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: EnixI 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.
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
|No, you're not seeing things: those flames do have|
evil grimaces about them (subtle yet clever)
|Two against one, I guess that spot ain't shaped|
like a "T" for nothin'
|Oh no, block eyed!|
|Leaping lizards, that green stuff is water?|
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|
|Taking it easy in the safety and comfort of nature =)|
|Scorching hot temple|
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)
|"I AM GROOT"|
|Four-way magic missile deployed|
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 Azmik) 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.
|Birds and palm trees|
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 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.
|Snow better time to review this game|
|It's a trap!|
|Oh no, warlocks!|
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|
|Touring around Dr. Leo's laboratory|
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. Robotrek, The 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.
|♫ 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... ♪
|What is the point of these dancing skeletons?|
|(Time to scare the guard into the water)|
|Here's to SoulBlader's 25th birthday!!! =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