Tuesday, January 31, 2017

SoulBlader (SFC) Review

Received: April 18th, 2014 / Written: January 21st-29th, 2017
Published: January 31st, 2017
Year: 1992 | Developed by: Quintet
Published by: Enix | [||]

Disclaimer: Might contain spoilers
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  Let us talk about the company we once knew as "Quintet".

Formed up in the late '80s (some speculate it to have occurred in July 1987 while others say it was in April 1989) by former Nihon Falcom members Tomoyoshi Miyazaki (who served as a scenario writer for the first three Ys A-RPGs) and Masaya Hashimoto (who directed, designed, and programmed all three of those games), Quintet would become a company that would make an unforgettable run during the Nintendo 16-bit console's lifespan before sadly disappearing from the video game industry forever more than a decade after it started.
Their inaugural game Actraiser which came out on December 1990 as one of the first Super Famicom games made for the system (renamed ActRaiser for both Western SNES versions) was a surprise hit upon release, coming from a newcomer third-party company published by Dragon Quest distributor Enix, having spellbound many with its microtransaction elements which served as an inbetween for the action elements and made a strong impression with its beautifully detailed visuals and impressive instrumental soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro (who had done music for the Ancient Ys Vanished diptych prior to this), with character designs done by his sister Ayano Koshiro.  To this day some people call it one of the best games available on the system (mainly due the strong first impression it had made), but whether or not you agree with that assessment there was no question that way back when that this was the beginning of a new era.

More than a year had passed since that game came out when Quintet's second game would arrive on the Super Famicom in the form of the A-RPG SoulBlader on January 31st, 1992 (with Tomoyoshi Miyazaki serving as scenario writer, directed and programmed by Masaya Hashimoto, and produced by Yasuyuki Sone); that November it would arrive in American shores as SoulBlazer, culminating in the European version that would not be released until January 1994 (courtesy of Ubisoft of all companies, even though Enix was the publisher for the PAL version of ActRaiser).  Apparently its PAL conversion was not given a wide distribution at the time (reportedly only having come out in two countries out of the entire European continent), making it the rarest version out of all three as well as the rarest Quintet game to reach those shores.

Received: August 14th, 2009
Year: 1992 | Developed by: Quintet | Published by: Enix
I know what you're thinking: didn't I already review this game?  Yeah, back in October 2011 I reviewed SoulBlazer and gave it a 10 out of 10... but here's the thing: I only experienced the American version at the time and honestly I find that review to be outdated in terms of the format I used prior to my Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday review onward (improving my writing prowess over time, plus I've also grown to like the Georgia font) and since then I've experienced more games (not just by Quintet but other companies) and in some cases both versions of the same game.  I suppose you could classify this review as an entry of the Take Two Reviews, if you wanted to.
It's not like I had done many of those anyway...
In retrospect I feel like my old review was done rather prematurely because of this, which is why I'll be talking about SoulBlader for the most part but I will highlight some differences between it and SoulBlazer later on.

And thus the inspiration for the American version
SoulBlazer's cover art was found
A long time ago in the Freil Empire (oh, I see what you did there, Quintet, clever wordplay) resided a monarch named King Magridd who was pondering ways to become wealthier than he already is.  One day he overheard people talk about the highly-skilled inventor Dr. Leo, so the king summoned him and ordered him to create a machine that would summon a malicious deity named Deathtoll.  Reluctantly, Dr. Leo (a reference to famed Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci) agreed to do so (but only to maintain the safety of his daughter Lisa, threatening her life if he refused).  Once the machine was completed King Magridd made a deal with Deathtoll where for every creature that was taken the king would receive a gem, but wound up being his own downfall for he was deceived and he too was taken.  One by one each creature was taken until there was nothing; witnessing this was God (Master in the American release) and the main protagonist Blader (Blazer), a divine angel who can communicate with any living creature (human and non-human).  God, feeling that King Magridd was misguided but deserved another chance, sends Blader down to Earth to save all the creatures and defeat Deathtoll's forces with the help of some souls he encounters along the way.  The World of Evil, where Deathtoll resides, can only be accessed once you gather all six magic stones.

