Sunday, October 2, 2011

SoulBlazer (SNES) Review

AKA SoulBlader [JP]1992 Quintet/Enix

1/31/17 Update: Check out my updated thoughts on the game here =D
Before I start this review, I'd just to say something. Several months ago someone requested that I review this game in my Review Requests page. Seeing as I feel very highly for this game, I told said user that I would be happy to review SoulBlazer. Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. Reviewing video games (or anything for that matter) is not as easy as it looks, folks. It takes a long time to compose a well-written review, or even a decent review. This game was hard for me to review, because I was having a hard time talking about a certain aspect of the game. But now that I've gotten myself out of that situation (thanks to a bit of time writing a rough draft), I'm finally ready to share my thoughts. If you're still around and are reading this, __ender__, I apologize for not having fulfilled your request until now.

Four years ago, I downloaded ActRaiser on the Virtual Console, a hybrid title that combined both platforming and micromanagement elements, developed by Quintet and published by Enix. I enjoyed that game a lot, and since then I've been hoping that the other games from the same developers would eventually be released on the Virtual Console--but it never happened. I first heard of this game on FlyingOmelette's website in her old Top 100 Favorite Video Games list (#77), and the few reviews I've read of it online really gave me a good impression. I remember the day I got the game in the mail, a few days after I ordered it from eBay. The weather was hot at that time during the last month of the summer in '09. My dad and I (I was still new to eBay at the time) paid a lot of money to buy SoulBlazer from eBay, even though after that I realized I could've paid for a copy that wasn't as expensive. But you know what? It was completely worth it!

King Magridd was the ruler of the Freil Empire. Some people thought he was a fairly good monarch; others, however, thought that he was ruled by greed. King Magridd, in order to find a way to become wealthier than he already is, brought acclaimed inventor Dr. Leo to his castle. He was ordered to make a machine to summon Deathtoll, the king of evil. King Magridd and Deathtoll made a deal: for every living creature that the king would hand to Deathtoll, he would be paid a gold gem for each one. However, that would prove to be the king's own undoing, as one by one all creatures began to vanish from the face of the Earth, including King Magridd himself, until the entire globe was empty. A couple of souls were watching all this happen from the heavens: you and the Master. The Master willingly gives King Magridd a second chance, and he asks you (Blazer, or whatever you wish to call yourself) to go down to Earth and restore the world. As serious as this may sound, it's a ctually a very lighthearted plot, with lighthearted characters and dialogue, and it's quite appealing.

SoulBlazer is a topdown action-oriented RPG. In it you control a soul in human form who must save the living creatures and defeat the evil monsters. You'll bout with the monsters by swinging your sword, and sometimes you'll be using magic against them (most preferably if they're out of reach or if an enemy group overwhlems you). Each time you vanquish a monster, they'll leave behind a gold gem, which is the source of magic points. Sometimes a monster will leave behind a small gold gem (1MP), other times a medium-sized gem (5 MP), and certain times a huge gem (10 MP). Throughout the game you will obtain different sorts of magic, and how much gold it uses up is largely dependable on what type of magic attack it is, so use it sparingly. Any time you find a new, more powerful sword or armor, it's customary to equip it, otherwise it will not work. The thing about swords is you must reach a certain level in order to equip it, while the armor you can don regardless of what level you're on. Once you level up, not only does your health increase by two notches, but your offense and defense states will augment themselves by a bit as well. In the battlefields the monsters emerge from monster lairs, and once you do away with the last monster from that lair, it's ready to be stepped on. By stepping on it, any of the following will happen: a previously blocked path will open up, certain objects will appear (a treasure chest, a monster lair, or a jewel fairy), or a creature will be released in the safe area. When you approach a blue jewel, a fairy will pop out. Most of the time she'll grant you lots of experience points (but rarely enough to level up in front of her), but a few times she'll give you some advice or a special item. In each of the areas you visit (and revisit), there are two battlefield areas and one safe area. The primary battlefield is when the actions gets started, and the secondary battlefield is always the one where the boss awaits your arrival in the end. Any time you swing your sword it's always diagonally, a detail which you can take advantage of in certain situations; say if the very tip of the blade touches an enemy when you're at a higher level, that enemy will lose lots of damage in no time. You can also do the crabwalk by holding down either the L or R shoulder buttons, with the sword placed in the stationary lunge position in front of you no matter which way you walk while holding it in. but might and magic isn't the only key, as some times you will be using secondary items for a short time that will help in certain situations (like the thunder ring you can use whenever you're near a pyramid in the rainy island of Blester so the Master can strike down on enemies that are near, or the mushroom shoes which prevent you from sliding on the ice in the Mountain of Lost Souls). The most vital secondary item you use will be the dream rod, which you can place on creatures that are sleeping in order to enter their dreams. In the dreams, the creature in question will be there, and in some cases there are empty monster lairs to step on so the path will be opned for when you revisit the area after you leave the dream. If you wish to know how many monster lairs have not been cleared yet, you can always pause the game in order to find out. The gameplay is fun, solid, and easy to get into, even if the movement is limited to just four directions. I'm not quite sure why, but the way the item inventory is set up vaguely reminds me of how the item inventory is set up in the Ys series of games.

