Sunday, April 3, 2016

Lagoon (SNES) Review

Received: November 14th, 2014 / Written: March 29th-April 3rd, 2016
Year: 1990, 1991 | Developed by: Zoom | Published by: Kemco-Seika

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  =)  In the early '80s Japanese developer T&E Soft created one of the very first action-oriented RPGs ever made, Hydlide.
Image from Wikipedia
Hydlide was a largely Japan-exclusive A-RPG, having originated on the NEC PC-6001 and PC-8801 computers in 1984; the MSX, FM-7, MSX2, and NEC PC-9801 computers in 1985; and it received a Famicom adaptation by Fujisankei Communications International (FCI) in 1986, for which the Nintendo 8-bit version did get American distribution... three years later (which was a bad move).  Believe it or not, the original Hydlide served as a template for future games in the genre to come, albeit done with their own spin and variations on it--for example, Nintendo with The Legend of Zelda in 1986, and Nihon Falcom with the Ancient Ys Vanished diptych from 1987 to 1988.
Image from Wikipedia
Now if Hydlide came out before Ys then how come when it comes to similar games people bring up the latter more than the former?  Well, that's because Nihon Falcom's games were more popular and actually have seen public distribution in the West (especially when remade), while T&E Soft's A-RPG (excepting the Nintendo 8-bit port) remained largely in Japan; and while the Ys series is still going strong today the Hydlide series came to a standstill twenty-one years ago after it was remade in 3D for the Sega Saturn (Virtual Hydlide).  Basically general consensus states that Ys is better.

In 1988 a company called Zoom Incorporated was founded where early in their career created games for the Sharp X68000 in Japan only before moving on to consoles, one of their first games being their only take on the A-RPG genre (to the extent of my knowledge) Lagoon in 1990, which received a Nintendo 16-bit console port by Kemco-Seika in December 1991 in both Japan and America with Europe following suit in mid-1993.
That same year in 1991 the collaborated team of Kemco and Seika ported another game to Nintendo's 16-bit console, Infogrames' 1989 A-RPG Drakkhen, which ultimately failed to please a lot of people due its handling.  So how does Kemco-Seika's port of Zoom's Lagoon fare by comparison?

Everything was fine in the country of Lakeland, until something bad occurred: all its waters have become polluted and muddy, which caused many to become sick and certain numbers even dying as a result.  The evil mastermind Zerah has done this just so he could revive the Evil Spirit who lies underneath the titular Lagoon Castle, and to ensure that no one intervenes he lifts the castle to the sky.
Lakeland is in dire need of a hero at this point, and the fourteen-year old Champion of the Light, Nasir, is the only one who can fill in that role.  Raised and trained by the wise and skilled Mathias, Nasir first journeys to Atland where demons have infested the cave; and after he takes care of that he journeys forth to numerous lands where he meets people who will help him and fights monsters that get progressively tougher.

Hot location
Lagoon is an early top-down '90s A-RPG, and as such the main protagonist Nasir can only move in four directions.  The basic way of attacking enemies is with the sword via the B button, if you wished to use a specific item you would have to select it in the inventory and utilize it with the left shoulder button, while the right shoulder button conjures up any of your selected magic spells which naturally will cost a bit of MP.  And since its overall structure is modeled after Ys, holding still if you had taken damage will slowly replenish your HP (except inside boss rooms) and in this case your MP as well.  And save for boss rooms you can save during any segment of the game that you please.  What's also a convenient and fun feature for this game is the ability to jump with the A button.  Awesome, a top-down Nintendo 16-bit A-RPG that allows you to jump, how often has that happened?  =D
-_-  ...jerks.

Falling down is not an option
Jumping is a necessity in certain spots due the fact that there are some small gaps to cross, and it's most preferable to do so as you attack with your sword.  The thing about Lagoon is that Nasir must be absolutely close to an enemy and boss of his in order to attack them with your sword.  While it might take a bit to accustom to if you're used to A-RPG sword controls that are more comfortable to use, it is by no means impossible after a combination of some trial and error and positioning yourself at just the proper position of an enemy as you swing your sword.  Naturally the defeat of each enemy and boss will net you a certain amount of experience points and gold, and when you reach a specific set of experience points you will go up a level thereby augmenting both your HP and MP capacities just a tad bit.