No, you're not seeing things: those flames do have
evil grimaces about them (subtle yet clever)
As Blader you can only move in a four-square pattern in this top-down A-RPG where the goal is to defeat every creature popping up out of monster lairs and release the trapped creature by sealing the lair by stepping on it once it turns green.  The main method to defeat enemies is by swinging your sword at them with the B button which you can swing consecutively, once the Soul of Magician joins you he'll rotate around you and use magic against far-reaching enemies via the Y button (at the expense of a set amount of gems which enemies will leave behind in varying sizes), and by holding down either shoulder button you can crabwalk and strafe as you maintain the same facing position whilst you hold the sword out in front of you during the danger zones.

Two against one, I guess that spot ain't shaped
like a "T" for nothin'
To access your soul and stats screen press the A button (twice in the American version) and to go to the menu press the X button where you'll be able to select your sword, armor, magic, and even select a vital item to use in your inventory; unless you equip the item in question with the A button it will not work.  In each main location are three different portals that lead to the shrine where it can be used as a shortcut if you didn't want to take the long road back, and it's also here where you can step onto the golden tile to either record your progress or move onto a different location.  The defeat of each monster will also net you a particular amount of experience points, and receiving a sufficient amount will slightly augment your strength and defense.  Also at the end of each area (save the last) you will face the boss who's holding the leading member of said respective area as a prisoner so long as their monster lair is still unsealed.

Oh no, block eyed!
When looking at SoulBlader/SoulBlazer you can tell immediately that it was done from the same company that worked on Actraiser/ActRaiser due to the similar graphics engine they used (the title copyright and HUD fonts plus HP bars are exactly like those from the 1990 title) which is evidenced by the similar color palettes and sense of detail.  Now that is not to say that it's a bad-looking game, for it actually is good to look at on its own terms and for something that was made during the earliest part of 1992 it looks impressive during some moments.  =)  The areas are designed well: to name some, in the GreenWood hub there is a neat lightly color-layering series of mist (which frequently wave and distort themselves in a haze-like manner) that hover over the green grass and calming water, the hub for St. Elle's Seabed Sanctury has got an Atlantis-like feel to it as you you're half-submerged in water where occasionally you would see more of it below you in wavy fashion, and the hub for the Mountain of Lost Souls despite taking place in a cave-like setting (in a Winteresque place) has got a visual sense of warmth and comfort about it (I can't quite put my finger on why, but that's the way it feels for me any time I'm in here).

Leaping lizards, that green stuff is water?
The Underground Castle in the Grass Valley Highlands has got a well-made wooden structure atop streams of water and at certain points waterfalls (revealing a different water backdrop, where the gradient becomes whiter the further you go down), there is an amazing-looking Aurora Borealis in the Mountain of Lost Souls' upper region and there is a cool-looking icy stalactite foreground in the same location's ice hill, I like the model towns in Dr. Leo's Laboratory where once you're inside you are walking amongst bite-sized homes and environments (almost as if it was done as a nod to Actraiser what with the small houses and roads), and the World of Evil is visually mesmerizing as you roam in a fluctuating star field that layers over everything (except you, of course).  These are some of my favorite examples.
One other favorite example of the visuals is the St. Elle's Seabed where you roam around the beautifully detailed surroundings which is given further underwater depth thanks to the water filter permeating throughout this segment as the foreground, it's easy to miss at first but if you pay attention as you move it really adds so much.  This was so effective that Quintet would use this filter again three years afterward in the spiritual Gaia trilogy finale (and in my opinion their finest A-RPG), Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma=D

Fire at those sentient bushes
While each location's shrine might be palette-swapped to differentiate them from the other (green for GreenWood, red for the Mountain of Lost Souls, et al) I do love the decent reflection on the floor below the platform you're standing in.  =)  One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to '90s video games is when a character's left sprite is exactly the same when flipped to the right; I can forgive it if it's done to make them seem ambidextrous, but when it comes to certain details that are held in specific hands (like a sword or shield) then it can be really hard to not pay attention to (regardless how good or bad the overall game is).  Some games managed to break the trend: SoulBlader's one of them as Quintet actually altered both of Blader's left and right sprites, with the left sword swinging to the North while the right sword swinging is done to the South.  If you pay attention they did flip the left and right sprites but at least they modified them sufficiently, even the North and South-facing sprites (pay attention to his footing as you strafe to the side while facing both directions).  Kudos, very clever of them to do that!

