Genre: Strategy Developer: KOEI Publisher: KOEI Players: 1 Released: 1992
Who knew a crown could carry this much power. In Ishmeria, there once was a powerful dragon that plagued the lands until six wizards put a spell on it, locking it and themselves into gems which were then put into a crown, Gemfire. Gemfire is worn by Kings of Ishmeria and its current king abuses it power to become a tyrant. His daughter, the princess, could not stand by any longer so she removes all the gems except the one containing the dragon. The now free wizards side with noble families who will try to overthrow the King and bring peace back to Ishmeria. Now it is up to you to lead your armies to battle and gain your rightful place on the throne.
Gemfire’s main menu gives you the option of choosing the scenario you want to play. The differences between them is the land each family owns and some of the minor families change. After you choose your scenario, you get a little background on the scenario you’ve chosen and then you choose the family you want to control. The Blanche and the Lyle are the major powers here, they get the most powerful wizards in the game and all families are playable except the king. You pick the one you want and you get more background on the chosen family. Then you pick one of four advisers that will give you some tips.
Then comes the meat of the game. When it comes to turn-based strategy games on the Genesis, this is one of the deepest. Be prepared for managing your armies and dealing with opponents. You get a HUD that is a little overwhelming. You have to manage your gold and food stocks. Not enough food and your people starve and you can’t take your armies into foreign territories without enough food. Not enough gold and you can’t lead armies into foreign territory. Each province is ruled by the family leader and his vassals.
You have three options: economical, military, and diplomatic. In the economic side, you can sell extra food for gold or buy food if needed but be warned, the market fluctuates from high, average, and low prices so sell when high, buy when low. You can invest in cultivation so your farms have a higher yield in the harvests and you can invest in protection, so your lands are harder to conquer. You can also send or receive gold or food to different provinces in need of it.
Militarily, you recruit soldiers to attack your enemies. You can also move them to other provinces so they can attack or defend. You can hire monsters or mercenaries to help in your conquests but they are a little on the weak side so they aren’t recommended. Finally, you can attack your enemies. You choose how many soldiers you take into battle and taking them all leaves a province unprotected and the more soldiers you want to take, the higher the gold you have to spend. They also have to eat, the more you take, the higher the amount of food units they eat per day. If you only take three days worth of food and the battle last longer than that, you lose.
In the diplomatic side, you can choose to ally with other families, taking them out of the fight temporarily allows you to focus on other enemies. You can negotiate with the other families to surrender to you or negotiate with a leader of a province to defect to your side. You can sabotage an enemy’s territory which damages it. You can also plunder it which steals their gold and food and gives them to you.
On gameplay, you will go ape if you’re a strategy nut. Right before going to battle, you choose a fifth unit, which is either a wizard or hired help. Zendor of the Blanche and Pluvius of Lyle are the most powerful of the wizards so they should always lead the charge. In the battle map, you have five units. You have a unit of horsemen, a unit of archers, two units of knights, and the aforementioned fifth unit. You want the four units away from the fifth unit. Fifth units should only fight fifth units as they are titans on the field. If you win the battle in foreign territory or capture the attacking enemy’s base, you can ransom the leader of the army. If the captured leader is also the faction leader, you can get him to join you, ransom him, or banish him from Ishmeria.
On each side of the field, there are two flags that represent your home base. If your flag is captured or your army wiped out, the battle is lost. You move the units around to meet each other. Each unit has unique characteristics. Some have more range, can move extra steps. Also, positioning is everything. If you attack a unit head-on you won’t do much damage. If you hit them in the rear or the flank however, the damage is much greater. You do lose some unit health on each attack but it’s nothing major.
The sound and graphics aren’t bad. The music scores sound great to me and I found them to be pretty catchy. The graphics hold up pretty well also, but the better sound and graphics are on the SNES version, so if you have both systems, do yourself a favor, pick up that one up instead. If you don’t, the Genesis version has the same gameplay, and isn’t that the only thing that matters?
After playing Gemfire, I believe it is the best strategy game available on the 16-bit systems. A true hidden gem (GET IT?!) that fell through the cracks. This is a must have for Genesis gamers so find it, buy it, play it, love it.
SCORE: 9 out of 10