Thursday, September 1, 2016

HyperZone (SFC) Review

Written: August 28th-September 1st, 2016
Hope everyone had fun watching the 2016 Olympic Games transpiring at Rio, or should I say "American Games" considering how many medals they won this year?  With that said, looking forward to the ones in Tokyo come 2020.  =)  Aw, look at me being topical and crap, that's not going to date this review at all.  >_>  Sorry, I digress.
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Received: April 11th, 2016
Year: 1991 | Developed and Published by: HAL Laboratory | [|O|]
 
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here, passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  I feel I have forsaken my blog, not having posted a review in over a month's time; let's remedy that (if only for a moment).
Images from Wikipeda
1985 saw the debut of Sega's Space Harrier in arcades, showcasing an abundant color palette and "Super Scaling" processing at very high speeds (influenced by Sega's 1982 arcade game Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom); and on November 21st, 1990 the Super Famicom debuted in Japan with both launch titles Super Mario World (subtitled Super Mario Bros. 4 there) and F-Zero, the latter of which was a futuristic single-player racer which fully incorporated the innovative Mode 7 rotating and scaling graphics and was one of the first games in the system to do so.
 
But what would happen if you combined these two different games into one?
Enter HyperZone, HAL Laboratory's second Nintendo 16-bit venue (after Jumbo Ozaki no Hole in One in February 1991, which came out in America seven months after the fact as HAL's Hole in One Golf) which they released on the Super Famicom on August 31st, 1991, came out in America the next month in September, and eventually saw a European release in 1992; at a time when companies were giving their Mode 7's worth early in the Nintendo 16-bit console's lifespan this is one of the most prominent examples of that trope.  But has it aged well a quarter of a century later?
You'll notice on the Super Famicart and the Japanese box cover there's tiny white wording beside the title; so you won't have to squint your eyes to read what it says I'll write it down for you because I'm generous: "Welcome to Hyper Zone.  This place is the most exciting amusement-park, established 1991.  The great park has rather hazardous and tricky three-dimensional cirkits.  The years pass away un-noticed.  Hyper Zone people regard nothing as impossible, they are strongly self-motivated and have an uncommon drive to glorious goal."  .........  Your guess is as good as mine, to be honest.

Oh man, HAL must really have it in for gamers;
they included their Halken logo in the enemy roster
The gameplay in HyperZone is largely influenced by Space Harrier in that it is a 3D rail-shooting style game where you can maneuver yourself around in all directions above you, below you, to your sides, diagonally, or straight ahead; but instead of controlling a human being you take control of a ship.  And while in Sega's rail shooter you had the freedom of movement in that you could roam around with no restrictions (unless there was a towering obstacle to avoid) in this HAL title you must absolutely roam within the confines of a path (a la F-Zero)--wide or narrow or branching lest you want to sustain damage from the borders (also like F-Zero).

Healing strip
Unlike Space Harrier whereas in that title it was a one hit and you die affair, in HyperZone your ship has a "power" gauge like in Nintendo's futuristic 1990 racer; and if you lost some of your health occasionally you will find some healing strips which will slightly replenish your health (again, like F-Zero).  At the end of each stage is a boss that awaits to do battle with you, but before that you must make do with the hordes of enemies that are in your path and take them down before they take you down.  Should you lose all your health your ship will blow up and should you have at least one life left at your disposal you'll resume your progress from that spot; however should all lives be lost it's a game over.

Fire!
The controls themselves are very simple enough: you can fire with the Y, A, or right shoulder buttons; and by holding down the B, X, or left shoulder buttons you can slow down your ship during precarious situations, but don't slow down too much or you'll wind up damaging yourself.  From the third stage onward and after every subsequent stage or two your ship will be upgraded to something more powerful; and it is also from the third stage onward that'll enable you to charge your fire by holding down the Y, A, or right shoulder buttons and then you let go to fire.  The stronger your ship the faster the "charge" gauge fills up, so make sure not to be in the enemy crossfire when you plan on using the most powerful blast in the earlier stages as it fills up slowly then.

Those are balls alright; S Balls!
HyperZone's music was composed by none other than Jun Ishikawa; whose other credits comprise of New Ghostbusters II, Jumbo Ozaki no Hole in OneCard Master: Seal of Rimsalia (Arcana), Alcahest, and the majority of the Kirby games.  Any time that name appears in a HAL soundtrack you know your ears are in for a treat, for it's one of the highlights of the package (especially with that trademark Ishikawa touch).  =)  The songs are very well-composed and really augment a sense of atmosphere in each of the eight various stages, and all the songs are very engaging to listen to.  The title theme, for one, really gets you pumped up for what's to come and does a great job at setting the tone for the futuristic endeavor you're about to partake in.