Taking it easy in the safety and comfort of nature  =)
The animations in this game are much improved over those from Actraiser which were largely on the choppy side because there were two or three sprites, but in this game there is a decent number of frames per second that amounts to solid animation.  Blader's walking and strafing animation is semi-fluid, and his sword swings are swift and quick.  Several NPCs in each location's hub look and animate decently; like Blader's love interest Lisa (who's also got a cute sleeping animation when you first see her), the dolphins and mermaids who animate nicely in the water, the squirrels and birds in GreenWood animate neatly, and even the snails being ridden by Lost Souls during the middle look cool, among some examples.

Scorching hot temple
SoulBlader's enemy roster is different in each location which lends a welcome sense of variety: among such enemies you'll be facing are purple-haired green goblins, torches with flames that have evil faces, eyeballs disguised as blocks, lizards leaping from water, stingrays, snow yetis, wizards and warlocks, bats who circle around you, metallic inchworms, miniaturized warriors and archers in Dr. Leo's model towns (where you're to their Gulliver what their model town is Lilliput Island, only they're not the peaceful kind), and metallic scorpions and octopus-like creatures to give several examples.  The bosses you face are huge and animate rather decently: like the metal mantis creature Solid Arm as he strafes and attempts to fire in the direction you're at,
when you reach the bow of the Ghost Ship the skull becomes huge when you approach it, and in Dr. Leo's basement there is a huge robot with a timer on its body that whizzes by as fast as it can and it occasionally fires off a series of rockets against you.

(Why are you following me?  I have nothing
that you could possibly want from me)
The music for SoulBlader was coordinated by AMENITY Co. with Yukihide Takekawa (Bikkuriman Daijikai, Urusei Yatsura: Stay with You), Kazuhiko Toyama (Bikkuriman Daijikai), and You Himeno composing and arranging music respectively (with sound created by latter); out of the Gaia trilogy this soundtrack purely works best when experienced firsthand rather than listening to it out of context.  Now don't get me wrong, the music is very good and suits the atmosphere perfectly, but it's not exactly something that'll come across as effective if you're just listening to it by itself (unless you're familiar with the game inside out like I am, but even then I find that it mainly works when both the music and the game elements are joined together).  But with that said, the soundtrack helps bring SoulBlader to life and it matches the appropriate lighthearted tone as well.  =)

"I AM GROOT"
The title theme sets you up for the adventure you're about to partake in this symphonic opening number, the shrine theme is ominous-sounding yet light at the same time as the first few seconds bring to mind Johann Sebastian Bach's "Toccata & Fugue in D Minor" with the organ instrumentation, and there are two variations of the location hub theme (with the first one sounding desolate and lonely with the second one sounding more uplifting once the leader has been released).  There is a mixture of symphony and brass here and there that suits the atmosphere fine, like whenever you're sucked inside Dr. Leo's painting or model town where it's accompanied by a disorienting otherworldly theme, and the theme used for whenever you're inside any of GreenWood's three temples or Magridd Castle's basement area sounds quietly menacing but highly inviting at the same time.

Four-way magic missile deployed
St. Elle's Seabed's theme sounds delightfully elegant and befitting for the underwater area, the Mountain of Lost Souls' theme is atmospheric, and Magridd Castle's tower theme has got a cool symphonic/brass hybrid cue about it.  Some of the themes I would not mind listening to all day are the one that's played any time you load your progress, enter a sleeping creature's dream with the Dream Rod as well as the sad moments which is genuinely thoughtful and deeply sentimental in its own way, but the best song is Lisa's theme which is also played during the credits that is lovely to listen to for it's emotional and well-done.  =)  The main boss theme is a bit hectic and fast-paced, but Deathtoll's theme when you face him is instrumentally charged and epic to listen to in the moment.  Practically all of Actraiser's sound effects by Yuzo Koshiro have been lifted and used for SoulBlader, and if you've played the 1990 game you'll know they're the same sound effect: the swipe-like sword swing, the grunt sound for when you take damage, the metallic clang, the thunder sound effect, the fire sound effects, the health replenishing sound, you name it.

