Note: This is an idea I may continue based on reader response. As a diehard retro gamer, I love to revisit classic games every now and then, all for the sake of replaying beloved childhood favorites and old gems I’ve missed out on. These features will steer away from your typical review format and lean towards recollection. This is also a chance to take a break from modern gaming and rediscover what made us get in touch with gaming in the first place. This first journal will focus on the underrated SNES gem: Soul Blazer!
Back in the Super NES days, no one seemed to appreciate Enix. They pumped out more original games than most developers could dream of. It’s a shame that modern gamers don’t have a sense of how much both Square and Enix accomplished on the Super NES era, also known as the golden age of Japanese RPGs. Among many of the classics Enix released for the system, the most commonly forgotten one in my opinion is the clever action-RPG Soul Blazer. It was developed by Quintet, which were known for making numerous unorthodox SNES games like Act Raiser and Illusion of Gaia. If you want to get technical, Soul Blazer is considered as the first part of the “Gaia” trilogy for the Super NES.
Soul Blazer follows a format similar to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, offering an overhead view of a 2D world which contains a mixture of nonlinear exploration and linear objective-based gameplay design. Players also handle an assortment of basic blades and magic, with some clever twists here and there that keep things interesting. One of the most unique aspects of SB is the player’s influence on its world. By defeating monsters and destroying their lairs, imprisoned characters, buildings, items, and animals are then ‘released’ back into the world, allowing the player to manipulate them in godlike fashion. Remember, this was about a decade before level-5’s own Dark Cloud for the PS2, hence why Quintet’s gem was truly ahead of its time.
Players would continue to go through the cycle of conquering dungeons and subsequently freeing people and objects back into the world, which constantly changes by interacting with all of these released NPCs and objects. Alterations range from subtle to radical, the latter of which encourages backtracking to old areas after triggering new events. Remember how cool it was in Zelda to upgrade your sword and/or tunic? Soul Blazer took it a step further by offering twice as much swords, armor, spells and items compared to A Link to the Past. One of the coolest items is the Dream Rod, which allows you to enter the actual dreams of NPCs.
Graphics are largely reminiscent of ALttP, but not as colorful. If anything, the color palette and character design are more akin to Act Raiser. In fact, even some of its sound seems borrowed from Act Raiser. I’m not complaining though, since Act Raiser’s soundtrack is arguably one of the best on the SNES (my personal favorite) and it’s always beneficial to borrow from the best. Even though Soul Blazer’s music doesn’t crack the top 10 in my list (which is populated by the likes of Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, etc), it’s still superb. Modern gamers without the tinge of nostalgia may not appreciate the old-school soundcard as much, but even so one can’t deny Soul Blazer’s eclectic and enjoyable collection of tunes.
Plot took a backseat to gameplay in old-school RPGs. In some ways, modern RPGs get too caught up in the presentation, plot, and writing and therefore lose focus on what it means to actually be a game. Going retro is always a nice reminder of simpler times when the strength of gameplay mattered the most. Soul Blazer is obviously included in this creed. Its storyline is about as basic as it gets; a tale of good versus evil. The main character is an avatar of “The Master,” an all-knowing benevolent entity who is concerned about the rise of the malevolent “Death Toll”. There are other colorful and interesting characters as well, like Dr. Leo. Moreover, nearly everything in the game has dialogue, including animals and trees. Sadly, however, the translation could have been better as and the script contains a few typos here and there.
So how can you play this game? Well, unfortunately, it has yet to see a modern digital re-release. That means you’ll have to try and hunt down an original cartridge for the Super NES if you want to enjoy it. It’s highly recommended for any Zelda fan, SNES collector, and casual retro gamer. It would be awesome to see it appear on the Virtual Console, for there may be a chance given the recent re-release of Act Raiser. Online shopping is probably your best bet, costing you 25$ for a bare-boned used cart and significantly more if the box and manual are included.
Have you played Soul Blazer? Interested in playing it? Want to see more Retro Journals? Sound off in the comments!