If you’ve found your way to this review, it’s likely you already know what Langrisser is. For those of you who don’t: sometime between Nintendo releasing Fire Emblem and Sega releasing Shining Force, there was a new tile-based strategy RPG on the scene entitled Langrisser. The first game in the series was localized as “Warsong” in North America, and that was all we ever saw of the five-part series (though that changes this year with Aksys localizing Langrisser Re:Incarnation for 3DS). The game played in a manner almost identical to the aforementioned Nintendo and Sega franchises, with the key exception that money earned was spent on expendable troops that surrounded your hero and could be used to take on other “fodder” troops or even take a crack at an overpowered villain.
Personally, when I saw the announcement for this box set, I had two reactions. First: “YES!!!” Second: “Why didn’t they put IV and V in the box set?” I later learned that, while Masaya’s name appears on the box and credits for IV and V, this was something of a formality, as Career Soft (the creators of Growlanser) took on the bulk of development for those games. I am still holding out hope for a subsequent volume with Langrisser IV and V; while V does have a rare CD soundtrack floating out there, IV never got one, though EGG Music did do a digital release for the Langrisser IV soundtrack (as well as many of the soundtracks found in this set).
So, we have six discs of music. Before delving into the music itself, let’s figure out what all we have on our hands. In disc one, we get the music to the first Langrisser twice over. The first half is the Mega Drive (Sega Genesis) version that all of us oldschool “Warsong” fans will recognize. The second half is music from the PC Engine version of the game — a major upgrade, and music that never had a true soundtrack release (there is this album with drama and vocals and arrangements, but not an OST). Discs two and three are soundtracks for Langrisser II and Der Langrisser, respectively. See those tracklists? Yup, those are essentially the same game. Langrisser II was the Mega Drive original, and then Der Langrisser was a Super Famicom (SNES) port. Neither version have had a physical CD soundtrack release prior to now: this album features great music for the game in a unique synth sound source outside of any console, but it too was not a true OST.
And then, look at that tracklist for disc four. Still mighty familiar, right? The PlayStation port of Langrisser I & II (the Saturn version of this same port was referred to as the “Dramatic Edition” since it included voice acting) used hardly any music from the first Langrisser, and was instead an upgrade from Langrisser II. So, yes, we’re getting music from the same game in three forms. You may think that’s overkill &emdash; I thought so as well, at first. But we’ll get there.
Disc five is a very strange disc. It’s only 30 minutes long, and it claims to be additional music from the PS1 version of L1&L2 in the form of six “Supplement” tracks. There are also some bonus tracks on there. More on that later.
Disc six is the only straight reprint of any of the discs. Well, nearly a straight reprint: three additional tracks are slapped onto this set, all with unknown composers. Langrisser III, for Sega Saturn, had a relatively complete OST released in 1996. This game and its soundtrack, are definitely the black sheep. As to why that is? Once again, all I can say is, we’ll get there. This is a hulking six disc set, so let’s pace ourselves, shall we?
Now then, from the beginning: Langrisser. Or “Warsong.” Whichever you like to call it. This soundtrack features 16 audio tracks, about half of which are from the illustrious Noriyuki Iwadare. This music is pre-Lunar (Sega CD), some of his earliest work to date. For this soundtrack, he worked alongside his partner in crime Isao Mizoguchi (aka Don McCow) and Hiroshi Fujioka, who would go on to do the heavy lifting on Langrisser III and the early Growlanser titles. For 1991, early Mega Drive, this music is really catchy. In general, the Mega Drive (Genesis) has the capability of pumping out really great synth rock and synth pop tunes: the “synth lead” keyboard sounds are great, as are the drums, bass, and guitar sounds. When it comes to orchestral ensemble, that’s a weakness for the Mega Drive. Fortunately, Iwadare and crew didn’t need any of that for this rockin’ soundtrack. Just take a listen to “Your Army BGM 1,” and you’ll see what I mean. That kind of face-melting battle music is really all you need.
If you thought that was good, though, watch what happens when we upgrade to the “Descendants of Brilliant Light” (in Romaji, “Hikari no Matsuei”) PC Engine version. For these tracks, it’s almost entirely the same soundtrack as the Mega Drive version, but with upgraded synth, arranged by Masanori Hikichi, Naoyuki Ito, Miyoko Kobayashi, and one complete unknown: “Enemy Army BGM 4.” That’s right. Throughout this little journey, it seems that soundtrack publisher SuperSweep could not ascertain the individuals responsible for composing about two percent of all the audio for the game. No one knew, between old Masaya staff, the music teams, anyone. It’s possible that Iwadare or someone else on the team wrote it and they didn’t know who among them to credit, or else it was a completely other person that they do not remember hiring to do the music. We’ll get to more of these “unknown composer” tracks as we move forward.