Unlike Actraiser and today's game's eventual spiritual follow-up Gaia Gensōki where they were subject to many changes in ActRaiser and Illusion of Gaia respectively, the changes made from SoulBlader to SoulBlazer were minimal by comparison, but since most people played the Western version I'll highlight them anyway:
The original title SoulBlader was blue and was changed to SoulBlazer (with a flaming color palette) for the Western versions for what I presume was done to avoid the name "SoulBlader" accidentally being pronounced as "SoulBladder" by very small children who are just learning how to read (for which "SoulBlazer" is a foolproof word), but I might be wrong about that.  Also, while in the Japanese version you can skip the title onto the load screen you have to wait until the title is in place for the American version before you're allowed to press Start.
In the HUD "LV" has been changed to say "LEV" even though the former obviously stands for "Level", so I'm not sure why the extra letter was added to the abbreviation.  What I do know is that the dialogue box was made bigger in the American version to fit up to four lines unlike the Japanese original where it could only fit up to three.  This was done due to fixed-width font (introduced from the credits of SoulBlader) which took up a lot more space, but the thing about kanji is that even if there isn't much of that it stills says a lot more than it would appear to be.  One example is the introduction text: it takes one full loop of the title song to explain the story in the Japanese version but in the American version it takes almost two loops to explain it.
In SoulBlader when you accessed your stats window both the status and the soul count were seen at once.
Alas, the same was not the case in SoulBlazer as first came the status then when you pressed the A button again you could see which souls have currently joined you.
One notable example is when you release a boy in the Mountain of Lost Souls who's celebrating his freedom before talking to you.  In the Japanese version you can see it happen and his head is shown as he's talking to you, but in the American version he's completely obfuscated.  Aww, I want to see him cheering back and forth over water due to being freed.  =(  Also, the text in the former version appears almost instantaneously line per line while in the latter version the text pops up letter by letter.  Well, at least it's more tolerable and difficult to miss than the dialogue pacing change made for Gaia...
Why couldn't SoulBlazer use the tiny font from ActRaiser?  Everything would've fit just fi----
Oh, wait, they did, only for the occasional whisper moments which only fit up to four lines.  ...  Thank God fixed-width font isn't an issue anymore.
The first boss Solid Arm requires the same strategy to defeat him in both versions, only the American version added a conveyor belt in the middle that tries to force you back unlike the Japanese version where the battle was easier because you could just walk back and forth with ease.
He would make an appearance as a secret and optional boss with all three conveyor belts in both Gaia Gensōki and Illusion of Gaia.
The ruler of St. Elle's Seabed Sanctuary the Mermaid Queen was given a bra in the American version whereas she was barebreasted in the Japanese original.
This next change absolutely floored me the first time I saw it, I could not believe it; I mean, wow.  O.O  So in SoulBlader when you face the boss she emanates from the water revealing to be a barebreasted she-beast while in SoulBlazer it got changed to a bulked up male with a bare chest with veins.
Now this change just... baffles me: in Magridd Castle's basement and towers are these head cannons on the ground that'll occasionally spew fireballs towards you.  Their designs were changed for the American version to be something more simple and round, but my question is: what am I looking at in the Japanese version?  It's got horns, is menacing in style,...
my best guess is that it was changed because the early version looked inappropriate by design?  I don't know, what was that, Quintet?  o_O
The final change, before the end credits roll, revolves around Lisa herself.  In the Japanese version she's got big anime eyes as she's praying, the latter of which got changed to both arms being held straight down on account of Nintendo of America's old rule of not making any mention to religion due to their status as a family-friendly company (it's the reason their religious Nintendo 8-bit Pac-Man clone Devil World only saw a release in Japan and Europe).  Okay, that change I get, the change I don't get is her face: her eyes and nose were altered to be more realistic-looking, she was given lipstick to appear older, and she's got a crease on her neck.  Why?  Was Enix of America racist against anime or something?  =|
Luckily future NTSC Nintendo 16-bit RPGs published by Enix like Copya System's Paladin's Quest (Lennus: Kodai Kikai no Kioku in Japan, originally published by Asmik) and the co-developed Quintet/Ancient RPG Robotrek (Slapstick in Japan) would be allowed to retain their anime charm regardless of the version you played.  I didn't have a problem with how the American version of Lisa looked the first few times, but that's because I wasn't aware that it was changed; now I just consider the non-Japanese version of Lisa distracting to look at.  Aside from these changes SoulBlader and SoulBlazer are otherwise the same.

Seahorse gathering
The difficulty in SoulBlader is on the easy side that gradually escalates over the course of the adventure without breaking past the spectrum to medium or hard.  Throughout the game you'll be accruing experience points whether it be by defeating enemies and bosses as well as when you talk with the Jewel Fairy most times, and when you get a sufficient amount your health capacity will be augmented by two as it'll be completely replenished simultaneously; and occasionally the enemies do drop off gems that you need to conjure magic which you'll sometimes find a random amount inside chests (among vital items and equipment), but be careful before approaching the chests near the end for they might turn out to be mimic chests (if you pay attention it's easy to discern the real ones from the fake ones).

