Descendants of the Light

A quick word of warning before we begin: All of the English interpretations of Japanese text found here are for better or worse my own, and often paraphrased for brevity’s sake. Please consider them general aids designed to convey the gist of what’s going on or indicate the general mood of a scene rather than the final word on any particular line. The only exception to this are people/place names, which generally use a mix of “I’ve definitely seen this used in an official capacity somewhere” and “Fans generally seem to use this spelling” to try and give this article some vague sense of consistency.

This is going to be a long one so feel free to use the handy table of contents below to dip in and out at your leisure.


TABLE OF CONTENTS


Introduction: The Descendants of the Light

In the beginning there was La- there was Elthlead and Gaia no Monshou, which we’ve looked at before. And although neither of those two play the way Langrisser does, there’s no doubt they’re the seed from which this series sprouted. Unlike so many other 16-bit fantasy series, Langrisser debuted on Sega’s Mega Drive rather than Nintendo’s rival back in 1991, and as US friends will already know even released there under the name Warsong. The plot was localised to a certain degree, as many games tended to be at the time, but in all honesty the English changes are mostly superficial – a bit “off”, rather than wrong or wilfully different.

And that was that for Langrisser – until 1993, when NCS/Masaya had a crack at remaking the game for the PC Engine. This second go at fantasy wargaming took the Mega Drive release’s bones and reshaped them into something grander, seizing the opportunity to not only make the game prettier but also refine the concept into something better than it was before. The script was greatly expanded over the original Mega Drive version of the game and every map received some degree of tweaking, with some so thoroughly redesigned they’re virtually unrecognisable. The shift to CD and the fully voiced cutscenes that naturally came with it was an obvious selling point at the time, with the back of the case and the spine card both showing the full cast list (even to the point of spoiling Böser and Chaos’ late-game appearances). For once these scenes are genuinely welcome too, expanding on what used to be rather plain prologue text (which was as close as the game got to non-combat storytelling) without dragging anything out or repeating old information, and looking great at the same time. Like the original version, and unlike the PlayStation and Saturn remakes of this remake that eventually followed years later, there are no branching paths here – just one route from beginning to end.

Let’s take a look at each battle in turn; examining how the game frequently brings strategy and storytelling together to create an experience that becomes so much more than the sum of its parts, Langrisser choosing to treat these two features as complementary elements rather than as combative opposites.

Scenario 1: Escape the Royal Castle

What hits hardest about this opening scenario is how spine-tinglingly perfect it is. Baldea castle’s under siege right from the start with enemies moving in from all sides and neither water nor walls can save us or our allies from their deadly advances. So dire is the situation that Prince Ledin’s primary means of “victory” here doesn’t come from fending off anyone at all but from simply escaping the area, achieved by moving next to Narm (unlike the Mega Drive game, which had you pushing Ledin out towards any edge of the map). In spite of the severity of Ledin’s plight the first music track you hear, “Kingdom Knight“, isn’t some sombre affair or a “classy” fantasy music track filled with brass and strings – this is all guitars, all the time (except for the part where is breaks into a thrilling ’90s synth keyboard interlude). Between this raw aural energy and the steady drip of mid-battle dialogue used to not only remind us of who we’re supposed to be moving Ledin towards but also what is going to happen once he does escape it really does feel like we’ve been dumped right in the middle of the worst possible circumstances, that the king’s request for Ledin to meet up with his trusted ally Hawking in Salrath is something he’s come up with on the spot and there’s no time to argue, even though leaving people behind – people with names, portraits, and clear personalities of their own even at this early stage – feels like the wrong thing to do.

Scenario 2: To Salrath

This feeling of desperation, of momentum, isn’t lost in the second scenario, which sees Ledin and royal knight Volkoff meeting Chris and her no-named pilgrimaging friends on the road to Salrath. There is deliberately little of note on this map – we’re on the road between towns and the nondescript landscape reflects that – the sole exception being the village gate nestled in the north-west corner of the map. This is where Chris will move to, away from the shaman-type troops that are not only waiting on the road ahead but also begin with one group standing right next to the party, instantly creating a situation where we either have to have someone hang back to deal with them, potentially never catching up (and then helping) their allies later, or put up with these guys nipping at the party’s heels for turn after turn. Chris and her fellow travellers are computer-controlled here which makes protecting her stressful and unpredictable as we can’t order her into a safe corner and then clear a path or anything like that – we have to adjust to her movements every turn and try to make the best of whatever happens.

As the primary focus here is on getting Chris to the village, the pursuit feels fraught and exhausting: at this point in the game Ledin is not a proud noble off to save the kingdom, he’s just one of a rag-tag bunch of escapees trying to stay ahead of their enemies and hopefully stay alive – a feeling that only deepens when enemy reinforcements appear without warning just as it looks like we might be finally thinning them out, and then turns into sheer relief when Hawking and his troops appear at the village’s entrance. As before Langrisser dishes out a series of in-character reminders related to the task at hand, shouted across the battlefield from time to time (I especially liked the voiced lines for Ledin shouting “I can see the village just ahead! Don’t stop running!” and Chris giving a nervous “O-OK!” back). It’s nice to know for sure what needs to be done without constantly checking a dry menu for a few short bullet points, and presenting this information in this manner makes it easy to believe this is so urgent the characters are worrying about it just as much as we are.

