Box Shot
Platform: Genesis
Publisher: Sega
Designer: Treco
Genre: Strategy
Players: 1
Published Date 1991
Reviewed by: Red Baron

Many people believe that Shining Force is the first console Strategy/RPG; however, technically, the title goes to a relatively unknown game called Warsong. Warsong, known as Langrisser in Japan, was a very innovative strategy game for it's time, and yet it was passed up by the majority of the US gaming public. It's a real pity, since it's a true classic, for reasons that will soon become apparent.

You take the role of Garett, the chivalrous young price of the Kingdom of Baltia. Deep inside the castle rests the holy sword Warsong. Or at least it used to, for one day, the neighboring Dalasis Empire (RPG cliché warning- why are there always evil empires in games?) invades Castle Baltia. Garett, and his bodyguard, Baldarov, barely escape with their lives. Upon returning with reinforcements, Garett finds that Warsong has been stolen by Emperor Pithion, for his evil purposes. Thus, he and the companions that join throughout the game must recover Warsong, stop Pithion... and the evil forces which have been awakened. While the plot SOUNDS decent, in reality, unless you count Baldarov's death scene, there is no character development whatsoever, and for some reason, everyone talks in hysterics. If my sources are correct, the plot in Warsong was changed from that of the Japanese version, but hey, whaddaya gonna do?

As Warsong, like most strategy games, is menu-based, there're few ways the control can be screwed up. Be forwarned, however: if you choose to play on an emulator, the only emulator (at the moment) that correctly displays the menus is Megasis, which is buggy in it's own right. You'd be better off playing a legit copy, with the manual, of course (unless you like spending a few days figuring out the controls for games of this type). It might be wise to replace the battery, though, since it is a pretty old game...

Gameplay. The game is split into 20 wacky scenarios, each with it's own objective, played out in a Tactical fashion (albeit with lots of changes, see below). This means placing your units in strategic places to carry out your missions and to fight baddies. Most scenario goals boil down to either "Kill all enemies", "Save this person", etc. Before battle, you must pick the characters you bring into battle (if you have too many commanders for the scenario to fit in, that is. The maximum is 8), equip them with items (when you get them), and give handfuls of troops for them--

Okay, this might be a good time to explain the troop/commander system Warsong uses. When hiring troops before battle, each commander gets up to 8 squadrons of one kind of troop. In battle, after placing your commanders, you should pay attention to the "area of effect" for each commander. Troops within this area (highlighted in green) will recieve a bonus, while stranded troops outside of the area will simply attack anything nearby. Unless you give them an order to do something specific (Hey you! Archers! Get offa yer lazy butts and attack them Wyverns!), your troops will get into a formation around their commander (which you can set automatically). When troops face off against the enemy (either they are attacked or are on the offensive), the view switches to a side- perspective, where you get to watch as a skirmish ensues. Every type of troop has an attack for both close-range combat and long-range combat, except for commanders, archers, and monks, who use their own ranged attacks, and flying troops, who just rush in. Some troops get advantages over other types, while at the same time, others will soon find themselves massacred when going up against a different type of troop. Each unit has a maximum of 10 HP, when this is depleted, it will die. When it's your turn, you get an option to 'treat' a damaged unit, healing 3 HPs, and consuming the unit's turn. Injured troops that are in direct contact with their commander will also recieve treatment at the beginning of each round. And let's not forget the various spells you can use to speed up the healing process. Terrain also affects movement, plus some troop types gain advantages/disadvantages when fighting from different terrain. Mermen/Lizardmen fight much better from water, but just watch what happens when a squad of Horsemen try to do the same!

What really sets this game apart from most other SRPGs is how it handles the RPG mechanics. Whenever someone destroyes a hostile unit, they will gain experience, represented in green by the bar next to their character portrait. When the bar is filled, that person will gain a level. When that character reaches lv.10, then they will get a class-change. There are a few classes that aren't all that useful, but can be easily skipped (such as the Serpent Rider, for instance). It adds some replay value to the game, since you can always play through again to see what would have happened if you had picked a different class for someone. But using the interupt feature (allows you to save in mid-battle), you can see what it's like without starting a new game.

And then there's the AI. While the computer will make a few of the same mistakes it would in other games, for what it is, the enemy AI in Warsong is pretty good. Your adversaries will attack ruthlessly and relentlessly, and are often placed in places that make it impossible for you to simply outnumber them; rather, you must out-strategize them. Plus they don't seem that susceptible to any "traps" you leave for them...

On the other hand, the NPCs' AI is pretty swanky. Whenever you have an "ally" to fight on your side (the ones you can't control), they will always make dumb mistakes. Such as: in one instance, Bayard, in scenario 7, who was fighting for his life, sent all his troops to battle the enemy commander, who promptly slaughtered them with ease. These cute demonstrations of why computers' thinking processes (at least those of 1991) will never surpass that of humans can get you REALLY killed, esp. in scenario 2, and like I said, in scenario 7. This is, more or less, the only real problem with the game, and, aside from the examples I mentioned, is forgivable. Worse things have happened.

The graphics in Warsong are awfully rudimentary, esp. for a second-generation Genesis game. The maps on which you fight on look VERY segmented, and are poorly colored. Your units have little detail, and for some reason, everyone looks black. The cool anime-style portraits make up for this somewhat, but not much. Whenever troops face off against each other, it may remind you of armies of ants facing off against each other, but with slowdown caused by all the projectiles flying everywhere. The music, on the other hand, is great! Each tune is very catchy, making up for the fact that there aren't all that many tracks. Hell, the title screen song is used for the last boss fight, fer chrissakes! The 'hurt' screams people will make when injured do get annoying after a while.

Warsong is a horridly overlooked game, and deserves to be recognized as both the classic and the pioneer that it is. Even if you're not a fan of slow turn-based games, no one can doubt the excitement of fighting full-on wars and the sheer adrenaline-pumping sweat-inducing intensity of difficult battles. Coming from a first-of-it's-kind game, that's saying something. Seek this title out and add it to your library. That's an order, soldier!