One of my most beloved video game playing experiences was with Illusion of Gaia. I was totally engrossed with the storyline and I cared about the welfare of Will and his companions. I was sad when one of the protagonists died. I had so many vivid memories playing it, I don’t think I will ever forget the game. Several years later I discovered there were other games loosely connected to Illusion of Gaia. I knew one day I would tackle them to see how they stack up to one of my all-time faves. 2015 is the year I first played Soul Blazer, the first in the trilogy (or quartet if you count Granstream Saga) of this series.
This adventure is set in the Friel Empire. The ruler of this land, King Magridd, is a very greedy man. His desire is to have all the money in the world. There are some people who say “I wish I had all the money in the world”, but King Magridd takes it to the next level. The unscrupulous king imprisons genius inventor Dr. Leo and orders him to create a device that will summon the Demon King, Deathtoll. When Deathtoll was summoned, the two kings struck a deal; “The life of one living being in exchange for one gold piece.”
Once that deal went down, people, animals, and plant life started to disappear. Shortly after, the whereabouts of the king and his court became a mystery. Castle Magridd was inexplicable destroyed. Some say Magridd was attacked by Deathtoll’s henchmen, but no one knows for sure.
The Master (God?) sends you, the Soul Blazer, from heaven down to earth to free all the living souls that were captured by Deathtoll and his army. The story promises intrigue, mystery, and an adventure to be remembered.
There are themes introduced in this game that re-occur in the sequels such as the cycle of life, death and reincarnation. A heavy theme for sure, especially for a video game targeted mainly towards adolescents. But one of the primary reasons I became endeared with Illusion of Gaia and now this game to a certain extent, is the depth of storyline. It’s not just about a hero saving the day. No, it gets folks thinking. Is there a deeper meaning to life than just the usual daily drudges that people go through? Can the connection between two souls survive beyond the grave? How much is a single life really worth? How much temptation can you bear before you cross over to the dark side? These poignant questions and more are touched upon during the course of the game as you talk to the many characters of the Friel Empire. Soul Blazer only lays the foundation for these sort of epic themes. The latter games in the series expand upon them.
There are 7 areas of the game to complete. Once you defeat the boss of an area, the next area unlocks. You repeat this process until you reach the final boss. Once you complete an area, you can always return to it by going to a shrine and getting transported.
When you begin an area, there’s nothing there to speak of except land. You’ll have to go the local dungeon(s) to defeat monsters. Enemies come out of tiles called lairs. Once you defeat all the monsters that come out of a lair, it will turn green. Step on it and the screen will cut to a scene of the innocent villager you’ve just released! As you free townspeople one by one, the area you are in begins to re-populate not only with living things, but buildings as well. You feel a sense of accomplishment and progress when slowly seeing the town come back to life with each lair you step on.
As you go along on your journey, you’ll pick up stronger weapons, armor, and magic spells (I’m telling you now, magic is ineffective against most bosses 😥 ) which can be found in dungeons and sometimes in the towns you visit. You’ll also be able to collect different items of varying degrees of usefulness. One of my favorites was the Shield Bracelet which cuts the damage caused from enemies by half.
There are a few instances where you will encounter souls who claim to be like you; from the sky. They will assist you in things like using magic or seeing in dark caverns.
I did find the game enjoyable, but it’s not without its hiccups. There is an element of backtracking in this game that I did not enjoy. For example there are enemies in the first area that can’t be beaten until you acquire a certain sword in the fifth area. Although I will say it isn’t required to go back in this instance, there are times backtracking is required to beat the game. Another issue I had is it sometimes isn’t clear where to find certain special items. I actually needed to use a walkthrough to ensure I acquired all the special items in the game. There are items I would have never known about without a good walkthrough due to the vagueness of character statements about specific items or there being no mention at all about them! I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but I felt the translation could have been better. The dialogue seems choppy in spots and I felt the writers could have done a more admirable job of conveying the story.
The game came to North America in 1992, so one might expect that the graphics are a little crude compared to later SNES titles. However within 1 hour, I started thinking the graphics didn’t look all that bad. Many of the bosses in this game are pretty large. There does seem to be a lack of polish and detail in the graphics compared to other Super Nintendo games of this ilk, but that can be forgiven for being such an early SNES title. Though I must say the fog effects and icicles hanging above the ground in such a interesting way are nice touches.
The music here is strange. It’s good, but specifically in the the dungeons, the music doesn’t fit in with what you’re doing. So ok, a lone hero is entering monster infested areas, and the music that plays sounds like something that you would hear in some cheesy 80s sitcom. A lot of the music feels so out of place for this type of game and I think it’s weird.
A solid start is established for the Soul Blazer series. The rest of the games build on the foundation found here and improve it in every way. If you’re thinking of trying the series out, I’d start with this one. It has a good story, good mechanics, and you will be able to see the steady progression as the games get better from Soul Blazer to Illusion of Gaia, and finally Terranigma.
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