When a game series becomes popular, it’s common to see a publisher make more and more of that type of game. Nintendo has a few series like this, and that’s why we see a lot of platformers and action games from them. Rock Star has Grand Theft Auto and other open world games just like it. Perhaps the most prolific publisher would be Square Enix, known almost exclusively for their RPGs. Over the decades they would make more than just role playing games, but during the PS1 era, it’s predominantly what they were known for.
But not exclusively.
Chocobo Racing was a kart-racing game that is somewhat still around now in 2023. Ironically enough another Square racing game released around this time, but exclusive to the Japanese PS1 called Racing Lagoon. You could say Ehrgeiz is a fighting game and not an RPG but that might be a stretch. However there’s no denying the uniqueness and non-RPGness of Einhander.
I remember very little about Einhander when it first released in 1998. I think around that time I was playing the Nintendo 64 primarily. Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time kept me company. My brother had the PS1 though, and the disc tray usually help a fighting game or wrestling game of some sort. I don’t believe I had the PS1 in my room until he got his PS2, and at that time I didn’t even play PS1 games all the much. That was until we rented Final Fantasy IX and I discovered the wonderful world of RPGs. And then I pl–
Damn it! Here I am talking about Square games and getting caught up on RPGs again!
So, Einhander! As far as side scrolling shoot’em ups go, this is honestly a great one! Releasing at a time when the genre was well past its prime, I’m not sure it had the impact the developers hoped. If you did play the game though, you were met with a great difficulty pacing and cool weapons and abilities. The titular Einhander is your ship, which is capable of attaching unique weapons based on those dropped off the destroyed ships of enemies (which is in addition to your standard machine gun). These weapons can be manipulated to be above or below your ships central cockpit, giving some variety to attacks and defensive stances. The game moves at a decent pace and is punctuated by large boss battles in every stage. In short, it’s everything you could really ask for a side scrolling shooter.
Being everything you could ask for in a side scrolling shooter does bring some difficult moments. In particular, there are some late stages that have deceiving angles and bullets flying at you, which really test your skill limits. Expect to die a lot, unless you’re naturally gifted at these types of games. Even with the constant threat of death looming, I still found myself wanting to try and try again. The game has an addictive nature to it, making you feel like your death was avoidable if you only tried again. I really like this about the game, and wish it something we’d see more often in modern games. Without getting on my soapbox, I’ll leave saying it’s nice to have a game that is complete and fun all around.
Einhander isn’t an easy to find game. It’s routinely in the $100 range in the resale market, and that’s for the disc only. You can double that if you’re looking for a complete version. There have been no re-releases of this one either, meaning it’s only on the original PS1 hardware (which is likely the direct cause for the game’s pricetag). Thankfully the Japanese version is drastically cheaper, and if you have a means to play it, that’s the way to go to experience this Square gem from 25 years past.
Square Enix is a big name publisher now. They no longer have to take risks like side scrolling shooters in an era when the genre was well past dead. The games they publish today tend to have “Fantasy” in the title, or at the very least borrow RPG elements in some form. Every now and then we get a rhythm game or action game, but nothing like we used to get in the 90s. Let’s take a moment to look back on what we didn’t know we had, and remember what was perhaps the best 2.5D shoot’em up of the generation.