Welcome to the Save State Cblogs! In honor of Chad Concelmo's awesome Memory Card series, we decided to continue his legacy.
Remember that one moment from your favorite video game? You know, that one you made a special save file for just so you could easily experience it again? Well, that's us!
Every so often, we write up about moments in games that had an impact on us, either by making us feel super happy, super sad, or a moment that showcases how awesome videogames are! These are the special moments we saved and want to share with the world.
Coming from a poor family, a lot of my gaming history comes from going to my cousins’ houses and playing on their consoles instead. I was addicted to my cousin’s PS1 and eventually begged my family to get one of our own. After finally getting one, besides playing X-Men vs. Street Fighter, we would also play demo discs over and over again as if they were full games because we were too poor to afford additional games. There were three demos I distinctly remember playing almost daily as an 8-9 year old kid. Those demos were for Tomba, Destrega, and finally, Einhander.
Einhander is a shoot-em-up, or Shmup, game developed and published by Squaresoft (now Square Enix) and was released in 1998, not too long after the release of Final Fantasy VII. Despite playing the demo more times than I could count, I never went around to purchasing Einhander and eventually forgot all about the game. It was only a few years ago that I remembered this game even existed, and through methods I won’t explain, I got the game running on my PSP and played it from beginning to end. Shmups were slowly reaching its stage of obscurity by the time Einhander was released. The game wasn’t even highly marketed and was most likely treated as a small side project. No one can say they saw this game coming, nor did anyone even want a Shmup from Squaresoft. However, what we got was a surprisingly well-made game, with not only deep gameplay mechanics, but an even deeper narrative.
What’s interesting about the human brain is that we are generally more affected by things we CANNOT see. Subtlety is key to presenting an engaging plot and likeable characters. Plus, it’s not exactly exciting to be spoon-fed information when half the fun of enjoying any story is coming up with questions and finding answers on your own. Oddly enough, I don’t believe Squaresoft was intentionally going down the subtle path and put little effort into exposing the story, as this wasn’t intended to be a huge hit in the first place. 10% of the story was presented in-game, while the rest could simply be found in the game’s physical manual (who reads those nowadays?).
If anyone is like me, and played the game before touching the manual (though in my case, I didn’t even have a manual), you were presented with a vague, yet sad tale of a pilot fighting for his people.
Einhander takes place in the distant future of 2092 in which Earth is made up of a single entity called the Empire, and humans who branched out from Earth and created the Moon Colony of Selene. Demanding independence from their Earthly superiors, the people of Selene waged war against the Empire, resulting in 100 years of the “First Moon War.” Despite huge losses from both sides, the Empire had overpowered Selene forces, and they were forced to retreat. Fast forward to 2245 and we now have Selene lacking in essential resources. The colony deemed it necessary to attack the Empire once again, as it was the only planet that housed said resources. Over the course of three years, Selene executes the attack program of Einhander, in which advanced fighter planes are deployed to cause as much damage as possible to lower the Empire’s defenses. You play as one of the pilots of these planes and dive straight into the Empire Capital of Gesetz, which happens to be Stage 1.
The Boss of Stage 1, a very familiar memory since this is when the demo ended
Alarms go off, sirens are blaring, and police officers are shouting at you in a foreign language. It’s clear these guys don’t want you to be here, and if you listen closely, all enemies actually speak German from Stages 1 to 5. According to the manual, the majority of the Earth was left in ruins because of previous battles with Selene. The Empire you see now was built on top of what would be Germany. In between each Stage, the player is given orders from EOS, the on-board AI of the Selene military satellite, Hyperion. This results in most of the story exposition in the game (and the only English you’ll hear in the game as well) as you complete one objective after another. It is until you reach the end of Stage 6 that the player is given a very strange “reward”…
After taking down the boss of Stage 6 and saving Selene from a lethal Empire attack, you receive a message from EOS, saying that tests of the latest EOS unmanned fighter are almost complete. For your heroic efforts, you have the honor of being the target of the final test. Upon your death, you will advance two classes and be rewarded with a Sirius decoration…wait what?
You can skip to 4:45 to hear the message
The screen fades to black, and you advance to a cutscene portraying EOS fighters opening fire on you. Before proceeding onto Stage 7, the final stage, the pilot himself questions why his own people are trying to terminate him. He also implies that he was being fed lies by his superiors, as they said Earth was a Utopian-esque society. However, players can see throughout the game that Earth was a barren wasteland not unlike Selene. The pilot comes to a conclusion, stating there was no purpose for further bloodshed if both sides were equally suffering. Stage 7 begins with another message from EOS, saying you are committing an act of treason and must remove all armaments and surrender. Without further input from the pilot, you take control once again, making your way back to Selene while destroying your fellow people.
Play skillfully enough, and you will reach the final boss of the game: Hyperion itself. After a long and arduous battle, Hyperion is defeated and the pilot speeds off towards the moon, destroying even more Selene forces along the way. The screen fades once again, and you are given a brief epilogue stating the war had come to an end once both sides became aware of their situations. A single entity was credited to bringing about this end, though the exact name was stricken from official history. Only those directly involved in the battle will remember the name: Einhander.
The final stage, including the final Boss battle, and epilogue
You are a man on a mission. You follow orders, you perform them exceptionally…and so, you are rewarded with death? What is going on?! Shmups aren’t known to have much…”character.” I’m sure the idea of a pilot doesn’t even cross players’ minds when playing these types of games. But despite the miniscule amount of narrative given in Einhander, getting just a few words from the pilot was enough for me to wonder what this guy was going through, and being hit with that twist at the end of Stage 6 was all the more deep and emotional for me.
Now here’s where the manual comes in handy. If you read the manual, you’ll realize there was a small tidbit I left out about the Einhander program. Yes, the purpose is to send pilots in to deal as much damage as possible, but I never mentioned they were supposed to come back did I? The pilot you control, and all pilots before him are fully aware that Einhander is in fact, a kamikaze mission. But when put in the hands of yourself, this pilot repels all attacks from the Empire and remains standing. So what else is there to do besides go back home, right? Yeah, wrong. You’ve seen Earth in all its barren glory. The higher ups of Selene have been lying to their people to have an excuse to (possibly) completely destroy Earth. Coming back with the information you hold will deem you a heretic. So, Selene basically thinks you are too awesome and flaunts a big promotion in your face that you will literally die for.
While not the most logical follow-up to an RPG like Final Fantasy VII, Einhander definitely delivered in terms of narrative prowess, which is something we all know Squaresoft was known for. Further research on the manual as well as the Japanese version of the game will reward you with even more depth to the story, including various German and Biblical references. Of course, that’s a story for another day. What’s special about Einhander, is that you can create a story by barely having one. Not unlike the highly-acclaimed Journey, the story of Einhander is put together by yourself. Here’s hoping we get an HD release of the game, so gamers of all ages can experience this PS1 Shmup gem.