Scenario 3: Raid

You’d think being welcomed into a friendly village would finally offer Ledin and friends a little respite, but instead he again finds himself unexpectedly under attack from same group of bandits who made life so difficult for them on the road before. What I like about this development is the way it’s introduced: in spite of Chris’ polite healer role and conspicuously squealy “ouch” sound, she’s the one who rushes in to raise the alarm here, and Ledin then takes on board and reacts to her information. He still tells her to shelter with the townsfolk in the church (and she does), but at least there’s some attempt to not immediately drop her into a well-worn (and disappointing) gentle healer role, even if she’s no Sarah.

What’s especially clever is the way Langrisser then uses this ambush plot point to inform every single aspect of the ensuing battle: The only way to win is to eliminate all enemies – in other words, there’s no way out of this other than to fight to the death. Allied starting positions echo the sudden nature of the attack, with powerful characters tucked away inside civilian buildings and away from the action instead of where they want and need to be – on the front lines and protecting the villagers. It feels scrappy and disorganised – it feels like a real surprise attack. And just as it looks like they might be safe… enemy reinforcements turn up. This is commented on by the cast, with Hawking volunteering to tackle this unexpected lord himself, urging Ledin (and reminding us) to concentrate on protecting the villagers. It’s at this point the AI-controlled Hawking’s starting point, buried deep in the map and apparently away from anything useful, suddenly makes sense: all those turns taken to get him outside and ready for battle mean his troops have been untouched up to now by the ongoing battle and he’s emerged in exactly the right spot to take on this sudden threat.

Finally defeating the enemy feels as much of a relief as anything – but this hard-won peace doesn’t last. Narm, one of the loyal knights left behind in the opening scenario, has arrived, and she brings news that the castle has fallen. Ledin resolves to set off at once, with Hawking promising to lend his aid as soon as he’s gathered his troops.

Scenario 4: Forest of the Dead

The primary win condition for this scenario is as ominous as it is unique: “Survive for twelve turns“. The enemies here are all slimes – only they’re not the token cute enemy RPGs sometimes make them out to be (famously so, in Dragon Quest’s case), but remorseless globby blobs that look like they could swallow an army whole. There’s nowhere to go, no advantageous area to head for and then defend… the only thing we can do is try to stay alive and hope for the best. It’s an intimidating scenario made all the more tense thanks to the way various members of the group voice their concerns about this situation, which goes a long way to making them feel like more than a simple collection of stats attached to a portrait. This carries on for multiple turns, with Narm and Volkoff commenting on things such as how ineffectual normal attacks are – dialogue that’s a tip, a truth, as well as a lovely sprinkling of panic.

In battle individual slimes are dangerous rather than devastating, a calculated move designed to make their vast numbers feel inescapably overwhelming rather than simply unfair. And just as we start to lose one too many soldiers and there are still too many turns to go… Chris shows up with Thorn, first met back in Salrath village, and he loudly declares that the slimes are weak to fire. As if to make clear this turn of events isn’t just a few new bodies on screen going through the same old routine the following turn Thorn specifically orders his troops to burn the monsters and Chris says with confidence “Leave the slimes to us, Ledin!” –  it’s great to see her proactive and confident, even if after literally saving his life, the lives of his loyal officers, and the lives of all the remaining troops under his command…  he initially refuses to allow her to join him in battle. He changes his mind about a sentence and one mild plea later, but him (weakly) insisting it’s too dangerous after all that felt a little at odds with the scenario itself.

Scenario 5: The Empire’s Elite Guards

The way allied and enemy forces are initially set up make this battlefield resemble a modern multiplayer map – both are positioned diagonally opposite each other, one side mirroring the other with three clear routes to the other “team”, all harbouring their own strengths and weaknesses. For the first time ever “Kill everything” is not listed as either a main or secondary win condition: the only thing that matters here is taking out the Black Knight, Lance. It’s an intimidating prospect, especially as on his first turn he remains still while ordering his named officers, Laias and Laetitia, off to his right and left respectively – and they not only verbally acknowledge his command but immediately move in those directions, even though I’ve already started to move everyone up to the north. It’s an effective case of smoke and mirrors, a simple programmer’s orders appearing to us as a vicious knight’s planned pincer movement. Lance continues barking orders and reacting to significant changes as the fight wears on, giving him not only some personality for his later reappearances to build upon but also something of a stake in the fight – he wants to win this as badly as we do, and some of his dialogue gives the distinct impression he’s actually mad at us for surviving this long.

The big twist here comes right at the end – after dealing what should be the final blow Lance makes his escape and Ledin rushes after him… only for Volkoff to push the prince out the way of a poisoned arrow. The poison kills him, leaving us going into the next scenario with our strongest general dead and buried and a very personal score to settle – especially as the cutscene art shows Xeld, present in the initial attack on Baldea castle, reclining on the same throne Ledin’s father was sitting on just a few hours earlier.

~Interlude~

We may only be five battles in but Langrisser has already taken us through a lot of unexpected events, and no two battles have been alike. We’ve taken part in desperate escapes, seen key characters permanently killed off, made new friends, and now have a personal vendetta against an imperial foe. Every map has played very differently from the last, every plot thread has had a direct impact on the skirmishes that followed, and the pace has been nothing short of frenetic. It’s as strong an opening as any strategy game could ever hope for – and Langrisser’s just getting started.

Scenario 6: The Offence and Defence of Baldea Castle

This map is almost a straight reversal of the opening map – the major difference is this time we’re the ones on the attack, with the enemy forces stuck defending in the middle. This is also Ledin’s first time as true leader rather than royalty with a sword, and during the fight he shouts several hot-blooded lines about his father, the recently deceased Volkoff, and taking back the castle. He’s not the only one to express himself either – both Narm and Chris voice their hopes in their own ways of getting the castle back too. It’s a small amount of dialogue that does a lot: our party feel like a team, and everyone wants to help.