Such a cold and icy place to be in
Lagoon has got a somewhat fascinating look to it, and part of that is attributed to its color scheme and aesthetic design.  The areas don't look hugely detailed, and yet at the same time there are details that help make each area stand out from the last.  One example that springs to mind is the town of Denegul which is a dry, desolate place that has got a few small puddles with what look like faces in them; and another example is one of the floors of Siegfried Castle where the ground is red and some of the wall décor comprises of suits of armor slashing their swords.  The interior rooms of the chapels have got nice-looking stained-glass windows, Lagoon Castle's many floors have got diverse designs, and Phantom Hill occasionally has clouds whizzing past the foreground which adds some atmosphere to the proceedings.  =)

Aw, that wall-décor armor reminds me of the ones
in Ballacetine Castle from Ys III: Wanderers from Ys.
Good times!  <=)
How to describe the color scheme with words?  It's not exactly what I'd call a bright-looking game (save for a few exceptions), but without going too far the colors are a bit dark which gives it a bit of a moody look and feel (and considering the situation, it's actually warranted).  Nasir animates alright, with his walking animation and swift sword-swinging animation, although I do love how jumping makes his cape flutter.  But the best part for me is how the different armor and shields actually make him look different than before (I'm a sucker for those); when you start the game with the beginning silver armor and green cape he looks like a hobbit to me (maybe it's his brown hair?).  I love the blue-cape/gold-armor look on him, the white-cape/white-armor one too, but I feel that making his fourth armor (bronze) have a brown cape was a mistake (it clashes with Nasir's exact hair hue).  I especially love how each shield has got different designs, too, like the fourth and fifth ones.  =)

Oh God!  My fear of dogs has followed me through
video game format!!!  D8
But perhaps the main reason above all these visuals are strangely fascinating (despite not being great) are the character designs: they are simply underdetailed and yet there's something appealing about them.  In the game you meet different creatures like humans, elves, dwarves, hobbits, and even gnomes; and they all have different looks (they're either tall or small, have facial hair or are clean-shaven).  They all have simple walking animations, and occasionally you will meet up with one of the vital characters named Thor who is and looks great (despite his circumstances), and the first few times you talk with him he's got a profile picture of him that reveals that he's got one blue eye and one red eye.  That's cool!  =)  The introduction and ending both have colorful looking anime cutscenes that are pleasing to the eyes.

Samson flashing that body like no tomorrow
The enemies you fight in the game do admittedly have slightly better animation than Nasir at times; certain examples being mono-eyed flies, knight variants, skeletons, anthropomorphic pick axe throwing swine, a creature based on Hindu religion, and more.  Most of the bosses you fight are huge; one is the tall crimson knight Samson, another is a winged two-headed lion Natela, and one other example is a giant head whose hands he tries to use to stop you (Duma, who's got a mesmerizing entrance).  The other boss designs are cool too, and what I like about some of them is the way that they literally deteriorate with each passing hit (considering Lagoon came out before the ESRB rating system, Duma looks surprisingly gruesome as if he's bleeding red after enough hits have been dished on him).  All these bosses flash in white, and after they're done with there's a nifty explosion effect to top it all off.

What a gorgeous view  =)
The soundtrack to this game is really good, and it greatly helps elevate the sense of atmosphere.  =)  The music that plays during the introduction with Mathias is engaging especially as during the middle it segues to something deep and dark, and it helps set the tone for the game.  Sometimes the songs range from engrossingly upbeat (Atland, Lilaty) to catchy and rock-themed (Elf Field, Phillips Castle, Phantom Hill, Lagoon Castle) to deep and moody (Atland's Cave, Denegul, Poper).  There are different boss themes and they rock hard, especially the last one (which also plays during the title, it's awesome), and the ending theme for when you beat Lagoon is very rewarding after all is said and done.  =)  The Ys soundtracks obviously served as inspiration for its music, but on its own terms the music is spot-on and blends with its respective atmosphere so well that I don't think the game would've been as immersive if it was done differently.

Which pig wants a hogwash?
I think what strikes me in this aspect and what winds up lending Lagoon its atmosphere is the scarce usage of sound effects.  Basically the only sound effects you hear during the game are the ping of your sword, the magic that you use, when a door opens, a handful of enemy/boss beams and projectiles, and even the elephantine shriek of a defeated boss which culminates into a loud explosion.  Everything else: no sound comes out--not when you take damage from anything, not when you jump, not when you go up and down the stairs, not when you fall down a gap, and especially not when you lose your health and die... it makes for a rather quiet and silent experience, and the last bit is rather eerie as Nasir dies without making a sound.  ={  There's not even a sound cue for whenever you level up which can be an issue, and I'll get to why shortly.