Sooo much foliage  =)
Other good songs that come to mind are the Material Factory stage (third in the Super Famicom edition) which has got a great build-up going for it before seguing into a nice finish, the fourth stage's theme is a bit woozy-sounding but it gets the job done well, the fifth stage's theme sounds exotic and light, and the Bio Plant theme is frenetically dark and fast-paced.  The titular final theme in the Hyper Zone is so inspiring and epic in terms of sound that it's one of my favorite songs; unfortunately losing a life means the background music starts over again (awww) which means if you want to listen to the whole theme in-game you must stay alive.  The boss themes are good, and the ending credits theme is well-earned after the final fight has been conquered.  =)

Flame on!
The biggest selling point for HyperZone during its initial release was the Mode 7 rotating and scaling capabilities that the console was becoming known for, which is put to great effect throughout the whole experience.  When it comes to '90s video games the visuals hold up when it comes to exclusively 2D fare because they're designed, and because the Mode 7 was an early form of 3D it tends to become dated in places if it's used extensively (half of the stages to Konami's Axelay to name one example), but in the case of this game they're really dazzling to behold as your ship flies at high speeds shooting at enemies that are coming from far ahead of you (or in some cases behind you).  =)  The scaling in the start of each stage is seamless as the camera gradually centers on the ship you're flying (going from small zoomed-out to normal-sized when the camera becomes fixed) and as it flies off to the distance after the defeat of the boss in the end of each stage.

See, unlike Nintendo of America's representative
during the start of the '90s I actually like color as
opposed to just two boring hues of purple  -_-
The areas, despite the non-changing third-person perspective, are well-designed and each stage presents differing design aesthetics that it makes them stand out.  The Material Factory stage is rainbow-colored with sometimes flashing blocks with a very fitting Super Famicom button boss (not so in the Western conversion, but more on that shortly), the fourth stage has got pleasant shades of green with green worm-monsters or plant-themed enemies, and the water effects during the fifth stage are so relaxing and exhilarating to look at; Hyper Zone's look and feel is sublimely mesmerizing to look at despite its simplicity that it actually ranks as the best-looking stage in the game for me (but the less said about Bio Plant's constantly fading on and off lights that are enough to elicit epileptic seizures to some, the better).
Best game ever, in my opinion!  ^~^
Speaking of the Super Famicom's colorful buttons, during the Bloody Mary battle in Quintet's 1995 Magnum Opus Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma (another game that utilizes Mode 7 magnificently, if only for its Underworld and Overworld segments aaaand a couple special occasions) there are four little orbs that surround her that sometimes come after you which have the same clockwise order red-yellow-green-blue no matter the rotation (just like the Super Famibuttons).  Coincidence or purely intentional?  You make the call!  =D
 
Fire salamander looks menacingly at you
The varying ships' designs and their varying poses are well-designed (I also loved how all of them had different HUD designs and warning messages for being low on health); and the bosses that you face (particularly as they scale towards and away from you) look great and are imposing in their own way.  The fire salamander and the water salamander in the second and fifth stages respectively are eerie to look at (particularly when their faces are up close) but they do scale in and out beautifully, there is a meatball-like brain worm boss which looks grotesque but sometimes causes flicker to your ship if it's close, and the design of the final boss in the Hyper Zone stage is so ominous in stature and scope, but it's nice to know that a certain Stanley Kubrick flick served as inspiration for it.

Upgrading to a superior ship  =)
I remember first hearing about this game on FlyingOmelette's website over a decade ago when I read her review of it, and I do recall the idea of Space Harrier combined with F-Zero to be enticing (even though I wouldn't play the latter and the Genesis sequel to the former Space Harrier II on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console until 2007) and since I started my Nintendo 16-bit collection after one of my cousins loaned me his SNES console two days shy of 2009 I have sometimes considered wanting to try HyperZone, but I didn't want to choose the NTSC edition on account that I looked up on FlyingOmelette's shrine dedicated to the game and its page on The Cutting Room Floor that for the American version the Old Capital and Material Factory stages were flipped between regions (so Old was now the third stage instead of the first one and Material was now the first one as opposed to the third stage) with the same bosses regardless of whether it made sense in the context of the environment or not.  Why would HAL of America do that?  I mean, yeah, I prefer the Material Factory's colorful vibe and setting as well as its theme more than the plain-looking Old Capital; but really, that's incentive enough for them to change the order of the stages?  That's rather childish, don't you think?  o_O

Yeah, this isn't going to give gamers with sensitive
eyes epilepsy at all, thanks a lot, HAL!  =P
So this year I asked for the Super Famicom version of HyperZone as one of my gifts for my 25th birthday (April 5th) this year so that I would experience it as it was originally meant to be presented, but I got it as a belated gift as it arrived six days after the fact.  Definitely worth some years of curiosity now that I got a chance to play it for myself; as a showcase for the system's Mode 7 prowess it's absolutely fantastic and the differing ships' power level/HUDs/warning messages really keep things on the fresh side (during the first loop, anyway) while it lasts.
Not to give anything away but HyperZone's template would serve as an influence to a brief solitary moment in a couple post-2000 Kirby games; plus it would pave the way for Argonaut Software's Star Fox on the Nintendo 16-bit (which I have still yet to catch up with).  Speaking of Kirby,...
you know, I was wondering why a couple levels in Kirby's Dream Land 2 and 3 were named "Grass Land" and "Ripple Field",...
those were the names of HyperZone's fourth and fifth stages respectively.
Also, it must be real gratifying for today's game to have the final level in Kirby's Dream Land 3 named after it six years later.  =)  You can't help but respect nods to previous games like that, it shows that they care.