Only thing that matters here is defeating Xeld – nothing else counts as a victory. Unfortunately for us reaching him is about as difficult as it gets, as the broken walls enemy soldiers so easily flooded through the first time around have now been repaired. It’s a small but significant detail, implying the passage of time and the fortification of defences, as well as offering a new tactical challenge.

This is the first battle I lose, my under-levelled forces flailing uselessly against the might of the highly trained enemy within. I restart and lose again. And again. And again. This is it, isn’t it? I’ve come unstuck. I shouldn’t have leaned so heavily on Volkoff, I should’ve made more effort to kill individual units instead quickly wiping out their leaders… If only I’d…

No. Langrisser’s (mostly) better than that, and with careful, tactical, attentive, play (and yes a little bit of luck), I’m clearing out enemy generals and marching towards the throne with a large, if definitely not complete, army at my side. Even though I eventually succeeded, this still needs to be said: The shock death of a central party member’s a good thing for a story, but a terrible thing for a game – share their accrued XP amongst the survivors, give everyone a permanent boost because they’re angry, anything other than punishing players for not checking a FAQ beforehand.

Reclaiming the throne leaves Ledin’s soldiers free to search the castle; who then find and free Jessica and Taylor, last seen defending the king as Ledin escaped, who both then permanently join the party. We also get our first explanation of the titular Langrisser here – who has it and why they wanted it so badly. It turns out the blade’s never been just a sharp length of steel: it’s also magical seal keeping evil at bay… or it was, until The Emperor of Dalsis, Digos, stole it. A wildly imaginative backstory? No, of course not. But it’s exactly the sort of general goal Langrisser needs: it’s immediately obvious why the empire having it is such a bad idea and how important it is to get it back. Not that there’s any time to dwell on the subject, as Dalsis’ forces have been spotted amassing outside Fort Anzel and the place will fall unless Ledin rushes to help.

Scenario 7: Hero of the Fortress

Now Taylor and Jessica are on the team we have a greater variety of troop types at our disposal and Langrisser is eager to give us a reason to use them, placing a large expanse of water between Ledin’s starting position and the fort – it’s the perfect time to test out Taylor’s mermen units (and to notice how differently the pair of aquatic enemy units perform on land/in water too). Those tests had better be quick though, as Fort Anzel is being doggedly defended by Lord Albert and his few surviving soldiers – and there’s a whole army of enemies standing between us and him.

So it’s mermen or nothing, right? Well… no, and it’s here Langrisser shows how well thought out its map design is. On our first brush with this map it looks like the only route across for any land-based troops is either via the central bridge (and straight into about a million enemies) or around the easterly edge and up to the north, then across a different and incredibly narrow bridge. But on closer inspection there are splodges of land dotted just to the west of the main bridge – it’s not an unbroken path, but there are only a few small gaps between these islands, and they offer a little bit more room to breathe than the other options.

So there’s a definite urgency to this from the beginning – we have to charge ahead before everyone we’re supposed to be helping dies even if we’d rather move everyone just so and carefully lure out individual Dalsis generals. Surprisingly the silver lining here is Albert himself. He’s not the strongest ally Ledin will ever meet (not by a long shot, in my experience), but he is smart, and his AI routine does make sure he sticks to the fortress, doesn’t engage the enemy, and his troops all follow his cautious lead. This even goes so far as to see Albert order his units to fall back when the enemy finally breaks into the fortress – and to call out to his remaining soldiers “It’s the prince! The prince has come to help! We’ve finally had a little luck!” when we finally set foot on the same soil. In these magical moments you could almost believe we’re an active participant in an ongoing situation, a brave hero in a story whose ending has yet to be written. This feeling is only enhanced by Lance’s potential appearance, as he only shows up if we take too long to clear the map and brings a few otherwise unseen lines of dialogue with him too. It’s thrilling to see the battle change to such a great degree unannounced, to be so close to victory and then suddenly find ourselves so hard-pressed.

Scenario 8: Pursuit

For once we are truly on the offensive, chasing after a retreating Lord Zaldaff. This situation brings with it a new and also totally unique battle condition: we will lose this map if he escapes, regardless of how well we may be doing at the time. It’s a fantastic way of adding a little pressure and immediacy to an otherwise strictly turn based game – strategy is still incredibly important, but there’s also a constant need to push forward, to not be as careful as we’d like to be.

In keeping with the scenario Ledin’s forces begin with their backs to one corner of the map and the enemy close by – and with lots of empty land for them to escape to stretching out into the distance. Before handing control over Langrisser’s script gives a few members of the cast (including the freshly-joined Albert) the chance to reiterate the need for speed (sorry), and Ledin the chance to dish out a rousing “Alright everyone, let’s go!” voice clip too – just the thing to encourage us to bravely charge ahead.

