Monday, September 15, 2014

Game 28: Warsong (Genesis) - A Boy and His Sword

Game 28

Title: Warsong
Released: 1991
Platform: Genesis
Developer: Career Soft
Publisher: Treco
Genre: Strategy-RPG
Exploration - Combat map only (top-down)
Combat - Turn based (player first)
Series - Langrisser

I don't know if it's the long absence or the style of game, but I've found some difficultly to write about this game. It's the first strategy game for the blog, and the story is rather sparse. The game is merely a series of combat scenarios strung together with a short description to explain the current situation. However, despite its simplicity, I have enjoyed it.
The evil emperor Pythion casts a spell during the initial assault on Baltia
The story begins with an attack on the Castle of the Baltia family. Pythion, the evil emperor of Dalsis, is behind the attack. He wishes to claim Warsong, an enchanted sword held by the Baltia family as an ancient heirloom rumored to grant magical powers. The opening scene begins with the first strike against the castle. Starting the game throws the player right into the action.
The first scenario grants control over Garett, the prince of Baltia, and Baldarov, captain of the guard. Each scenario has a winning goal, and a losing condition. All maps so far have had the death of Garett as a losing condition, but there are additional ways to lose. The win condition in this case is for Garett to escape, with no mention of what that really means. He's commanded by the king to retreat for help from a neighboring city. Friendly units include player controlled characters and those controlled by AI. Enemy generals and their cannon fodder units are revealed at the prologue as well.
The prologue includes a map that shows enemy locations, but not exactly which unit is where
The first time I played chapter 1, I accidentally got Baldarov killed, and learned that if a character controlled by the player dies they're gone forever; however, this isn't true of the characters controlled by the AI. I'm still unsure how to predict the expected damage from each battle. Displayed stats are simply an attack and defense value. Level and class also factor in with a soldier > archer > horseman > soldier pattern, but some generals don't always follow this format. Also, current HP (maxes at 10) seems to matter. My problem was I didn't anticipate a lot of randomness. Take Baldarov, my level 9 Sword Master at 10 HP versus a level 2 Lord at 10 HP for instance; they ended their first fight at 7 HP and 4 HP respectively. The enemy healed 3 HP, and in the next battle (7 HP each), Baldarov got completely wrecked. The second chapter without Baldarov was too much, so I started the game over.
Uh, how?
The generals available for each scenario are presented at the beginning. It's possible to leave some out during some maps, but I don't know what the benefit is for doing so. After selecting the generals to deploy it's time to assign the cannon fodder units. Hiring these units costs points, which are gained at the end of each scenario based on how many enemy units were defeated plus a base scenario bonus. The units available to each commander is based on their class. Garett, who starts as a basic Fighter class, only has soldiers available. Baldarov, who is the highest class of Sword Master, has soldiers, archers, and horsemen to choose from.
Each character has an area of influence (highlighted blue) that increases their units' base stats as long as they stay close
Enough mechanic talk though. On to the game! For the first scenario, I took out the general's forces stationed to the left and raced off north with Garett and Baldarov. The second finds the duo traveling towards Sulras to find Carleon, but they're besieged by bandits on the road. To make matters worse they've been joined by a traveling companion. A currently worthless Mina whose AI often times has her to run directly at the enemy unguarded. To make matters worse, one of the losing conditions is the death of Mina. Luckily the enemy AI is more likely to attack the cannon fodder than the generals.
Ending summary, extra units on my side seem to be a waste of points, so a balance must be made to have enough units for the current map and keep my total high for future maps
The third scenario introduces Thorne, a general under the command of Carleon, who assists in defending Sulras as it's attacked by the same thieves I fended off on the road. This time the ending goal is the death of the enemy commander. Mina is still as useless as ever. Garett gained enough experience to level up to 10 during this fight, which gave me a choice between changing class to a knight or a lord. The instruction manual shows that Garett is the only one who can become the king class through becoming a lord, so I chose that one.
Class changes add some variation, but I'm not sure how much it changes strategy
At the end of the third scenario Sabra appeared, and brought news of Baltia Castle: it fell to the enemy. While Carleon assembled his troops, Garett ran off to fight by his father's side. In the fourth scenario Garett, Sabra, and Baldarov were in the middle of a forest on their way back. Suddenly, slimes appeared and attack. These special units were strong, so the only option is to flee. Surviving ten turns was the goal. After the fifth though Mina appeared with a new type of unit, the guardsman. This is a fairly useless class; however, they're incredibly strong against slimes. She came to the rescue and gained quite a few levels. Only commanders gain levels from experience, earned by wiping out enemies. The killing blow is all that matters, none of the damage leading up to that earns anything. The generic units earn experience for their commander.
There was this strange body shape in the bottom right corner of the map; however, I didn't find anything to do with it
Commanders get one action per turn: move, attack, magic, or treat. If movement ends next to an enemy unit then it's possible to get a free attack that turn, but there's no way to move and then cast a spell. Magic up to this point hasn't played a large role. As a lord, Garett gained access to the first level of healing, and Mina, being a cleric, has the same. Going into the fifth scenario I completely forgot about magic. Treat allows a commander to recover 3 HP. Generic units only have the option to move and attack.
