I for one am a huge fan of Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series, and Zelda A Link To The Past was my favorite action RPG for the longest time, but this was, of course, before I had even heard of Enix's series of action RPGs. I can remember as a kid always catching glimpses of a curious little game called Soul Blazer on the shelf at my local Wal-Mart, but since I knew very little about the game I didn't even consider wasting my Christmas present by asking for it, I mean all I really wanted was The Legend of Zelda a Link To The Past. Well, Christmas time came around and I eagerly opened my gift, fully expecting it to be Nintendo's shining 16 bit glory, but I was stunned to see that my parents had gotten me Soul Blazer instead, even though I didn't ask for it or even showed any interest at all. Of course, being the kid that I was I threw a tantrum after they told me how Zelda was sold out and some store guy recommended Soul Blazer instead. I don't know why, but months later I eventually decided to at least pull the box out of the plastic and give it a chance, and I was shocked beyond belief at how good this game was, I was so satisfied with it that it felt like I could never go back to Zelda again.
Recommend this product?
It is fairly obvious that Enix created Soul Blazer so as to try to make a profit off of the style of gameplay that Zelda uses, but instead of copying every little detail, Enix changed the formula quite a bit, and managed to improve on almost everything; from the storyline to the actual gameplay, Soul Blazer is superior to Zelda A Link To The Past. This is all just my opinion of course, as most people haven't even heard of Soul Blazer, let alone have played it.
The story in Soul Blazer may seem a little strange at first, but after getting in to it the story becomes extremely enjoyable to follow. The main character of the story has absolutely no dialogue in the game, but unlike the Zelda series, this isn't so annoying. The game really has no need for the main character to have any dialogue, as the main character has little background information; the only thing that is known about him is that he is from the heavens and has been sent down to save all living creatures from an evil and mysterious force that has captured their souls, and so he doesn't know anybody that is living on the Earth.
The storyline goes something like this; legends speak of a powerful empire destroyed by it's King's greed and temptation, this empire was known as the Friel Empire. Most of the people living in this empire believed that the king was a kind old man who cared about them, but under this deception lies the truth; the King wanted only to make himself more rich, and some people knew of this. The King's greed intensified upon hearing about a great inventor; Dr. Leo, and the King thought long and hard about how he could use this man's genius to make the King even more rich than he already was, but then he realized that he could force Dr. Leo into building a machine that would summon the King of Evil who's name was known to be Deathtoll. Leo did not want to build such a machine though because he greatly feared the consequences, but the King locked him away and eventually forced him into doing so, much to the King's delight the machine was eventually completed and Deathtoll was summoned. The King and Deathtoll easily struck up a deal that would not only make the King filthy stinking rich, but at the same time would give Deathtoll the very thing that he wanted, this deal was written as follows; the King will bring the souls of all living things to Deathtoll, and Deathtoll will pay one piece of gold for every delivered soul. Shortly afterwards, living things throughout this world began to disappear until there was almost nothing left. The master watches down on this from the sky and decides to save the king by sending his follower down to Earth on a ray of light to free all of those lost souls from the grips of Deathtoll.
The story does sound strange, I know, but it is executed wonderfully and everything about this game is moody. One thing in particular that I thought was interesting about the storyline in Soul Blazer was the fact that the main character has the power to communicate with all living things, and you often need to communicate with people, animals and plants to proceed further into the game.
Soul Blazer is much like Zelda in the gameplay department; you hack through dungeons, collect items, and all of the action takes place in the classic 3/4 overhead camera view with the camera scrolling up, down, left and right as you move your character. Unlike Zelda though, there aren't very many of those overly simple puzzles in the dungeons, but for some odd reason I wasn't getting the repetitive feeling that I always get when playing the legend of Zelda a link to the past.
Whereas Zelda games tend to just deal with slashing away at monsters and solving puzzles only to progress to the next dungeon in line, your goal in Soul Blazer is to release a series of villages to their formal glory, but this can only be done by releasing the souls taken by Deathtoll. Releasing the souls requires you to do some fighting, as you must destroy monsters that constantly emerge from small monster lairs, and when the monster lairs are destroyed in a small burst of smoke, a switch appears. By stepping on the switch one of two things will happen, either a new path in the level will open up, or a soul will be released back into the village from which it used to live in.
One interesting aspect with Soul Blazer is the fact that not all of the souls you release are absolutely necessary, you could probably release only about half of the souls in certain areas and still be able to proceed in the game. With that said, I feel guilty whenever I miss a monsters lair, as sometimes important characters that you release cannot exist without the release of other souls that open up a path to them.