For all the rushing we need to do this is a pleasantly dialogue-heavy battle, with player characters often expressing some variant of “You can’t escape!” and Zaldaff reacting to what is to him an unexpected turn of events, the sudden arrival of Ledin’s forces cause for alarm and a swift change of plan, with two groups ordered to hold Ledin off while the main group escapes to safety. It’s thrilling to see a huge guy in blood-red armour panic at the sight of Ledin’s army, and as has consistently been the case in every battle these lines aren’t just a fun bit of fluff but a reliable indicator of the enemy’s behaviour – Zaldaff and his entourage really do try to put as much distance between themselves and Ledin as possible, refusing to slip into Generic Attack Program #2 as soon as a valid target’s in range. Thanks to this clear link between what’s said and what happens this scenario really does live up to its title, and we’re made to believe once more we’re an active participant in a battle that’s being shaped by our own hand. It’s these small integrated details that make this PC Engine remake feel so worthwhile. Yes it’s been extensively tweaked and expanded and then there’s those fancy cutscenes to enjoy too, but these tiny audio clips and unique snippets of dialogue demonstrate that every single opportunity to improve Langrisser and make it feel more natural and dynamic, no matter how minor they may seem, has been taken.

Scenario 9: Warl’s Rapids

At the end of the previous scenario Ledin received word that the preparations for the invasion of Dalsis (and therefore, the retrieval of Langrisser) were complete, the game keen on always pushing forwards, always directing us towards something even though we all know games like this “should” drag these events out for as long as possible. The battlefield this time is mostly river, with us starting on the wrong side and the enemy patiently waiting in a defensive formation on the other. It’s at this point Ledin asks the sensible question we’re all wondering to ourselves: is this really the best place to cross? The ever-knowledgeable Jessica replies that elsewhere the current’s too strong, so it’s either here or nowhere. It makes no difference to the battle, but it’s great to see a game give voice to such an obvious concern and provide a response more reasonable than “because we said so“.

There is of course no ideal place to cross here, and taking an army made exclusively of mermen troops isn’t as great a strategy as it seem at first as they’ll do fine on the crossing… then suffer against the multiple imperial generals waiting on the other side. A few patches of dry land in the river give legged troops something to aim for, little islands that manage to feel both dangerously restrictive and also something of a relief when we’re on them. To make matters worse a new concept appears just as our units are up to their waists in river water – independent units. Giant krakens appear unannounced on both sides of the map at the beginning of the enemy’s go on turn five; a true wild card happy to attack anything that’s not them – and that means if (if)they reach Dalsis forces before they reach us, then they’ll merrily set about tearing through them instead.

The one bit of good news is we don’t have to defeat anyone at all this time around, we just need to get Ledin to the map’s northern exit… which was clear until Lance showed up, physically blocking the only way out. He came here to hunt monsters, but if the opportunity to smack an enemy prince about presents itself…

It’s a real slow slog of a map, but then again crossing a river while being attacked by monsters and an army’s worth of trained soldiers isn’t supposed to be quick and easy, is it? It’s not necessarily fun, but I personally appreciated Langrisser’s commitment to making an awkward and difficult situation feel awkward and difficult, refusing to sand its sharp edges down for my benefit.

Scenario 10: Castle on the Lake

We’re deep into enemy territory now, and that’s reflected in the battlefield design: a fortified castle sitting on a lake, the enemy lord surrounded by impenetrable walls and sitting on their throne. There’s only one very narrow way into the castle for any units that can’t swim or fly, Langrisser not so subtly encouraging us to treat mermen and griffons as tactical choices rather than cute novelty units, and as if to make sure we’re as tense as possible before beginning our assault several cast members comment on the castle’s impregnable nature, with Jessica also pointing out that if we take too long enemy reinforcements will arrive – this really is an all or nothing kind of battle.

As with the “Pursuit” scenario earlier the enemy again verbally reacts to Ledin’s advances, with a soldier exclaiming “They’ve broken through the castle gate!” at the appropriate moment. Wow. Nothing’s quite as dramatic as having a direct impact on an opponent, to do something capable of making a strong foe worry in their own castle – especially in a genre where advancing on the enemy is a pretty ordinary occurrence. It feels great.

As promised, Dalsis reinforcements appear on turn eleven, appearing at the south and west edges of the map at the worst possible time. By now we’re deep inside the castle, which is in theory exactly where we want to be… but with these reinforcements rapidly coming up from the rear we’re effectively trapped inside enemy territory now, imperial troops both dead ahead and right behind. It’s a fitting climax to a dangerous mission, and also gives us a sense a wider world exists beyond the battlefield’s stark borders: the battlefield’s edges are for us, not the enemy, and we can never rely on everything we’re seeing being all there is, on the situation staying safe and stable from one turn to the next.

~Interlude~

We’re halfway through Langrisser now and yet the game still hasn’t given us a chance to pause for breath. It’s astonishing to see a hero declare they’re going to move on the headline enemy and then just do it, the snags they encounter along the way something to push through, now, rather than spend three missions working around or preparing for. In spite of the swift pace ally and enemy characters alike still have unique voices and personalities of their own thanks to frequent snippets of in-battle dialogue, and the maps keep giving all sorts of unusual classes and innovative strategies a real chance to shine. Even the game’s rigid cutscene>prologue text>setup>battle structure flows like silk, the story taking care to never present a situation where an all-out war isn’t either the best and most obvious solution to the current problem or imminent whether we like it or not.

Scenario 11: Dalsis Castle

The explanatory prologue text for this scenario’s short and sweet: we’re at Dalsis Castle, and that means the final battle for the Langrisser has begun. What else is there to say? Complementing this terse description is an unusual – and unique – primary win condition: Ledin only (“only“) needs to reach the stairs leading to the top floor of the castle to clear the map. This blind rush mirror’s Ledin’s goal – we’re not here to waste time clashing swords with underlings or swearing vengeance at nameless generals, we’re here to get the Langrisser back and nothing else matters.

