Review: Soul Blazer (SNES)

Still one of the greatest action RPGs ever created.

At a time when action RPGs were truly beginning to catch on with gamers, Soul Blazer came along and offered up an adventure that was as charming and engaging as any role-playing game fans had experienced. Taking many of the unique gameplay elements found in the Actraiser title that came before it, Soul Blazer carefully crafted the gameplay mechanics with a more traditional RPG presentation; resulting in a game that not only featured plenty of sword-swinging action, but was also packed with plenty of the strategy and exploration elements expected from the genre. And while the game certainly didn't light up the sales charts, it's gone on to become a beloved action RPG package that still commands a lot of attention among retro gamers, even all these years later.

Soul Blazer takes the enemy lair gameplay of Actraiser and uses it to control the flow of the storyline taking place throughout the game. As you defeat all of the enemies in a particular lair, you'll be able to release a living being – be it a plant, animal, or even a human being. From these released beings you'll be given information that will guide you on your quest and help you locate items needed in order to progress through the game's many areas. And while you'll accomplish most tasks with your sword, the game will toss you other useful items to help you out along the way.

The game is broken down into several different areas, and in each area, you'll find plenty of enemy lairs to be destroyed. Through doing this, you'll begin piecing the many parts of the area back together, one living thing at a time. Once you've taken out the lairs, you can venture back to the area and begin speaking to the various beings you've released in order to solve the quest presented to you. The work isn’t quite over, though: it's at this point that you'll have to square off with the boss of the area, and, if successful, you progress on to the next area.

Much like a traditional RPG, your character will begin levelling up as you take down the many hostile inhabitants of the lairs. You'll also start discovering better weapons, armour and magic from the released beings as the story progresses further. This is what makes it so important to take out all of the enemy lairs – to make sure that you don't inadvertently miss special items that you'll need along the way. Through encouraging players to defeat all enemies, the game generates a balance between the character’s strength and that of their enemies, thus providing a perfectly smooth difficulty curve. Of course you'll still have to figure out the patterns of the many enemies and bosses if you're to have any hope of beating them (which is sometimes easier said than done), so it’s not always smooth.

The Quintet-developed titles have always had a very distinctive look to them and Soul Blazer is no exception. While the visuals aren't quite on par with some of the best the SNES has to offer, they're still brilliantly constructed and extremely varied from area to area. Even the characters themselves show a nice level of detail; as do the enemies from the various lairs, despite their small stature. But if you want to see the game at its most radiant glory, you'll want to be sure you pay attention to the area bosses. They might not be as enormous as many you'll find in some other 16-bit RPG releases (except for maybe Deathtoll himself), but what they lack in size they more than make up for in detail and originality. You have to give credit to Quintet for sticking with a specific visual style and once again making the most out of it.

It would be nearly impossible to accurately describe the musical score found in Soul Blazer. While not the fully orchestrated experience found in many other RPGs of the era, it's quirky style and charming catchiness still perfectly carries the unique mood of every location. There's honestly not a bad musical track in the entire game; how the composers were able to so accurately capture the mood of each situation is truly astounding. You'll definitely be hearing these tunes in your head long after you've put down the controller – testament to how catchy they really are. It's clear from the beginning that much attention to detail was paid the game's soundtrack and the end results are quite impressive.

But if there's one area of the game that truly shines brightest, it's the fantastic control system. Everything from swinging your sword to making use of the many speciality items is intuitive and extremely easy to do, even in a pinch. You'll also find it quite rewarding in the way you essentially control the rebuilding of each area piece-by-piece. It presents a nice diversion from the standard hack 'n’ slash action that's so prevalent throughout this title. Couple all of these amazing gameplay features together with the unique and engaging storyline and you have one of the most charming and enjoyable RPG experiences available on the Super Nintendo console – a true high point for the action RPG genre.

Conclusion

There's certainly no denying the quirky charm Soul Blazer emanates as you take part in the quest, but what makes this game such a joy to play is the incredible play control system and unique gameplay elements inherent throughout. Who would have ever thought that some of the better ideas from Actraiser could ever make for such an engrossing RPG experience when placed in the right developer's hands? Sure the game is sometimes criticized for being a bit too easy, but that's only if you take the time to meticulously perform all of the tasks given to you in each area. If you want to see what the action RPG genre is really all about, look no further than this amazing 16-bit classic; it's still one of the greatest ever created – yet another top-tier RPG title for the Super Nintendo console.

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