Birds and palm trees
While many of the monsters might be in relatively close vicinity there are some which might be too far for Blader to reach so you may have to use the magic you selected against them (you can even move the soul ahead of you even if Blader walks near the edge, it'll still spiral around but at least you can get a sense of pinpoint accuracy).  In speaking of selection, the very first time you encounter the Jewel Fairy she expressly tells you that the items you find will not work unless you equip them, which is absolutely pivotal and welcome advice.  What's cool about some equipment is that not only would it add to your defense (or strength) but also is enough to protect you against certain elements: to name some examples, the Ice Armor protects you against hot surfaces, the Bubble Armor helps you breathe underwater (and anytime you backtrack to the earlier locations at a later level you can temporarily swap out armors),
there is a Zantetsu Sword that can defeat metal enemies, and there are bracelets which can either augment your defense or offense (or both).  Very smart of this A-RPG to do that; and if you're equipped with the Medical Herb when your health has been emptied it'll be refilled entirely.

Thunder Ring, engage
SoulBlader/SoulBlazer was met with praise upon release but did not match the popularity of Actraiser/ActRaiser due to the earlier title overshadowing today's game (having been around longer), but over the years has developed a loyal cult following (especially since it would garner two A-RPGs spiritually connected to it, Gaia Gensōki/Illusion of Gaia/Illusion of Time and Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma), today many clamor it (as well as the other two) as a forgotten classic and for very good reason I may add.  =)  There are only so many ways to describe its brilliance that it's hard to summarize in just mere words; at a time during the Nintendo 16-bit era Quintet was a company who bravely explored themes that other games of its ilk would just gloss over or shy away from (at least in America).
SoulBlader revolved around themes regarding life, death, loneliness, togetherness, desire, temptation, reincarnation, time, religion, and hope which are not sugarcoated in any way and are dealt with considerable tact that I can't help but commend it for braving these delicate themes.  Also, have you noticed that not a single one of SquareSoft's RPGs released in America on the SNES ever say or reference things like death, killing, or murder while games published by Enix (regardless of the developer) have no problem doing so (at least, to a point)?  Let that sink in for a second.
Even though this was Quintet's second game they had no qualms in bringing up references to Actraiser; the goal of eradicating monsters from monster lairs is obviously the same, but gameplay-wise these two games are entirely different beasts; in the Grass Valley hub there is a shopkeeper's son who tries to charge you an outrageous amount of money for a bag of goat food, to which his mother scolds him and namedrops him as "Teddy", the very same name of the boy whose life got sacrificed in Bloodpool in the 1990 game.  Quintet could've easily given him a different name, but the fact that they were giving a nod to their previous game this early in their career just comes to show how smart this company was.  =)
In speaking of which, in Dr. Leo's two model towns you get to roam around this bite-sized world as you fight lots and lots of miniatures in what feels like a respectful nod to Actraiser's simulation acts if you were to turn against them.  What a deviously ingenious reversal: going from leading and protecting the people down on Earth to actually physically appearing there as a relatively-sized giant attacking them as they're attacking you.  =D
Any other developer would've been none the wiser.  I swear this game keeps getting better and better the more I analyze it!
When it comes to weapons you have to be at a specific level in order to equip them otherwise they won't function.  A bit much, sure, but at least by the time you find most of them you're already at the sufficient enough level to use them... would you rather purposely level-grind and money-farm for swords, armor, and shields like in Xak: The Art of Visual Stage?  I didn't think so.  And since I bring up the subject of Ys, SoulBlader does share a similar inventory system with a similar Ys mentality in that you can only have one of a certain item.

Jumping fish
And when you get down to it, if you're familiar with Tomoyoshi Miyazaki and Masaya Hashimoto's past involvement with Nihon Falcom, SoulBlader does kind of share a similar quality to Ys from the outset.  Blader is the blue-haired equivalent to Adol Christin in that he can walk swiftly and can only move in four directions (except you can swing your sword as opposed to shove your enemies and you have a soul that can cast magic), and while some areas might share a similar vibe you can only save your progress in a shrine as opposed to anywhere you please; when Blader loses all his health with no Medical Herb in stow he spins around like Adol (only here he falls on his back and... has his legs up in the air?).  And yet despite the similarities I don't consider it an Ys clone or Ys equivalent because, for one, some of the people involved in those games ended up working on this A-RPG, also its solid gameplay and structure and story is enough to distinguish it as its own separate entity (there was no crabwalking in Ys, only forward movement).