The game's soundtrack is a delight to listen to, and one I personally enjoy. Comprised of a mix between symphony and brass throughout, the songs in the game blend in with the atmosphere, and they work so well. Like, for example: any time you step in a village or place that has been deprived of life, or if the leader has not been released yet, a song will play that will make you feel like you're in a desolate area. Considering the condition at that time, the music's pretty spot-on. But never mind that, the rest of the songs in SoulBlazer are pretty darn good, too. The shrine theme from GreenWood is deep and mystical; the underwater theme of St. Elles' Seabed is gently relaxing; the music that plays when you're inside Dr. Leo's painting and model towns sounds weird and bizarre, yet works so well; and Magridd Castle's music has such a catchy beat. Some of the other music in the game is catchy as well. The Master's Temple theme is cool, and what's cool is how the first few seconds of it sounds similiar to Johann Sebastian Bach's "Tocatta & Fugue in D Minor". Some of my favorite songs are the dream sequence theme, the theme that plays in the Mountain of Lost Souls, and the music that plays during the the encounter with Deathtoll. The final battle theme is epic-sounding and really charges you up, and I like how atmospheric and catchy the music for the Mountain of Lost Souls is. The dream theme is spellbinding, in a way, in that it really sounds like you're inside a dream, and it's something I could listen to for a long time and never get bored of. Many of the sound effects in SoulBlazer were lifted from the previous Quintet game ActRaiser, and they sound good. I like the different magic sounds, the explosion sound for when a guardian has been defeated, and the clanging sound for when you attack metallic enemies with a weak sword is cool.

While the visuals may not blow anyone's mind, I think they're nicely done. Its colors are easy on the eyes, and locations are detailed in such a way that it makes them stand out. Plus, they remind me a bit of the first ActRaiser's visuals, due to how similar the style is. I like how the Master's Temple has a different color scheme each time you're in a different area. Any time you first step in a safe area, it's all desolate and deprived, but the further you seal the monster lairs, the areas will become more open and the decor will get more exciting. And those are just the safe areas. The battlefield areas are nice, too. I like the underwater effects in St. Elles, and I like how green the village of GreenWood is. I like how wacky the inside of Dr. Leo's painting is, and I like how the Fire Shrine consistently glows from all the lava around it. When you're sucked in either of Dr. Leo's model towns, it's pretty cool, for various reasons. It's got that Gulliver's Travels feel which I find really cool, and I think those areas were made to pay homage to ActRaiser's simulation acts. The Mountain of Lost Souls is a really great snow area, and I love how in one moment there are icy stalactites in the foreground, and in another you see an aurora borealis in the sky which is pretty impressive to look at. The animation the characters and enemies display are decent, and I think it's great how Blazer's sprites and animation actually differ when facing the left or the right. The enemy roster comprises of such various creatures such as bats, demons, slimes, yeti, stingrays, warlocks, ghosts, et al. One such enemy type that comes to mind is the miniaturized soldiers in Dr. Leo's modell towns. On one hand, I find it funny that bite-sized archers, horseback riders, and swordsmen are trying to take you, someone who's gigantic compared to them, down. On the other hand, it does almost feel like an extension of ActRaiser's simulation acts. Taking a closer look at the tiny archer when he's facing south, doesn't he look a little like Kamil Dowonna from The 7th Saga? He does to me, after having experienced Produce's aforementioned RPG a few months ago. The bosses are also huge and nicely detailed; some of the ones you'll fighting will be totem heads each representing the shrines of GreenWood, a humongous skull, and a deadly tin robot.

