It's been a few weeks since we all first set out to play Soul Blazer, an action RPG developed by Quintet that was released in 1992. I'm going to outline a few discussion points I'd like us to talk about
below. Those who participated this week are also welcome to share any thoughts they had while playing the game.
How do you feel the game has held up over the years?
Did you feel the game was too difficult?
Was there anything about Soul Blazer's game play that really stood out to you?
Would you like to play more of Soul Blazer in the future?
Well, I did actually play this game a while ago, but I never got the chance to play it on the actual SNES hardware. And I still haven't. I played it using a wired 360 controller, but due to the sensitivity of the analog stick (and crappiness of the directional pad), I never felt exactly comfortable with the main characters movement. I would always move in directions not quite where I wanted to be, and I think using a proper D-Pad, such as the one on the SNES, would eliminate this problem.
I like the aspect of the game, though. I think it's pretty neat to go through a dungeon, freeing creatures or plants that then affect the overworld, opening up ways to more items or other things. It makes the game seem very layered, which is nice. You have this nice, refreshing layer of a town that you see evolve, and you have this layer of dungeon crawling action, with a nice way of bringing the two together. It was nice to see both ideas come together fluidly, instead of feeling that one was tacked onto the other.
Scion of Mogo:
After our abortion of an attempt to talk about the greatness that was Terranigma I actually decided to go through all the games again in reverse order. It was actually pretty convenient that this came up as I had just hit the point where I was hitting Soulblazer. In comparison to the other 2 this is not a very good game. It's not a bad game by any means but I'm finding huge issues with many aspects of both its difficulty curve and also the hit detection. Which really is the reason for the difficulty curve. Fighting through the first dungeon wasn't a horrible experience by any means. At least until I got to that first Boss which really killed my enthusiasm for the game.
On a positive note I do love the audio in the game. It could be that so much of it is recycled from the greatness that is Actraiser but also because it does have the one thing that all the Soulblazer games have. Great tunes that fit well with each area you explore. It actually had me going further than the first area because of that and the fact that I had resolved to play through the entire game from start to finish. And in many ways Nick is also correct. The way the world builds around you as you go through the dungeon is a fantastic thing. Whether it's finding the guy's house and then later finding the goat that is the reincarnation of his wife it's sweet and quite well put together and thought out. It's the same reason I love all the games and how things build as you bring more people into the world.
Overall while I'm going to finish the game I'm not enthused about it as much as I was after fighting that first boss which took me forever to figure out that you really just had to think like a cheap bastard to win. An annoying and frustrating time was had in figuring out just how I could beat that bastard.
Another thing I enjoyed were the many interesting items. Going into a girl's dreams and other things were thought out well enough that I tried to fins and do everything I could.
While there are glaring issues with the game there is still enough to keep me going. Bad control and hit detection aren't enough to discourage me from playing a decent game that still manages to tell an
interesting narrative that could have been great with a little bit more work.
Oh god, fuck that first boss. I got up to him, can't barely hit him without taking about three times the amount of damage I'm dealing. I got pretty far when I played the game a long time ago, maybe the 3rd or 4th world. I'm wondering how the hell I did it.
Also, did anyone else just run through a good deal of the game by just holding out your sword with the L or R buttons and just walking into stuff? I almost felt guilty, but then I remembered how hard of a time I was having moving my character around, and I immediately felt like I had earned the right to do it.
Scion of Mogo:
Yep. that was an issue for me. It pretty much left you playing one way until you leveled up a bit and could actually do some decent damage. The first boss is a one strategy boss. There is only one way to beat him. Run to a corner and as soon as he starts his fireball attack animation you run to the closest edge of the center platform and attack. You can get 2 hits on him before you retreat back down the path and back into the corner to start the same pattern all over again. Took me a while to figure out but once I got it was almost impossible to get hit. Although if you go too far to the furthest edge of the center ramp from the boss he'll shoot diagonal fireballs at you and ruin everything. It was just way too easy once I figured it out. I would have still enjoyed some challenge instead of what turned out to be a very simple and easy to manipulate pattern.
Yep, that was pretty much how I got him, too. I got so good at it, I could nail him four times each trip. If he didn't occasionally shoot toward the corners, I would have beat him without taking a single hit. Still, the damn thing has so much HP that the battle took me like fifteen minutes to finish. It was pretty grating after a while. No boss fight with a pattern should really have to take that long to win- once you figure out the trick, you should be able to burn right through the fight.
