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Full Tilt: SquareSoft's Einhander at 20

Contributed by
May 5, 2018

Welcome back to Full Tilt, SYFY WIRE's 21-joystick salute to iconic and influential video games hitting their 20th anniversaries in 2018. All throughout the calendar year we'll be plugging in and peeling back the cover on how and why these addictive electronic amusements ascended into Gamer's Heaven.

Though it's only been a week since the last chapter, highlighting Unreal, our next game of honor, Einhander, hits its 20th birthday today, Cinco de Mayo!

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Einhander was a sophisticated single-player, scrolling shooter developed by SquareSoft (now Square Enix) and launched in America on May 5, 1990, for PlayStation. It's not exactly the best title for a 3D (actually 2.5D) sci-fi video game and sounds more like some winged German supercar you use a stick shift with instead of a joystick. The name actually means a type of lethal one-handed Teutonic sword and sounds best when shouted across a living room in an exalted manner with a raised fist! Einhander!!!

But it was just this sort of mysterious, foreign-sounding moniker that gave Einhander a certain mystique and attraction. The developers intentionally used specific German names and Greek mythology for ships, weapons, and locations to give the outer-space adventure an exotic Old World quality. If SquareSoft sounds a bit familiar, these are the wizards who created the Final Fantasy gaming empire now entering its fourth decade.

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PlayStation's reputation as the premier gamer's platform at the time was aided by the clever soundscapes, incessant action, and striking colors of SquareSoft's digital triumph. I spent many a late night hunkered down immersed in Einhander's layered storyline with a generous supply of Diet Coke and Entenmann's raspberry coffee cake nearby.

The space saga begins in the year 2192, when the polar city of Selene is constructed on the moon. Over the decades, Selene grows increasingly powerful and defiant of Earth's control, leading to the Second Moon War after the First Moon War obliterated most of Earth's cities. The Moon attacks poor Earth to raid its natural resources using wicked, one-man fighter spacecraft called Einhänders. These radical solo kamikaze missions are designed to inflict massive damage on the planet before being destroyed.

Each player assumes the role of a daredevil starfighter pilot sent by the lunar nation of Selene to do battle against Earth's mightiest forces, raiding its capital city of Gesetz (Sodom in Japan's version), armed first with only a machine gun and guided by an advanced AI satellite called Hyperion. Suicide bombers can bolster their arsenal by snagging gunpods from downed enemies, which contain cannons, bombs, homing missiles, a devastating lightning gun, and a gleaming energy sword.

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Bristling with lethal weapons, your mission is to evade enemy installations, airfields, train convoys, missile batteries, and defense entrenchments for a showdown with a series of imposing bosses on both sides of the conflict. The game ends when your death-marked pilot defects from the Selene command and abducts an Einhander to face off against Hyperion and halt the conflict on both sides. Glory with the Moon. Mercy on the Earth.

SquareSoft was best known for its epic role-playing games, and Einhander was one of its early forays into the arena of sci-fi shooters and it's since become a cult favorite.

Gamers also rocked out to its killer techno-industrial soundtrack, which was perfectly suited to the game's addictive combat sequences. It was composed by Kenichiro Fukui, who went on to provide music for Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, craft the theme song for Final Fantasy XII, and tickle the ivories as the keyboardist for the Japanese rock band The Black Mages.

Praised by critics and customers for its absorbing detail and stage design, Einhander went on to become one of the bestselling games of the year far into 1999, with over 100,000 units sold. It remains a pivotal release and ambitious moment for PlayStation, as competitors were already dissecting its sophistication for similar titles of their own. Einhander's influence was an important component of the industry evolving into the next generation of video games highlighting complex storylines later seen in modern sci-fi offerings like Mass Effect, Halo, and Destiny.

This is one fantastic Sony title that would make for an amazing 4K remake! Einhander sequel or reimagining, anyone? Raise a stein of your favorite frosty German beverage to salute its 20th anniversary, and let's see if we can rouse some interest in getting a reboot for this classic outer-space shooter.

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