Midarmas ahead
That said, HyperZone has got an easy difficulty when all is said and done (though the final boss might take a few tries) and is ultimately a very short game.  The thing when it comes to rail-shooters like these is that you need quick reflexes in order to avoid incoming enemy fire, because it can be so easy to not see it coming if you're not aware; so considerable ship maneuvering is a must in order to prolong survival.  Also there to prolong your survival are the healing strips here and there (except the final stage) and enemy/path memorization.  After you defeat the final boss in the final stage Hyper Zone you have a choice to start the loop again by pressing Start at the Halken logo after the end of the credits but with the most powerful ship at your disposal which can alleviate obstacles quickly thanks to the fastest-charging firepower; once you lose all your lives however it's over for there is only one continue.  At least I can actually reach the end of this game unlike Taito's horizontal shoot'em up Darius Twin where I can play through the most of it but wind up struggling in the end on account that it too only has one continue; but, you know, apples and oranges.

Sentient plant life wants to destroy you
Another difficulty setting would've helped it overall as opposed to simply the option to reverse your movement controls if you wanted to try something outside of normal.  I'm the kind of gamer who plays games to have fun rather than play for score, although I do see the appeal of trying to see how high you can score while you last (and it can be exhilarating sometimes); too bad HAL neglected to include a high score card which kinda makes the score system a moot point, really--but like arcade games that take thirty minutes at least (despite its console-exclusiveness this is really an arcade game) to beat I suppose such things are mandatory.  Like some early Nintendo 16-bit tech demoes HyperZone is really more of a style over substance kind of game where it has got more style than it does substance (there's no plot in-game, only in the manual and the cover, nor is there an ending resolution); but at least it qualifies as a game (only barely) unlike Kemco-Seika's heavily derided Nintendo 16-bit port of Infogrames' Drakkhen where it succeeded more as a tech demo than it did as a game.  I do think HyperZone is fun to play once in awhile, but honestly it's more preferable to play it in short bursts than through long sittings.

To boldly fly where no ship has flown before
If you wish to experience a Nintendo 16-bit title with all its Mode 7 glory this isn't a bad game to play, though there are better titles to choose from.  If you're looking for challenge from this game don't expect too much of it, but if you're searching for a game with an easygoing nature then HyperZone will deliver in that regard.  If you're a score attack kind of gamer it is cool to see how high you can score depending on how long you last, though it's not going to be recorded; if you just want to have some non-demanding fun in brief spurts, I'd say give it a go.  HyperZone may not be HAL's finest achievement, but on its own terms it's not bad; however as a visual tech demo it succeeds with flying colors.  =)

My Personal Score: 6.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. Yeah, I wanted an excuse to reference Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma again.  I mean, taking into account the outstanding quality of that flawless A-RPG, who wouldn't?  =)
 
P.S. 2 Man, I still need to review Brandish, Castlevania: Dracula X, Final Fight 2, and Pop'n TwinBee before 2017 arrives, and there's only three months of 2016 left.  I don't know if I can pull it off at this point, but I want to try.  ={
 
P.S. 3 My current high score: 678220
 
Happy 25th Anniversary, HyperZone!!  =)
 
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great day, take care!  =)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Brain Lord (SFC/SNES) Review

SNES Cart Received: December 5th, 2009 / SFC Cart Received: March 10th, 2016
Written: July 21st-24th, 2016
Year: 1994 | Developed by: Produce and Opus
Published by: Enix | ( [|O|] )

Disclaimer: Spoilers
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  Well, it's finally time!  =)  I mentioned it numerous times over the years in my StarBlog, people who don't own an SFC or SNES console are probably curious what I'm talking about, so it is with great privilege to talk cover a game that has been a long time coming: the Enix-published Brain Lord, developed by Produce (their second RPG on the Nintendo 16-bit console after Elnard, which Americans will recognize as The 7th Saga) and Opus which saw a release in Japan on January 1994 and got followed up by an NTSC edition that October.  And since I got to experience both versions I feel that now I'm ready to talk about it and go all out.  So, what's it like?

A young boy named Remeer saw his father leave in search for the Tower of Light to find the dragon (since dragons have become as of late an endangered species), but not before he's told that Remeer is the last remaining member of the Dragon Warriors.  Should the father not succeed in finding it he wants his only son to carry on his legacy; Remeer's father never came back and was never seen again.
Years pass and Remeer is now a young adult, who at Arcs was reminiscing his last moments with his father when he overheard a conversation between four adventurers--warrior Rein, teenaged female bounty hunter Kashian, witch Ferris, and spiritual guru Barness--about the Tower of Light located Northeast of Arcs, the very thing his father searched for long ago.  Wanting to know what happened to his father, Remeer decides to journey with the other four to look for answers.  But upon entering the Tower they find that it has been overrun with monsters and upon reaching the apex discover that the dragon is nowhere to be seen.  It's there that an impending plaque foretells that the nefarious Demon King will return to conquer the whole world once said dragon becomes weak.

Cyclopic hunchbacks, oh no!
Unlike Elnard/The 7th Saga whereas that game was a turn-based RPG, Brain Lord is a more action-oriented RPG.  As Remeer you can roam around in all eight directions; the default controls (lest you wish to change them in "Key" section of the Config setting in the menu) are B to use your current weapon (sword, bow, axe, boomerang, mace), holding Y to hold out your shield to defend yourself (or change facing position without moving), and with the A button you can jump (a nice feature you could also accomplish in fellow top-down A-RPGs Lagoon, The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang, Brandish, and Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma); how high or low you jump depends on how hard or lightly you press it.  A bit backwards, sure, but after awhile of playing it they do become second nature.

