Soul Blazer (SNES) review
"There was a time when you’d play a game like The Legend of Zelda, and feel that strong emotional attachment grow with every swing of your sword. Today, you play games like Final Fantasy 8, and feel a similar (but not quite the same) sort of emotion while the CD loads, and your controller rests relatively untouched in your hands, little different than that DVD remote. Enter Soulblazer."
Life is beautiful
We all want to be part of a myth or legend. I believe that, deep down, every gamer wants to play a game that seems more important than it is. It’s like watching Princess Mononoke and feeling as if there is more at stake than a movie running on our DVD player. We are quite emotionally involved in a legend unfolding.
There was a time when you’d play a game like The Legend of Zelda, and feel that strong emotional attachment grow with every swing of your sword. Today, you play games like Final Fantasy 8, and feel a similar (but not quite the same) sort of emotion while the CD loads, and your controller rests relatively untouched in your hands, little different than that DVD remote.
Enter Soulblazer. The story seems to be out of Zelda clone basic training: with trusty sword in hand, you must rescue the souls of the innocent, from the evil King Magridd who sold them to Deathtoll. But the long lasting, movie-like feeling the game impresses upon you, may be closer to today’s quadruple CD epics that we convince ourselves are games. Just how did Enix pull this off with this unassuming 16-bit action RPG? By making us BELIEVE we are exacting a profound justice, as the story unfolds in all its Miyazaki-like, perfect simplicity.
The world starts off barren. On orders from the Master, (a generic, politically correct answer to God) you must descend into enemy infested dungeons and such, to fight to repopulate the land. You’ve got swords, armour, and magic at your disposal. Gems left behind by destroyed creatures power your magic. (You can use your sword to telepathically ‘pull’ the gems to you through walls!) Swords and armour are found in treasure boxes, as well as the odd gems.
Enemies are generated by monster lairs, a la Gauntlet. Once all the enemies from a given lair are destroyed, so is the lair, opening up pathways, rebuilding homes, and most importantly, restoring souls to the world. Puzzles are mainly of the ‘get world 3’s sword and go back, using it to destroy the special enemies in world 1, which will in turn uncover the path to item A’ variety. If you’re stuck, most likely there is a soul that needs restoring somewhere that you’ve missed. Sometimes a restored soul will summon you back to the land, from your dungeon battles, to offer you counsel or items.
I persist in calling these entities souls, as some of Magridd’s victims are human, and some are not. You will revive cats, flowers and even furniture. You will touch a painting with the artist’s paintbrush to enter it; you will enter a toy model world. The bosses are menacing as well as interesting, and the townspeople are often reflective and philosophical. Some of their testimonials upon being revived are particularly moving. A snail suggests that we value our lives and live them to the fullest as the snails do, since they have so little time on this earth. A man is reincarnated as a goat, and cannot communicate with his wife, but he is grateful that he can still see her, and keep her company.
The afterlife theme is very predominant, as are the dreams of others, (you even find a ‘dream rod’ item that enables you to enter these dreams physically, not unlike your painting navigation) and the ‘greed and ambition bring about self destruction’ plot is very fitting.
The visuals are brilliant--they are more detailed, realistic and colourful than Zelda IIIs. The first boss encounter against that monster/mech is an outstanding example, as well as the entire final level.
The music is extremely good. So soothing at times, it can be pulse-quickening when need be. The main theme is especially memorable, and I liken its effect to “Voices” from Macross Plus. Detractors might call it repetitive, but the game wouldn’t be the same without it. The entire soundtrack has a great range and is intensely pleasing.
While you essentially do the same things throughout the different worlds of the game--more so than say, a Zelda 3 (which boasts far deeper play mechanics), the constantly changing weapons and armour, very cool powers, and most importantly, the charming and meaningful story--create a magic that few games can match. That is, in so many areas Soulblazer is so outstanding that you may not notice the repetitive game play elements.
Recently, a young female relative of mine instantly fell in love with the game, as I did the first time I played it. That speaks volumes in my mind, for the accessibility and universal appeal that Soulblazer has. It is challenging enough, but almost anyone can play it, enjoy it, and with enough time, finish it. And you will then find that it is a beautiful game with a beautiful message. And you will find also, along the way, much more than your run of the mill video game story carrying you through your journey of frantic button presses and spell casting: the husk of a myth.
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 13, 2004)
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