If there's one word to sum up SoulBlazer's difficulty, it would be "easy". And the type of easy I'm talking aboout is the one where the game's challenge gradually rises just enough without getting to the point of being frustrating or unmanageable. This is the type of easy I like. The more you progress in the game, the stronger the enemies will become, and the harder the areas will become, little by little. The enemies will not go out the same way out of the monster lair all the time. Sometimes enemies will pop out one by one, other times they may come out all at once, or certain other times they may already be out, ready to strike at you. There will be enemies that cannot be slain unless you find a certain sword (e.g. the Zantetsu Sword for the metal-bound enemies), so you'll have to heem them no mind until that moment comes. This game is also nonlinear, so you can return to the area whenever you want even after you've beaten it. Each sword and armor, while they may differ in strength level, also have unique qualities. A couple of sword examples are the Magic Sword, which conjures half the points whenever a certai spell is used, and the Recovery Sword, which replenishes one HP after an enemy has been slain. Some specific armor that come to mind are the Ice Armor, which allows you to walk on fire without losing any damage, and the Bubble Armor, which allows you to breathe underwater. What's cool is that when you backtrack to fight enemies you couldn't before, you can revert back to an earlier armor so you won't lose tons of damage; you must always wear the Bubble Armor underwater, no matter how high you leveled up. The bosses, save for Deathtoll, can only be damaged by the sword, so lots of physical attacks are a must. Each of them have different attack patterns, so you must strategize against them. The next boss will always be more difficult to defeat than the last, except for Deathtoll, who is pretty much a cakewalk in comparison. But everything else in this department makes up for that.

So there you have it. What are my thoughts on SoulBlazer, then? I think it's a very enjoyable and well-crafted action-oriented RPG. The controls are engaging, the visuals are nice, and the soundtack works very well with the atmosphere (and I do mean very well). I enjoyed the various worlds this RPG conveyed, plus the interactivity with the creatures are really fun, even if there is a tad bit of bad translation. I really like entering the creatures' dreams, and the dream-like song that plays during that time really conveys the feeling that you are in a dream. The various types of swords and armor are great, plus the many enemies and bosses in the game are fun to bout, even if Deathtoll was very easy for a final boss. I love the game's easygoing nature a lot, as it makes the game enjoyable and appealing to me. I like how throughout the game, you'll meet a few souls who will help you on your adventure, like the Soul of Magician, who grants you the ability to use magic, and the Soul of Detection, which makes you see invisible enemies. They rotate around you in the form of one orb. The layouts of each area and battlefield are neatly designed, and I like how thorough inspection will lead to a certain treasure chest (which would otherwise be missed if you went through the area quickly). Want to learn a few little-known secrets of this game? Well, I'll tell you, and I say "little-known" because I'm sure there are a few other games who know about these details too, just not many. First secret: whenever a gold gem is in front of you, you can pull it towards you by holding either the L or R shoulder buttons (how quickly or slowly they come to you depend on their size). Second secret: it is possible to pause the game without seeing the area window (and the remaining monster lairs window). Hold down the A button (after having gone through the stat window) and press Start. Tada! Now it'll look like the game froze, until you unpause it. Third and final secret (though this one feels sort of a stretch to call it that): whenever you walk towards a cliff or a wall, you won't fall down or phase through, but the ord does continually circle around while going the direction you're walking next to a wall. The orb can also be moved while you're talking to someone. You know, I don't want to feel like I'm over-explaining it, so you'll have to try that one on your own to best see what I'm talking about. In my eyes, this is a highly fun RPG from beginning to end, and the best game out of the three that I've played by Quintet. It's also my top favorite RPG, as well as one of my top favorite SNES games of all time. If you want to give the game a shot, go for it. As far as I'm concerned, it's worth every penny.

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