Do you want to get a sense of the music upgrade? Take a quick listening comparison between tracks 4 and 19. It’s the same song, but the second one is upgraded by Masanori Hikichi. Sounds awesome, right? I absolutely agree with you. This second half of the disc was a real treat: I wasn’t aware the PC Engine soundtrack was so good. I’m very glad they included it as part of this comprehensive box set. Iwadare’s self-arrangement for “Enemy Army BGM 3 [Scramble]” is just one more example of how awesome this music gets.
But wait! It gets even better! Across this box set, we find a total of three vocal tracks. Two of them are waiting on the final disc, but first we get “Don’t stop your dream” from the PC Engine version of Langrisser I. I absolutely adore this track. And, when you listen to it, you’re going to think it’s an Iwadare classic, as it sounds so much like the Sega CD Lunar: The Silver Star intro track with those “hey! hey!” additions in the chorus. But you’d be wrong! This one was written by Fujioka-san, and a relatively unknown Mayumi Sudou on vocals. This is one wildly catchy song.
Alright, now to the first of three iterations of Langrisser II goodness. Disc two offers up the original Mega Drive audio. Most of this soundtrack is a collection of various ally/enemy musical themes. In-game, these generally play out during the turn order. You control your characters, and certain characters have their theme songs represented across the “Ally” tracks. The “Ally Reinforcement” tracks are for NPC (outside of your control) allies who fight for you between turns. Then there are all the enemy tracks: some of them are used for a lot more characters than those listed: many forces associated with Leon and Vargas will use their themes in-game. In any case, the ally and enemy tracks are a full 18 tracks from the OST, so they’re the bulk themes, and they’re all technically “battle” themes. All but a handful of them are Iwadare’s handiwork: Mizoguchi wrote “Ally 4,” “Enemy 2,” and “Enemy 6.” The rest are all Iwadare, and they’re all fantastic. Take a listen to “Ally 3 [No Surrender],” and you’ll quickly see what I mean. Also worth checking out: “Enemy 7 Dark Princess.” Every single ally/enemy track opens with a distinct 5 second bit of audio as a sort of cue for the player to recognize who’s next “up to bat,” so to speak. The Dark Princess is someone you do not want to mess with. This song sends home that realization very quickly.
There are some important ladies to the Langrisser II storyline: Jessica and Liana being chief among them. Jessica’s theme will crop up again elsewhere. For now, take a listen to Liana’s theme (yet another Iwadare composition). The Mega Drive audio makes for a great, slow, synth pop ballad. All of the standard “band” instruments are working at their finest, from the synth key leads to the light percussion and smooth bass line.
Now, how about those four ending themes?! Wait, where is Ending 3? There’s actually an asterisk next to Ending 2 in the liner notes, specifically for the Mega Drive version, stating that Ending 3 is embedded inside the Ending 2 track. “A Story Forever” is shorter on the Super Famicom version, but on the Mega Drive, this is a seven minute mega-ending track. If you listen to the audio sample, you’ll actually hear the tail end of Ending 3, and then a grand return to the classic Ending 2, which actually undergoes a key change during the Ending 3 interlude.
Moving on to disc three, the Super Famicom “Der Langrisser” version: again, these are basically the same compositions, but ported from one console to another. We RPG fans aren’t used really used to this; in the days of the early console wars, 8-bit and 16-bit, it was exceedingly rare for the same RPG to be found on Sega and Nintendo. That was generally more the realm of platformers and licensed games. But Langrisser managed to do the impossible and spread its wings from Mega Drive to SFC. In doing so, though, Iwadare and Mizoguchi had their work cut out for them. I’d imagine they had to start from scratch with the raw audio files they’d written, probably in a MIDI form, and re-assign every audio track with appropriate synth that would work with Super Famicom’s semi-software-emulated sound banks.
Good news: they pulled it off, phenomenally well. Need a comparison? Well, check out “Ally 3” on disc three, compare it to disc two, and you’ll be able to hear the difference for yourself. Sure, both versions are great. But the guitar comes out more clearly on the Super Famicom (think about the final battle from Donkey Kong Country … it sounds pretty similar, right?). And, with the ability to handle string ensembles, Iwadare uses this padded audio to add that extra “oomph” to the track. In fact, this is the most common thing Iwadare does with the SFC sound set. And it works, to great effect. Just check out “Opening 2” if you don’t believe me. Just below the rock band madness, Iwadare will occasionally supplement the audio with instruments from a traditional orchestra. Bravo! It is even more obvious in a piece like “Enemy 5 Egbert,” which was a giant mess on the Mega Drive version, but works far better on the Super Famicom.
