Soul Blazer (SNES) review
"Some people call Zelda an action/RPG. Although Zelda has elements of both genres, it is much more than that, and is in reality a completely different genre. Soul Blazer, often compared to Zelda by those that have actually heard of it, is not. It is a simple blend of action and RPG, combining the two rather than creating something new. Such an attempt, blending two incredibly different styles of gaming, seems doomed to failure. Yet, despite the seeming impossibility, I find Soul Blazer to be a s..."
Some people call Zelda an action/RPG. Although Zelda has elements of both genres, it is much more than that, and is in reality a completely different genre. Soul Blazer, often compared to Zelda by those that have actually heard of it, is not. It is a simple blend of action and RPG, combining the two rather than creating something new. Such an attempt, blending two incredibly different styles of gaming, seems doomed to failure. Yet, despite the seeming impossibility, I find Soul Blazer to be a solid experience and quite fun.
Enix tosses you right into the game, and there's not much there to get you up to speed, either in the story or the gameplay. You are a creature from the heavens, sent by the Master to save the world (what else is new?). Apparently all citizens of the world (and by citizens I mean people, goats, dogs, tulips, plants, doors, you name it) have been sucked into evil portals and must be freed. Eventually, you learn the reason behind this - the king of the land forced Dr Leo (a famous inventor) into opening a portal to the world of evil governed by the typical bad guy type, Deathtoll. The king wanted to impress his wife or something. Some attempts at a deeper plot happen, Leo's daughter falls in love with you (again, what else is new?), people learn the errors of their ways, and everyone lives happily ever after.
So no, don't expect much in the way of a solid, addicting storyline. It's kind of off the wall and cliched at the same time. The overall plot is nothing special, but some of the specifics (like making a deal with the devil to impress your wife, or merely talking to armoires) are rather bizarre. It's also very much like Actraiser's story. Is Enix merely rehashing their stuff here? And while we're at it, why did they feel it was necessary to beat us over the head with morals at the end? I can understand wanting to give a message, but a sledgehammer style just isn't the way to do it.
But in the end, the story serves as a backdrop to the game. And what an interesting game it is. You move through six different areas, beginning each one in a barren overworld. But once you get to the "dungeons" (which range from caves to castles to cliffs), you get some Zelda-style combat. Enemies come charging out of portals, and you must kill them with your trusty sword or magic. Once you've wiped out all of the enemies from one portal, you can step on it to seal it up. This results in a passage opening up, a treasure appearing, or a person being released into the world. So you move along, sealing all the portals you find until you can't go any further. What now? It's back to the overworld, now a bit less barren, to talk to everyone and open a new area. You continue on this way, alternating between freeing people and then talking to them, until you finally come to the boss of the level. And then it's on to the next world.
On the RPG side, you have experience and levelling up. You also get sword and armor upgrades, as well as new magic and plenty of items. And, of course, you have an abundance of characters to talk to and baddies to defeat. There are very few puzzles to figure out, the dungeons are all completely linear, and it's basically all combat. Combat is done in a top down view, and all you have to do is swing your sword a lot. There's no reaction or brief moment of invincibility from the enemies when you hit them, so just swing as fast as you can. Or hide and use magic, which comes out of a floating orb, the soul of a magician, that accompanies you on your journies. The choice is yours.
Surprisingly, this system works very well. Backtracking in and out of dungeons to talk to the people is never a chore, for all the enemies in between are dead. By the same token, leveling up is held at a constant rate, as you must kill everyone once and only once. Combat is certainly not as deep as Zelda, as it basically boils down to standing still and slashing away, but it's enjoyable in its own right. You have a wide variety of magic, from summoning tornadoes to planting mines to shooting out energy, and all are useful in their own situations. It's not deep; it's not incredibly exciting, but the basic game is quite fun.
And I must say, the "portal" system is quite cool. By sealing off a portal every time you kill a few baddies, you feel like you are constantly advancing through the game. Every few moments, something new opens up. This, more than anything, keeps the player focused on the action and determined to go forward. It's like a constant reward, something more tangible than some experience or gold that most RPGs give you. Even a few minutes with the game lets you accomplish something, and I loved the feeling of knowing that I am always moving forward. Besides, the idea of releasing townspeople was pretty cool as well. It means there's always someone new to talk to and always something new going on in the overworld. And, once again, you feel as if you're accomplishing something when a town slowly grows out of nothingness, from a barren landscape to one lush with life. It's a pretty cool feeling, and probably the best part of the game.
On the other hand, it is kind of tough to get used to. I was pretty disoriented at first, and it probably took me longer to get through the first couple worlds than the rest of the game. But once you figure out the style, the game plays like a breeze. You'll have no problem moving along, whacking out enemies and freeing your friends. Likewise, finding all the portals and exploring the land is no big deal, especially since the game tells you how many portals are left in a given area. It almost seems too easy, at least until you come to the bosses. They are quite large and very hard. The sudden jolt of difficulty is a mite bizarre, but it's also something of a reprieve. There's got to be some challenge in the game, right? Fortunately, it doesn't feel too cheap, and with a little practice you can get by all of them. Deathtoll, however, is quite a pain, and requires a hefty amount of patience.
Unfortunately, when you die, you lose all your gems (basically a substitute for magic points). Deathtoll requires magic to beat. Seems rather stupid to me. Thus, you're better off saving often, and simply resetting when you die. It was a stupid move by Enix, but one that is easily rectified. Besides, you'll probably only be dying on the bosses anyways. And since you can save right before fighting those bosses, it's really no big deal. So even this isn't a problem.
In any case, it's pretty obvious that you're left with a rather basic game with a few cool traits. Of course, by being a bare-bones game by both action and rpg standards, you'd expect to get bored quickly. Fortunately, that isn't really the case. There are only 6 worlds (plus one quick final level), and the entire game is rather short. Likewise, each world is entirely different. The landscapes change, your goals change, and enemies change for every one. More importantly, since no one's present when you first appear in a new world, it almost feels like starting over again every time. Thus, it's like playing six smaller games, which works well enough to keep one engrossed in the game the entire time.
In the end, we are left with a rather unique and quite interesting game. And yet, it doesn't feel special. Nothing jumps out and grabs your attention, no part seems amazing or a blast to play, the presentation and story certainly aren't reason enough, and the game, on the surface, seems unworthy. Yet, despite this, it's a strong, solid game. Every little piece works together; the action, rpg, and unique touches blend together better than any game I've seen. There's no reason your library shouldn't feel complete if you don't have this game, as it's certainly not a must-have. Yet it's a rather nice game anyways, and one you should try.
Community review by mariner (January 22, 2006)
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