Reviewed on Super Nintendo
When I was looking for RPGs to play on my Super Nintendo a few years back, there were quite a lot of choices. And with that I mean a serious lot, the SNES is one of the consoles with the most (and best) JRPGs out there. One game in particular caught my attention which, at that point in time, I’ve never even heard of. I saw dark skies, a castle in the background, a sword and above that was a name: Soul Blazer. It is a rather generic box art, but I was intrigued. I wanted to know more. After looking up some gameplay, I was convinced. I wanted this game, and fast.
Soul Blazer (released 1992 in North America, 1994 in PAL regions) is the first of a series I and many others refer to as the ‘’Quintet Trilogy’’ or ‘’Gaia Trilogy’’, with Illusion of Gaia (or Illusion of Time if you’re from Europe like me) and Terranigma as loose sequels. I say loose because the stories aren’t directly connected to each other. Though from what I have gathered calling it a trilogy is not 100% accurate, since there is a fourth game which is also considered a sequel, called The Granstream Saga. I can’t confirm this, though I did purchase the game a few months back so I’ll find that out some day. Anyhow, back on topic. I refer to it as the Quintet Trilogy because the games were created by a company called Quintet Co., a small video game developer which started with several members from Nihon Falcom, the creators of the Ys franchise. It is very clear to see their influence in the final products. Quintet had a strong relationship back then with Enix, the publisher of the game. Unfortunately Quintet has not been active since the early 2000s and is presumed defunct. I miss you Quintet, I really do..
Soul Blazer follows a theme of Reincarnation and Greed. The land has fallen after the king has basically sold his soul to the devil, when he is convinced by the queen with a lust for power to summon the mighty demon Deathbell. He is essentially the equivalent of the devil, and exchanges souls for gold pieces with the king. The Master—equivalent of God—is displeased by this and sends one of his heavenly companions to the human world to repair it. This divine being is the main protagonist Blazer, who saves humans, animals, flora and more by slaying Deathtoll’s minions. He goes through six areas to restore the world and at the end takes the fight to Deathtoll himself. The great thing about Soul Blazer—and Quintet games in general—is that they mimic real-life stories with a fantasy setting. Greed is an obvious sin seen in many games, but the souls you release have a habit of sharing sentences with deeper meanings about how humans think about death and reincarnation.
The areas Blazer visits are memorable in multiple ways. Sure, you have your regular forest/swamp level, but there are temples in the swamp designed after the ancient Incan tribe. Not only that, but the inhabitants of each area are also unique. The earlier mentioned level has animals and trees for example. Blazer is given the ability by The Master to talk with any living being. This makes for some interesting dialogue, as you can now talk with a tree of all things about its opinions on the world. Almost all of the dialogue is skippable and at best give you items, but to be honest the NPCs are one of the main appeals to Soul Blazer. What other game allows you to talk to a dog who tends a graveyard?
Soul Blazer starts off with a central hub where the hero can go in four directions. The first one is on the left, which is a brief tutorial about how the game works and gets to the point real quick, and in later areas functions as an extra teleporter. The top one is where you can speak with The Master to save your progress or move to different areas. The other two are teleporters, one to the dungeon with monsters usually right before the boss, and one to the town. Towns are empty at first but grow bigger the more monsters you slay in the dungeons of said town. In the towns are the souls you’ve released, which can give sidequests for items, advise on how to progress or dialogue about the game’s theming. There are no shops like you would find in regular RPGs as every item is collected in towns or in dungeons, including gear.
Blazer has two ways of dealing with monsters. The first one if through regular sword combat, not unlike other action RPGs of the time like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Get close to enemies and slash them with your sword, Fortunately it’s a horizontal slash, meaning that you don’t have to stand perfectly next or in front of an enemy to hit it. You can also strafe with the L and R buttons, allowing you to hold your sword in front of you to penetrate enemies without having to rely on the slash. The other method is magic, which require gems to be executed. Gems are dropped by the enemies you slay. There are several magic spells unlocked when manually going through the game, ranging from your regular fireball to magic that surrounds you. Strangely enough projectile magic isn’t fired through the character; instead, the blue magic ball that floats around you at all time casts the spell. This might feel strange at first as it is not a mechanic you’ll see often in games. You have to look into a direction and have the ball be at a perfect angle to hit a projectile. You’ll eventually get used to it, but it might require some trial and error before executed correctly. What I do find surprising is that there is no healing magic at all, but you can get an item at any given time in the first town to heal yourself so it’s not a problem or anything.
