Full disclosure: when I was younger - I didn't care much for standard role playing games. Growing up, my only real experience with RPGs was playing over at my friends' houses. Typically, they would have another buddy already over there and they both would be huddled around the Super NES with controllers in-hand trying to blast through Final Fantasy II or III (or Final Fantasy IV and VI in Japan.) Which usually meant I had to patiently wait around near-silent for a few hours while they leveled up, combined magic, and screamed at the screen. Meanwhile, all I wanted to do was rip into Mortal Kombat a few times before I had to go home again. Outside of Faxanadu and Castlevania II - I didn't really own games with more than mild RPG elements. Naturally, this left me with a bad taste in my mouth for RPGs that lasted until a buddy of mine leant me a game that completely changed my view on RPGs forever. It was way outside of the realm of "typical" RPGs and played more like an action/adventure game (which I would later find out was similar in nature to Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, one of the greatest Super NES games of all time.) It was called Soul Blazer and would prove to be one of my favorite games for the SNES. I recently bought my own copy from Lukie Games to see if it still holds up to the nostalgia I've held onto since 1992. So the question is: does it live up to my memories?
Typically one of the most important elements in an RPG is the story. However, for the uninitiated - Rpgs can be an incredibly long time-sink that require paying attention to minute details and dialogue trees. "Where did the king tell me to travel to again?" "How am I supposed to free the mighty blade from the ground?" In Action/RPG games such as Soul Blazer, the story is still important in the overall enjoyment of the game; however, it is not nearly as lengthy or crucial as in games such as the Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, or Ultima series. In this game, you control a hero sent from "the master" to resurrect a series of towns held captive by the evil Deathtoll. Along the way you meet a cast of characters who give you items to progress through the story and to bring these dead cities back to life. It is a classic tale of good versus evil and is similar in tone to other Enix games with spiritual/religious undertones such as EVO, Illusion of Gaia, and the Actraiser series. The story and dialogue are decent enough, but might not satisfy the hardcore RPG crowd. For everyone else, this is a good primer for the RPG genre and the story moves along quick enough to not hinder the action.
|"Paging Craig. Clean up on Aisle 5!"|
Speaking of the action - it is quick, exciting, and effective. You have a sword attack and magic (both of which you will find upgrades for as you progress through the game.) Different swords, armor, and magic will be useful in different situations. IE: in the underwater city, it is crucial to have your bubble armor equipped - lest you take damage and drown. Some swords and magic are tailored against certain enemies, such as rock monsters or flying enemies. For the most part, you can progress through the game with your most powerful equipment on at all times - but in order to unlock all secret items and get through to the final stage - it is important to know what tools to use where. Battles are uncomplicated and flow in a swift pace (ala Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.) Instead of typical turn-based battles - you are free to hack, slash and even run past enemies if you wish. There are boss battles at the end of each level and thankfully three warp zones per level to return to the safe room - where you can save, load, and travel at your will.
|BAH! What the heck is THAT thing?!|
One of the main highlights of Soul blazer may also be my biggest criticism: at times, the game is perhaps a little too accessible. The challenge level is perfect for people who do not have much RPG experience under their belts, and for an 8 year old Chris - it was a perfect primer for the genre. However, I have now taken down several RPGs since, and what once was a cute, engaging action game has become a breeze to play. Most bosses have easy to master attack patterns and with the right technique can be killed without taking much damage. Most enemies can be struck down with one or two sword blows if you're properly equipped. Finally, aside from having to hop back and forth between levels in order to track down all of the hidden booty that you missed while you were a weakling - the game is linear enough that you're never going to get lost. When I stopped playing Chrono Trigger for a year and came back to the game - I had literally no idea what my last move was, so there was a lot of backtracking in order to figure out what to do next. In this game - I could leave it 90% finished, come back in three years, and know exactly what is left to finish the game. That is a terrific feature for beginners, but as a somewhat seasoned gamer it makes the game easy enough to beat over a long weekend.
|That little green donut unlocks a bird...or a mermaid...or a...|
So the question needs to be answered - is Soul Blazer as awesome as I remember it? Absolutely. It's fun, addictive, quick, and action-packed. It's also ridiculously easy now that I've clobbered more complex RPGs and admittedly - the story is a little thin. However, it is still well worth your time and investment for a relatively underrated Action/RPG classic. It's a bit on the collectible side these days so it may run you a bit more than your average SNES cart - but it's worth it. Pick up a copy for yourself!