Review by Rottenwood

"An Unpolished Gem"

Console-based tactics games have come into their own lately, but back in the 16-bit era, they were fairly rare. 'Warsong' is a fine little example of the genre from "the good ol' days," although it shows its age in a number of key areas. Still, if you're a tactics fan and don't mind the limitations of older software, this game is well worth playing through. (Since you're reading a review for a rather obscure Genesis game, I'm going to assume you're familiar with the tactics genre and what it entails.)

Fans of modern games like 'Fire Emblem' won't be surprised with what they see here: a bunch of fantasy-themed warriors on a big battlefield, tangling with enemy soldiers and mythical monsters. What makes 'Warsong' stand out, though, is that your generals can buy troops of their own to lead in combat. The sort of troops your character can purchase is dependent upon their class. You can buy basic soldiers, horsemen, archers, monks... all kinds of fun stuff. As you might expect, troops are very effective against some types of enemies, and virtually worthless against others. Making sure you always have the upper hand in the 'rock-paper-scissors' department is one of your most important tasks as commander. For example, you'll want to make sure your archers are at the front to slaughter the enemy horsemen, but once the soldiers come through, back the archers up and let YOUR horsemen take the lead.

The link between your generals and their soldiers is a key element in battle. Should your soldiers stray too far from their leader, they will no longer gain their leader's statistic bonuses in combat, which is quite often fatal. Therefore, you can't just stick your generals in the corner for safety purposes and let your troops do all the fighting. Not that you would, anyhow, as generals are quite powerful in combat. Just watch out - if one of your leaders dies, he or she is gone forever, and that probably means you'll be resetting your Genesis with due speed. As in many of these games, your leaders gain experience when they or their troops wipe out enemies, and they can change classes as they get stronger.

In case you're wondering, there IS a story behind all of these medieval shenanigans... it's just not very good. Or maybe it was translated badly. Or both. In any case, you follow the adventures of a young prince and his friends, as they fight to save the world from evil or something. Blah, blah, blah. The characters don't get much dialogue and nobody really develops a personality, so you'll have to enjoy this game strictly on a combat level.

'Warsong' only has one real major flaw, and that is the pitiful A.I. of the computer opponents. The enemy forces are flat-out dumb, and even worse, they're almost 100% predictable. They usually outnumber you and they're pretty relentless, which keeps things interesting, but some serious tweaking of the A.I. would've helped a lot. After playing for a while, you'll learn the computer's habits and alter your strategies around them to your favor. For example, enemy leaders ALWAYS heal themselves when wounded to 7 H.P. or lower. So if there's a vicious enemy knight with 7 H.P. nearby, you can gleefully surround him with criticially wounded troops without a care, because there's no way he's going to attack on his turn. The A.I. will also attack whenever possible, even if it means entering battles it has no chance of winning. The computer will send countless horsemen at your archers if there's no one else around to attack, even though they'll get wiped out while barely doing any damage. The battles become less of a pure strategy exercise and more of a test at how well you can manipulate a very large and stupid band of foes. It's fun in its own way, but it hurts the game's replay value quite a bit. It's just not quite as satisfying to beat a foe when you know how many weaknesses their A.I. leader has.

Still, with all that in mind, 'Warsong' has a lot of charm. The battles are acted out in cute little scenes, with the troops running towards each other and fighting like maniacs. You'll cheer as a group of battered archers manage to hold off a charging pack of soldiers for one last turn, and boo when your 6 horsemen somehow fail to bump off 4 enemy soldiers. The little animations and death noises are silly and fun, and help you ignore the fact that you're often sending dozens of digital troopers to a grisly death. You'll also fight evil giant ants and dinosaurs(!) in your travels, which is always good for a chuckle.

The graphics in 'Warsong' are definitely dated. The wyverns look like big mutant parrots, and the soldiers 'fight' by running wildly into each other, and falling over if they die. Spell animations are crude, and the battle backgrounds are pretty dull. But hey, it's a Genesis game... what can you do? The character portaits are pretty charming, to be fair, and give your heros what little identity they have.

The soundtrack in 'Warsong' is another story, though. Most of the musical tracks are quite catchy, and stick in your head whether you like it or not. And as noted earlier, the exaggerated death sounds are always good for a smile.

'Warsong' is a fun little game, but it definitely shows its age, so don't hunt down a copy unless you're prepared for some archaic A.I. This game has 'cult following' written all over it... not polished enough to be a 'legend,' but it has enough unique charm to really appeal to a small niche of people. If you like the sound of watching little monks and evil ants slaughtering each other for your amusement, fire up the ol' Genesis and bust out some 'Warsong.'

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 07/12/04

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