Early Access: Langrisser Schwarz
By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-In-Chief
Langrisser Schwarz was the second stop on our tour of Gamania's Game Show. Now to be honest, I had never heard of this game until last Thursday when Gamania released their show's teaser trailer. One week later.. and I can say I am enthusiastically looking forward to reviewing this game at launch in person and might even consider bringing my guild on board to play it long term. This is truly the hit sleeper game of the show and I'm going to explain just why I'm so excited for it.
Developers Jacky Chung and Roy Huang explained their game through a series of trailers and a clear cut resounding message. Langrisser Schwarz skimps on customization and crafting and instead focuses its fully development dollars into providing highly difficult content, immense class selection, and an emphasis on raw uninterrupted action at a level I have only seen in console games.
To truly understand a game you first need to consider the available classes and how they interact. In Langrisser Schwarz this can be a daunting task! The beginning of the game throws you into the Goddess' test which decides your starting class (out of 6 possible) and your alliance (dark, light, or empire). But you aren't bound by this class and can freely change between any of the starting 6 classes so long as you have the armor to make it effective. As you level up and acquire TP from completing missions, each of these classes allow you to spend your TP to unlock one of two new classes. Those each lead to 2 more classes and then 2 more classes after that. From wizard to berserker to ninja to infighter to templar... players should never feel bored of their class in this game.
What's even more interesting is that when changing classes, you don't fully lose access to the skills acquired from your previous class. In this way you have even more variety in that you can create hybrid classes with skills from two separate jobs, though it seems the hotkey is currently limited to about 6 skills which should add even more strategic depth to each battle.
The actual action itself plays out as a sort of real time chess match. The camera is in third person and the game plays out similar to Diablo in that directional aiming is important. You won't just be able to click on a monster and automatically spam skills at them, each attack requires timing and aim to land successfully. A majority of the skills available also have a charging system in place to add more strategic depth. Against agile foes you might spam your skills rapid fire to ensure you can land hits, while more stationary foes require well placed charge shots to deal noticeable damage to. This system still needs some refinement though as some charge shots (like the archer's basic attack) are too wonky to use effectively. There's no reason an archer shouldn't be able to change the direction they are aiming while charging for an attack and I think this better get changed in the final release.
Before entering a mission, players are able to customize their 'mercenaries' to accompany them in combat. Mercenaries act as mini soldiers that you can command in battle to offer extra damage and tanking ability to your character. If they die in combat you can easily revive them between fights, encouraging you to use them as expendables to speed up each quest.
On the alliance versus alliance PvP side of things, mercenaries become more more important. A system is in place in which some mercenary units are more adept as defeating other mercenary units similar to the Fire Emblem series. In fact the example given felt straight out of Fire Emblem with cavalry units gaining the advantage over soldiers, soldiers being more effective against pikemen, and pikemen countering calvary. As you level up, your mercenaries gain strength as well, so don't expect tedious grinds to collect armor for both your mercenaries as well as yourself.
Tedious grinds seem to be pretty optional in general in Langrisser Schwarz. Players will be able to acquire most of what they need in the battle arenas fighting for the honor of their chosen faction. After each match you will receive two types of currency: team points and personal points. Team points are rewarded based on whether you win or lose and how good of a fight your team put up altogether. Personal points exist to reward players that might have carried decently well but faced insurmountable odds due to baddies in their party. Currently the maximum combat consists of 5v5 though with the number of mercenaries added to the mix, this can have the look of a full out war zone.
Besides armor sets, collectors will rejoice at the detailed card collecting system featured in Langrisser Schwarz. Through grinding or the cash shop players will be able to obtain 100s of cards, featuring buffs, traps, and summons to support you in battle. Players will then be able to take 3 cards into battle (I'm not positive but I believe the 3 cards are randomly selected from a larger deck each time you enter an arena). These cards shouldn't be mistaken as fluff nonsense that only collectors will be interested in. The effects of these cards are truly devastating, often dwarfing any skills your character has at their disposal, though with the incredibly long cooldown time it is to be expected.
From our brief playthrough yesterday I can say with full confidence that his is not a pick up and play MMO. The dungeons are well thought out, difficult, and require a full team of competent players to ensure PvE success. Most monsters mobs consist of a central leader and a group of protecting mercenaries, ensuring that the PvE battles don't just become gang bangs. The AI is adept at controlling their mercenaries as well, as an archer I often found myself receiving major damage for sending my mercenaries to the front line to fight instead of keeping them on the defensive to act as a buffer from getting flanked.
Langrisser Schwarz also utilizes hazards such as siege towers and monster ambushes to prevent players from slowly crawling through a dungeon one group at a time. In one situation we were forced to fight through 2 very powerful siege towers and, one we were fully committed to the battle, a lich rose up and began summoning hoards of skeletons to protect saidwarham towers. Another boss, a spiked lizard, summoned tons of mini lizards while he continually dug under ground and popped up under our squishy players to deal massive damage. This fight truly forced us to perfect the timing and aim of our skills to deal even a scratch against him.
Finally we party wiped in less than 10 seconds against Ominous Eyes, the dungeon raid boss. Ominous Eyes shoots out armor shredding hyper beams from any direction his eyes gaze, reducing even fully speced tanks into dust in 5 seconds flat if you are unable to evade it. Our team foolishly ran in like a like of British Red Coats and was incinerated the moment our tank landed his first hit and drew the bosses' attention. Speed and armor boosting cards were vital to stay alive in this match and my two Canadian journalist teammates died repeatedly for not paying close enough attention to the boss' wandering eyes. After a long drawn out battle and much ridicule from the Empire booth girl/cheerleader we were finally able to claim victory!
The overarching faction versus faction versus faction conflict is similar in setup to Warhammer Online. Through PvP and, to a lesser extent, PvE players will be able to acquire faction points to obtain unique buffs for their side while stealing the same benefits from their enemies. As a griefer I was sad to hear that players will be unable to communicate with members of the other alliances.
If you are one of those nerdy gamers like me who adore gaming storylines, Langrisser Schwarz is the game that will truly shine out of Gamania's 5 on display. Each alliance features a unique storyline from start to finish, pulling you in to a world of destruction and chaos and forcing you to understand the motivations behind each alliance.
A last item of note in Langrisser Schwarz is the game features controller plug-in capabilities for console gamers who feel a mouse and keyboard are too foreign. This controller set-up plays out extremely well, with the various control pads allowing you to command your character and your mercenaries on the fly. Skills and card activation is also a breeze with the L1 button acting as a scroll navigation bar to quickly flip through your line of skills. The only true downside I found to the system was this scrolling made defensive skills far too unwieldy to access on the fly. By the time you have scrolled to the mage's teleport skill you will have already been knocked on your ass and 1 shot by a boss. Hopefully they realize this during testing and alter the currently useless R2 and L2 buttons (currently assigned as hotkeys for help menus...) into fast cast assignable skills to allow players a quick draw button for vital dodge skills.
This game might not have all the refinements of most typical MMOs but it certainly has enough focus on fun to keep me interested. If you want to catch the Schwarz fever yourself I'd suggest heading over to the Langrisser Schwarz website (http://corp.gamania.com/products/langrisserschwarz/en/index.htm) and taking the Goddess' test to see which starting character and alliance is for you!