Can't argue with that!  =D
In the Ys games (the first two and fourth installments, anyway) the main method to defeat enemies was simply by shoving them, while the main solution in this Ys clone is to use the sword in as close a range as possible to the enemies and bosses.  True, the prospect of being uncomfortably close to deal in enemies does not sound appealing, but it is possible to accomplish after a bit of time getting accustomed to them.  Although, if it makes it easier you can use your magic against your enemies for either a long-range attack or desperation move, but it does use up a bit of your MP; naturally though, bosses have to be dealt with exclusively with the sword.  You can use the special rings to aid you during battle (to better your strength or defense, et al) but it will eat up your MP in the process so only use them when you really have to.

Well you know what they say: two heads are better
than one
And just like the Ys games there are dungeons and pathways that are designed in a mazelike manner, which will make the first time you traverse these areas a little overwhelming because of how huge they are (not to mention Nasir's deliberate moving pace); but if you've got a long memory and/or recognize some placeholders these dungeons will be a snap (not to mention finding doors and treasure chests is key).  This especially rings true as there are moments of backtracking, and even if there's still a sense that you're lost they're not impossible to navigate after awhile.

Now Nasir's going to come across some angelic
passersby from Jerry Boy who will be excised from
Smart Ball for facepalmingly idiotic reasons
Although honestly as far as difficulty is concerned on the whole it's not really that hard, in fact the difficulty is more medium-based than anything else.  Sure it starts out hard since you begin with such minimal amounts of health, but the more you level up and the more equip yourself the less hard it becomes.  When you spot gaps you must absolutely jump over them to reach the other side because unlike games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Brain Lord, Brandish, Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma, and Ganpuru: Gunman's Proof where you'll either lose a bit of health and/or fall down to the subsequent floor below you, falling down a gap in Lagoon means instant death.  Bit realistic, no?  <={

Water dragon, GO!
So in most A-RPGs there is normally a cue, whether it be a written one or a sound one, that lets you know that you had leveled up after reaching a specific amount of experience points; that is not the case here.  Because the usage of sound effects are minimal you would not know right away that you had leveled up without constantly looking up the status screen unless you held absolutely still and both your HP and MP capacity rose higher than before.  C'mon man, even the Nintendo 16-bit port of Drakkhen informed you any time a member of your quartet had leveled up!  And speaking of Drakkhen, the publisher Kemco-Seika must've felt ashamed of themselves after their port ended up not doing well that when they ported Zoom's Lagoon they did not put any credits in it whatsoever; not during the title and not during the ending.  They need not have felt that way: this is a better A-RPG than Drakkhen both objectively and subjectively.  =(

Fire!
From what I looked up the original Sharp X68000 version of Lagoon was slightly different than what Nintendo 16-bit gamers got, for there were different sidequests and missions that you had to accomplish albeit in a different order and the gameplay was closer to Ys in that shoving was the way to go.  Between Drakkhen and this game, I'm starting to wonder if the altered structure was a means to make it easier and simpler for SFC/SNES gamers during the Generation One period.  o_O  Over the years there has been well, not so much hatred, so much as a growing resentment towards this game by most American gamers, and the reason for that attributed to the fact that in the NTSC and PAL regions (Kemco-Seika probably felt that it would spawn a potential European audience--it didn't, but if it did then they're not being very vocal about it) it was the closest you got to a proper Ys experience on the SNES.
While the actual proper Ys experience, the 1993 Tonkin House-developed and published Ys IV: Mask of the Sun (with Nihon Falcom's consent), remained exclusively in Japan for the Super Famicom.
And the Ys game that Americans did get on the SNES, in the form of the 1991 Tonkin House-developed/American Sammy-published port of Nihon Falcom's 1989 sidescrolling Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, was not that well regarded.

Oh, I love Peter Jackson's Hobbit movie trilogy!
Err, the second one, anyway
Personally I find that attitude to be quite unfair, as I actually don't mind Lagoon on its own terms.  I'm not very coy to admit its flaws, as there are plenty of them, but looking past those blemishes I really enjoy it.  =)  I think what makes me come back to it once a year is the high amounts of immersive atmosphere thanks to its effective music, sense of mood, towns, dungeon designs, and scarce usage of sound effects (not to mention that jumping is fun).  Yeah, doing consecutive sword swings against enemies and bosses up close is a bit of a precarious way of dealing with them, but so long as you position yourself properly you'll be just fine.  And even though the story is nothing to write home about the way it's told is very fascinating and for the most part is well-translated, and Thor is a very likable character despite the few times you meet up with him (which makes his fate quite sad).

