I feel somewhat obligated to write this article. In my last article I really layed into Koei for making three games that I would rank as mediocre to fucking terrible. Unfortunately, that 's not the impression I want to leave. I actually have a great appreciation for the company. It was thanks to their line of dating sims that I was able to achieve my life-long dream of fucking Sailor Moon. They also put out a good strategy game at one point in time; That game was called Gemfire, and I intend to share its glory with you. The only problem is that most games follow a fairly linear progression, which makes writing an article about them fairly intuitive. Strategy games don't have such a linear progression, so at the time of writing this, I really have no idea how I'm going to go about it. Hopefully divine insight will be bestowed upon me. Until then, I'm going to be flying by the seat of my pants.
So the opening story of the game goes something like this:
Behind these walls, King Eselred keeps Gemfire, the crown of seven jewels.
Six wizards and a dragon were trapped in the crown, their power at Eselred's mercy. . .
Until Princess Robyn broke the spell and scattered the gems throughout the land.
You then get to see a little chat between each of the wizards and the rulers who ended up possessing them. It then goes on to say that the wizards escaped, but that the king still controls the dragon. Then Eselred says that he will recapture the gems, and to beware his wrath. Personally I feel the story is a little propagandist. I mean, how do we know that this Eselred is such a bad guy? Sure it says the wizards and the dragon were trapped, and that their power was at his mercy, but what if the wizards are evil, and Eselred is actually a fair and just ruler? What if Princess Robyn is really an anarchist set on throwing the kingdom into a state of chaos and turmoil from which it may never recover? There are just too many questions left hanging. I can't bring myself to take up arms against a king that, for all I know, may be the good guy in all of this. So I guess this article is over before it even begins. Wait, I don't need to morally justify my actions to play a video game. Senseless violence and killing things just because they're there are the hallmarks of console entertainment. Alright, let's go usurp us a throne!
So what can we expect from this game? Well, one Zanark M'Hael, on Vimm's Lair, had this to say about the game: "Based (loosely) on the War of the Roses in England, you get to play as several kingdoms in 4 scenarios to see who will rule all of England. Each of the kingdoms has different territories, which they can expand through conquest. During battle you control 5 units: offensive infantry, defensive infantry, archers, knights, and a special unit. For some of the kingdoms, the special unit is a powerful wizard. For others it may be mercenaries or monsters that have been hired. The ultimate goal is to defeat Eselred, who controls central England, as well as a powerful fire dragon."
Now, far be it for me to ridicule someone else's opinion, but this is arguable the most asinine description one could possibly give for this game. The country that the game takes place in is called Ishmeria, not England. Aside from the fact that both countries are somewhat elongated, there really aren't any similarities between the two. As for Zanark's statement that this game is based on the War of the Roses, let's see what merit that claim holds. Prior to the War of the Roses, King Henry V of the House of Lancaster was kicking all kinds of ass in France. When he died, his successor, King Henry VI took over. He didn't kick anything, ass or otherwise. In fact, he was prone to bouts of mental illness which would sometimes incapacitate him for months at a time. His advisors were also very unpopular, because they weren't jocks or cheerleaders, and because they mismanaged the country and the war in France. The double whammy of losing all the land his father had gained and being crazy made people think that Henry was unfit to be king. Along came Richard of York who campaigned to wrest Henry from his incompetent advisors. Eventually Richard would reveal that he had aspirations to become king himself, which upset a lot of people who supported him, but weren't really in the mood to be branded as traitors. Ill feelings disappeared however, when Richard showed that he actually had a better claim to the throne then Henry did. The ensuing war between Richard and Henry's wife, Margaret d'Anjou saw many bloody battles, with control of the country passing back and forth several times between the houses of Lancaster and York (whose emblems were a Red Rose and a White Rose respectively, ergo the name of the war).
In Gemfire, King Eselred doesn't suffer from any mental illness, but statistically, he is a pretty shitty ruler. On average, his stats are the lowest of any character in the game. His clan is the House of Lankshire, which I suppose is almost Lancaster, but not quite. Furthermore, the game does not involve everyone against Eselred and his supporters; The game does not end when Lankshire is defeated as Zanark states. To win, you must defeat every family vying for power, and take control of all of Ishmeria. So, aside from a king who is politically and militaristically inept, with a name that vaguely resembles Lancaster, the claim that this game resembles the War of the Roses, (loosely or otherwise), is a load of crap, and probably just a ploy by Mr. M'Hael to look smart. He does bring up a few good points though; There are indeed four scenarios, you do control five units in battle, and you can, in fact, hire monsters and mercenaries. If those were the only interesting things that happened in this game, there's a good chance I wouldn't be writing an article about it. So let's go a little deeper to see what makes this game great.