... So did Bo turn to the dark side and recruit others
into joining him to fight alongside evil?  =/  That's
out of character for him, no?
Throughout the game you will also rely on conjuring magic once in awhile, and in order to use it just hold down the B button until the gauge is full and then let go to unleash it; once you have more than one spell just toggle with either shoulder buttons to select it.  What makes Brain Lord stand apart from other games in the A-RPG genre (namely for this console) is its menu accessed with the Start button: it is like the equivalent of a pulldown menu, which you never really see in Nintendo 16-bit A-RPGs.  At times it's because of this that this doesn't feel like an SFC/SNES game (among others).  Regardless, the menu has five settings: Items, Magic, Configuration, Status, and Return in that order.

Platforming
The Items setting comprises of three pages (each carrying up to sixteen items), and they not only include items (duh) but also equipment.  As was the case in Gaia Gensōki (Illusion of Gaia) if you have more than one of the same item it'll be treated as its own separate item, which means it takes up space but at least here you can carry thrice more then you could in Quintet's A-RPG.  You can only save your progress in one of two save files either at an inn or in front of a big statue in any floor of any dungeon; and if you lose all your health (without the Reviving Mirror equipped) you'll be brought back to your last saving point at the expense of half of your current Gold currency ('course I played Brain Lord so much to the point of mastering it that I don't have to worry about that happening once).  So what's the Return setting about?  Well there are plenty of rooms that involve puzzle-solving, and should you not have done it correctly you can return to how the room was when you first entered it and get a chance to start the puzzle-solving over.  Convenient!  =)

If not for Pazun you would not see crap here
On your adventure you'll find and be accompanied by jade fairies who'll double a specific stat of yours (i.e. Sarah doubles strength, Golem doubles defense) or help you in one way or another (i.e. Pazun lights up very dark rooms, Ason gradually heals you one by one); only two may be used at a time, so if you had more than two jade fairies in your inventory and wanted to use another one you'd have to unselect the fairy you don't want to use for the time being and then select another one to summon that one.  The defeat of certain enemies will cause them to leave behind things like a single HP orb for Remeer, a particular item for use, or a blue XP orb for the jade fairies; should they get enough XP orbs they will level up and greatly expand their power in your favor.  Remeer doesn't exactly level up per se but his stats do increase should you find and consume the Source of Power, Drop of Protect, and the Heart item to augment your health capacity by one (and replenish it all); but in order to do that you must select it on the menu the moment you find it and use it (why couldn't it happen the moment you found it automatically?).

Ewwww  X{
Along with the pulldown menu the soundtrack is unusual for a Nintendo 16-bit A-RPG and doesn't really sound like something you'd normally hear on the console, but either way Brain Lord's soundtrack is really good.  =)  Composed by Masanao Akahori of Opus (who also worked on Ranma 1/2: Chōnai Gekitō Hen, Exhaust Heat/F1 ROC: Race of Champions, SETA's Nosferatu, and Nekketsu Tairiku: Burning Heroes), the sound samples are interesting as it vies for a flavorful of energetic (and at times heavy) rock.  I feel it does a good job at effectively elevating a sense of atmosphere in this world's respective areas and matches the appropriate tone during their respective moments.  It's actually one of the better elements of the game altogether, and for this RPG in particular it works well.

Such a pleasant little town this is  =)
There is a nice little theme that plays the moment Remeer snaps back to reality after daydreaming about his last moment with his father as a child that is so good I'm sad it only plays once until you either go up the stairs in the Arcs inn or step out of said inn the first time; same for the post-credits theme that is bittersweet.  =(  Arcs' theme is okay but the town of Toronto has got an extravagantly pleasing and welcoming theme going for it (until something happens to it near the end).  Some of the path themes leading to the dungeons are well-done and deserve mention: like the mountainous path leading to Droog Cavern and the somber-sounding desert theme taking you to the Ice Castle (one of my favorite songs in the game, you'll only hear it once).

Lava lava, everywhere
The Tower of Light has got a mysterious yet rock-induced theme that permeates throughout it, the Ice Castle theme is fittingly chilly (in terms of composition) and so playful it's enjoyably catchy to listen to, but the best song in the entire game for me plays in the Platinum Shrine in the end on account of how epic and urgently do-or-die it sounds.  =)  There are two boss themes in the game: the first one is rock-fueled and the second one is slower themed, and they're both serviceable for what they are; finally the credits theme, while sad at times, is well-earned after your quest is over with.  There is also a very uplifting and jovial theme that sounds like something lifted from Ys, preferably would've fit in the attract mode perfectly, but unfortunately something in the code prevented it from actually playing in the game in both the Japanese and American editions of Brain Lord (so the attract mode as a result is silent); that's too bad, because it's a really good song.  =(  The sound effects are decent; each enemy has their own distinct sounds when they're hit as well as the various weapons you use, and the sound for when you acquire vital items is nice (and when Remeer takes damage he sounds like a bubble), but I could've done without the constant beeping sound any time you're dangerously low on health--would've been better had it been done every two seconds like in Ancient's Beyond Oasis but better to play it every other second in here then every half second like in Neutopia (a trend which unfortunately The Legend of Zelda started, thanks a lot Nintendo).

