Games That Defined Me — Einhander
There was a time, believe it or not, when Square Soft was known for making quality games and releasing brand new role-playing games here in America. Their name stood for quality games, and not the tarnished company they have become. Nobody will deny the awesomeness that was Square during the SNES period, nobody! This trend thankfully continued into the 32-bit generation when Square started to branch off into other genres of gaming.
I saw no problem with the company attempting to find new IPs to sell, in fact, I relish it. It was this awkward mid-to-late 90s time period when games were going 3D and starting to get more and more complex (who remembers seeing all the buttons on the original PlayStation controller and thinking HOLY SHIT!?!) that spawned some of my favorite games of all time. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than a company that has pigeon-holed themselves into a specific genre or game. Thankfully, not all of the games that Square branched out to create were utter failures, which brings me to today’s topic of discussion Einhander.
The story of the game drops you smack dab in the middle of an ongoing battle between the Earth and its Moon. The character you assume the role of is a pilot from the moon who is sent on a suicide mission to infiltrate Earth, collect enemy intelligence, and just simply destroy as much of the Earth’s military complex that you can.
The game itself is a shmup, no more, no less. However, the real innovation comes from the game’s weapon system. Each ship that you can pilot in the game comes with a 1~2 shot weapon at the start but it was which weapons and how you used them that determined your success. You could choose from the Vulcan, Cannon, Spreader, Grenade, Wasp, Riot, Hedgehog, and Blade (plus 4 others that were secret). Each weapon had its own merits and weaknesses and also had alt-fire or a reverse firing position.
You could pick from one of three fighters at the start of the game:
The Astraea (can equip two gunpods)
The Endymion MkII (can pickup 3 gunpods, and equip one at a time)
The Endymion MkIII (can equip one gunpod, can only carry one at time, has 2 standard cannons)
Progression through the game is a your standard fare for a shooter with an increasing learning curve. Each stage has secrets that net you bonus points upon completion and unlock different paths you can take through the stage. Unlocking these could be as simple as shooting all of the signs in the level, shooting the differently colored enemies, or by picking apart a boss in a certain order.
Each one of these secrets that you unlocked gave you a healthy score bonus and sometimes helped you find one of the 4 secret gunpods the game has. The great was that when you grabbed a gunpod in the game and lost all your lives, you can restart after a continue with a different ship and equip it with whatever weapons you’ve unlocked.
Getting all of the specials netted you the Unknown Fighter Type I which was smaller than all the other ships, much faster, and looked exactly like a police cruiser you see at the beginning of the first stage. However, the best fighter in the game is solely obtained by finishing the game on hard mode using only 3 continues or less.
With each continue , you only get 3 fighters. That means you get 9 ships to go through an already challenging game. Shit, it’s hard enough to beat the game on normal mode using 10 continues. As of writing this, I have yet to finish the game on hard under 5 continues, but I’ll get there…one day.
That leads me to talking about Einhander’s gameplay. The controls are tight, very tight, almost to the point where if you twitch you could die. The collision detection is spot on without ever becoming a ‘bullet-hell’ type of game.
The game’s difficulty is simply hard (sorry for the oxymoron), and by hard I mean the Contra style of hard, the good kind of difficulty that BigPopaGamer wrote about yesterday…you know, the kind that keeps you coming back for more even though it continues to kick your ass.
The bosses and minibosses of the game (13 total) are some of the most detailed and varied characters I’ve seen in a PlayStation generation shooter. They are very reactive to your actions, and many of them require more strategy than blasting away at them. I know that I was surprised a few times when they took me out when I wasn’t expect it.
I can fondly recall all of the hours spent playing this game, up until the wee hours of the morning, attempting to reach the final boss. Out of the 2 or 3 times that I did manage to get there, I’ll never forget my power shutting off right as I deal the deathblow…I’m still pissed now that I think of it.
A quick note on the soundtrack before wrapping this up, it had a great sound effects for each of the weapons, ships, and explosions. It also featured bosses that taunted you in German. The composer of the excellent OST was Kenichiro Fukui, who worked on a few of the Final Fantasy games, who provided a disc full of techno ranging all the way from Trance to House with a little Ambient thrown in there.
I really wish that Square would make a sequel for this game, but with their current track record, of rehashing Final Fantasy games instead of taking risks to invest in new IPs like they did with Einhander.
I already had a taste for shooters before Einhander came about, but ever since its release I judge every shmup that followed it with a stern gaze…it’s that good. This truly is a hallmark of the PlayStation generation, shmups, and will always be one of my favorite games of all time. Thanks for reading!