Soul Blazer (SNES) review
"Soul Blazer’s intro-story is a veritable list of things evil despots should watch out for. You shouldn’t build machines to summon demons. You shouldn’t barter with said demons, especially if their name is something like “Deathtoll.” And if you do happen to make a deal where you trade him lives in exchange for gold, at least have the presence of mind to stop before your entire kingdom is empty of happy tax payers. Oh, and check the contract to make sure you get to keep your soul in the..."
Soul Blazer’s intro-story is a veritable list of things evil despots should watch out for. You shouldn’t build machines to summon demons. You shouldn’t barter with said demons, especially if their name is something like “Deathtoll.” And if you do happen to make a deal where you trade him lives in exchange for gold, at least have the presence of mind to stop before your entire kingdom is empty of happy tax payers. Oh, and check the contract to make sure you get to keep your soul in the bargain. King Magridd didn’t take such precautions and now he and his entire kingdom are in the shit-pot.
Enter you, the angelic Soul Blazer, potential savior of said pot.
As generic as this might sound, from the moment you enter your first destination, a sleepy little vale called Grass Valley, you will be struck by a sense of heavy atmosphere. Fog settles over the valley in little wisps of cloud. A river runs through the grass, turning into a waterfall at a cliff’s edge. A minimalist baroquian melody drifts through the highlands and, listening to its somber whisperings, an extreme loneliness sets in. This truly is an empty world. Only a single tulip remains as a marker of the life that had once lived in the valley. Once you discover that you can talk to plants, the tulip points you towards the first dungeon, an underground construction built above raging waterfalls.
Here the loneliness of the Valley is replaced by the high octave beat of an action filled dungeon crawl. The music changes from somber baroquian to bitchin’ ska and you’ll quickly be set upon by a gang of Beastmen and slimes. Soul Blazer is a top down action game like Zelda, with you slashing and hacking at monsters while trying to avoid their damaging touch and ranged attacks. There’s more variety in the enemies than in your typical top-downer, though, and the sprites are nicely detailed, especially the bosses. Few players will forget the first boss, the hulking bi-pedal armoured insect Metal Mantis, who you fight on a series of conveyor belts. Every boss between that and the behemoth-like eagle that tries to knock you off an airship near the end of the game is similarly unforgettable. And the levels these guys reside in are sweet. Before the game is done, you’ll explore long forgotten temples in the midst of swamps, climb icy peaks and erupting volcanoes, walk the ocean’s floor, and even take a tour through a miniature model town complete with hostile toy knights and cannons.
Soul Blazer further mixes things up by incorporating some RPG elements, like leveling up (though it only affects your life bar) and different equipable armour and swords. Useful things, too, like a blade that stuns otherwise invincible enemies or a bracelet that halves the damage you take. Soul Blazer also has a simple magic system that lets you use a wide variety of spells, from your basic straight-shooting fireball to a tornado that tears its way randomly and devastatingly across the screen. Of course, you don’t start off with the power to transport Dorothy to Oz, but even so you should be more than a match for most enemies. They are numerous and varied, but they aren’t particularly intelligent. Anyone who has played a 2D action game before will be able to out maneuver and dispatch basic grunts within seconds. And that’s when things get interesting.
As the last of a group of foes disappears, the portal from which they emerged changes into a switch. Stepping on the switch transports you back to whatever lonely village you’ve come from to watch the release of one of its denizens. Will it be a lowly bridge guard or will it be an entire mansion and someone important and wealthy? Or will it be human at all? You could just as well be releasing a goat or a fish or a tangle of ivy. As you release more creatures, the empty canvas of the towns turns into a living social network. It’s extremely satisfying to watch a village sprout into existence. Saving the world is nothing new to video game heroes. But usually, it’s more of a concept than a certainty. I mean, there’s always some villain whose plan would definitely be better halted than not (especially if that plan is to continue to dress as poorly as RPG villains are wont to do), but as far as the common man goes, there’s not much of a connection. You often feel like you’re the only one who knows you’re going to save the world and the biggest reaction people will have to its saving is that they’ll stop bitching about the sun imploding and go back to bitching about gas prices. In Soul Blazer, you immediately get to see the results of your noble deeds, and the feeling is quite nice. You get to see on the most micro level what you’re accomplishing.
In Soul Blazer you’re not just saving the world. You’re saving every creature in the world, one at a time.
As such, you have a stake in every creature’s fate and you feel closer to their personal stories and struggles. Discovering that a goat is the reincarnated wife of its owner doesn’t get you anything gameplay wise, but it does kindle a tiny coal of life in the dead heart of this gamer. Every creature has a message on life that it embodies, and not your typical “Go for it!” motivational poster tripe. This is heavier stuff all around, such as when two gnomes, a race which only lives for a year, wonder if they should spend all their precious time being in love with each other or if they should seek out fresh companions and experiences. Even the tulip you meet in the first town thanks you for your efforts by exclaiming that “No creature likes to live alone. We have to help each other.” Then there’s the cats at the inventor’s house, who lament that they have to kill other animals in order to survive.
Now that belongs on a motivational poster. Here, I’ve made one for you:
Community review by zippdementia (June 17, 2009)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
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