O.O  Oh wow, actual spider viruses in a video game,
cool!  Never thought I'd see those outside of a science
textbook!
I remember first finding out about this game on FlyingOmelette's website over a decade ago as her review of it had me very intrigued, and for years I had contemplated experiencing it after being loaned one of my cousins' SNES console but my being curious about numerous other games at the same time got in the way.  It wasn't until November 2014 that I decided to finally try it, and when I played I was surprisingly invested and really liked it.  In years past the only gameplay videos I saw of Lagoon on YouTube far prior to playing it were the boss battles, everything else I discovered on my own as I played it and I beat it two days later.

So dry, so desolate
The dungeons may have been designed in a labyrinth-like manner, but honestly that just made them all the more fun for me to explore.  =)  I guess I'm a bit more forgiving towards this game on account that I had played Ys Book I & II years before I played this, so with the knowledge that Lagoon was an Ys clone in mind the maze-like dungeons were not going to be a problem for me after a bit of exploration.  And if I hadn't played the Ys games before, I don't know if I would've handled games like this one, Brandish (I know, same company, but in certain respects it feels like Ys to me), and Xak: The Art of Visual Stage (heh, speaking of Ys clones that have yet to be covered); or maybe I could've, I don't know.  =(  But the Ys structure and formula served as the basis for these aforementioned games.  And even if I do get lost in a handful of spots, at least I don't get hopelessly lost and constantly rely on a map on account that Lagoon is strictly bird's eye fare, unlike a certain A-RPG with a huge and sprawling 3D overworld (*cough*Dragon View*cough*).

Those beautiful stained-glass windows
Lagoon is a strictly self-contained one-off A-RPG.  On one hand it's sad that it winds up being the case, but on the other hand I can't see what more you could do with its characters and environments (plus it bookended itself on a bittersweet note) so it's for the best really that it all ended here.  When original developer Zoom saw that their take on the A-RPG genre wasn't doing spectacularly they decided to move on to different genres; from shoot'em up (Phalanx) to sidescroller (Genocide 2: Master of the Dark Communion) to racing (Overtake) to baseball (Dolucky no Kusayakiu) to soccer (Dolucky's A-League Soccer) to puzzler (Dolucky no Puzzle Tour '94) to fighting (Zero Divide) to simulator (Mister Mosquito) and holy crap this company was versatile!  =O  I should explore some of their other work.  =)

In my book it's solid, like that suit of armor  =)
I suppose it should be taken for what it's worth; if you want to play an A-RPG with a sufficient amount of length then Lagoon will fit that bill just fine.  If you're looking for a comfortable control scheme in your A-RPG you're better off trying something else; but if you can forgive the extremely close proximity of the necessitated sword attacks I think you'll manage.  If you love large labyrinths then you'll have a lot of satisfaction with this game.  And if you're an Ys enthusiast you'll feel right at home with this clone for there is a lot to like.  It's neither Ys IV: Mask of the Sun nor Seiken Densetsu 3 nor even Tenchi Sōzō, and it's not for everyone (I'll totally get why one would not come out liking it), but for what it's worth Lagoon is decent fun while it lasts.  =)

My Personal Score: 7.0/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. I originally planned on reviewing this game last year, and I wanted to as a way of acknowledging Lagoon's twenty-fifth anniversary; but my old laptop would not work properly and load up videos anymore; so I decided to take screenshots in the Normal TV setting of my widescreen TV to compensate for that lost opportunity this year.
 
P.S. 2 Because I took awhile to put my words together for this review to get my personal feelings on it across, I've decided to cancel my April 5th birthday review this year (I turn twenty-five).  It's time-consuming to talk about games a lot of the time.  =(
 
P.S. 3 One of the pieces of equipment you find in Lagoon has got the name Maxim on it.  I'd say it's cool, but it loses points on account that the main character from Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals turned out like this:
A child is being intimated and feeling threatened... by our hero.  -_-  Maxim is just unpleasant and frankly unlikable.
Right??  Why do you put up with that creep, Tia?  You deserve better.

I'm forcing myself to play through that game again after having lost interest in it last year, and I'm honestly baffled as to why it's getting so much praise.  Aside from its music, I just can't see it, sorry.

Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  If you'd like to leave a birthday message (even though it's not a birthday review) that would be really nice.  Take care!  =)
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Nasir: "Say Thor, what are your thoughts on Marvel's plans of changing you into a woman?"
Thor: "WHAAAAA-------?<=O

1 comment:

  1. Ya know I could never get used to the combat hit detection in this game. I think the localization was a little wonky too. There is a strange charm to some of it, the cutscenes are nice as well.

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