Each town that you travel to is almost completely barren of any buildings or living things when you first arrive, and it isn't until saving the souls that the towns will look alive again. The souls that you release in the game range from a small flower, to a goat, but the most common one is a person. Sometimes releasing a soul will return more than just a living thing to the land, as sometimes just releasing a person or animal will bring back a building, bridge, or even a windmill, there's a lot of diversity in what will happen upon releasing the various souls of the living creatures in this game. The released souls will usually be grateful after being released, and will usually offer tips or items to your character.
The main character in Soul Blazer does not have to go through the entire quest by himself though. In each town, you will encounter living things that are also from the heavens that will lend the main character their powers, and these are always needed in the level that you receive them. These powers that you receive include the ability to use magic, the ability to harden lava, the ability to see in the dark, and of course the ability to spot secret passages in a particular castle. These Souls (as they are called in the game) stay with you throughout the duration of this epic quest.
Soul Blazer contains many elements often used in turn based RPGs, but the main one is the leveling up system. Like Zelda, the main character has a health display at the top of the screen, health depletes as your character takes damage, but the maximum amount of health increases through gaining levels through earning experience points by slaying monsters. The further you get in the game the more experience points are earned from killing monsters, and bosses give an exceptionally high amount of these points. This system of earning levels makes it so that if you get stuck in one particular spot you can slay monsters and earn more experience and then try again later when your character has become stronger.
When monsters are destroyed they leave behind different sized gems. These gems are used as magic power, and the bigger gems are worth more. These gems are very easy to find and so it isn't a real struggle to recover enough to be able to use a lot of magic, and it gives extra incentive to destroy the monsters that do not belong to the various monster lairs.
Magical spells aren't learned in the convention RPG fashion, they are found throughout the many worlds in Soul Blazer and only one spell can be equipped at a time. All the magic (except for the legendary phoenix spell) is cast through the soul of magic, namely the blue shining ball that hovers around your character throughout his journeys. There are many different types of spells that do different things; with the almighty phoenix spell being the very last one in the game.
Items Are The Key
Yeah yeah, I know I've been doing a lot of Zelda comparisons, but here's another. In Zelda for the Super Nintendo, players traveled through dungeons and received plenty of items along the way. Items were a big part of progressing in the game, and this aspect is the same as it is in Soul Blazer. There isn't a pre-determined amount of items in each level though, as you will often find multiple items that you absolutely need to continue in your quest in each of the towns and dungeons. For example, in one part of the game you will recieve a special pair of shoes from a snail you release, these shoes will allow you to walk through icy areas without skidding around, and are absolutely necessary in reaching an important monster lair.
These items aren't the only type of items you receive in Soul Blazer though, as you will also get magic, swords, and even armor to assist you in your quest. Usually each area will have only one new sword and piece of armor, but a couple of them have more than one, but at least one of these will be secret or not accessible until later on in the game. Most swords and armor in this game have some sort of a special power; one sword will stun enemies for a couple seconds, while another will increase your chances of getting larger gems after destroying enemies. Armor has quite a bit of diversity also, as one armor will protect you from heat and another will put a bubble over your character so that he can breathe when underwater.
The different areas in Soul Blazer are very diverse from one another, and they are each quite a bit more imaginative than Hyrule from Zelda. In Soul Blazer you travel through many different areas including an area at the bottom of the ocean, one in a deep forest, another inside of an icy mountain, and there are plenty of others, including the incredible looking world of evil. The environments are incredibly moody and lonesome when your character first arrives at a new area, but as more and more souls are released the towns seem to almost come alive with them.
There is quite a bit of backtracking in Soul Blazer, as you will have to continually travel to and from a town and a dungeon to talk to the souls that you have released. Some of the dungeons require you to return to them after progressing much in the game so that you can free even more souls than you could before; some monsters are metal and therefore can only be destroyed using a special sword found later in the game.
Backtracking does seem like it would be a very repetitive thing in this game, but the developer seemed to have taken care to make sure that this is not a tiresome practice. Backtracking is made easier through the system of warps in each level. Every level has three warps in it, one takes to the town and the other two usually take the player to particular spots in the dungeon that will require you to backtrack. These warps are opened up through the conventional manner of destroying monster lairs, and are extremely useful throughout the game.