Tetujin?!?  Oh no, it's The 7th Saga all over again,
AAAAAHHHH!!!!!!!  D8
Visually Brain Lord is a decent-looking game, that while nothing special does have some good sights going for it.  Two of the paths have some clouds' shadows gliding above you, and the desert's scorching heat wave is like a series of sandy moving wavelets it's mesmerizing.  =)  The town of Toronto is filled with life with the green grass and Abell Civilization's interior is so advanced in terms of machinery and technology, and a handful of rooms are so dark (and I mean dark) that the light fairy jade Pazun does a good job of providing a small light around you (even brighter the more levels it gains), especially a couple of Droog Cavern's rock-filled rooms.

Gap hopping along
The Ice Castle's halls are icy cold with ice floors and nice reflections of the walls in the upper sections of the rooms, with some occasional icy mist that layers over enemies but not Remeer (that's annoying inconsistency).  The Platinum Shrine is as its name implies, full of elegantly-patterned platinum rooms with some decrepit floors; the bosses are big and at times rather grotesque--the first boss in particular is such a disgustingly detailed cockroach bug that is huge who becomes red with each passing blow.  The other bosses are huge as well, but what really steals the show in this regard is the Demon King himself; he is a pure monstrosity in every sense of the word it's a bit horrifying to say the least.
Even moreso as he literally deteriorates and becomes worse with each coming phase.  This is the first phase, I'll leave the rest a surprise for you.

Damn gravity pulling balls, they'll not get me yet
Remeer is a decently designed protagonist whose walking animation is somewhat choppy but is made up for his various attacking and jumping animations which are fluid by comparison.  What I appreciate the most about him (despite only facing four directions even though he can go in all eight directions) is the fact that no matter where he turns his weapon and shield stay in their proper place.  =D  None of that ambidextrous left/right sprite being copy-pasted bullcrap excuse, this is welcome.  Not just him, but certain enemies (wolf bowmen, for instance) and cane-carrying NPCs actually look different facing left than when facing right.  Among the enemy roster you'll face cyclopic hunchbacks, wolf bowmen, electric jellyfish(?), laser-shooting robots, savage knife men, and even skeletal warriors who crumble into skull and bones when hit until they're dead.  Produce's sense of detail is also nice as when Remeer hacks a table or counter actual hack marks are on it, little details like those make the game for me.  =)

Most readers might only be familiar with the American edition of Brain Lord, but having played both versions I can gladly share the differences between them!  =D  Yay!!!
We'll start with the most immediate alteration: Remeer's hair color.  While in the localized SNES edition his hair was auburn his in-game hair color in the original Super Famicom edition was blue (even though in the concept art and SFC cart and box his hair is brown with a blue cap).  I'm not sure why this change was made; I mean it's not like there are many SNES RPGs in America with blue-haired protagonists... that is, unless you count Blazer from SoulBlazer, Ryu from Breath of Fire and what is in my opinion its highly overrated sequel Breath of Fire II, or Varik from Brandish=/
Although considering Japanese Remeer's color palette he may as well be Latok Kart from Xak: The Art of Visual Stage, the first in what is strictly a Japan-only series.  But either way Remeer looked a lot more interesting with blue hair than he did with auburn in America which made him look generic by comparison.

I'm normally wary when it comes to buying another version of a game I already own and only go through with it if there are enough changes between versions to warrant comparing the two.  Luckily for me Remeer's hair color was not the only thing that was changed, as there were other differences as well.
In the city of Toronto is a house resided by three sorceresses that has a Star of David on top which was removed in America because Nintendo's division there didn't want any overt signs of religion (such as Christianity and Judaism) so as to avoid possibly offending anyone.  This probably would've remained intact had it come out after the ESRB rating system came out; like Brandish and Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals (both post-ESRB SNES releases).
In the Super Famicom edition when you choose the Config setting in the menu there are three options: the first two being message speed and key configuration, but the third one is a mystery to me.  =\  I actually tried selecting it a few times on my first playthrough of the SFC edition but as far as I could tell it didn't seem to do anything.  Someone at Enix of America must've realized this so it was taken out in the SNES version entirely.
At the bottommost floor of the Ice Castle is the most surprising change of them all: Ramus' room.  When you enter it in the American version the floor is all slippery ice with four holes you must be careful not to fall in lest you fall back to the previous floor; but in the Japanese version the floor is covered with ice with a straight line of normal floor dividing it and look: no holes!  =O  Someone must've thought the original version of the battle was too easy so they decided to alter it for the localized edition.
Brain Lord's translation is not an entirely accurate one (at least not all the way), as several moments of dialogue were fumbled in the West (one especially early on).
Some moments do not coalesce with the Japanese edition, like that one plaque telling you how many steps you had to take behind you to reach a significant room (after falling) in the Abell Ruins (three in the Japanese version, five in the American one; the former being more accurate).
Comparing the two there are moments that are word for word like the other version (at least I presume that to be the case); I'm surprised the American version remembered to include periods given that the kanji-driven original didn't have any to speak of.  Given the lack of resources then compared to what we have today I do see where they were going or were trying to say, but while it's not good it does have its genuinely funny moments (which I'll get to later).
Unfortunately, one plaque next to a hotel room in Toronto turned up literally nothing when trying to read it.  Since I got to this part for the first time in 2010 I had wondered if the Japanese edition actually had words attached to that plaque; I was disappointed to find that it was the exact same case there.  =(  What a waste.  But, better Robert L. Jerauld-related translation than in Quintet and Ancient's Robotrek, better translated than Human Entertainment's The Firemen (I'll get to that one day), and certainly better translated than Breath of Fire II, right (seriously, what in God's name happened there,... Capcom?)?
In Japan the Enix logo was green, but when it came to American Enix releases the logo was changed to purple...
just like the colorful Super Famicom controller buttons were changed to two boring hues of purple for the American SNES controller (and only the American controller).  o_O  Did early '90s America have a purple fetish of some sort?
But chief among the notable changes in terms of gameplay is weapons' potency: the American version's weapons were reduced by half when in native Japan they had double the power.  If this is a sign that the Japanese version is easier than the American version, you'd be correct.