Do be sure to check out that “Staff Roll” piece. The Mega Drive version didn’t have a separate credits audio, probably because it ran during that mammoth seven minute medley of Ending 2 / Ending 3. This “Staff Roll” is a completely new composition, however, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. It uses all of the techniques Iwadare must have gained in porting the soundtrack over, and then written a new, original track that works perfectly for SFC audio.
All of that being said, I’m afraid it’s time to cast aside our 16-bit console war. Because, no matter how hard I try, I cannot deny that the best version of the Langrisser II audio is the enhanced PlayStation audio for Langrisser I & II. Now, despite the title, this is basically a Langrisser II soundtrack. Only a handful of tracks, such as the L1 Opening, are used exclusively for that game. And, sadly enough, both that opening track and the Der Langrisser opening come complete with sound effects. No one must have had the master audio prior to the final anime FMV product sitting on their computers. These two openers, by the way, are also “unknown composer” tracks. Very interesting, I say! I’d like to see someone solve the mystery, but I imagine only former Masaya staff, possibly long-gone from the gaming industry, would know the answer.
Now, take a listen to that amazing sequenced music for a 32-bit platform. Right from the start, “Story” sounds amazing. And then there’s “Ally 2,” which comes before Ally 1 due to a misprint: the booklet lists these songs order Ally 1 Ally 2 Ally 3 etc, but they accidentally pressed the wrong audio to the CD. There’s an apology on SuperSweep’s website for the mistake, but I’m okay with it, because Ally 2 is an awesome piece of music. It deserves to take the lead for once. When you listen, what does it remind you of? How about, oh, a battle theme from Lunar or Grandia? Yes, this is the magic of mid-90s Iwadare that time forgot and non-importing American gamers generally know nothing about. That’s why you don’t want to miss this.
Every single one of the Ally tracks, and even the three Allied Reinforcement tracks, came out perfectly. The least exciting is probably “Ally 5.” But this is merely because it offers up a slow tempo. Our musical experience is re-energized with the frantic “Ally 6,” and then, finally, the last battle tune “Ally 7.” That one is seriously perfect. I will, yet again, reference Lunar and Grandia. Just listening to this music really makes me wonder: why did it take so long for this soundtrack to be published? It’s every bit as good as the battle themes from the Game Arts classics.
The “Enemy” tracks turned out great here, too. “Dark Princess” and “Böser” were my favorites. The reinforcement tracks were solid, as well.
Regarding the endings: this version doesn’t have an “Ending 4,” but it does have the seven minute version of “Ending 2” that includes Ending 3, as we found on the Mega Drive version. And, yet, it also contains the Staff Roll from the Super Famicom version. That’s confusing!
Now, on to the mystery disc…
“Supplement” 1 through 6 are tracks used … somewhere … in Langrisser 1&2 for PlayStation. Where? I have no idea. Maybe in the first Langrisser? Maybe in Omake menu with character art and biographies? I don’t know. I also don’t know who wrote these songs, and neither did SuperSweep. They all go uncredited. Track 10 of this same disc, which features ambient sounds more than music, also goes uncredited. The rest is Iwadare’s work. His themes for the three gals &emdash; Jessica, Lushiris, and Liana &emdash; are absolutely beautiful. Each is a soft, morose ballad. Jessica’s theme here is so much better than on the Mega Drive version, it’s like listening to two different pieces of audio (even though there is a distinct melodic correlation). Finally on disc five, we have three separate versions of “Big Brother.” You know who Big Brother is, right? In Romaji, we’d call him “Aniki.” As in “Cho Aniki!” Masaya’s only other hit franchise at this point was the horizontal-scrolling shmup “Cho Aniki,” featuring ultra-muscular men as both playable characters and villains. Giant white beams would shoot out of your … head … as your flew in a perfectly straight (erect?) horizontal form. The innuendo in this whole series has always been ultra-manly and ultra-gay. Perhaps Masaya decided to counter Urushihara-san’s “well-proportioned” anime girls with their new muscular mascot, because “Aniki” is a secret character in Langrisser II (and all other iterations). The requirements to get Aniki in your party are really arcane, and you cannot recruit him until more than halfway through the game, but he is appropriately overpowered. Strangely, though, Iwadare did not arrange Koji Hayama’s classic music. Instead, he wrote his own dopey little theme. I’m glad they kept said dopey theme on disc five instead of integrating it with the other three OSTs.