Snow better time to review this game
Before SoulBlazer arrived in America in November 1992 the only A-RPGs available on the SNES at the time were the Nintendo 16-bit ports of Drakkhen, Lagoon, and Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, and none of those were well-received or welcomed by the public with open arms.  But when it did come out here it was considered to be genuinely good, being touted as a game worthy of going head to head with Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (some ranked it as its equal, some believed A Link to the Past was superior, and some have opined that today's game was the better alternative).  Even after plenty more games in the genre would populate the Nintendo 16-bit console (in both Japan and the West), SoulBlader/SoulBlazer is still considered to be one of the better A-RPGs you could play on the console bar none.

Breathtaking
I recall having found out about SoulBlazer around a dozen years ago if I recall correctly, but wouldn't learn anything more about it for a few years.  Back in 2007 ActRaiser arrived on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console much to people's surprise (courtesy of Square-Enix, who owned the rights and presumably still does?), giving many (me included) the false sensation that Quintet's other quintet of Nintendo 16-bit games would eventually follow suit... but it never happened.  =(  Was the most popular Quintet game being given a new lease on life a fluke or something?  Was it an accident?  Did they lose the rights?  Were they disinterested?  No one knows, though the fact it didn't come out for the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console kinda makes me believe that it may have been one of those possibilities; whatever the case, it was bad news for people who didn't own a Nintendo 16-bit console.

It's a trap!
Two days shy of 2009 one of my cousins loaned me his SNES console with some of his games, to which I was forever grateful given that it was my favorite console growing up playing it over at my relatives and is my favorite console today.  During that Summer I had begun my adventures on eBay, with my first purchases from there being Mr. Nutz that May to Ys III: Wanderers from Ys and Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose! and Arcana that July.  For my fifth game I had decided to quench my curiosity for SoulBlazer once and for all (spending $49 on the cart itself, which I admit was overmuch as in retrospect I could've spent a lot less... but regardless it was worth every penny).  It was a hot August day when I received it, and when I played it for the first time I was enthralled and with each subsequent playthrough it's still an enchanting experience.  =)  It quickly became one of my favorites.

Ice bat
It was also at this point that I had realized that now that I had an SNES console I now had access to games I was curious about that were released for it specifically.  Before I owned an SNES console--and for people who did not own on it and only had the Nintendo Wii and its Virtual Console downloadable service--all that you could do was wait until God knows how long until the game was made available, if it was to be made available at all (licensing is a tricky matter).  Well no more endless waiting for this guy, now I could select which physical cartridge I could order from eBay and it would arrive within days or weeks; unfortunately, as much as I wish I could tell people to buy or procure an SNES console if they don't have one not everyone can afford that luxury.  And back in April 2014 when my Retro Duo was still 100% intact (my initial way of playing physical Super Famicom cartridges before getting a Super Famicom in Christmas 2015) I was curious to play the Japanese version SoulBlader (as well as ActRaiser's Japanese version Actraiser) and I enjoyed that just as much, if not slightly more.  =D

Oh no, warlocks!
The very heart of SoulBlader/SoulBlazer is its sense of world-building, as you're essentially reviving the planet that's literally been stripped of life.  I love the sense that I'm restoring the location back to its former glory any time I step on a certain monster lair, or that it might make a passage to the other side or reveal something that wasn't visibly there before.  =)  There's a growing sense of satisfaction as you release more creatures in what was once a desolate and empty place that becomes more lively as you go along, and I like the interaction with the diverse creatures you speak with, and I like and appreciate the themes that it explores (plus entering creatures' dreams makes for a surreal experience).  Sometimes, if you wish to take a break from the action, you could participate in or watch certain events in certain hubs;
like watching and participating in a mermaid dance dedicated to you, watching a race between snail jockeys, and even watching a wardrobe do jumping jacks among other things.  Who says you have to work and not play as well in this game?
It's also here that a helpful and noble dog named Turbo made his debut whose become a staple of Quintet
that he would appear as a completely spritelifted cameo in Gaia Gensōki/Illusion of Gaia, as a newly redesigned beagle in Slapstick/Robotrek, and finally as a Yorkie in Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma (the latter two being the only other games where he would be of extended help to you).

