Soul Blazer - Reader Retroview  

Soul Smolderer is More Apt
by JuMeSyn

15-20 hours


Rating definitions 

   For English-speaking audiences the early years of the Super Nintendo’s reign over the RPG world were fitfully frustrating. Titles were released with enormous gaps in the interim, and most RPGs that were released during this time were not particularly long, mostly thanks to developers not having been granted the time necessary to flesh out a long game. On top of these difficulties lay the limited release numbers of most RPGs in a bet-hedging move by translators. Had Soul Blazer been granted a larger release in a time when more RPGs were available … it probably would have about the same status it in fact does, actually.

   Soul Blazer is the first in the trilogy of titles including Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma. As such it is an action-RPG, though one that came out early enough in the Super Nintendo’s life cycle as to sport very little content that could not have been produced on another 16-bit system. Its battle system illustrates this quite obviously, in that it looks rather like a less responsive version of an overhead-view Legend of Zelda title. The unnamed protagonist walks about and slashes things with a sword, and while magic is available for long-range attacks it will almost never be used given how much faster the player can kill things with the sword alone. This system is distinctly inferior to Zelda titles in that there is no moment of invulnerability after being hit, leading to a player potentially losing an entire life meter in mere moments through inattention or an inextricable predicament. Unlike in a Zelda title experience exists in Soul Blazer, and if the player wants to invest an egregious amount of time it is possible to get stronger than the developers had in mind for a boss encounter. Enemies in Soul Blazer come in two types: those generated by a base, which are finite and those innate to the environment, which reappear if the player leaves a room.

Why is his armor not rusty?  Annoying Logic Showcase! Why is his armor not rusty? Annoying Logic Showcase!

   The comparisons to Zelda continue in the item management system, which looks strangely similar to a Zelda game’s. For one who has somehow not seen an item screen of Zelda, everything is arranged in one menu and the player must switch between items as needed one at a time. There are armors and more powerful swords to be located, found in chests and tending to be immediately necessary due to an innate ability for further progress. The item interface can be clumsy at times due to the need to quickly switch from a bracelet (which will be boosting the player’s defense, or offense, or late in the game both) to grab the one healing herb that can be had at a time, then immediately switching back to the bracelet after using the herb. This is the most common specific with this problem irritation but others exist thanks to the inability to use more than one item simultaneously.

   Aesthetics are nothing remarkable, even considering that this game was released in 1992. Visuals are typical early SNES, meaning they aren’t terribly detailed, the color usage that was possible with the SNES hadn’t been completely facilitated, and the Genesis could probably have accommodated everything here. Music is unmemorable but not actively off-putting. Sound effects have some surprisingly realistic ones such as the clank of the sword on metal enemies, but there are other sound effects that are distressing enough to make the player never want to hear them again. The sound heard when the protagonist is struck comes to mind here, and the player will hear this far too often.

   The story could have been far better, especially since the underlying concept is intriguing. The player is a minion of an unseen deity (called Master thanks to Nintendo’s reluctance to allow named deities in this era) called upon to save the world. Problem: the world is already in the grip of a demon named Deathtoll. Liberating the world must be done one person, place, animal or plant at a time. Every time the protagonist kills every monster from an enemy base the base will disappear and a green icon will appear for the player to step upon and release someone and/or something from Deathtoll’s control. The poor translation does not help this concept achieve great results, but even with a sterling translation the story needs more work. It seems perfunctory in many parts and does not receive all the attention the concept deserves. Character development is what the prospective player desires? One might desire it, but one would be very disappointed.

Glen was fifty feet tall! Glen was fifty feet tall!

   There are a few puzzles that require some thought, but not too much. Bosses can be rough but follow standard action-gaming rules – once their pattern is nailed down the player should be able to destroy them without undue difficulty. Regular enemies have very basic patterns to penetrate. Returning to old areas is encouraged and indeed necessary to free persons and things for progress, but once the game itself is concluded there are no reasons to replay it save for a love of the title.

   Soul Blazer is interesting and includes several unique-for-the-time ideas into its play cycle. Ineffective execution of these ideas means the game stands as a mostly missed opportunity, and its resemblances to several Zelda titles do it no favors. While far from a bad action RPG, Soul Blazer could have been so much more. For an RPGamer seeking more in the vein of action-RPGs from the early SNES era, this will suffice. It will not excel.

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