Soul Blazer (SNES)
This here review is an old review I wrote almost exactly a year ago for Caiminds, my first post on Teh Pwn Shop and OTDSOT. It's over one of the three games in a spiritual trilogy of games Enix had made back in the SNES era, along with a sort of sequel to Actraiser, which I reviewed here.
If you like it, check out any of the sites I linked for more of my writing (but the selection at Caiminds will be spotty due to site issues in the past few months erasing some content).
|No, that's a sword. Silly letters.|
Awhile back, I handled a review of Actraiser, a little gem for the SNES made by Quintet, a studio under Enix's name since the early 90s. They've all but disappeared in recent years, but managed to make quite a few cult classics early in their life. They also had a habit of connecting their games in similar mythology and themes, leading to a very loose trilogy of action RPGs. Soul Blazer is the first game in this trilogy and the linking game to Actraiser, a radically different adventure from the world sim and action platformer genres. While it's a far more conventional game than Actraiser, I'd say that it's a much stronger game on the whole.
It sucks to be the Master. The living god of the world keeps having to deal with evil monsters trying to destroy his people, first it was his Satan counterpart and this time it's a demon named Deathtoll. He's wiped the life from the world and sealing all away inside spawning seals for his monsters. To deal with the issue, an angel is sent down to clean up the mess by destroying all the monsters and releasing the souls of all the beings sealed away by the demon. While he's at it, there's the question of how Deathtoll even got here in the first place, and the answer may lie with the king of the land and an inventor named Dr. Leo. Only by rebuilding the world, will the hero be able to piece together the mystery.
|And that voice said "My waifu Mio is very kawaii, uguu."|
Like Actraiser, the plot here is very basic, but there's a bit more depth and maturity than expected. While most conversations with CPUs are very dry, there's the occasional moment where you can see some real dramatic weight between a group of characters. Whenever Dr. Leo appears in a flashback especially counts, including one philosophical debate with a guard. Deathtoll himself at the end of the game is given a bit more defining traits than just being evil, which is nice and paints him as a far more interesting being. That said, the dialog is nothing that special most of the time and the dialog feels mostly like excuse plot or telling you what to do next. There's not a lot of time to properly develop ideas and subplots, leaving the gameplay to hold the weight of the game.
The game proper plays sort of like a hybrid of top down Zelda action with RPG elements. You can walk around and slash a sword to damage enemies or use magic for greater damage. Magic is very weird in this game, as you need to take into account the position of the white orb circling around you. When you use a spell, the spell itself will come from the white orb. It mostly moves on its own, but you can slightly affect where it leans by moving in one direction, useful for enemies behind walls. You also need to keep track of your gem count, as those are your magical fuel. Expect to be picking up said gems from every enemy you can find for quite a bit of the game. Moving your character itself is a tad awkward, as you can't move diagonally. It's normally not an issue, except in the few places with heavy wind and icy floors, at which point it becomes counter-intuitive for modern players. It took me awhile to get used to this little annoyance, but the good news is that the game is built around this limited movement, so you won't often find yourself in situations where eight way movement is important.
|When you're on angel dust, you can go anywhere!|
The goal itself is to traverse dungeons to defeat monsters that spawn from a set point called a monster lair. By defeating all the monsters from that spawn point, it will change its look, indicated by a poofing noise with a cloud animation. No more monsters will spawn there and stepping on that point with either change something in the dungeon or bring back a lost soul in the area's main village, restoring a small amount of your health. By returning to the village, you can speak with the inhabitants and learn important information or find important items, like new magic or equipment. Along with finding new swords and armor, there are tons of items with different effects, like the Dream Rod's ability to enter the dreams of sleeping people or bracelets that boost the effectiveness of your other equipment. The goal of the game comes down to restoring as much of the world as possible and finding new things you never noticed before, backtracking as needed to discover new things.
All of this is thankfully well paced and spread out. Grinding for experience to level up your stats and health is never really needed thanks to the fixed monster lair system. Since the goal is to uncover as much of the world as possible, you'll constantly be looking for these lairs and getting into fights that gain the experience you need. You can pause in any area to learn how many lairs remain open too, very helpful with backtracking. That leaves the bosses, and just like Actraiser, they can be absolutely horrific. The first boss alone will take a lot of patience to take down and survive, simply by the layout of the battlefield. Some are amazingly easy to exploit, like the skull boss who can be beat by endlessly slashing away in a corner, while others are simply designed to cause headaches, like the machine boss and his abuse of invincibility frames. All in all, they all offer interesting challenges and tricks to figure you in order to beat them, and figuring out that trick feels very rewarding.
|Warn Link, the pots have come for revenge!|
The downside to the game is backtracking, because you will be doing it a lot. There are far more things to find than you would expect, and the hiding places of some of these things are beyond obtuse, especially the eight symbols to gain a powerful item that makes magic unlimited. To make things more tedious, text comes out pretty slowly and can't be skipped, and since many of these items come down to talking to everything you can find, expect to be doing a lot of reading. That said, these are not major problems and many of the items are optional finds. They're just small irritants that may spoil some fun during certain parts of the game. Not even death is as annoying as in other games, as you just end back up in the shrine near the save-point and the portal points. The one problem is that you lose all your gems on death, so expect for that to become annoying against the final boss if you never found those eight symbols.
The game looks leaps and bounds better than Actraiser, to the point I have trouble believing this was made by the same dev team. The detail on your main character is surprising, even down to always having the sword in the right hand, while all the enemies have fluid motion and move with impressive speed. There's a lot of color with some memorable areas to explore, the highlight for me being Dr. Leo's Lab. The CPUs carry far more detail than you'd normally expect, especially Dr. Leo and his distinct face. My favorite part of this all are the bosses, which are simply massive and menacing. Every single one of them looks like a truly major threat, just like the bosses of Actraiser, just with more animation frames here. The musical score is also very well handled fantasy fare with a few standout tracks, hats off once again to Dr. Leo's lab.
|"It would be easier to see if there was someone to rob if this wall wasn't here..."|
Soul Blazer carries a lot of charm with it. There's nothing particularly inventive about it, while the things it adds feel very unnecessary. However, it all comes together as it should, creating a game I'm not going to forget anytime soon with a surprising amount of character and some good challenge to be found. The controls and level design are far better than Actraiser's, so it's the better game on the whole. The bad news is the game is worth fifty bucks, so emulate if you're not a collector or can't find a good deal.