To cast magic spells, you need Gems. Gems are dropped by the enemies you slay in the action stages. Killing monsters is the main attraction as mentioned previously. Monsters spawn from so-called Monster Lairs, a small square on the ground. Kill all the monsters that spawn from the node to deplete it and release a soul. The soul will in turn go to the respective town, where you can talk to it later when you return. Some souls are mandatory to progress while others aren’t, but it satisfies my OCD greatly to deplete all nodes. You can open the menu at any given time too to see if you’ve depleted all nodes in an area. This is good to keep in mind since you cannot kill all enemies straight away the first time you meet them. For example, you would need a better sword or a better spell to defeat metallic enemies. Enemies all have their own form of attacking, and require different strategies to be beaten. ..Or you can cheese them by standing in a certain spot and have them come to you since your sword slashes are horizontal but still! There is a good amount of different enemies and generally mindless slashing will get you nowhere.
Because enemies do not respawn after you deplete their node, there is almost no grinding necessary. There are few enemies that are not part of a node, but overall everybody will end around the same level given you got a completionist mindset. This means that for bosses, you’re entirely dependent on your own skill. And bosses are (for the most part) tough cookies that require some strategy. The first boss makes this very clear, as you’re both on each side of the room and you can only get to him through moving conveyor belts. However, he will keep attacking and you can’t stand on his side of the room or he’ll constantly pummel you. This means that you have to closely encounter him, move back and avoid his attacks and repeat the process. No amount of spamming attacks will get you through this boss fight, and that’s what makes them interesting. There is almost no penalty to dying against a boss or enemies in general, as there are multiple checkpoints you can teleport to. You will only lose accumulated Gems if you do not have an item that prevents you from losing them.
Unlike most RPGs from the time, Soul Blazer has a nice length of around 10 hours. Completing the game mostly revolves around clearing every monster lair and getting some side items of which fortunately none are missable, meaning that everything can be done in one playthrough. There is no post-game content, as the final boss of this game is the true end goal. Unfortunately there are no difficulty modes or alternative endings, so replayability is entirely dependent on your own enjoyment of the game. For me it was a total blast playing through it again, but I can understand it’s not other people their first priority. I suppose you can do a minimalist run, but you’d have to know exactly what monster lairs you can and can’t deplete, and it is shown nowhere what nodes are story related and what ones aren’t.
Graphics aren’t necessarily impressive but they do the job. What I’ve gathered from people on the internet is that they think the soundtrack is rather.. odd? I can’t disagree with them as it’s all over the place and not always befitting of the stage themes, but individually they still sound good so yet again, nothing to complain about here.
I think I’ve made this clear enough, but I love Soul Blazer. I won’t deny that I am kind of biased towards it, but it really is one of the SNES’ hidden gems. A story with elements reminiscing of human nature, full of interesting NPCs to boot in memorable areas. Good gameplay that satisfies my OCD greatly and requires different strategies for different enemies. Magic functions weird but you’ll get used to it soon than later. Really, I can’t think of any negatives straight from the top of my head; you either like it or you don’t. For that reason, I recommend to 100% complete Soul Blazer and put it on a pedistal to worship it.
If you want to play Soul Blazer well.. good luck! It is only available on the Super Nintendo and has since not received a re-release. Prices for a physical copy vary from 40 bucks to quite a lot more, so be prepared to empty your wallet for that. If you desperately want to play it, emulation is always an option. I mean, I’m not responsible for whatever you do or don’t and I’m not going to play a holy saint either who never emulates.