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Ron’s Retro REVIEWS #11 — Soul Blazer

by Ron Duwell | October 3, 2015October 3, 2015 1:00 pm PDT

We’re kickin’ it old-school today with a Super Nintendo classic I finally was able to knock off my backlog during the idle summer months. Soul Blazer is the second game in the fabled fan-dubbed “Quintet Quintology,” and quite coincidentally, it is the second game from that grouping I’ve covered.

The first was ActRaiser, oh so many years ago. Could we be seeing more of these games in future entries? Perhaps … if my precious free time allows for it.

Just to quickly recap, the “Quintet Quintology” is a series of five loosely connected Super Nintendo games from a developer named Quintet and published by Enix. None of the games are directly connected outside of ActRaiser and ActRaiser 2, but each of them share many themes of playing as heavenly figures and rebuilding civilization in destroyed worlds.

Outside of the three mentioned so far, Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma close out the remaining two.

Today though, we are focused on Soul Blazer, the “series’” sophomore outing, and a vast departure from ActRaiser preceding it.

A Link from Heaven

Soul Blazer touches on many of the same beats as its predecessor. The world has been destroyed by an evil force, so God sends a hero to Earth and charges him with rebuilding it. I mean, it doesn’t get much more similar than that, does it?

Well, our heroes certainly have a different method of going about recreating civilization. In ActRaiser our hero looms over the Earth and tasks a naked cherub with recreating humanity in his own image, only getting his hands dirty when monsters emerge which are out of his sidekick’s league. Our Messenger in Soul Blazer takes a much more hands-on approach, diving into dungeons and freeing all those who have been enslaved by slaying monsters and sealing their gateways into this realm.

The difference in approach for the same overall goal highlights the main gameplay differences Quintet took from game to game. ActRaiser combines SimCity simulation with brief bouts of action during its platforming levels, and Soul Blazer is a much more traditional affair, borrowing from none other than The Legend of Zelda.

Yes, Soul Blazer is a Zelda-clone all the way down to its core. It plays out on a map with an overhead view, and our hero dives into dungeons finding tools, weapons, and magic enabling him to press on further. At the end of every leg of his journey lies a boss battle that will test all he has learned to his point. Sound familiar?

Like most other non-Zelda games of its type, Soul Blazer adds the typical experience points, a larger variety of weapons and magic, and a much more linear progression than one of Link’s journeys. Every game ripping off Nintendo’s franchise needs a few extra elements to offset the obvious differences in quality, and Soul Blazer has what it takes here. The stiff combat finds itself offset by a simple RPG progression system, leaving just enough imagination there wondering how powerful our hero will be next.

However, it is the game’s main gimmick which helps it stand on its own as a classic. Soul Blazer’s champion is a hero through in through in that he rescues absolutely everybody and everything, not just princesses. In fact, his final goal is hardly a woman at all but a nerdy artist/scientist named Dr. Leo.

Worldbuilding in a world-building game

While traversing the dungeons, he’ll come to the aid of humans, dogs, birds, goats, mermaids, fish, snails, fairies, and even trees, houses, or full on castles! Every last piece of the planet is tucked away in the monster seals, and every time our hero sets their content free, it pops up back in the hub-world. Rescuing people or animals will allow our hero to interact with them back in town. Sometimes they will provide hints on how to proceed, provide useful or essential items, or sometimes, just a fun charming little moment that has no impact on the overall game.

A favorite of mine is in the fourth segment of the game, which is populated by little pixie people. Each of them only lives for one year, but the communities favorite pastime is racing snails. They celebrate romance and true love, but will break up with a persona after four days claiming that it has become stale and routine. They live life to the fullest despite a year of existence.

Soul Blazer’s other major plus is that it is just so charming. Our hero’s world is loaded with little moments like these. Dogs threaten to attack our hero as he sits for dinner but then chuckle at his shock. A man’s wife passes away but becomes reincarnated as a goat that follows him around. A tyrant king forces his subjects to say he is amazing. Trees dream of being birds. Birds dream of being trees. Doors talk. One of the dungeons teleports our hero to a miniature city model where he fights toy soldiers.

The many small moments in Soul Blazer show off Quintet’s strength in worldbuilding and the minute details of storytelling, and these difficult elements make the lacking, almost nonexistent overarching plot feel much more alive and memorable. Being a hero is fun in Soul Blazer because you’ll always be happy with what precious minor narratives you’ll uncover.

And for more cues from ActRaiser, Soul Blazer steals many of its assets, specifically in the sound effects department. The sword slash, clangs against metal, cleaves into flesh, all pulled straight from ActRaiser. Even God’s iconic grunt from taking pain makes it into Soul Blazer, delivering a blast of nostalgia from a game I never played as a kid.

Sadly, the music doesn’t live up to ActRaiser’s high standards, but what can you do when your predecessor was composed by Yuzo Koshiro, one of Japan’s most iconic video game composers? Not a whole lot. Soul Blazer’s stock music does its job well enough, but you won’t be hunting down the soundtrack for your collection, that I promise.

Look at this nerd

Soul Blazer hero

Soul Blazer is the kind of game that I really wish I had played as a kid. It breaks my heart that I missed out on such a fine little gem and don’t have the nostalgic pull for it like I do for A Link to the Past or ActRaiser. Unlike a lot of other games I dig up from the past though, Soul Blazer’s wonderful premise and easy presentation made slipping into “16-bit mode” that much easier, almost like I did have the experience once as a kid. It’s friendly to newcomers and one of those eternally playable games that is probably just as enjoyable as the day it came out.

Plus I love how our hero is just seething with 80s animé style all the way down to his silly headband.

It definitely isn’t a perfect game — the underwater mermaid dungeon is so slow and convoluted, and its inhabitants are just the worst, but as a flawed B-tier gem of the Super Nintendo library — it ranks among the best.

Definitely check it out. Sadly, the only way to do so will be through emulation or hunting down a $100 SNES cart. Neither Square Enix or Nintendo have taken an effort to put any of the Quintet games on Virtual Console, and the outlook there doesn’t look so great. Shame shame …


Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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