It's definitely the product of its era- the simplistic translation ("would you like to be my child?"), the underdeveloped plot ("Deathtoll has imprisoned everything! You must save them!"), the nondescript, generic enemy monsters (bouncing blue balls!), the MIDI soundtrack and the gratuitous foreground/background effects definitely speak to a time where SNES games seemed to go out of their way to wow the player with "Holy crap, my NES could never do this" flash. The only thing missing is the Mode 7 effects, and I'm sure those show up somewhere in the later stages. If you play Soul Blazer, you're playing every third-party SNES game in 1992.
The boss was more annoying than difficult, and the floating magical ball that's supposed to function as your second attack moves around far too erratically to be very useful. Later spells might make it better, but in the first level, it's just a pest. Other than that, the difficulty was fine- not too hard, not too easy. I died a couple times, but not enough to be infuriating, and the puzzles were intuitive enough. If you follow the old RPG adage: "talk to everyone" (or in this case, everything- tulips and goats offer some of the most useful advice), you'll know everything you need to know.
I liked the "kill enemies to populate the town" mechanic more than I should have. It's cheesy as hell- everything in the game is- but I found myself looking forward to every person, animal, and flower I plunked back in its rightful place.
I would, but I'd much sooner play Actraiser or Secret of Mana. Soul Blazer is decent, but it's pretty forgettable, and the other two games do what it does to a much better degree.
@Cataract: Yeah, I feel you. The game was meant to be played on SNES hardware. Luckily, I can just plug my PS3 controller in and have an at least decent experience with the directional pad, but I can't imagine playing it with an SNES controller and being comfortable. I agree with you that watching the towns/areas slowly evolved as you progress through a dungeon is an incredibly rewarding feeling. It's a big part of the reason I'm so partial to this underrated trilogy.
@Cataract & Scion & JT: Yup, the music is great. It's always been the little things that make Quintet games (R.I.P.) worthwhile experiences. I don't know if the rest of you, Cataract and JT, have played Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma, but if you have, I think it'll give you a greater appreciation for Soul Blazer as the start of a series. When you compare it to other games that were out at the time, namely Secret of Mana (1993) and Actraiser (1991), I can see how you wouldn't find it to be all that compelling of an experience.
That first boss is a bitch, but like Scion said, it's just a matter of crab walking up to him on the center platform, getting a few hits in, and quickly running away. That's the kind of design that you could get away with in the SNES-era, but nowadays, it's not something any of us want to deal with. Myself included.
Would any of you recommend that people play Soul Blazer as a sort of history lesson, or should they just skip ahead to the second and third entries in this series?
Well, I remember playing a bit of Illusion of Gaia, but that's it. I don't remember any of the actual game, as well as what the other game in the series was. Honestly, I didn't even know this was a series until you said it.
That's not all that surprising. Considering the fact that Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia were B-List action RPG's back when they were still relevant, and that the third game in the series, Terranigma, was only released in Japan/PAL Territories, your reaction is the typical one.
As someone who /has/ played all three games in the series, and I'm sure Scion will back me up on this, I'd recommend you skip over Soul Blazer unless you have a tolerance for very retro games, possibly skip Illusion of Gaia if you're pressed for time, and definitely play Terranigma. It's the best of the bunch by far.
“Would any of you recommend that people play Soul Blazer as a sort of history lesson, or should they just skip ahead to the second and third entries in this series?”
Absolutely. If nothing else, Soul Blazer is a textbook example of early-SNES game design. The music, the graphics, the gameplay, and the plot are all perfect examples of what companies generally did with this hardware the moment they got their hands on it. It's a good game, the difficulty isn't too high and the controls do what they're supposed to (other than that damn orb), and if there are sequels that did better with the formula, then that makes it all the more worth checking out.
Scion of Mogo:
I would skip ahead to the third. It's sort of like this :
Soulblazer is a decent game. It's not a good game but there are enough interesting things for me not to hate it. Illusion of Gaia is a good game. It fixed a lot of the stupid problems Soulblazer had and added some interesting stuff to the mix but still suffered from some bad decisions that keep it from being a
Terranigma is the best game ever made. From music to graphics to ridiculously fluid gameplay and a brilliantly written story it remains to this day my favorite game of all time.
I got past the first boss (which was simple, once you figured him out). So far the game seems pretty decent, but it hasn't really aged too well. I liked the whole "kill monsters to rebuild the town" aspect. It kinda felt like a really old Dark Cloud. The enemy design suffers from a lack of creativity (so far), and the dialogue is lacking. The game hasn't really aged too well, but can still be fun. The game may be a bit difficult, but dying doesn't really mean anything. Sure, you're sent back to the "save room", but you don't actually lose any progress (some enemies respawn, but the "portals" remain sealed). I may play more of this game, but the game isn't good enough for me to recommend others to go out of their way to play this game.