Dalsis Castle is an interesting “twin castle”, a place where two mirrored heavily guarded entrances merge into one unified area further in. The result is a messy but exciting fight, everyone virtually standing on top of the other as Dalsis generals unleash magic on the amassed forces clashing at the castle gates form a distance. Waiting at the top, right by where Ledin needs to go, is Sir Galius, a powerful bishop who dares to taunt Ledin for “running away” at Baldea Castle in the first scenario. It’s another small but significant line demonstrating Langrisser’s ongoing interest in taking every possible opportunity to build its fantasy world: even though there’s a clear divide between each battlefield, we’re not the only ones to remember what happened several battles ago.

Lance makes an unexpected return, potentially leaving Ledin’s army fighting enemies in front and behind – although even this fraught situation becomes something of a minor concern as a few turns later two flocks of gargoyles, each led by a powerful wyvern, make a sudden appearance at the top of the map. As with the krakens at Warl these are truly neutral units, more likely to thin out Galius’ forces than head straight for a teammate – and potentially offering Ledin a change to slip through…

Scenario 12: Twin Castle

The prologue here is as sharp and snappy as the last one, underlining the fact there’s no time for any thought or action that isn’t directly related to helping Ledin and his army get the Langrisser back. The win condition is very much along the same lines: we have to defeat Digos to win – nothing else matters.

The map layout echoes the scenario’s name as well as the shape of the floors below, helping this higher level to feel like a natural continuation of the previous event, another step closer to our game-long goal. It’s an interesting map to play on – lots of wide rooms connected by perilously thin corridors – but it’s also as beautiful and intimidating as a throne room should be, with its long red carpet leading up to the emperor’s seat and matching tapestries hung on the walls behind.

Unfortunately for us Emperor Digos is surrounded by a whole army’s worth of troops, including the troublesome Sir Galius from the floor below (this is still true even if if he was defeated there). Ledin’s forces are once again split into two, with both groups surrounded by enemy soldiers and cut off from their allies. There’s lots of hot-blooded dialogue from the party in this fight: the cast are riled up, and winning this battle matters to them personally. Digos in comparison is calm and collected – and why wouldn’t he be? He’s literally resting in his seat of power, surrounded by powerful allies, and the current owner of a legendary sword.

By the time I’d finished only Ledin and Chris remained but the (temporary) sacrifices were worth it, as Digos’ defeat granted Ledin the Langrisser we’d come all this way for – but not before the dying emperor had the chance to make a speech about the two of them being the same, peace only coming through power, and all that other talk big boss characters are so fond of making. At the time it all feels very “ordinary” – just the sort of RPG waffle evil leaders make with their last breaths – but the game will shed some new light on this scene just before the end…

Scenario 13: The Village of Statues

So, what do you do when your enemy’s dead (and Digos is definitely dead – the cutscene even makes a point of showing a pool of blood forming under his body), you’ve got the exact thing you’ve been trying to get back, and there are still eight scenarios to go? Well… Langrisser was a magical seal keeping evil at bay, wasn’t it?

Past tense.

And this is why on the way back to Baldea, Ledin and friends come across a village where all of the inhabitants have been turned to stone by basilisks – and for the first time since “Forest of the Dead” all the enemies we face here are monsters. There are three friendly NPC groups at the top of the map, all turned to stone – two sets of civilians on either side led by a cleric… and everyone’s favourite recurring enemy – yep, it’s Lance – in the middle.

We begin the battle with a basilisk positioned on either side of our forces, and in keeping with Langrisser’s ambitious desire to merge narrative and gameplay they do possess a spell that has a chance of turning any nearby allies en masse into stone. We’re having to deal with the same monster that not only turned all of the villagers into terrified statues but also took out Lance – someone we know from experience is not easily felled – and this knowledge combined with the constant reminder of the damage they can do sitting on the screen makes them a natural priority.

Destroying the monsters reverts everyone back to normal, including Lance. And then something amazing happens: Lance recognises that breaking Langrisser’s seal – an act his country was wholly responsible for – is the reason why monsters have suddenly become stronger. He then agrees to join the group, as killing these beasts is a more pressing concern than any ongoing rivalry he has with Ledin. In an instant Lance becomes a more rounded and interesting character than a hundred other anti-heroes: he really is more concerned about the evil sweeping the land than preserving his knightly pride, and there’s no lengthy amount of hand-wringing before he eventually gets around to seeing what needs to be done or admitting to the part he played in allowing it to happen.

Scenario 14: Wolf Pack

The goal here is again to wipe everything out, a straightforward command that suits the enemy present – these are not organised enemy generals interested in strategy or power or restraint, but monsters and evil individuals eager to cause havoc for havoc’s sake.

There are a lot of civilians hiding in buildings and churches at the start of this fight, and several groups of a new enemy type –  werewolves – making their way across to them. The map design again subtly allows for a range of unit types to shine, the starting point separated from the main area by a ribbon of river and a narrow bridge: land-based units can try to rush across what will soon become a very tightly packed area, while water and air troops can take advantage of the river.

Lance has a little dialogue on his first turn if he was one of the generals chosen for this fight, quietly lamenting his country’s role in this outbreak of evil. Of course “evil” is a pretty unfocused foe to fight against, which is why the PC Engine version introduces a new enemy general here (and another one later on) that wasn’t present in the Mega Drive game – the skeleton-commanding sorcerer Nagya. During the battle he delights in the suffering of the villagers and makes numerous mentions to his god, and when he’s defeated he ominously mentions Dark Prince Böser and also refers to Ledin as a “Descendant of the Light” – as this remake’s subtitle (I do love a title drop).

