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Soul Blazer (SNES) artwork

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:



Now you can print it out, hang it on your wall, and forever be motivated by the words of Soul Blazer. And that’s the real draw and appeal of the game.

Or at least, that’s what I thought playing it in my older years. When I was a kid, I just wanted to see what would “pop out next.” Would this be a set of vines leading to that treasure chest? A new house for me to explore? Or another piece of someone’s story? Of course, a bit of that excitement goes away when you’ve played the game enough times to memorize what each switch does, but such is the price of revisiting nostalgia.

I usually refrain from writing reviews on older games, unless I hated them. Derision is something which gets better with age, and it’s no problem to whip out a quick bash on some piss-pot of a game. But when it’s a game that I actually enjoyed? Then we run into problems. I have to start asking myself some very direct questions, and sometimes I don’t like the answers. For instance, was the game really any good, or was I just young and naive? Does nostalgia colour my opinion? Does the game hold up? What would a newcomer to the game think?

I’m of the opinion that our childhood is perhaps our most sacred possession. It should never be brought under the glaring light of the cynicism gained through age and experience. One should stop bringing their children to the miniature golf course around the time they start asking questions about the lonely, cigarette smoking man who runs the joint. For me, reviewing older games is like revisiting your favourite family-fun center only to discover that it’s not quite as big as you thought it, and some kid has thrown up in the ball pit.

Then again, there are some games that never lose their magic. Such as one game that I offered to pay Hollywood video twenty dollars for when I was a kid. Flabbergasted that someone would want to BUY their rental games, they agreed. Which was awesome for me, because it meant suddenly I was the proud owner of Soul Blazer.

The rest is history.

Rating: 10/10

zippdementia's avatar
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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bigcj34 posted June 18, 2009:

Not playing a retro game because you might ruin the nostalgia by going back to it is a somewhat common approach I see. The review was quite philosophical towards the end, and I do like the analogy of visiting "your favourite family fun centre". Quite a lot of deep thought went into it, especially when it's a rare example of you palying a retro game.

Gamesradar ran a feature of games that you remember being good, aren't now. Indeed you may not want to ruin the good times from the past, but when it comes to reviewing it's important to consider how good a game is NOW. If it's 2009, you tell the reader how it holds up now, not in 1996. FFVII was the victor of that GR feature, and I agree. It's a good game, but it's not ZOMG The Bezt Game Ever.
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zippdementia posted June 18, 2009:

... I still like FF7.

In any case, Soul Blazer still works, and I hope that got across in the review. It works differently now than it used to, but it still works.
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psychopenguin posted August 11, 2009:

I don't know what kind of person you are writing to, but I just can't grasp this concept at all.


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,


Well, at least you randomly throw in a mention of what kind of game it is, after paragraphs of flowery "LOOK, I CAN WRITE REAL WELL ABOUT STUFF!" nauseating writing.


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.


Give me a fucking break. Hyperbole much?


I usually refrain from writing reviews on older games, unless I hated them.


OH SO I BETTER READ THIS ONE BECAUSE THIS IS A SPECIAL OCCASION


I’m of the opinion that our childhood is perhaps our most sacred possession. It should never be brought under the glaring light of the cynicism gained through age and experience. One should stop bringing their children to the miniature golf course around the time they start asking questions about the lonely, cigarette smoking man who runs the joint. For me, reviewing older games is like revisiting your favourite family-fun center only to discover that it’s not quite as big as you thought it, and some kid has thrown up in the ball pit.


This might be the single worst paragraph in the history of reviewing.

You probably have some writing talent underneath all this hyperbolic flowery writing, but I'm not falling for this bullshit. This review is trash.
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zippdementia posted August 11, 2009:

I'm inclined to disagree with you, Psycho Penguin.
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sashanan posted August 11, 2009:

As am I. For one thing, the goat and reincarnated wife bit WAS powerful - at least to me.
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zigfried posted August 11, 2009:

Now that our match is over, here are my comments on your review.

Your conclusion tells us that Soul Blazer deserves its 10; however, the review itself fails to show us why. The first five paragraphs paint a portrait of an entertaining old adventure, so we're definitely in the positive half of the scale, but the review's emotional turning point -- when it should be reaching its fever pitch -- is abruptly interrupted by a vulgar poster that fails to amuse or motivate. (Also, if you're going to call it a poster, there should be a border surrounding the image + text, not just a border around the image.)

For the emotional effect you were working towards, I think inserting anything large at that particular point -- giant picture, poster, whatever -- breaks the flow. You'd be better served by keeping the text continuous (although you could probably align an "emphasis" screenshot to the left or right. That way you maintain flowing text, but still benefit from a screenshot to hammer the point)

By the way: gnome example = great, goat stuff = cheesy.

The sentence immediately following the poster sounds sarcastic, which is unfortunate because otherwise the pre-poster paragraph would easily segue into the conclusion. When you start a review by describing a game with sardonic humor, your heartfelt praise (such as how the goat emotionally affected you) needs to be blunt or else it sounds like you're still poking fun at the game, which weakens the impact.

