Wachenröder was released near the end of the Sega Saturn’s life span, in 1998, by Westone. Wachenröder is a very steampunk-style RPG; even your weapons called “Sledges” are actually steam-powered. It has never received a translation patch, but the team of Glenn A. Rudy III and Yumi Makita translated the entire game script at: https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/saturn/574646-wachenroder/faqs/25258 . Considering that the game is very linear, it really doesn’t lose much by being unpatched, not to mention the translation itself is high-quality. This is no small feat, as the game is in Japanese, but has plenty of gratuitous German. There are also menu translations on the Wachenröder gamefaqs page.
Wachenröder starts with a young man named Lucian Taylor, caring for his sister, who was born with a terminal disease that leaves her unable to endure sunlight. The whole atmosphere is very steampunk, and a very dreary steampunk akin to Victorian England at that. Lucian’s sister(she is never named)’s disease is a result of pollution from a Heavy Water Treatment Plant, they are huge steam-powered power plants. His sister’s condition worsening, their and deadbeat father not caring, Lucian joins a tournament, to get money for her medicine. A sketchy man enlists him, gives him a Sledge, has him fight an amnesiac man named Calife, who fights to regain his lost memories (I suspect this is a jab at various amnesiac Final Fantasy Characters, eg Terra Branford or Cloud Strife.) Once he defeats Calife, Lucian enters the tournament proper, gets some money after winning a match, only to discover his sister is already dead, her last words were crying out for him. Lucian is understandably heartbroken, and three years later, he is seen, plastered at a bar. He mistakes a women named Carrol Mew for his sister, and despite being drunk, saves her from some ruffians. The are joined (temporarily at first) by a local group of more well meaning ruffians; (Frank!) Zappa, Orange, and Small, and later by the Chemical bros circus troupe; Chemical, (Fatboy!) Slim, Idol, and beautiful Bellebette, who later becomes Lucian’s love interest. I should mention that virtually every character’s name is a music reference. We’re talking JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure levels here! Lucian and co fight many early battles against guards of the “Empire” (it is never called that, but it has no alternate name); later on they learn that the leader Vlad (a vampire!) usurped the formerly good government of King Wizar, who also is revealed to be Carroll’s father. They are eventually joined by Sword Emperors Duran (Duran!) George, and Lenora, and bring the fight to Vlad. Overall, Wachenröder’s plot is an example of usage of many generic tropes, but is still very well executed. The player characters (and some villains) are sympathetic and very fleshed out. There is no formal distinction between main and minor characters. While the overall party comprises fewer than 20 characters, they all have plenty of dialogue.
Wachenröder has isometric maps that have 3D elements. You can rotate the camera, and pan/zoom, but many times a 3D building/tree/etc will obscure the player’s view. The main innovation is that Sledge weapons are steam powered. How this translates into gameplay, is that you can’t use special moves too often, or else your weapons will overheat. A character with an overheated weapon can’t attack at all for a turn or so. For regular attacks, you hold a button down long enough to trigger number 1(lowest)-5(highest) on a gauge. Once you let go, your character does a correspondingly powerful or weak attack. You also hear a chainsaw noise as this happens, which added to my enjoyment. There are also special and super special moves (the later are learned later on.) Instead of moving/action phases, Wachenröder has action gauges. You can attack twice if the enemies are close enough, if not, you can focus all your action points on moving. There is no MP, healing can only be done by female characters, at no cost other than action points. This struck me as a bit gender-stereotypical, but it’s nothing compared to some similar things found in various other games, so it’s not a big deal. There is no grinding, but overall the game is quite easy, and does not need it. There is also 1-mid battle save, and using it does not send you back to the main menu thankfully. Combat is decided by the player/enemy phase format. One gripe I had with the game was that many characters leave and enter your party multiple times, and the game never gives you hints to unequip them of good items. Thankfully, in most cases they returned with the items intact.
Wachenröder was co-composed by Ian MacDonald, yes THAT Ian MacDonald of King Crimson/Foreigner. In fact, there is an in-game location called “King Crimson”… I’m starting to feel like a 21st Century Schizoid Man XD. In all seriousness, most of the battle themes feel like a warm up for a King Crimson song, and that’s definitely a good thing for me. One song, “Hopeless Misfortune” sounds like an atonal dawn of the 20th century classical piece, and the tracks “Lake/Lake2” made me feel really emotional, and fit the somber mood quite well. The art was done by Range Murata, known for many anime such as “Blue Submarine No. 6”, “Last Exile”, and the joint US-Japanese production, “The Animatrix”. His style fits in well with the Victorian steampunk aesthetic. Also of note is Wachenroder’s use of live-action models for various event scenes. This has made those scenes age better, without the “early CGI” stigma. Granted, due to the limits of SEGA Saturn Cinepak, the FMV is still quite grainy.
Overall, I would rate Wachenröder an 8 out of 10. It’s definitely a fun game, but there isn’t as much depth of plot or gameplay as some other great Saturn SRPGs, like Shining Force III, or Langrisser: Dramatic Edition, also there are some minor gameplay hiccups, like the visibility issues in battle, or the often rotating party lineup. That said, the atmosphere/music/art are all phenomenal, and I still highly recommend it.
Console: SEGA Saturn
Story Translation: https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/saturn/574646-wachenroder/faqs/25258
Gameplay guide: https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/saturn/574646-wachenroder/faqs/6793