flaws, Langrisser V's combination of beautiful visuals, an incredible storyline, and stellar gameplay makes it my favorite game ever released so far. If you're a strategy RPG fan and don't mind importing, this one's an essential addition to your collection.
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