Soul Blazer belongs to a three-part series of games that were released on the Super Nintendo; only the other 2 games are not direct sequels to Soul Blazer and have only the gameplay in common with each other. The two other games are much more widely known than Soul Blazer amongst the masses, these games are known as Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma, and while both are terrific games, Soul Blazer outdoes both of them in every aspect except for maybe graphics and storyline.
Ok so why did I do all those comparisons to Zelda a Link To The Past? Mainly because most people are familiar with the game, and Soul Blazer feels as if it was made to play similar to it. I do believe, one hundred percent that Soul Blazer is the better game, and not just because it is more fun and has nicer looking graphics and better music, but because of the fact that I just have more fun with Soul Blazer, and besides it being more fun, Soul Blazer also has more replay value than any Zelda game I can think of, and Soul Blazer is also my second favorite game of all time.
My Ratings For: Soul Blazer
To me, Soul Blazer just looks downright pretty even despite the fact that it was released more than ten years ago on the Super Nintendo; few 2-D games come close to matching it. It's not just the pixels that make this game pretty though, as I really like the art style. There is no noticeable slowdown at all in this game, and the crisp colors add a whole lot to the game graphics wise. Soul Blazer was released at around the same exact time as Nintendo's Legend of Zelda a Link To The Past, yet Soul Blazer manages to be superior in design and art style. There are quite a few beautiful looking places in this game, but most of it was made to look very gloomy, but this gloomy look contrasts with a sometimes bright and cheerful look in certain areas, like the islands that the main character travels to when in the world that is on the seabed.
Soul Blazer uses quite a few different textures, especially on the various grounds in the game. The game is much more detailed than A Link To The Past, and even if this game had as few textures as the legend of Zelda it would still look very nice on the screen. A lot of the textures on a little on the dull side of the spectrum, but none of the good textures are really anything that stand out as being works of art.
The colors are fairly defined in this game, in the first few levels though the colors are a little on the dull side of things, but they really pick up in the dungeons, I don't know why but the dungeons are always more colorful than the towns that you travel through. The best looking aspect of this entire game is in the very last level of the game; this level is complete with a scrolling black floor with luminescent colors all around, a definite use of mode 7 here.
The story definitely sounds strange at first, but the more you get into it the more you realize how great it is. I'm personally not a big fan of Enix's religious based stories, but this one seems to work very well and has quite a bit going for it. Every living thing has a story in this game, and some of the animals even reveal that they were once humans but have been reincarnated as animals. The main character has no background story in this game, and he doesn't even have dialogue, but a love story ultimately unfolds from this game. The thing I liked most about Soul Blazer though is the ending that actually managed to bring a tear to my eye.
Controlling the main character as he slays monsters and releases souls is a very simple procedure, and takes only the memorization of a few of the face buttons on the Super Nintendo controller. The interface is rather simple also, with the most tedious aspect involving the switching of swords, magic, and armor, but in a few minutes you should easily have everything down pat. Nothing is clunky in this game, as slashing your sword and casting a spell can easily be performed with less than a moments notice, and you don't have to spend any time actually thinking about what does what so you can instead take in the lush environments and unique art style.
Soul Blazer's soundtrack is my third favorite game soundtrack ever, and with good reason. The melodies in this game are very rich, and do a wonderful job of setting the mood. All of the songs in this game are nice and crisp sounding, and at some points is seems almost as if this quality of sound isn't possible on a cartridge based system. The only track that even begins to get old in this game would probably have to be the sad theme that plays in all villages that haven't yet been saved, but it's still a good song. My favorite tracks in this game are the undersea songs that play in St. Elles, the song that plays in Leo's laboratory, but my all time favorite song in Soul Blazer is Lisa's theme.
Sound effects are nothing special, but when you have such good music playing in the background, you don't want anything to cover them up. Really the only sound effects that you'll be hearing in this game are the slashing of the sword, the sound made when you take damage, all the sound effects from casting spells, and of course the explosive sound of a monster/monster's lair being destroyed, and that's pretty much it when it comes to sound effects in this game.
Fun Factor: 10/10
Soul Blazer is the pinnacle of all action RPGs, even managing to beat out Nintendo's legendary Zelda series. What I wouldn't give to see a Gameboy Advance re-release of Soul Blazer, but it is highly unlikely that one will ever see the light of day. There is just something in particular that is fun about hacking through dungeons, saving souls, and then returning back to the town to see if anything you did is significant in proceeding more into the game. Soul Blazer also has some pretty magnificent boss battles throughout, and is one game that nobody should miss.
Overall Rating: 9.9
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