Langrisser IV: Langrisser 2+2

Langrisser IV dared to reshape the remains of the well-intentioned misstep that came before it, cleverly polishing Langrisser III‘s unpopular albeit inventive rock into the shining gem it always could have been, guiding the series in a thrilling new dire—

Oh wait no Langrisser IV is actually trying very, very, hard to be Der Langrisser v1.1. In fact this is so keen on revisiting the last game in the series people definitely liked Langrisser III is effectively scrubbed from existence. No, don’t look at it, don’t mention it, don’t invite it to any parties—the Langrisser series went straight from II to IV. III? Sorry, not heard of that one.

And as such you are once again a hero of lightly shrouded origin living quietly in a small village that gets attacked in the opening scenario, thrusting the lead, Landius, and his always supportive yet clearly lesser brother-friend into a much larger conflict between other countries as well as the divine forces of light and darkness. Those little grids that let you know if a leader’s soldiers are within morale-boosting range are back, as are a whole host of other features designed to silently apologise for Langrisser III and hopefully reassure the faithful that the series will never try anything like that again.

So Langrisser IV is creatively timid, and unfortunately you can feel that as you play. It’s cautious. It’s eager to please, to show you things that are like other things you’ve seen before. It doesn’t try to beat Der Langrisser at its own standard-setting game, but meekly offers something comfortably similar to it instead.

It’s not a choice I like, but it is a choice I can understand. Sometimes developers have to make games that’ll sell with all other considerations thrown out the window if they want to keep the lights on, and as far as I can tell Langrisser III was about as well-liked as treading barefoot on Lego while playing Phantasy Star III. Having said that, there are some small, positive, changes squirrelled away in here too. Troop sizes have finally been brought down to a manageable size, with a full group for either side now containing something between three and five units (including their leader). This greatly reduces the amount of cursor wrangling needed to manually move all units from A to B while still making battles feel like large-scale clashes between opposing armies. And when these sides do clash battles now resolve quickly, those exciting little cutscenes that used to play out are largely reserved for a few very special occasions—it’s not only possible, but likely, you’ll clear a scenario without witnessing a single side-on fight scene at all.

New to this entry is the turn timer, separating the passage of a turn (now generally used to mark the time between a scenario beginning and a general escaping or some other mission-failing task) from a character’s actions. Characters can now be slow, taking more time than others between actions. Magic now takes time to prepare, making a weaker, quicker, spell potentially more useful than something more devastating that requires longer to conjure up, as the former might be able to sneak a fatal hit in before an enemy has the time to recover some of their health. To keep this delay from resulting in wasted misfires every spell can be retargeted (or outright cancelled) once the time to cast comes around, so if an enemy’s shifted slightly between then and now they or another target in the spellcaster’s range can feel your magical wrath.

One thing that has returned from The Langrisser That Must Not Be Named is the freeform romance system, Landius now able to direct his adoration towards one of several conveniently willing and available women. It’s as shallow, unsatisfying, and out of place as any other relationship found in the series, with “love” being little more than the odd very obvious choice between saying the thing Girl A or Girl B would like to hear at predetermined intervals. Any actual direct interaction that would imply these two people are deepening their relationship is virtually nonexistent, even though there’s plenty of opportunity for the game to do so. Can love bloom on the battlefield? Of course it can. Which is why it’s so frustrating to see Langrisser keep putting it in there on purpose and then continue to mess it up.

The story fares little better, Langrisser IV having you spend too long fighting for a king who is a selfish, arrogant, idiot (the silver lining here is that at least the characters acknowledge him as such) against a country that from almost the very first scene is clearly being manipulated by an evil pope-styled figure who has a habit of saying variants of “Hehehe” and “Just as planned…” to himself, just in case you had somehow missed he was a bad guy. Official agent of Chaos Boser also appears and wastes everyone’s time pretending he’s not Boser for far too long (one of his allies has a written-in habit of almost calling him by his real name before correcting herself, just to really drive the point home), and then goes on to do exactly what you’d expect a revived Boser to do in the first place. “No side’s truly good and perfect, welcome to the horrors of war.” will forever be an interesting foundation for a strategy game, but it needs… well, better writers if I’m honest. Nobody really wants to spend hours of their gaming time fighting for an undeserving moron against people who are by and large only fighting because they’ve been ordered to. And for all their dressing too many battles end with you watching someone you definitely defeated and probably had surrounded at the time—possibly against a wall, cliff edge, sea, or other impossible to retreat from situation—suddenly escape somehow. Again. It’s a cheap get-out that diminishes their predictable returns as much as it does their eventual defeats.

Thankfully these flaws are softened now and then by flashes of dramatic plot twists and the odd creatively challenging battles. Old faces may show up in new and unexpected places, small plot details can lead to unexpected outcomes, and the conflict becomes more than a war between an idiot and Generic Evil Bishop #513. The trouble is that the very best Langrisser IV can offer its players is to sometimes be about as good as any mildly decent segment in the first two games.

Langrisser IV is clearly not a bad game—it’s a competent large-scale strategy title with multiple routes and is generally reasonably balanced—but there’s little doubt it could have been so much more than merely “OK”. It could have even been as good as the other strategy RPGs released by the same company years earlier on weaker hardware. Langrisser IV is infuriatingly scared of doing the wrong thing or deviating in any substantial way from the past, and this robs the game—and the ongoing series—of any real energy or forward momentum. To make matters worse this game debuted in 1997, a year when other RPGs big and small were busy redefining what an RPG could be and what sort of new audiences they could reach. Sakura WarsShining the Holy ArkTerra Phantastica, and an excellent enhanced port of Tactics Ogre were already entertaining Saturn owners by the time Langrisser IV apologised its way onto shop shelves, with Grandia and Princess Crown both releasing shortly afterwards, just to make sure Masaya’s game was thoroughly buried under more imaginative and confident takes on the eternally popular genre. RPGs, RPG-ish, and strategy games were in their element and successfully heading off in all sorts of exciting directions that people responded to with enthusiasm and open wallets. It feels like Langrisser IV couldn’t have picked the worst time to try and play it safe, even considering the apparent extreme negative reaction to Langrisser III.

Further reading:

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