Read the left plaque first
But aside from those changes the game is on par in terms of structure and content.  This A-RPG has got a heavy emphasis on puzzle-solving which makes up for some of its lesser elements which I'll detail shortly.  In the majority of rooms (except the Droog Caverns which is the most simple and straightforward of all the dungeons) there are a series of plaques you have to read which will either provide a hint or tell you straight what you have to do.  Some puzzles are simplistic (i.e. step on the switches in clockwise order) while others might be slightly more subtle and vague (i.e. three numbers: added together equals 10, but multiplied together equals 30).  I really like the variety of puzzle plaques that you read up upon as it seems that Produce took a lot of time to think up all these puzzles and for you to rely on common sense to solve them (except for a handful set up by Ramus in the most sadistic of places in the Ice Castle, near a small space after pushing a ball bouncing off of walls forever and one on top of spikes).  At least I surmise that's why it's called Brain Lord in the first place otherwise the title makes no sense.

Pushing ahead
But the puzzles don't just rely on stepping on switches in a specific order, but sometimes they have to all be pressed simultaneously by pushing balls and rocks on them in order to open a switch-reliant door (or in some cases have the sentient red steel balls follow you to said switch).  With the X-Ray Glasses that Kashian gives you in the Tower of Light you will see the entire layout of the floor you're currently in and where you are, and often times in order to get to certain rooms you'll need a key which sometimes rely on backtracking.  If you feel very comfortable backtracking all the way back on foot it is possible but if you want to take the easy way out you can always use a Warp Gate to take you to any save spot, and when stocking up on items you'd better be careful not to go overboard because you can only have up to forty-eight items at your disposal.  The majority of puzzles I actually figured out on my own (granted the first time I played it some took me awhile to truly figure out after a lot of trial and error) except for two for which I relied on outside help.
The first one took place at Abell Ruins where the plaque instructed me about a puzzle hidden in a "pillar".  On December 2009 this stumped me for the next few months, until I think it was on NintendoLife that I brought it up and one of the users (Mickeymac if I recall correctly, thank you if that was you) said that I had to push a wall all the way to the right.  Um, that's not a pillar.
See that thing that wisp is hovering over?  That's a pillar!  It even says so on two separate occasions in the original Breath of Fire.  I don't know what universe you live in to confuse walls for pillars, but these two architectures are not interchangeable.  Then again, the way that wall not so subtly is unattached to the upper wall should've tipped me off in retrospect; well that's several months' worth of being lost and confused that I'll never get back.  -_-
The next and final puzzle to truly stump me to the point of seeking outside help (namely GameFAQs) was in a room inside the Ice Castle: this one in particular has got three switches with the plaque telling me that the key is "on the Control Pad"?  What, you mean this Control Pad which lets you move?  Imagine my shock at how simple the solution was: step on all three switches, walk up to the door, and press the X button to open it.  O.O  How was I supposed to know that??  Never mind that you never really use the X button until this point, but this is just too vague for its own good (even for me)!  At least with the Abell Ruins you could blame that on poor translation, I can't imagine anyone figuring this Ice Castle puzzle by themselves unless they somehow did it by accident.

God, not this room!  X(
This leads me to Brain Lord's sense of difficulty: in that there really isn't much of one throughout the game surprisingly.  Now don't get me wrong, the first time you play this game it'll seem difficult because you don't know what to do or what to expect, but after one or more replays you begin to realize that its difficulty level is a bit on the low side, especially the Japanese version.  The enemies are easy to combat, the boss fights are manageable to fight even as you're well-prepared, and the rooms despite their varying size and complexity are extremely navigable.  This rings especially true for two different series of rooms that will be frustrating at first but with enough perseverance can be gotten through: the Droog Caverns has a couple dark rooms full of rocks that'll sometimes move and will always be laid out in random order no matter how many times you reset it (sometimes it'll lead to a dead end), and then there's the few rooms in the Platinum Shrine that are so pitch black that not even Pazun can light them up as you must feel your way through in order to reach a door or stairs (always a good idea to double check your X-Ray Glasses to see your current location) plus you cannot warp from one of these rooms either.