Going through the tubes
Now as much as I love this game (greatly so, it's one of my top favorites) I do have a few nitpicks with it; whenever you step on a monster lair it'll either clear the way for you or reveal a new segment or even reveal a new monster lair or two, and the problem is that when it comes enemies that spawn all at once from it they spawn a bit too fast.  You could find a position where they won't touch you once you're ready to attack them with your sword but a little leeway here and there would've been appreciated.  SoulBlader explores very deep and intelligent themes that SoulBlazer's bad translation almost threatens to undermine those elements.  Translated by one of Enix of America's head honchos Robert L. Jerauld, this was done during a time when resources were few and far between as you had to work with what you were given (no Google or Bing translate function to look up).  ......man, how far we've come since then.

Touring around Dr. Leo's laboratory
Every now and then were instances of Blazer who's "recieved" something as opposed to "received", at one point the apostrophe "s" is capitalized later on (how did they manage that?), there are moments where both "its" and "it's" are misused, there's a moment when a tulip says "You know the place you saw in Lisa,'s dream", et al.  Considering the ten month gap between releases I'm surprised no one at Enix thought of proofreading it before release; a month before SoulBlazer came out SquareSoft released Final Fantasy Mystic Quest which was translated really good with nary a mistake (thanks to newcomer Ted Woolsey)--it's funny how the lesser received of the two games winds up getting the better translation.  Some of the future Enix-published games would prove to have better translations than this game: Elnard's localized counterpart The 7th Saga (despite hating what Enix did to screw up its difficulty) is worded decently, aside from a few flubs the translation for Lennus' localized version Paladin's Quest was good, and while ActRaiser 2 was not an RPG (neither for that matter was the original) its translation is near flawless.

Now I did say "almost" because I consider each version to be exponentially enjoyable and the gameplay so great that I can overlook it.  And really, that's what it boils down to, if the game is great and has fun gameplay then I can forgive its frequently inadequate translation, but anything less than that winds up being a huge distraction for me.  Also, I can forgive a bad translation made in 1991 or 1992, but a bad one from 1994 or 1995 (e.g. RobotrekThe Firemen, Breath of Fire II)?  I'm sorry, there's no excuse for that.  =|
Lastly there is Deathtoll himself.  He's got an imposing design and looks great, but his battle is very easy
(easier than even the last one).  With each subsequent boss there was at least a sense of gradual difficulty, but this battle's a letdown by comparison.  He's entirely manageable when you reach Level 24, but if you level up even further then his battle will become relatively shorter.

Metallic inchworms
It's a shame what happened to Quintet after Tenchi Sōzō, lauded as their last hurrah, as they didn't have as much luck afterwards.  Sometime between 2000 and 2002 the company became defunct after a lack of new updates on their official website; impatient fans left a lot of angry comments on there, to which Quintet staff made a response stating that they could not currently release any new information thereby closing down the previously active bulletin board on March 29, 2002 (the same date Koei's Game Boy Advance RPG Magical Houshin, Mystic Heroes in America, came out).  The website as a whole would be shut down come March 2008.  It's very peculiar; did someone over at Quintet lose their passion for their work or did one of their post Nintendo 16-bit games they worked on not do as well as they'd have hoped that they became disillusioned as a result?  No one knows for certain, but it's too bad that they up and went out like this because they have left behind a legacy that they would forever be remembered by.  =(

Life was a song, you came along,
I've laid awake the whole night through,
if I've a dare to think you cared,
this is what I'd say to you...
As for SoulBlader/SoulBlazer and the next four Quintet games, sadly to this day it has not seen a rerelease on a console outside the Nintendo 16-bit; even after fans and nonfans begged for them to be rereleased on the Virtual Console it still would not be so.  Actraiser/ActRaiser, which preceded this game, I've often considered to be the spoiled child out of Quintet's sextet family of Nintendo 16-bit games, getting the special treatment while the other five don't get the same amount of care and love; the fact that it got a second lease on life but the other five didn't is very suspect.  In past years this fact simply angered me, but I'm not bitter: if people don't own a Super Famicom or Super Nintendo console, it's their loss.  Now I just want to point out that I don't dislike the 1990 game, I like it and I appreciate its place in history as one of the earlier Nintendo 16-bit games ever made, but its overexposure simply drives me bonkers in that it seemed to me that people only played it or often placed it high on their list while the other games are either discarded or lower on said list, as if they're not worth delving into (okay, I'm probably overgeneralizing here, but you get what I mean; you can like the game as much as you have every right to, but please acknowledge that Quintet actually made more games than just that one).  Since I played SoulBlazer at 18 in 2009 I've always preferred it to ActRaiser, always, but that's my opinion.