And as important as all that is, we still have to save those villagers from the werewolves.

The wide open spaces found here (and the previous map) are a great contrast to the tight squeezes of Dalsis’ castles and fortresses, Langrisser still making a real effort to provide fresh battlegrounds and a variety of tactical challenges. The werewolf clean-up almost feels like a formality – they’re not weak but they don’t have any real tricks to them, so satisfying the victory condition is a simple case of moving everyone up to the northwest and surrounding them… and then three more wolf packs appear at the southeast edge of the map. In spite of this unexpected arrival we still have some sort of chance to protect the locals, as our slower units will naturally be closer to this new enemy simply because they couldn’t move as far as the more mobile troops, and the ones with better range will be able to dash over quickly anyway – it’s far from ideal, but not impossible. To make extra sure this isn’t a total massacre even if we had the worst unit placement in the world, an NPC lord, Luckyward, and several monks are on hand to stem the lupine tide while the locals try to hide in what appears to be the village church. It’s a small thing but this staging – civilians sheltering in fear, brave heroes literally blocking the door with their bodies – makes a small organically told story, and this sincere attempt to bestow these nameless people with lives of their own can’t help but have an impact on the person playing should the wolfmen make their way inside.

Clearing this scenario reveals Langrisser thankfully remembers something I’d forgotten: nobody starting with this game will have any idea who Böser is. Luckily Chris asks Ledin about the name, and Jessica fills us in a little on this mysterious dark prince – someone who shares the same name as a man wielded the power of chaos long ago…

Scenario 15: Dragon’s Scream

Well, this is exciting. The pre-battle cutscene makes clear the demonic devastation is only increasing, even going so far as to show corpses on the ground and someone held aloft by their throat. Ends with the titular dragon making an appearance, its head filling the whole screen.

Once the battle begins we have an allied lord and some mermen on a boat in the middle of the water to the north, just a few tiles away from an imposing Great Dragon – an enemy physically larger than any we’ve faced before and able to literally burn away any who dare oppose it. The next few turns prove it’s a futile battle, but the heroic NPCs fight it anyway, attempting to protect the villagers and the priest (Kossel, another ally seen in the first scenario) in the harbour. All sorts of wyverns, gargoyles, and dinosaurs cover the water, and on land werewolves – and Nagya (and his skeletons) – ensure there’s no safety to be found on the west side of the map. Things are looking grim, but just before the battle begins Kossel mentions a powerful fire spirit sleeping in the mountains to the north of the town – if only we could harness its power…

The thoughtfully varied terrain once again brings a range of help and hindrances to all unit types, largely eliminating that sinking feeling of starting off badly just because we picked troops we liked rather than needed. There’s little time to appreciate this work though, as multiple pressures vie for our attention. Obviously we need to save the civilians and defeat the dragon, but that spirit might be worth going after… even though it’s not located anywhere near where either cold tactics or a hero’s burning sense of justice would dictate directing Ledin towards.

The spirit turns out to be worth the risk for several reasons. This CPU-controlled efreet is as powerful as he was made out to be, causing major damage to anyone he attacks (or attacks him) and boldly heading straight into battle. But he also drops a fascinating lore-nugget in his introduction too, recognising Ledin, prince of Baldea, as a descendant of the ancient kingdom of Elthlead. It’s another little link to the past, an attempt to give Langrisser some history – and also elevate an older title into the realm of legend.

During all of this the surviving allied civilians sensibly make an effort to keep away from the northern coast and head to the now-vacant southwest edge of the map. Even with them apparently out of harm’s way it’s important not to get distracted here: the majority of the enemy’s forces may gather around the northern edge but the Great Dragon behaves differently, apparently aiming to move closer to the survivors – exactly as Nagya ordered it to.

After a harsh battle and a close win the dragon is merely injured, not defeated, and it is of course up to us to chase after it. Ledin also comments on Nagya’s reappearance and his disturbing ability to manipulate monsters. It doesn’t amount to much – what I’ve described is pretty much all there is to it – but even this slight bit of information amounts to a clear improvement over the original storytelling, which was more “Uh… evil’s still evil-ing, we guess?” during these chapters. The PC Engine version gives us someone to focus on, someone to blame – and to fight.

~Interlude~

This is it, the final push. In the past five battles alone we’ve toppled an emperor, reclaimed a sacred sword, joined forces with a sworn enemy, and chased off a mighty dragon – we’ve definitely been busy. But for me this is also where Langrisser’s dialogue has really come into its own: without the battle cries from brave NPCs we will never meet again, the shrieks of panic from nameless villagers, or the hearty cackles of evil men relishing the destruction they’re causing many of these “smaller” events – some town being set ablaze, a place we’ll see once devastated by monsters – just wouldn’t have the same weight to them.

Scenario 16: In the Dark

This scenario’s a direct follow-up to the previous one, the dragon retreating into its lair to lick its wounds. Before we begin our assault it’s worth taking a quick look at the surroundings, as this lava-filled cave uses not only a completely new tileset but also a truly unique one too. The effort really pays off: battling here feels closed in and hostile Ledin’s armies marching somewhere they were never supposed to go. Lance and Chris both have unique dialogue if deployed here – the former commenting on the dragon’s choice of refuge, the latter remarking the cave’s kinda creepy. It’s superfluous (of course the dark cave filled with monsters is creepy), but it’s great to see individual personalities still coming through even now, even in scenarios where if we’re honest, none of these opinions really matter. Less frivolous is Lance’s warning a few turns in: “If you rush in recklessly you’ll end up surrounded” –  a supportive line for Ledin, and a genuinely helpful reminder for us.

