Soul Blazer

Before their merger with Square, the Japanese primarily knew the Enix Corporation for the Dragon Quest series of games, although at times they branched off into titles outside the series, notably with developer Quintet, known for titles such as the God simulation/action RPG ActRaiser. Another Quintet title published in both Japan and North America for the Super NES was Soul Blader, given the slight name change Soul Blazer for its latter release. While it isn’t a masterpiece, Soul Blazer definitely has a few things going for it.

Soul Blazer is an action RPG and naturally features real-time combat. The protagonist attacks primarily with his sword, which has a decent semicircular range in front of him, effective at taking out multiple enemies. Foes themselves come from various monster lairs scattered throughout the game’s dungeons and open fields, where killing a certain number of them causes a symbol to replace the lair, on which the hero can step to recover a sealed-away part of the current stage (in which case his HP partially recovers), or open up a passageway within the dungeon or field.

Killing enemies nets the hero experience and occasional gems that are necessary to use magic, with a ball encircling the hero that unleashes one of a few equipped spells when the player wills it. Magic is sometimes necessary to defeat enemies in unreachable places, although it’s more or less useless against bosses, and death results in the player losing all collected gems unless they have a certain consumable item equipped and a trip back to the Master’s shrine. Another useful item is the medical herb, which, when equipped, fully restores the protagonist’s life when they run out of HP, with the player only able to have one herb at a time, but nonetheless helpful against tough bosses.

The inconsistent difficulty of bosses throughout the game is perhaps the main flaw of Soul Blazer’s battle system, with some early bosses being tough at low levels (and it can be sometimes difficult to find enemies that aren’t linked to monster lairs with which to grind levels), and the later bosses beatable with only one try if the player is ready and makes good use of the medical herb, not to mention bracelets that provide effects such as halving damage or doubling attack power. Ultimately, combat is above average, although the uselessness of magic against bosses alongside their fluctuating difficulty sometimes burdens it.

The game interface is superficially decent, with nice controls and easy menus, although there are some points where advancing can be difficult without a guide, particularly towards the end of the game, where the player can possibly spend a long time talking with people in the town portions of every stage to acquire items necessary to advance the game.

The protagonist of Soul Blazer is a servant of the Master (basically, God) sent to earth to unseal the people and their dwellings. Each stage has a story of some sort, alongside a recurring scientist named Dr. Leo, and a decently-developed ending. The story is ultimately a decent driving factor throughout the game, if somewhat reminiscent of the plot of ActRaiser. The translation could have been better, as well, with some glaring misspellings and some censorship with regards to the religious themes, but otherwise, the plot helps the game more than hurts.

The soundtrack is fairly enjoyable, with some decent tracks such as the organ-instrumented Master’s shrine theme, two variations on the town themes depending upon whether or not the player has beaten the boss of a particular stage, and the island field track. The sound effects aren’t out of place, either, although some of the themes are slightly off-key, the boss battle theme easily coming to mind, but otherwise, the aurals are one of the game’s high points.

The graphics are also nice and colorful, with lush scenery and decently-proportioned, if somewhat low-detailed, character and monster sprites, with the enemy sprites being much larger and the high points of Soul Blazer’s visual presentation.

Finally, the game is fairly short, taking under ten hours to complete, with few sidequests to pad out playing time aside from collecting a number of emblems to make free the use of magic.

Overall, Soul Blazer was a decent start to a new series by Enix developer Quintet that would include Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma, hitting many of the right notes with decent gameplay, an enjoyable plot, and nice aural and visual presentation, although it does leave room for improvement at times with regards to the sometimes-poor direction on how to advance. Despite these flaws, the game remains a nice trip down memory lane old-school gamers might regret missing out on.

The Good:
+Decent hack-and-slash battle system.
+Nice music and graphics.
+Decent story.

The Bad:
-Can be hard at times without a guide.
-Spotty localization.
-Little replay value.

The Bottom Line:
Decent start to the Soul Blazer series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Super NES
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 6/10
Lasting Appeal: 5/10
Difficulty: Varies
Playing Time: Less than 10 Hours

Overall: 7/10

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