What is the point of these dancing skeletons?
SoulBlader would lay the foundation for what would be referred to as the Gaia trilogy, what with the two other games exploring the same delicate themes only in a less lighthearted take than this one, with Gaia Gensōki being thematically darker and Tenchi Sōzō mixing in the perfect balance of light and dark.  The latter to me felt like a true successor to this game on account that the world-building aspect would return but in a much larger and epic scale that's resonantly deep (Reiko Takebayashi, a Quintet staff member who worked on this game, would serve as scenario writer for the 1995 masterpiece with the script written by Miyazaki), while the former focused more on adventure and exploration with an unconventional leveling up system (despite sharing the same psychically gem retracting action via shoulder button).  Nintendo would publish them in America (Illusion of Gaia) and Europe (Illusion of Time, Terranigma), and while SoulBlazer and Terranigma survived the localization process just fine enough to be equal in quality to the Japanese original (a rarity, I may add, despite the small amount of changes), the same cannot be said for Illusion of Gaia which--because of Nintendo's direct involvement--was rendered inferior due to the changes in story elements (including a redone translation, also by Jerauld, with a reprehensively meanspirited line coming from the main hero at one point) and difficulty made from Gaia Gensōki (but that's another time, but God help me when I do review it given the American version's cult following).

(Time to scare the guard into the water)
It's only a few hours short and it might be easy to beat in one life, but at least for the most part there's a sense of escalation in difficulty as you go along.  =)  And despite that fact I do feel there is some replay value to be had each time, mainly in the order that you seal specific monster lairs; and when it comes to enemies far in the distance you could either get them out of the way with your magic or take the long route and deal with them then and there, giving you at least a choice.  Online I've spoken with people who prefer the first Gaia chapter to the second one, people who prefer the middle Gaia chapter to the first one, people who like the final game in the series over Gaia over this one or who like the third game over the first game over the second or who like Gaia over the final game in the trilogy over today's A-RPG... but with that said, I do not know anyone who liked SoulBlader/SoulBlazer over Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma (that would be a bigger rarity than even the PAL version).  Either way, these are all very good A-RPGs, and honestly I kind of wish that there were more action-oriented adventure games like the ones presented in this largely well-respected trilogy.  =)

Here's to SoulBlader's 25th birthday!!!  =D
SoulBlader/SoulBlazer is a game I thoroughly enjoy with each playthrough, it's very charming and hugely entertaining and is not afraid to dive into delicate territory and does so with great prowess with plenty of intelligent and well-founded ideas; it's one of those games on the Nintendo 16-bit that I consider to be absolutely pitch-perfect.  I do wish I had heard of it or played it as a child, I think I would've enjoyed it even back then, with the easy difficulty being suitable for a starter kit to those new to the A-RPG genre (or new to the RPG genre in general) both young and old.  If you haven't played this game but own a Super Famicom or Super Nintendo console I'd say go ahead and give it a shot, I highly recommend it, and if you enjoyed it then I say try the two spiritual sequels as well to see how they compare (one's better than the other, with only the final game in the trilogy exceeding this one in quality for me, which says a lot).  It's a quarter of a century old, and it still holds up great today.  =D

My Personal Score: 10/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. My first video game review of 2017, and I've set the bar really high already.  Will there be a game that eclipses it during the year?
P.S. 2 And yes, I have recently played Paladin's Quest, and I honestly liked it, which makes me feel bad for being unsure of trying it years ago.
P.S. 3 Alternate pause trick: hold down the A button (after going through the stats) as you press Start.
P.S. 4 And since it's January 31st:
Image from Wikipedia
Happy 20th Anniversary, Ganpuru: Gunman's Proof, Lenar's best Western meets The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the system which, now that I think of it, had a similar dynamic and parallel to today's game as far as its main male and female characters are concerned (even their final moment is similar but under different circumstances)...  uh, anyway, Happy Birthday!!!  =D
Happy 25th Annivesrary, SoulBlader/SoulBlazer!!!  =D
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment (spam will not be tolerated) and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great day, and take care!  =D