The map itself is quite simple. We start in the northeast, the dragon waits in the southwest, and between the two are some “offshoot” caves containing a lot of monsters about to make this otherwise straight journey very difficult – especially as the high cave walls and bubbling lava make moving around difficult even for flying units.

Along the way – we literally can’t approach the dragon without passing by it – lies a conspicuous treasure chest next to a human corpse. Any leader who finishes their turn here spots the unnamed almost-hero’s body, as well as the mighty “Dragon Slayer” sword they’d been carrying at the time of their demise. Naturally they pick it up and get a noticeable attack boost for doing so – however the sword only lasts “until the hero’s will is done” (the dragon’s dead) which is a nicer way of saying “We’re taking it off you as soon as the fight’s over because it’d kinda break things if we didn’t“, but thanks to the presentation it does feel like we’ve given a lost soul some peace.

To keep this battle from feeling a little superfluous – it really is just an extension of the last one after all – once the fight’s over Lance mentions an ancient stone tablet he found, which luckily for us happens to be an ancient Baldean text detailing the ancient war between Böser and Sieghart, the king of Elthlead, and how the latter lead an army of light against the prince of darkness before using the Langrisser to seal away the evil in an ancient country called Velzeria. Ledin – and us – now have a specific place to aim for, and as always Langrisser wastes no time in getting us there.

Scenario 17: The Forbidden Land of Velzeria

In spite of the revived evil standing before us, the tune accompanying the scenario’s dramatic cutscene is once again “Kingdom Knight”, the upbeat guitar heavy track first heard in the game’s opening scenario, Böser’s lightning-lit castle framed as more of a cool place to kick evil’s backside in than a hive of darkness. This approach wouldn’t work everywhere, but as this has been Langrisser’s tone from the outset – all shouting about being heroic and head-on clashes with knights wearing massive capes – it works well here. The prologue echoes this mood, if not chirpy then at least definitely preparing us for victory: Ledin walks in Sieghart’s footsteps here, and there is no question that history will repeat itself in the best possible way.

We’ve got another unique win condition here – we need to kill everyone except Böser. I thought it was a little nerve wracking to see that come up, as if he’s too powerful to even engage with now, but this information didn’t seem to bother Ledin one bit and the battle opens with our troops marching straight up to the castle gate. Böser greets Ledin here as a “descendant of Elthlead” and Ledin, like an idiot, actually replies with “Who are you?!“. Out loud. To Böser. To his face.

In any case this avatar of evil does at least have the good grace to explicitly state he’s Böser for Ledin’s benefit – and also dub himself the ruler of Valzeria… no, the whole world. Ledin is of course not having any of this, but before the fight can begin a new face introduces themselves – Nicolis, Böser’s (other) right hand man, who then casts a spell on Chris, clouding her mind with illusions and turning her into an AI-controlled enemy. This is a completely new twist, and one that means there’s now an “enemy” nestled right in the middle of our army, and not only can we not do anything about that but killing them off would also kill off our main healer too. Luckily Jessica knows what to do: if we defeat Nicolis the spell will be lifted (and to make sure we get a clue no matter what, Nicolis also talks about “trying to interfere with his magic” when he’s attacked for the first time) and sure enough, getting rid of him releases Chris from the spell.

Appropriately enough Böser spends the fight acting like a man with plans to rule the world, happy to watch the carnage unfold from his starting point and then retreat to his subterranean temple once the tide turns against him. Ledin immediately vows to follow and seal him away so he can never be revived.

Scenario 18: In the Ruins

Appropriately enough this map resembles a huge crumbling fortress, with Nagya on the throne and protected by a new enemy (a new enemy, even though we’re just a few battles from the end!) – golems. There’s a single bridge leading to the entrance, and enemies placed in such a way you can tell they’re just itching for us to begin our assault – krakens in the water on both sides, wyverns just above waiting to swoop in, and just for good measure a pair of liches standing on the battlements. So speed may be the answer, right? Barge through and knock down Nagya before he knows what’s hit him? Sort of – the only issue is the entrance is blocked by a tough Master Dino and their troops (Crawlers, in this case), who greatly slow down Ledin’s troops and tend to clog up the narrow entrance. It’s not “clever” but it is exciting, and this setup suits Langrisser’s hot-blooded heroism well. Who doesn’t want to find out where evil lives and then storm their castle head-on? That’s just what heroes do.

This mood is only enhanced by the taunts coming from the liches as they unleash their painful spells from the parapets. “I’ll take your life!” may not be a line for the ages but when it’s delivered by a red-eyed skeleton about to hurl powerful magicks our way there’s no doubt it works well enough – especially as these attacks can completely destroy segments of the bridge, leaving characters standing in water – and with all the strategic changes that go with it. Off-the-cuff environmental damage in a game from 1993? That’s incredible.

Once Nagya’s been defeated (for good this time) Lance stays behind to hold back the hordes of (unseen) enemies rushing towards them, buying Ledin and company the time to push forwards.

Scenario 19: The Subterranean Shrine

Thanks to the power of PC Engine (and the relatively vast amounts of storage space CDs provide) Lance and his griffon knights are last seen fending off the hordes of incoming enemies mentioned at the end of the last scenario while everyone else descends into the shrine. It’s an effective little scene, emphasising that there’s no turning back and no time for any planning – whatever happens from this point on is either going to free the world… or seal its fate.