Fending off against sandworms in the desert
Another cause for it to be easy are the jade fairies by your side, particularly when they've leveled up plenty of times.  The Power Jade Sarah greatly increases your strength and is a good idea to keep around the whole time, even if it reduces the difficulty somewhat (even when you do find Sources of Power).  The Life Jade Ason also alleviates some stress as she gradually replenishes your health one health at a time, but that's if you want to keep her by your side all the way.  Reviving Mirrors are good to equip in the event that you lose all your health (I never really need them myself, but better safe than sorry), for should that happen you'll spring right back up with all your health full again.  And anytime you find new stuff to equip it's always best to sell the old equipment to not only make space for your Items inventory but also to buy some vital stuff at a shop in case you really need it (namely health).

On the way to Toronto facing knife-wielding savages
Naturally when it comes to locked doors you need a key to open it, but in Brain Lord's case all of them have their own personal description attached to them ("All keys are beautiful", "Tip points to the South-Southeast", "It is shaped like a decaying dragon", et al) and they are only used for specific doors (if you try to use it on a door it doesn't belong to it won't work, so search for the door it does fit in).  On one hand it does make exploring these dungeons somewhat simpler but on the other hand it makes things easier in that the keys are door-specific and not fit on all doors.

Giant skeletons
One of the problems this game suffers from is its egregious amounts of graphic slowdown, for a lot of the time it happens for no reason as it doesn't appear to become hectic onscreen.  Considering it's only 12 MegaBits I'm wondering if it's attributed to the fairy jade companions that accompany you, Remeer's shield, when in a dark room, or a combination of all three sometimes (especially as an exploding head enemy is on the verge of blowing up in Droog Cavern slowly to a pulp)?  But either way the graphic slowdown is part of the reason it's easy when it does happen... easier that is.  This bothered me so much in the American version of Brain Lord that I honestly hoped there would be less of this in its original Japanese version: once again (like that blank plaque in a Toronto hotel), it's the exact same deal.  =(  Slowdown to this extent you could forgive in 1991 with games like Super R-Type and Super Earth Defense Force but not 1994 especially in an RPG.

Jumping over sword traps
When the game begins Remeer's father goes in search of the Tower of Light but he's never seen again; he's also never heard from again (and not just in general but by anyone, really) and this is an issue because this was what got Remeer into this situation to fill in his father's shoes should he not have succeeded.  One of the NPCs Roun explains how he went on an expedition to the Tower of Light with a companion where the companion went for the journey and Roun went in for greed, and after the latter escaped with his life he realized how wrong he was so he became a recluse of sorts.  This would imply that Remeer's father may been killed in the Tower of Light, but we don't know that for a fact--we don't even know his name!  Not one mention of Remeer's father's name is made ever, you may as well have taken the intro sequence out altogether and nothing much would've changed.

This I actually discovered very recently
Finally there's the biggest problem that Brain Lord suffers from the most regarding its sense of replay value: there is little to no sense of replay value.  =(  This is especially the case if you've got a big memory like I do, for the solutions will be the same (give or take some variations in a few of them), the bosses are the same, the enemies are the same, and overall it feels the same.  But in the event that it does have minimal replay value: in Toronto there is an arena where you could bet on monsters to fight monsters or even fight in the arena yourself; you have the choice to get a lot of fairy jade if you want but personally the majority of them are useless for I only rely on four (Sarah the Power Jade, Golem the Foundation Jade, Pazun the Light Jade, and Ason the Life Jade); same for the magic, you could buy as much as you want but again the majority of them I find no reason to use (I only stick with the ones I found or was given in the dungeons); and if you thought you found every room the first (few) time(s) you might be surprised to discover new places in the dungeons you haven't been to before (this year I discovered two secret stairs in the Tower of Light and one secret stairs in Abell Ruins).  But aside from those the replay value is not very high, so because of this I only come back to it once a year.  I've played this game so much that I could master it in one life.

PIGS!!!
Another reason there's little to no replay value in its favor is the fact this A-RPG is absolutely short and quite significantly small.  There are two towns, five dungeons, and four bosses in this game; the first time admittedly might take you a while to beat on account of the vague puzzle plaque's instructions (not to mention the dark rock-infested Droog Cavern rooms and the pitch black Platinum Shrine rooms) as well as where the keys should go; but after you've become familiar with the solution there is absolutely no problem and it is very surprising that it isn't a long venture especially when in its own right Brain Lord was a bit of fun despite its big shortcomings.  I think a little bit more length (and difficulty) would've helped exponentially but alas it wasn't meant to be.

Was that platinum statue always there?  ={
Since I started importing Super Famicom games four years ago and managed to play the SFC versions of some SNES titles I played (or vice versa) it really put things into perspective for me.  For my recent playthrough(s) I had to play both versions to provide further context and insight, but I didn't exactly play through one version and proceed to the next one; no, what I did was play through a dungeon in one version and then go through the same dungeon in another version and then go back and forth until I was finished with the game.  And let me tell you, by the time I finished both versions (one beat literally after I beat the other one) I was exhausted.  x-x  There's a reason I only play this game once a year, and to go through the same segments (albeit with varying weapons' potency) consecutively took a lot out of me.  I don't normally play a game side by side quite like this, but I hope I don't have to do it often (or again).