When you start off the game, you get to pick one of four scenarios, set at different times during the war. In each scenario you get to choose between four different families. I'm not going to go into detail about the scenarios until later, so stick around for that. After you learn a little about the family you have chosen, you get to pick an advisor. Your choices are Eldrow the Wise, Zorax the Mighty, Jade the Enlightened, and Jasper the Riddler. You may be under the impression that each advisor would have a different strategy, implied by their rather mundane monickers. Unfortunately, that is not the case. If you ask your advisor for direction at a given point, they will all give you the same advise, just worded differently. Just for fun, let's see if you can guess which advisor said each of these phrases:
"Hire monsters to fight in the coming wars."
"Employing monsters for defense is an act of common sense."
"If treated properly, monsters will fight well for us."
"Monsters are dangerous, but can help win wars."
As you can see, the underlying message is always the same, just in a wise, mighty, enlightened, or rhyming way.
The first screen you see when your turn rolls around gives you all the information about your current territory. The pictures next to the numbers are fairly intuitive, but they represent your current funds, food, soldiers, loyalty, crop production, and protection from natural disasters. The first three range from 0 - 999, while the last three range from 0 - 100. Below these are four types of commands, each with four sub-commands. Most commands are self-explanitory, so I won't insult your intelligence.
Develop: Improve Cultivation or Protection
Trade: Exchange Gold for Food or vice versa
Give Food: Raise loyalty
Transport: Assist a friendly territory
Negotiate: Try and turn an enemy lord to your side, or threaten a family to surrender
View: See information about any province
Change Lord: Change the ruler of a province
Entrust: Let a province run itself with AI
Search: Scour an enemy land for treasure and learn what monsters they have hired
Certain commands, such as Ally and Change Lord can only be done by your leader, though as I mentioned before, you don't win until you control everything, so alliances eventually have to be broken. How fast your province will develop depends on the stats of the lord ruling it. The types of monsters you can hire vary from one province to the next. Some of the possible mercenaries include skeletons, ogres, gargoyles, wyverns, lizards, pikemen, lancers, and highlanders, just to name a few. For the most part, you get what you pay for; better units cost more.
In battle you control the five units that were previously mentioned. The number of troops, or the strength of the unit, is listed on the side. At the top it tells you how much food you have, and how many days it will last. There is also a little picture telling you what time of day it is. I don't know why they do that, because it doesn't affect how the troops fight, but I guess extraneous information is better than no information at all. (Damn you Operation Europe). The battle is over when you eliminate all your opponents, capture the enemy flag, or run them out of food. You can also retreat, but only pussies retreat.
Those are essentially the basics of the game, but if that was all you had to work with, the game would be mediocre at best. There are lots of random events, and some not so random ones. Every three months plague sweeps through the country; That's a bad thing. On top of that, there's seismic activity every spring in the south, monsoons every summer in the east, wildfires every fall in the west, and blizzards every winter in the north. Then there's the supernatural stuff, like Unicorns and Gwriags that empower you and your other leaders. Leprechauns, Far Gortas, Fairies, Elvish Troubadours, Redcaps, and Airial will all drop by occasionally to improve the state of your provinces. The Shrieker, Durahan, Hobgoblins, Aughiskies, Black Annis, and Pixies will also do their best to fuck up your territories. If a character reaches the age of 75, they will die. If a banshee visits you, there's a good chance one of your followers will die as well. The banshee will only kill someone who is not in control of a province, so this isn't such a bad thing, as long as all your good characters are occupied. It's actually rather amusing to see an old man get killed by a banshee. Nine times out of ten, they'll deficate themselves in the process.
If you win a battle, you also have a chance of capturing the enemy general. If you do, you hold him for ransom. If they refuse to pay the ransom, or if you capture the head of a family, you have the option to try and recruit them, release them, or banish them. If you successfully recruit a head of house, all their base are now belong to you. If you banish them, their successor will take over as head. If you banish all the rightful heirs of a family's control, the remaining lords will either join another family, or break off on their own.
That pretty sums up the mechanics of the game. An added appeal is created by the story that progresses through the four scenarios. I will now detail this story, as best I can with the information given. For the first scenario, entitled "Erin & Ander", these are the people who are vying for control of Ishmeria:
Erin of Blanche
Erin is one of the main protagonists in the game. He has three younger brothers, Pender, Anselm, and Arkin, a cousin named Karl, and a loyal supporter, Roland. If you still want to compare this to the War of the Roses, Erin and Pender can be seen as Edward and George respectively; And if you know your history, you know where this is going.
Ander of Lyle
Ander is the other main protagonist in the game, and doesn't really differ that much from Erin. Ander is two years older than his counterpart, but the only significant difference is the wizards they control. Ander has a younger brother named Wolfen, and two loyal retainers, Seth and Kneulf. Seth is pretty good all around, but Kneulf really sucks. Together, Erin and Ander control the highlands.