I figured there'd be an ambush in the center, but that choke point is the key defeating the enemy
I tend to give the AI a little too much credit. I figured some would come down the middle while others surrounded me on both sides, so I sent units out to meet each threat so I didn't get boxed in. The enemy didn't even bother with the right side, and instead charged through the middle. The white area are impassible mountains, the brown are hills that give +30% to defense, light green are plains that give +10%, and dark green are forest tiles that give +20%. Some units gain additional bonuses, such as lizardmen and mermen that get +50% from water, which normally gives zero, and elves gain +40% from forests. Flying units are special and have a constant +30%. In any case, the AI decides a full frontal assault is best, and fails to flank me. One group did try routing me on the left, but they stood in a stalemate against a single tile-sized choke point.
Set dialogue sequences happen at the beginning and end of each scenario, but sometimes in the middle when certain events happen. Here Baldarov dies in a scripted event by taking an arrow from an unknown assassin
Scenario six finds the party, one less member, back at Baltia Castle. The objective is to kill the current enemy leader, Geryon. Now while the difficulty of each scenario varies, six was the first without the powerhouse experience sink Baldarov. To make matters worse, the placement on the map forces the party to split up on opposite sides of the map. At the beginning of each scenario, after assigning items and soldiers, the game continues with the placement of player units on the field. I ended up placing three on one side and Mina on the other, forcing her to run around the castle to catch up with the others. I lost a fair number of units, and retreated to the hills in order to stand a chance, and in the end it came down to the individual generals to finally take down Geryon.
I put my main force on the right, and luckily there were hills right there to take cover
At the end of the scenario I freed Tiberon and Calais, two friendly units who defended the castle in the initial chapter. I also gained a shield, and added it to the sword Sabra brought with her, and the cross Mina received as a gift from Carleon. Calais revealed that Warsong was taken by Pythion, and it has a more sinister history than rumored. Its magical powers derive from an ancient evil trapped inside the blade. Not much is said of what happened to Garett's father, but I assume he died.
Kind of weird to talk about him like this without his passing
In the next scenario, Garett received word that some of Baltia's men were still fighting the enemy at one of the forward defense fortresses. Bayard was surrounded, and things were not looking good for him. I lost this the first time I attempted it because I took my time advancing, making sure I cleared out the enemy; however, Bayard's death was a losing condition. The key to this map is to know lizardmen are weak to archers, and charge to Bayard's location as quickly as possible. Even so, Bayard was dangerously close to dying when I finally got my troops to his side.
Lance, the enemy general in the fifth scenario, showed up just as I was working the enemy leader down, so I missed out on the extra gold or experience
Scenario eight had Garett chasing a fleeing enemy. Allowing the leader of this map to escape ends in a loss. In my haste to start the map I forgot to give troops to Garett, and once again Lance showed up and I didn't have archers to take him on. Garett could be a king by now had I been able to take out all those horsemen. In any case, this map was rather simple and posed little problem. Last scenario Calais managed to change class from warlock to wizard, which opened up the fireball spell in addition to the magic arrow she started with. Both seem to have the same damage potential; however, fireball has twice the area of effect. Also, Bayard and Sabra changed into Knights. According to the manual Sabra is the only one that can reach the Dragon Knight class, and flying units sound awesome. Once Thorne catches up I think I'll have him go the lord route so I can check out the Magic Knight class as well as have a second general with archers.
Can't wait to see what other spells come along
With the enemy properly routed, Garett decided it was time for an offensive against Dalsis. The first obstacle was the river Worth, where I should have probably brought more mermen; however, I was feeling a bit stingy with my points. Tiberon was the only unit who had access to them, but the enemy seems better at using them so when Tiberon's class change came up I chose knight over his serpent king class. The former also allows for an additional class change into knight master which has better stats.
Neutral enemies appeared on this map and attacked my units and enemy's without regard
This map introduced the monster type, which isn't directly allied with either Baltia or Dalsis forces. It was fighting its own battle and attacked any nearby unit. At the same time, Lance showed up once again;. As expected by now, Garett and his archers were otherwise occupied, so I had to maneuver around to avoid both the horsemen troops and the krakens, who inexplicably can travel quite easily over land.
The fearsome plains kraken heavily damages a Sabra's horsemen attacking from the hills above
Somehow I managed to pull back from Lance long enough for Garett to reach him. I really hope Thorne gets to see some more action. Another lord with archers would help tremendously. In any case, the krakens were distracted my two other enemy generals, and the goal of the map, for Garett to reach the other side was achieved without a single loss. The maps are definitely getting more dangerous.
Thanks to enemy infighting I got points for all units killed whether I did the killing or not
I'm now sitting at the start of the tenth scenario. The manual lists 20 in total, so it's probably fair to call this the halfway mark. I suspect maps will increase in scope at some point, but each one has averaged about an hour. I've really been taking my time with the maps, but I'm hoping I can make quick work of the rest of the game. While it's enjoyable in its simplicity I'm itching for something a little more fast paced. I'm sure a greater variety of screenshots would be a plus as well.

