GEMFIRE / Koei / Sega Genesis

Koei released a boatload of strategy games in the 80s and early 90s, some of those with a fantasy twist, but they never really had a series that went head-to-head with Fire Emblem and the smooth-playing SRPG lineage that it spawned. Gemfire was about the closest they got, but they couldn't bring themselves to entirely abandon the "dense menu" style they had come to be known for. So you wind up with a game that's definitely not bad, but it feels like kind of a middling compromise between Romance of 3 Kingdoms and Fire Emblem that isn't quite as good as either.

The setup is surprisingly reminiscent of (the yet to be created) Game of Thrones. It's sort of a medieval-Europey land, but with magic and dragons and such. You're on a big island inhabited by a bunch of different families, each of which you can play as except for the Lanni Lankshires, the eevil family currently ruling the realm with the help of the only remaining dragon in the land. The game has four different maps, but each generally requires unseating their leader Eselred from his heavily fortified central castle. Every family wants the throne for themselves, however, and alliances are temporary and fickle, so you'll likely end up having to subjugate everyone else as well -- up to 11 families per map.

The game is pretty reminiscent of Romance of 3 Kingdoms or Bandit Kings of Ancient China up until you get into combat. Each of your provinces gets a turn in which to perform a variety of actions -- hire more troops, move troops, buy or sell food, invest in food development, try to ally with another family, or try to sabotage or plunder a nearby province. The sticky bit here is that some of these commands end your turn, while some don't, and there's really no way to know except experimentation.

When you do go into combat, the game kinda turns into SRPG Lite. Each force is automatically divided into equal amounts of four units -- a mounted cavalry, an archer and two knight units. The attacking force also has to choose how much food to bring with them, which determines how many turns they can take before the defender auto-wins due to Hungry. Each side may also have an optional "fifth unit." Certain families get these crazy powerful wizards who can fill this role. The other option is hiring a colorful range of mercenaries, from standard human troops to a bunch of different monster types. The wizard units are a bit unbalanced here, often powerful enough to either go out and solo all the enemy units, or just sit on top of the home base until the attackers starve out or kill themselves off due to counterattacks. There are some powerful mercenary units available in the later reaches of maps, but no one ever gets close to the power level of the best wizards, giving the families that have them a massive advantage right from the start.

Gemfire is interesting, plays pretty well, and has a nice soundtrack to boot. But it's too unbalanced. The Blanche and Lyle families are just too OP, always starting with the two best wizards in the game and multiple provinces, and in some scenarios they get a second wizard to boot while the lesser families are sitting their in their one province with no wizards holding their dicks. And though it's a bit simpler than some of Koei's games, you still really need a manual to get all the intricacies of it. It's a little dumbed down toward SRPG style, but probably not enough if that's the type of game you're looking for. Battles get awfully samey too with the same units in pretty much all of them.

Links :

* Gemfire: The Complete Guide

Videos :

* Gameplay Video