Garth of Chrysalis
Garth controls the Isle of Lisle in the northwest. There is only one way in or out of the territory, so defensively, Garth is in a good position. Unfortunately, to expand his lands, Garth has to go through Ander, and being a terrible fighter coupled with being dealt the short straw in wizards makes it very difficult for Garth to win. It took me seven years to conquer all of Ishmeria, whereas using Erin or Ander, it can be done in less than two.
Lars of Coryll
Lars controls the southwestern tip of Ishmeria, as well as the wizard Empyron. There isn't much else to say about him other than that he plays a mean set of drums and hates Napster.
Erik of Flax
Seeing as Erik is really fucking boring, here's some interesting information about Flax. Flax is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae.
It is an erect annual plant growing to 120 cm tall, with slender stems. The flowers are pure pale blue, with five petals. Various parts of the plant are used to make fabric, dye, paper, medicines, fishing nets and soap.
Ander of Lyle
Leander is an old guy with a lizard fetish. The lizards that roam the western part of Ishmeria are fire-breathing, so not only do they make great lovers, they're also a hit at barbeques and other social functions. Leander controls the weakest wizard, Skulryk. Though he may be the weakest wizard, Skulryk isn't the worst. That honour goes to Scylla, Erik's bitch. Skulryk also gets bonus points for attacking enemies with a cloud of poisonous gas. What a fucking bad ass.
Here is how the land is divided at the beginning of the game:
In this scenario you can play as Erin, Ander, Garth or Lars. You get to pick Erin and Ander in every scenario, but this is the only scenario that you get to play as Garth or Lars. As we will soon find out, they don't stick around very long.
Contrary to what it's title may imply, scenario two mercifully has nothing to do with Erik's strudel. It does, however, pick up five after the start of the first scenario. The most notable happenings of the past half decade are that Garth is dead, and Lars has been defeated by Erik. This is complete bullshit, because if you let scenario one play out on it's own, Erik is defeated in a matter of months. Irregardless, that's how the story goes. One of Lars' followers decides to steal the wizard gem and run like a little bitch to the new guy, Terian, who defected from the King's army. Terian is an ambitious and fertile man who is supported by his son Bryan, and friend Gerard. There are also several other new comers to the war, most notably Erin's younger brother Arkin, two shady characters named Melgan and Raith who join Ander, and Ander's baby sister Keyla, who could totally kick your ass. Other than a couple of old guys dying, that sums up the first five years of the war. Here's how things are shaping up:
Fast forward another five years and we arrive at scenario three. Lot's of important things happen from when we last left off. The biggest event comes when Ander betrays his alliance to Erin and invades his land. Caught off guard, Erin's brother Anselm gets killed in battle. Needless to say, this really pisses of the Blanche family. Do the bastards in the Lyle family show even a bit of remorse? No. Do I really care? No. The Lankshire family has suffered severe losses to this point, with two more lords dying of age, and four being killed in battle. They recoup some of their losses, however, when Raith and Melgan defect from Ander. In other news, Terian has been pressed to the west, as has defeated Leander, yet somehow Skulryk ends up in Erin's possession. Ander defeated Garth's son Elgis, and now has control of the wizard Chylla. Erik is still dicking around in the south, doing absolutely nothing. At this point I'd like to talk about a character named Erven. Erven started off with Lars. When Coryll fell, Erven ran off to Leander. Then Molbrew got crushed, so he ran away to assist Gwyen and her brother Alex in the south. Apparently they are supposed to be his children, and ever the supportive father, Erven's motivational speech is "We have neither the fame nor magic to capture Gemfire." Way to go you asshole. Thankfully, when Gwyen gets decimated, Erven finally does the world a favour and dies.
The final scenario takes place another fives after Terian's War, and lots of shit goes down. Loryn, one of Eselred's most powerful generals has seceded from the king after receiving reinforcements from the king to take back province 18 from Erin. Loryn was victorious, and Erin's brother Arkin was killed in the battle. Erin then loses his closest brother Pender when he defects to Eselred's army. In the south, Eadric, the rumoured long-lost son of Eselred has (finally) ousted Erik and taken over his lands, claiming to be the rightful heir to the throne. Though, as one Gemfire fan pointed out online, Adryl, Eselred's eldest son, has a far better claim to the throne, except that he deserted his father and pledged his alligence to Ander. In the west Terian has killed Gerard for trying to fuck his very hot daughter, Anise. The only other notable occurance is that Raith and Melgan now work for Loryn, leading me to the only rational conclusion that Raith and Melgan are gay lovers.
I may have said this before, but I really like this game. I just wish there was more information given about the fates of characters that just disappear from one scenario to the next. In retrospect, I don't think I really did the game justice. As always, I suggest you go out a play it for yourself to see what you think of it. If you want to read more about Gemfire and it's sequels, or talk to people who love the game even more than I do, check out GMGA.net.
Posted by: Valdronius
Reign on in the name of Gemfire!