"I'll save you, Kashian!!!"
But on the bright side Brain Lord suffered a lot less in translation than Produce's Elnard did when converted to The 7th Saga in America.  In Elnard the difficulty was very balanced as all seven apprentices (including the one you've chosen to play as) actually felt leveled up and more powerful while Enix committed the ultimate crime of messing with the game's difficulty and structure for The 7th Saga by having only the six apprentices you're not controlling becoming more powerful as they level up but not you (thus making the apprentice battles even harder than they already are).  This was so bad that I sincerely hope the person behind that executive decision was fired, although the American version did have a superior color palette than the Japanese edition which is damning with faint praise because it does not excuse everything else (just like the comfortable control scheme in Smart Ball compared to the Japanese counterpart Jerry Boy does not excuse the removal of towns and story).  Localization in the early '90s MAKES, NO, SENSE!!!  >o<
Speaking of: given the ties to Produce some have prognosticated that the centenarian ruler King Lemele from Elnard/The 7th Saga is the same person as Remeer in Brain Lord.  And apparently from what I looked up in Produce's next turn-based fare Mystic Ark you could choose to play between a boy named Remeer or a girl named Ferris.  Originally Mystic Ark was to come out in America as The 7th Saga II but was permanently put on hold when Enix closed down its American division to escape the wrath of bankruptcy following financial troubles (along with other games such as Terranigma, the American version of Tenchi Sōzō; at least Europeans got to play the latter during its heyday)

Psychedelic wavy effects below you
I have a big fondness for Brain Lord<=)  It was my eighth game I ordered from eBay (the eighth SNES game I bought) and the last one I received in 2009 (I was eighteen) that December after Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday (my seventh that November), Hook (my sixth that September), SoulBlazer (my fifth that August), Arcana, Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose!, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys (my fourth, third, second that July), and Mr. Nutz (my first one that I got as a high school graduation gift that May, it will always have a place in my heart as the game that began my physical cart-collecting journey).  I recalled being curious about today's game in 2008 after looking up about it after I saw a recommendations list for RPGs on one website, and I was intrigued so I decided to go for it.  In 2009 I managed to play it up until I got lost on that one Abell Ruins plaque, which I wouldn't get past until sometime in 2010.  After getting past the Control Pad plaque in the Ice Castle I was genuinely surprised at how small the game was altogether.  But even so I enjoyed it for what it was and the various puzzle plaques really made the game for me, plus there's an odd charm about it despite an otherwise okay look to it.  =)

Skeleton warrior incoming
This March I got to experience Brain Lord as it was originally intended on the Super Famicom, and it really made a little bit of difference for me; and most recently I managed to beat it in about five hours, the shortest I've ever beaten this game.  While the difficulty may not have been all that different the weapons being twice as powerful than they were in the American edition did make the experience better as enemies and bosses took less hits to take down in the Japanese original than they did in the American counterpart; also Remeer with blue made a more lasting impression than when he had auburn hair.  While I wasn't 100% satisfied with the differences department (both versions still suffer from slowdown and that one plaque in Toronto's hotel literally had nothing to add in both) I was still glad I got to experience it as it should've been played and would rather replay it than the American version.
 >
Because of this Brain Lord joins (but just barely) the likes of Actraiser, Elnard, and Gaia Gensōki in that Japanese originals are superior to the inferior editions localized in America (ActRaiser, The 7th Saga, and Illusion of Gaia respectively).  =)

Complex at first, but simple when the solution has
been decided
While the translation is not good there are moments of wording and dialogue I thought were genuinely funny: some examples of them are "Missing Person Report - Name: Kashian, Age: 16, Hair: Brown, Eyes: Brown, Personality: Bad" (which Kashian posted in the Toronto inn), "Will not cave in... probably" (description for the second-most powerful helmet in the game), "This plaque has no meaning.  Heheheh!" (one of Ramus' prank plaques literally set above a bed of spikes), "What??  I've been sitting here this whole time!" (an NPC after being told that Ramus' monsters invaded Toronto), among others.  XD  And then there's one... I'm surprised resulted in this:
Boy, this game got real risqué all of a sudden; no wonder Europe never got to play this.  =P

Balls of steel
If you've ever been curious about Brain Lord it's about five to six hours short, and I daresay it could probably be beaten in less time.  If you have a penchant for puzzle-solving then this game will satisfy in that regard, but if you want to play something with length this game is not going to satisfy.  If you wish to play something of topnotch quality that has replay value there are other games you may be playing, but if you would like to play something fun there is plenty of fun in store (if you forgive its numerous shortcomings).  There are far better games in the genre you could be playing, but by the same token you could do a lot worse than Brain Lord=)

My Personal NTSC Brain Lord Score: 7.0/10
My Personal SFC Brain Lord Score: 7.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. You have no idea how relieved I am to get the "Fin" shot; it was a blink and you'll miss it moment.
 
P.S. 2 Enix of America's logo may have been purple, but at least it retained the native green color in the American release of Mischief Makers.  Heheh... why does that game have a following again?  >_>
 
P.S. 3 One day I'll try Mystic Ark, despite my initial reluctance in the past.
 
P.S. 4 I tried to review this game in 2011 but I had a hard time getting it done given the previous StarBlog format.

P.S. 5 Five down, four to go!
 
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great Summer, take care!
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"Well, I didn't have anything to do with it if that's what you're wondering!"  o~o
"Oh well, I guess I'll just have to fight in this guy's place."