And now, finally, we’ve arrived. It’s time to end this thing with disc six, the soundtrack for Langrisser III. First, the bad news: this is not an Iwadare soundtrack. Noriyuki Iwadare didn’t even touch this thing. The closest thing we get is Tomohiro Endo creating an arrangement of an older Langrisser tune, written by Iwadare, and used as the “Final Stage Song” (track 40). Isao Mizoguchi is nowhere to be found either. Hiroshi Fujioka takes the lead on this soundtrack, with near equal contribution from Hiroshi Iizuka. Noboru Iwata and Hiroaki Shibata round out the mix with about eight tracks each. So, it’s a combined effort, but one lacking our star composer. The difference is notable in the BGM: it simply isn’t as inspired.
But let’s just jump into the good stuff, okay? Because I had mentioned earlier, Langrisser III has two vocal tracks. And they are quite good! First is the opening piece, “To the Future,” composed by Fujioka and sung by IKU. The track opens with this killer guitar lick, and then IKU jumps in with solid alto-range vocals. After the verse, there’s this build into the chorus that involves a rather interesting chord progression. Then, during the chorus, the guitar is knocking out some three-over-two 16th note pattern that has to be heard to be believed. This is really good. It’s Falcom good. Seriously, if I’d never heard the song before, I’d just assume it came from Falcom during their Legend of Xanadu / Brandish era in the mid-90s.
The other vocal track, also composed by Hiroshi Fujioka, is “Lovin’You -Leaving in the Morning-.” That might be a stupid song title, but let me assure you, the song itself is quite good. You can listen to the full track if you’d like; it’s there in the audio sample, track 20. Sung by Hiroko Kasahara, this song remains one of my all-time favorite Japanese songs, in-game or out-of-game. I would pay serious money to hear this song expanded into a five minute version, and I would pay more to hear it performed live. That bouncy electric piano part is something I learned to play when I was in high school, and I can still do it. Now I just need a really good bass player, someone who can handle pad/layered keyboard work, and a Japanese vocalist, and I can just re-create it myself. Who wants to join my “Lovin’You” cover band?
Of all the other tracks on the L3 OST, my favorites are the ones that also exist in vocal version. You see, in 1996, there was another album released for L3, the character Song Album. It’s an image album with some original melodies, but “Flaire’s Theme” exists in vocal form as “Come and See.” Sophia’s Theme is rendered into the vocal “Paused Love Song.” My memories of that album help these all-too-short instrumental character themes come to life.
I promised I would explain what makes L3 the black sheep. Musically, the lack of Iwadare is the big problem. In terms of the game, however, this was Masaya’s first attempt at 3D on the Sega Saturn. They failed spectacularly. Every single battle instance runs at a painfully slow framerate in an almost-topdown camera angle, as your hero and troops run willy-nilly trying to find enemies to attack. The game takes forever to play as a result, and it just isn’t much fun. The only appealing thing about the game is that it does have a sort of “dating sim” element with all of those girls mentioned earlier; the mechanic works not unlike Sakura Wars, wherein dialogue options between battles and actions taken in-battle will determine your level of intimacy/compatibility with each girl.
Looking at the lengthy tracklist for Langrisser III, you may be fooled into thinking, “well, there have to be some comparable tracks in there that match up with Langrisser II in quality.” Let me assure you: there aren’t. They simply don’t exist. But if we throw away that comparison and hold the soundtrack to its own standard, it’s not all that bad. Hiroshi Iizuka’s “Theme of Shika 2” is strangely refreshing. And the “Requiem” tracks at the end of the soundtrack are good, if a little sad. Also, the three uncredited tracks (Enemy Attack 1, 2, and Game Over), are pretty good too, if a little simplistic. I’d love to know who wrote them.
And that’s that! Pretty interesting, right? I love seeing these large chunks of gaming history unearthed by a publisher willing to take a risk. That’s why I would urge any Iwadare fan, any Langrisser fan, any fan of great game music, to at least listen to these audio samples and consider purchasing this box set. With luck, more classic music will come our way, and that might even mean a box set for Langrisser IV and V (they can skip Millennium … please, oh please, skip Millennium). Shinji Hosoe, the head of SuperSweep, is always looking for new projects like these to publish on his record label. Hopefully there is more to come that will interest RPG Fans! In the meantime, get your Langrisser on, people! It’ll be great preparation for Aksys’s publication of Langrisser Re:Incarnation, if nothing else.