Regarding the final couple paragraphs: the mental image of the lonely, cigarette-smoking man is very powerful -- reminiscent of the X-Files episode when Cancer Man tried to give up smoking -- but the image of vomit in the ball pit kills the emotion.

As the saying goes, sometimes less is more.

//Zig
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True posted August 12, 2009:

I'm inclined to disagree with you, Psycho Penguin.

Don't worry, Zipp. Everyone does.
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JANUS2 posted August 12, 2009:

Psycho Penguin has some valid and constructive opinions, it's just a shame that he's so angry.
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psychopenguin posted August 12, 2009:

As am I. For one thing, the goat and reincarnated wife bit WAS powerful - at least to me.

Did it kindle a tiny coal of life in the dead heart of your gamer soul?
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Masters posted August 12, 2009:

Man, I loved Soul Blazer. Played it recently, and realized that I still love it, which rocks. That doesn't often happen for me.
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sashanan posted August 12, 2009:

Did it kindle a tiny coal of life in the dead heart of your gamer soul?

Sure, why not. Reviewers write like that. Except me, but then, I'm dry and boring.
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threetimes posted August 12, 2009:

Not everyone disagrees with Psycho Penguin.

I liked the first part of the review, despite the hyperbole, but those last paragraphs were jarring and arch. Seemed at odds with the rest of the review. If your theme was about replaying a game that you loved as a kid and finding a new perspective and that it retained its magic, then maybe something to indicate that in the intro might have pulled it together.
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Masters posted August 12, 2009:

Hey PP...

Why so serious?
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psychopenguin posted August 12, 2009:

Hey PP...

Why so serious?


This is a message board to discuss reviews. This topic is to discuss the review in question.
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Masters posted August 12, 2009:

That doesn't answer the question at all.

The best news is that amidst all the bashing masquerading as criticism, my Soul Blazer love has been re-ignited! And it feels so good.
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psychopenguin posted August 12, 2009:

Would you like me to not critique a review seriously? Is that what your point was?
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Masters posted August 12, 2009:

I'm almost certain you know what my actual point is; others have also made it. You speak of making a serious critique, but I see a bash job.

"Give me a fucking break." and, "This review is trash." That's critiquing? Should the reviewer be taking notes?
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overdrive posted August 12, 2009:

To go with the theme of criticizing the criticisms, I'd look at Zig's on this thread as how I personally would want to have criticism of my reviews come across like, where he mentioned the stuff that didn't work for him, but in a positive way.

While I think you (PP) raised some valid points with your criticism and I can't speak for Zipp, if it was me reading things like, "Give me a fucking break", "This might be the single worst paragraph in the history of reviewing" and "This review is trash".......I think any valid points would be more likely to be ignored by me due to the overall tone of what was written.

Like, if someone tells me, "I don't think that paragraph works. It comes across kinda flowery and pretentious and really doesn't fit in with the rest of your review," I'd be like, "Cool, wonder if I can rephrase a few things to fix it quickly or if this is something that'll take some work." I might not get to it in the near future, but at least it will be in my mind that someone expressed a desire for me to work with the review to improve it. But if someone tells me essentially, "That paragraph is garbage and your review sucks," I'll just be like, "Whatever, dude...." and likely just ignore your post completely.

Or to condense three paragraphs to one sentence, sometimes how you say what you say is the most important part.
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zippdementia posted August 12, 2009:

On the plus side, Psycho Penguin's comments sparked an entire thread of helpful commentary on my review. I think he should post in my threads as an angry bastard more often.

Thanks everyone, for all this feedback, this is great!
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aschultz posted August 12, 2009:

I agree--even the most personal criticism can tip off or remind us of the basic questions we should always be asking, or rephrase them in a new way.

The best part is, I doubt he's going to ask for two review critiques in return, as per your earlier topic/generous offer. So maybe this criticism is his way of giving you something for nothing.
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True posted August 12, 2009:

On the plus side, Psycho Penguin's comments sparked an entire thread of helpful commentary on my review. I think he should post in my threads as an angry bastard more often.

Weak...

I was going to propose a Zipp/Penguin Ultimate Death Match!
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psychopenguin posted August 12, 2009:

I could have given it a solid critique, but sometimes I came off as hotheaded and dickish. I thought you guys all knew that already!

I'm almost certain you know what my actual point is; others have also made it. You speak of making a serious critique, but I see a bash job.

"Give me a fucking break." and, "This review is trash." That's critiquing? Should the reviewer be taking notes?


So, do you want me to be lame and boring and serious or do you want me to bash in a serious manner? I have no fucking clue what you're talking about.
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aschultz posted August 12, 2009:

I thought you guys all knew that already!

He did, and I suspect that's why he's calling you on going a bit too far. I think it's pretty clear that several people feel your original criticism would not have lost any effect if you'd added a little tact.

So, do you want me to be lame and boring and serious or do you want me to bash in a serious manner? I have no fucking clue what you're talking about.

