It’s difficult to overstate what a legitimate heavyweight Langrisser was in the tactical RPG world. The series has mostly disappeared from view since the 32-bit era, but now it has returned in a mobile adaptation that seems to have swept the world off its feet. Out of respect for this important property, an explanation of its value to video gaming is in order.
Langrisser started life on the Sega Mega Drive. It offered a unique, wargame-like modeling of battlefield leadership in that you commanded leader units and their generic subordinates against a similarly composed enemy. The leaders would radiate what could be described a “command aura,” which gave buffs to any of their subordinates found within it. This encouraged companies to stay together, but facilitated desperation tactics when confronting suboptimal situations, such as sending an unsupported squadron forward to halt the advance of an enemy or commanding a squadron to fall back to protect another and buy crucial time. This risk/reward present in most of the classic Langrisser titles provided many harrowing and triumphant moments for the player.
One may think the extra units would bog the battles down. That easily could have been true, but a smart menu option existed to give general orders to your generic troops, allowing them to automatically stay close to their leader until you needed them to do something different. For this reason, ordering entire companies never got too tedious. You didn’t have to command every squadron individually unless you wanted to.
With one exception that comes to mind, the excellent Der Langrisser for Super Famicom, Langrisser never really offered much in the way of great plot or characters. The recurring story surrounding the dueling mythical swords, the Langrisser and the Alhazard, was always enjoyable enough, but the reason to play Langrisser was to engage with its excellent and unique battle mechanics. This is critical to understand when talking about this newest entry for iOS and Android, because in this regard, it has serious problems.
With this history and these expectations, the worst isn’t that Langrisser Mobile’s story is cluttered with events while lacking any depth, or that the characters are empty-calorie tropes, or even that the music is horrible (the battle theme is embarrassing). The main issue is that the gameplay is brutally stripped of anything resembling Langrisser and, in a typical mobile game move, is further subverted by a confusing and incessant flow of items and currencies. It constantly halts any supposed progress with countless prerequisites for story progression, class changes, or any of the several mechanics of advancement. But if the game plays well, maybe there is something to it, right?
Well, in that regard, it’s not all bad. In what I can assume is an effort to streamline the play experience, ZlongGame decided to remove the generic units. The only subordinate units you choose are the ones in the leaders’ personal retinues. This, as well as the condensed map sizes, succeeds in speeding up the scenarios so as to facilitate quick sessions and pick-up/put-down play. The battles zip along quickly, but sadly they’re genericized by that same streamlining philosophy. What was once a fascinating series of tactical choreography exercises now mostly involves selecting units and moving them around the map.
That is not to say that Langrisser is devoid of tactical texture. Certain types of units counter other types in a classic rock-paper-scissors fashion, and there is different terrain granting the unique bonuses you’d expect. Although the maps are far smaller than in the old games, they are well designed and spacious enough to give you options. The key to victory isn’t obvious in many cases. For example, I found that when I started off surrounded in battles, sometimes the right tactic was to commit all my forces to one side and defeat the enemy there before regrouping in time to receive the other enemies, thereby controlling the field. These mechanics are at least strong enough to let the player rely on something other than luck in summoning a rare and powerful hero through sheer chance.
Eventually, though, character progression becomes annoying. The game constantly throws crafting items, currencies, vouchers, and certificates at you every time you log on, every time you complete missions, and every time you blink. The sheer variety and volume of items and currencies you receive nearly immediately devolves into an incomprehensible cacophony. l did find, however, that if I kept my core group leveled up and almost never “summoned” any new heroes to add to my party, I could stay abreast of the power curve for a while, since I saved all the obnoxious progression resources for only a few characters. This doesn’t change the fact that the white noise of collectibles is exhausting.
At least the graphics are gorgeous and glossy in that mass-market mobile software sort of way. As stated, the animations are smooth, and the effects, especially in the battle scenes, are wonderful to behold. The character portraits gently sway during dialogue in a way that is supposed to be naturalistic, like they’re standing there breathing and the wind is gently rustling their hair. It’s fairly effective, though quite strange. It must be said that the female characters are done no favors by their portrait animations. Focusing on certain parts of the anatomy is a choice that should have never been made.
Langrisser is not without merit, but I was done with it long before my journalistic obligation propelled me as far as it did. Although it’s mostly inoffensive, it is so vapid and generic that it undermines this storied series. I lament this lost opportunity to properly reintroduce it to the North American audience. The interminable length of the game, the halting progression, and the deluge of in-game items and resources caused me fall to my knees and wail to the heavens, “Is this necessary!?” Ultimately, Langrisser for mobile is utterly and thoroughly unnecessary.