Elapsed Time: 10h55m (Total Time: 10h55m)


  1. Great write up. A few notes for you or anyone else starting this:
    1. Don't over-rely on Baldarov early on, as any EXP he gets is wasted.
    2. I'm pretty sure this game has the mechanic where you get more exp if you defeat all the trash in a group and -then- kill the leader. If you kill the leader first, the whole group is instantly destroyed, but I'm pretty sure you get less EXP.
    3. Unit HP matters a lot. With a few exceptions, units cannot generally do more damage than their own HP. So a 6 HP unit can only do 6-ish damage even to a much weaker unit. Usually.
    4. Other things that matter: unit match-up (i.e. - Calvary > Infantry > Archers > Calvary), terrain match-up (you can see the bonus to either attack or defense on the UI), general bonus (if a unit is in its leader's command area, it gets that leader's command bonuses to attack and defense), and any sort of buffs/debuffs (can't remember if Warsong has these but the sequels definitely do)
    5. Some units have special bonuses on certain kinds of terrain. Calvary travel faster on normal land but slower on more uneven terrain. Naval units are much better on the water.
    6. You can equip an item to each character. They help a bit, though later games round this feature out more.

    In general, Warsong is a bit more barebones than its sequels. Unfortunately, you won't be playing the superior Langrisser 2 and Der Langrisser, but Warsong is what made me fall for the series to begn with. For some reason, the tiered/grouped unit system (a la leaders and command bonuses) really clicked with me, and I've had trouble getting into tactical RPGs without it, with some exceptions (FF Tactics, Tactics Ogre).

    1. Oh yeah one another thing I was going to mention: there is definitely randomness to the game engine. Even the weakest unit can occasionally do a single damage (maybe even two!) two a unit with ridiculously high defense. Sometimes, it can be worth it to feed your trash to an enemy commander, just to do a few bits of damage. It sets up the kill, while also making a death for your dude less likely (as <10 health commanders are less likely to do 10 damage).

    2. Yes, I've noticed unit HP matters quite a bit. Also, I'm not sure about getting more exp from the generals if they're solo, but each individual unit does give a small bit of experience on its own. So, taking them out and then the general is more than just shooting for the general (although survival takes precedence over leveling in a couple maps).

      No buffs/debuffs in this game. The items are the only thing that seem to adjust stats. The unit system is definitely unique to this game, never really seen it before.

      Also, note that some of the rules, like class match-ups in battle, get thrown out the window when the game feels like it.

  2. Strategy RPGs are a pretty rare genre, I get the feeling that most of them were never released outside of Japan. I have a translated cartridge of Just Breed for the NES which plays somewhat similarly to Warsong, but the combat is far simpler and doesn't get its own cut-scene. It's a lot of fun and really seems to push the console to the limit.

    1. Just Breed is one of those import titles I really want to check out once I find infinite time. ;)