If that's really the case, your judgement of context in an actual review should be considered suspect.
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psychopenguin posted August 12, 2009:

I will remember to not call a review shitty in the future if I find it to be shitty. Any other politically correct bullshit we sling around here that I need to be aware of so I don't hurt anyone's feelings over them writing like shit?
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draculasrevenge posted August 12, 2009:

I think the most "constructive" criticism is harsh criticism. I've improved as a writer immensely by people telling me "this is shit, here's why, now rewrite it".

"Constructive criticism" is a bullshit term, anyway. It's mostly used by authors who are too sensitive to want to receive any substantial, meaningful feedback (I'm not saying this about Zipp, he is obviously a skilled writer)
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psychopenguin posted August 12, 2009:

Somebody gets it. I wasn't trying to be mean, I was trying to say "you know, this sucks. You can do better." I can't give constructive criticism because the entire review sucked and can't be saved, in my eyes. And if people disagree that's fine. This is a forum to discuss the review, and I am discussing it the way I see fit. The review got posted knowing it can get criticized. Movies and games get trashed all the time far harsher than what I said about another shitty review.
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aschultz posted August 12, 2009:

I wasn't trying to be mean, I was trying to say "you know, this sucks. You can do better." I can't give constructive criticism because the entire review sucked and can't be saved, in my eyes.

But apparently constructive criticism of your attempts at constructive criticism is out of bounds.

Maintaining decency often gives the critiquer more latitude to suggest sweeping corrections without the critiqued tuning him out or getting frustrated. Again, I think you know this and are playing devil's advocate, especially with the amusing contradictions in these two sentences. And yes, people trash movies, etc. worse than you did. Relativism's pointless.

Nothing more to add. Hope you got something out of this. You seem to have a higher opinion of zipp's writing than after your first post, at least.
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psychopenguin posted August 12, 2009:

Again, I think you know this and are playing devil's advocate, especially with the amusing contradictions in these two sentences

Name one.

Also, I'm pretty sure I implied I think he can do better (and he has) in my original post.
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zigfried posted August 12, 2009:

@ ALL:
Polite feedback and harsh feedback both have their place. Polite is for polishing -- when you want to make small influences on someone's writing. Harsh is for saying "you blew it this time". If you use polite feedback to dance around gaping flaws, then you're a feedback pansy. If you deliver harsh feedback without exercising a bit of civility, then you're wasting your time because no one likes to be yelled at.

In any case, the most important thing about feedback is to be clear about what does or doesn't work.

@ MASTERS:
Long time no see! Even though I've never played Soul Blazer, I remembered a lot about it because of your review. I read it again and still enjoyed it!

//Zig
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Genj posted August 12, 2009:

Am I the only one who thought using a tired Internet meme like motivational posters was in bad taste?
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zippdementia posted August 12, 2009:

Psycho Penguin, I know where you are coming from and I respect your defense of your right to say what you think without cutting it. But people will tend to take you more seriously if you try to exercise tact. That's not called politically correct, it's called interacting with other human beings. If I went around punching everyone in the face every time I thought they deserved it, I'd have a very sore hand and a lot of angry people at me. Going around calling people's reviews "shit" in a situation where said people are actively seeking ways to improve their writing is the internet equivalent of punching people in the face.

That said, I happen to be a very thick-skinned individual who has often had similar problems with tact, so I didn't take offense. But it didn't help me improve my writing either. Thankfully, the multitude of comments following that did.
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psychopenguin posted August 12, 2009:

Psycho Penguin, I know where you are coming from and I respect your defense of your right to say what you think without cutting it. But people will tend to take you more seriously if you try to exercise tact. That's not called politically correct, it's called interacting with other human beings. If I went around punching everyone in the face every time I thought they deserved it, I'd have a very sore hand and a lot of angry people at me. Going around calling people's reviews "shit" in a situation where said people are actively seeking ways to improve their writing is the internet equivalent of punching people in the face.

That said, I happen to be a very thick-skinned individual who has often had similar problems with tact, so I didn't take offense. But it didn't help me improve my writing either.


It is not my job to make you a better writer. I was giving my opinion on the review. I found it to be terrible. You can choose to ignore it for all I care, my opinion on this review won't change either.
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zippdementia posted August 12, 2009:

I'm not trying to change your opinion. It would be cool to know what WOULD change your opinion, so I can do that next time. But if you're too lazy to go into that, I understand.
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psychopenguin posted August 13, 2009:

Well,I don't like when a writer puts their writing style over explaining the game, and I felt you did that, and then you basically spent the last three paragraphs explaining it's an old game and therefore usually doesn't warrant attention and it really went to hell then. I think explaining that BEFORE you go into the review would deter people from having to read you basically say "Look at how well I can write, this is an old game anyways, who cares!" all review.
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Masters posted August 13, 2009:

Hey Zig, been awhile, yup. I'm on AIM sometimes, and I see Retro and GUTS, but you're never around when I'm online.

Anyway, thanks for the heartwarming sentiment! It's pretty cool that you remember the game because of the review.
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zippdementia posted August 14, 2009:

Thank you for the elaboration, Psycho. I think you might have completely misunderstood my review, but I'll go back and read it and see if I can isolate the elements that highlight those things you mentioned.

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