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Bahamut Lagoon (SNES) artwork

Bahamut Lagoon (SNES) review

"A year or two ago, I finally got the opportunity to lay my hands on Square’s epic turn-based strategy game, Bahamut Lagoon. As a big fan of that company’s SNES stuff, I booted it up, KNOWING I was about to play a game I’d consider a classic for the rest of my life. After breezing through a couple of the introductory battles, I was pumped — prepared to play through the entire quest non-stop. It was perfect! "

A year or two ago, I finally got the opportunity to lay my hands on Square’s epic turn-based strategy game, Bahamut Lagoon. As a big fan of that company’s SNES stuff, I booted it up, KNOWING I was about to play a game I’d consider a classic for the rest of my life. After breezing through a couple of the introductory battles, I was pumped — prepared to play through the entire quest non-stop. It was perfect!

Much, much later, I finished the game. Exhausted and disappointed, I had forced myself to endure the final battles, only wishing that the game had come to its conclusion some time ago. All those feelings of ecstasy and joy I’d felt at the outset of my quest had faded to a distant memory, replaced by an all-encompassing sense of apathy. What had gone wrong?

With Bahamut Lagoon, Square created a gorgeous game with amazing music. They created a deep battle system with interactive terrain. They created some cool innovations, like the ability to raise a slew of dragons to be lethal allies on the battlefield. But, there was one thing they didn’t create: a backbone to make all those good things seem worthwhile in the end.

When I look at all the turn-based strategy games I love (such as Fire Emblem and Shining Force, for two), I think of how encounters never become tiresome. Battles tend to be one-on-one and few adversaries can absorb more than a couple of hits. That sort of simplicity is a necessity when any given fight can consist of a couple dozen units opposing your party (which may be nearly as large). In Bahamut Lagoon, you must divide your horde of characters into groups of four and partake in standard RPG battles — one turn at a time. Your characters will grow to have a couple thousand hit points, while enemy forces might have tens of thousands. All-in-all, this causes many encounters to last for what seems an eternity.

A boring eternity, that is. With a couple of notable exceptions, I found most of the 27 fights in this game to be extraordinarily easy to complete. Part of that is because of the amount of money you can raise by killing monsters and selling excess items. As I reached the final dozen or so battles, I had enough funds in the bank to continually hold the maximum amount of hit point, magic and life restoring items. At this point, I was virtually unstoppable. I could simply lower my head and charge into battle with no true fear of failure. If a character died, one of my 99 Litancibles would remedy that situation. If I used all a character’s magic points by repeatedly blasting hapless foes with my most powerful attacks, well, I had 99 Magic Gins at my disposal to give them sufficient recharges to outlast even the most durable of opponents.

The more powerful my characters got, the less enjoyable the game got. Early on, it was fun and challenging to watch my multitude of weak characters fight to overcome enemy parties when one mistake could force me to use one of my mere handful of reviving items. But, when I got to the point where virtually every tactical error I made could easily be remedied, all the strategy in this game went out the window.

And the game’s biggest gimmick didn’t help, either. Each of your four-person parties gets command of a dragon. While these beasts start out relatively weak and stupid, by feeding them items and equipment, you can raise every one of their stats. Feed them enough goodies and you can evolve them into fearsome beasts of mass destruction that are more than a match for most monsters in Bahamut Lagoon. If you choose the “come” tactic for them, the party in control of the beast will have one hell of a bodyguard. If you put them on “go”, they’ll scout out ahead and put a hurting on powerful foes before your characters even get within range.

Square encourages this sort of play, too. The abilities of your characters are determined by the power of their personal dragon. If you ignore a particular dragon’s fire ability, its party will have ineffective fire attacks (if any at all). If you don’t build up all of a dragon’s stats, its keepers will never unlock their best attacks.The more lethal your dragons are, the better-equipped your parties will be to deal death in massive doses. All of this turns Bahamut Lagoon into a lose-lose situation. If you don’t build up your dragons, you’re crippling your characters. If you do build them up, you become too powerful for nearly everything. If there’s a middle ground, I never found it.

I also didn’t find much significance in the game’s convoluted story, which starts out with your group of characters seeking to stop an emperor from utilizing the powers of your world’s holy dragons for his own means — but eventually becomes much more confusing. With the exception of Mr. Emperor, few of this game’s villains have any sort of motivation given to their actions, which can be a bit annoying. You’ll spend a good deal of your quest fighting each and every one of his subordinates (facing many of them repeatedly) for seemingly no other reason than to have a boss in every battle. Of course, that’s not particularly surprising when you consider that the vast majority of your characters have no real significance beyond occasional moments of comic relief. The quest itself is suitably epic — unfortunately, most of the characters it revolves around are one-dimensional and uninspiring.

Sadly, “one-dimensional and uninspiring” are words I’d use to describe the whole of Bahamut Lagoon. Aesthetically, this is a wonderful game. Character and enemy designs are gorgeous and (in many cases) well-animated, while the soundtrack is one of the finest I’ve ever heard for a 16-bit game. You also have a few cool features, such as the ability to alter the terrain of many battlefields. If you have to cross a large body of water, a few ice spells will create a makeshift bridge. Uh-oh, a number of foes have congregated in a forest — it’s time to set the trees ablaze with a couple of fire spells and watch the destructive forces of nature whittle their lives down to nothingness. Dang it! Those soldiers are using buildings to heal themselves after every turn. Oh well, all you need is one well-placed lightning attack to destroy any such structure.

But I need a bit more than pretty pictures and some spells with neat secondary functions to enjoy a game for any length of time — and that is where Bahamut Lagoon fails. With too many easy, tedious battles and not enough character development, this game proves to be a quite unexceptional SNES-era adventure by Square — one where the “adventure” lies in finding the willpower to fight off the tedium and successfully complete all 27 battles.

overdrive's avatar
Featured community review by overdrive (June 30, 2005)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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