Lance’s permanent departure from the group leaves us relying a little more on some weaker lords at the worst possible moment and much like Volkoff’s death many scenarios ago highlights Langrisser’s one real strategic flaw: you either level up your characters… or you don’t. There is no Shining Force style “lose the fight but keep any XP gained for a second go” system to save us here, and if there’s one tip I’d give new players, it’s to see non-leader enemies not as potential threats but as little walking sacks of XP to be squeezed for all their worth, because there’s only a finite amount of them to go around.

The pre-battle map for this and the following scenario are utterly useless, just cool evil symbols drawn in gold that have bear absolutely no resemblance to the battlefield itself. And… I thought that was fine, actually. These are hidden places from long ago crawling with evil, not the kingdom next door, or somewhere an invisible scout has had the time to gaze at from a handy vantage point. It’s not helpful, but then again I really don’t think it’s supposed to be.

Our only goal here is to defeat Nicolis who in his pre-battle speech implies he was responsible for Dalsis’ original invasion of Baldea and their convenient seizure of the Langrisser: “It’s funny how people don’t notice when they’re being manipulated, isn’t it?” It’s a line dripping with significance, adding a new layer to what seemed to be a done-and-dusted conflict – and also paints Emperor Digos as something far more interesting than a petty tyrant as well. Maybe he really did believe, based on the lies he’d been unwittingly fed, that what he did was the best course of action? Maybe he truly felt that uniting the land under his banner by force was better than waiting to be dragged into someone else’s war? We’ll never know (not in this version of the game), and there’s no time to dwell on this revelation anyway as we begin the skirmish utterly surrounded in a quite open space, giving us plenty of room to move – and Nicolis’ troops easy access from all sides. The liches are especially nasty here, tearing magical chunks out of our units (and the bright red carpet underneath their feet) with ease – if there ever was a good time to fling a magic user’s Silence spell at something, it’s now.

The ending to this battle’s incredibly short and straightforward: Nicolis dies, Ledin and friends find the stairs to the lower level – to the final encounter with Böser – and that’s pretty much it. But then again, what else do we need? Some lengthy speech about how great the Light is, or how Böser must be stopped? We already know these things, so it’s great to see Langrisser stay focused and get on with its story.

Scenario 20: The Seal of Darkness

The only battle condition is to defeat everything, and down here in the dark, and after the sheer numbers present in the last battle… that could be a lot.

But Böser is so close, so surely if we could just finish him off…

Ledin mentions this is the final battle – a rallying cry as much for us as it is his loyal supporters, as though we’ve really got to give this our all because there’s nothing beyond this point.

Böser really comes across as a brilliant bad guy here, with more than a few lines about surpassing humans and using dark power to become a god. He’s a worthy end boss for a game like this, and the map almost funnels us towards him – there are no good tactical choices here, so going straight for him seems like the least worst option. And he is surprisingly weak to a Langrisser-wielding Ledin…

Because he’s not the final boss.

Defeating Böser causes literal capital-C Chaos to appear in a small hidden room behind Böser’s throne – a being that’s more a force of the universe than anything else. They’re flanked by another new enemy – elementals. They’re really just glorified fireballs with attitude but even so, the last bit of the last battle still containing something truly new has to be commended. Killing Chaos ends the game regardless of how many of anything else is still left, making this the first and only time the win condition doesn’t match what we’ve been told. It makes sense though – it’d be a shame to spoil the surprise, and in context why wouldn’t we make the embodiment of chaos our top priority, and why wouldn’t killing him – well, sealing him away – immediately sort everything out?

Ending: Don’t Stop Your Dream

Is the ending worth the effort? On the whole, yes. Every character gets a nice scene showing what they got up to after the final battle, from intensive training to solo adventures to some sense of peace. I did want to know, and I’m glad the game gives some answers (Lance is alive too, flappy caped and thoughtful). I was far less impressed – although I can’t pretend I’m not surprised – by the sudden wedding of Chris and Ledin. It didn’t feel earned, not in a game that went to such great lengths to add brand new characters and create fresh dialogue designed solely to give Langrisser greater depth than ever before. There needed to be some real interaction between the two, some bigger reasoning than “She’s nice and he’s a prince“.

And what about the game itself?

This PC Engine remake is nothing short of wonderful. The Mega Drive original always felt to me like it was a good sketch of a bigger painting, whereas this second go feels rich and confident – a game that can be everything it always wanted to be. It’s still not quite what became the “standard” Langrisser experience as there are no routes to choose between and only one ending, but in some ways that works in its favour: this feels like the “deluxe” version of the first game; expanded, inventive, and fresh… better, if I dare say it, rather than a complete rebuild the way the later releases would be.

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6 thoughts on “Descendants of the Light

  1. Interesting seeing a write up of the PC-Engine version! It’s cool to hear it’s an improvement over the original, I feel like despite the number of ports/remakes for L1 and 2, there’s not much out there that comprehensively goes into what makes those ports distinct other than “Der Langrisser adds routes” (if you ever end up looking at the PS1/Saturn versions I’d be curious to see why you think this version holds up better, though I imagine that’s a lot of work on top of the rest of the series haha)

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  2. Awestruck by this write-up! This must’ve taken months!

    I’ve always wondered about Langrisser’s beautiful cutscenes, and am delighted to hear the game play is fantastic too.

    Keep up the great work! You’re doing an awesome thing, showcasing these Japanese exclusives for an American audience!

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  3. The in-game hint that Volkoff dies is that he gains no exp this is the only game that does this (other than on route change) hell the Mega Drive version had permadeath

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