You might have guessed it. I am talking about this side-scrolling shooter which was hiding in the shadows of the more popular Gradius or R-Type, but it is worth to consider finding the game as I will tell you 10 reasons why Einhänder is a lost gem that you need to play. On a side note, this gem is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Hurraayy!
1. It is a Squaresoft game
Needless to say, Squaresoft (Square-Enix now) is a high end game developer with a long history of games. Their reputation equals to high quality and polished games. Yet, the company managed to surprise players with innovative games aside from their well-known RPG series. These games are fresh and exciting to play as they show what other ideas the developers had. Oh boy they did their best with Einhänder. Now let’s see what kind of side-scrolling shooter they made.
2. Great mix of 2D shooter and 3D elements
Squaresoft was still a growing game developer, although, it already had games like the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger and Parasite Eve under its belt. The developers continuously experimented with 3D game design, which ultimately lead to Einhänder – a 2D scrolling shooter incorporated with 3D elements. In it, Squaresoft uses 3D to make vehicles and mecha move and exist around the player. Boss battles make use of 3D environments as well in order to form attack patterns. This mix works really well as it brings a more visual attractiveness to the game, albeit it might be confusing for the first-timers. Let’s continue with the music.
3. Intense music
Background music is sometimes underrated. Music adds an extra dimension to gameplay. It plays with the mood of gamers and elevates the bridge between the visual and audio in games. What Einhänder does so well is to introduce electronic music such as techno. For a relatively short game -which is a shooter to boot- it has an original soundtrack CD of well over one hour of music.
For example, here is an extract of a quiet approach against a mob of enemy vehicles. It is tranquil, yet daunting. It reminds the player this is a hostile environment.
When the boss appears, the adrenaline kicks in. The music is switched over to a fast rythmic beat. Everything goes to fast paced notes.
Now imagine, you can get this kind of soundtrack for each boss in the game. Talking about the bosses, they have very interesting designs and mechanics.
4. Boss mecha
In total, there are a whooping twelve bosses in this game. All of them are mecha – my big favourite. Each of them have different attack patterns and weaknesses. By choosing the right weapons and counterattacks, you can even unlock new weapons. And you can actually beat the bosses without destroying them – they all have a pre-set timer. When the player reaches the end of the time limit, the boss will remove itself from the battle. The destruction of a boss mecha can also be done in two ways, either you aim well and focus at its weak spot with the right weapon and it will have an instant kill or you destroy the armor and limbs, piece by piece. Consequently, the mecha will also lose that part and be unable proceed its attack pattern. Another aspect I adore, is their designs. They are cleverly build according to the environments in which they appear. A rotating spider for small tunnels or a sliding tank on the space runway.
5. Varied environments
Throughout the game, the player undergoes different landscapes and witnesses how earth has changed. You start off in a neon lighted city’s sky. Then you are off to wastelands, an underground water tunnel, a space port and ultimately outer space. So you can already start counting how many sceneries you get to see in beautiful 3D rendering. There is a huge variety in mob vehicles, giving you the feeling you are in a different place. Each transition is paired with a boss battle. How did our hero mech end up in this mess? What’s the story behind all of this futuristic setting?
6. Heroic story
There is so much to talk about Einhänder and I haven’t touched on the story yet. Here is a quick rundown.
There are two main powers: Empire on Earth and Selene from the Moon. Both sides have been in war for some time. As both sides are running low on resources, Selene has started this military program to decimate the Empire’s forces to gain superiority over Earth’s natural resources. This program codenamed ‘Einhänder’, involves sending pilots in advanced starfighters on suicide runs. Your character is one of the pilots.
At first sight, it might be a shallow story, though actually, it is only a small fragment in the whole plot of the story. For the whole story analysis, I recommend on reading this analysis. The more interesting plot development is near the end when our pilot has destroyed the last boss. After congratulating the success of the attack, our pilot is now a target on sight for its allies. Upon death, he will be promoted two ranks. It was clear that Selene never had the intention to end the war. Luckily, it doesn’t end there. Our dear pilot returns from death and battles against the Moon forces. In the epilogue, the war has ended thanks to the elimination of the Earth and Moon’s forces by the Einhänder pilot.
I would say this is a very elaborate and well thought out story for a simple shooter. It creates depth and interest for the game. Until today, I am still very intrigued to read more about the history of how all happened.
7. Weapons everywhere
Einhänder could also mean ‘single-handedly’. The idea behind the gameplay is to fight alone throughout the stages without support – this also means obtaining weapons on the scene. Personally, this is one of the charm points of the game. Not only are there are a variety of weapons to use (twelve in total), three of them are hidden.
Don’t be fooled, it is not the amount that is amazing. It is the way you need to use them. Of course, you can pick your favourites and stick with them, but the game was designed for you to utilize all the weapons. For instance, a vulcan is useful to mow down big numbers of enemies with great fire rate, but a spreader has a lower fire rate with a wider shooting range. It is up to the player to decide when and what to use for certain stages.
The game requires memorization and pro-active thinking for the player to survive until the boss moment. As I mentioned before, each boss has its weak spots. By choosing a correct weapon, the battle can be very short, but if you come unarmed or wrong weapons, the battle might become much more harsh. A missile weapon can be more effective against an agile and mobile enemy, while a high penetrating weapon is deemed to be devastating against an armored tank. A proper strategy is recommended to get the best out of each weapon.
8. Replay value exists
Yes, the game is worth at least one replay session. Not only is there a great variety in weapons, there is also a selection of fighters too. It doesn’t end there. There are hidden fighters and stage paths when the requirements are met. Or how about beating your own score?
9. Get good
Einhänder is a difficult game. There is no way around it. The enemies are tracking your movements and predict your flying course, on top of that each boss has its own spreading attack that covers the whole screen. As a player, you need to avoid obstacles, shoot with the right weapon, find your way around the incoming missiles AND you can only get hit once.
(Un)fortunately, the game only allows you to choose to continue ten times. So in total, you can die 30 times. If you cannot beat the game within the death counter, then it is game over and you have to start all over again. You could set the difficulty to easy, but I can assure you nothing gets easier – the enemies are still smart but they are just in lesser amount. So the way to get the maximum fun out of Einhänder is to get good.
10. Ridiculously satisfying
Last but not least … the whole game is just soo satisfying to play. You get to shoot at big mecha and enemy planes that catch fire and explode. Because of the high difficulty, it is also very rewarding when you beat a stage and continue to another one. You would scream “YES” when a boss gets incinerated by the shots you have stubbornly fired. It has been years since I beat the game on normal. Luckily, I was able to brush my shooter skills and beat the game once more … only in easy.
Have you heard of Einhänder? What’s your memory of it? Shoot it here!
Incidentally, if this post has made you want to play Einhänder again, it is available on the Japanese PlayStation Store for PS3/PSP/PSVita.