Retro Game Review: Fantasy General

By Matthew Pilgrim (Rated G)

Fantasy General is one of the prolific titles that was produced by Strategic Simulations in the 1990s. Unlike their other games such as Panzer General or Pacific General, the game of is not meant to be a recreation for any historical period or particular type of warfare that actually occurred. Instead, Fantasy General offers a totally original setting and game system that allows for the playing out of large-scale warfare that involves fantastical beings, alternative technologies, and magic.

In Fantasy General, the player takes control of one of four heroes and their band of warriors to begin a great war of rebellion against the cruel tyranny of the Shadowlord who has enslaved the mystical world of Aer with armies led by his wicked servants. Each playable hero begins their war with an army based on the nature of their character as well as a set of abilities and traits that will affect how players are able to lead their army.

Fantasy General is played in a sequence of turns upon a hex map. Each battle has a particular objective that the player must complete by the final turn or else the cause for the freedom of Aer will be lost. At the beginning of a battle the player deploys his or her forces upon a designated starting zone and then commands the various units that comprise their army by moving them across the map and giving orders to attack the units belonging to the opposing army.

In between battles, players are given the task of managing their armies, and they must determine how to use the wealth that they have accumulated during their campaign to rescue Aer. Gold can be appropriated for purchasing new units, upgrading existing units, or on research that unlocks upgrades and new unit types. There are several unit classifications that each contain a variety of possible soldiers to be played with. A Fantasy General player can expect to field an army composed of an incredible assortment that can include Roman legionnaires, dragons, samurai, elf knights, Renaissance musketeers, wizards and plenty more. Players can even give individual units custom names so that the standard ‘8th Cavalry’ can become something a little more flavorful like, ‘Knights of The Order of The Fiery Heart’. Magical artefacts and weapons may also be uncovered as players carry out their war, and it is up to them which units will carry mystical swords or magic staves to make them more effective soldiers.

The entire game features a series of campaigns across the several continents of Aer where the player will battle to liberate each land from one of the sinister champions of the Shadowlord before facing the arch-villain himself in his home territory. The narrative of the game that unfolds throughout is a pure strain of the high fantasy genre.

In addition to the grand campaign, Fantasy General offers a free play mode called the Arena, which allows for a single battle to be staged between the player and the AI or between two human players. This mode is unique because it allows for the player to assume the role of one of the Shadowlord’s champions and to field an army composed of the various monsters and villains that are seen throughout the campaign. The Arena allows for an incredible amount of replay ability as it has a plethora of customizable options for generating battlefields and building unique armies.

Of course, the main draw to a game like Fantasy General is the high-quality game play, but this game also offers a visual and audio presentation that is worth experiencing. The graphics are certainly not as awe inspiring as what can be accomplished with modern technology but the game has a well-done high fantasy aesthetic that is pleasing despite its comparatively primitive nature. Each unit is represented well and features an illustrated portrait that can be seen when the unit is examined in game. Fans of fantasy settings will appreciate the effort put into creating the world of Aer and the mighty armies that battle for its future. However, there is one category where Fantasy General rivals and perhaps even surpasses the industry standards for modern games: the music. Fantasy General has a phenomenal soundtrack that strives to provide an immersive, high Middle Ages feeling. As such, the game actually features many great church hymns and traditional chants that give the game an inescapably Christian atmosphere. Among the superb selection of music are excellent renditions of ‘Strife is O’er’ (which is fittingly played when one of the Shadowlord’s champions is defeated), ‘Let Mortal Flesh Keep Silence’, and ‘Wir essen und leben’.

After over twenty years, Fantasy General remains a great game for players of wargames, especially those who appreciate a thoughtful turn-based strategy experience that is positively ensconced with the imagery and themes of classic high fantasy.

Screenshots of Fantasy General taken by the author.

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