I really miss Quintet. As one of the earliest SNES developers they left a huge mark on gamers with Actraiser. I’m sure like myself that was one of the first SNES games most saw and left us wanting more. It would be another few years before Actraiser 2 but in the meantime Enix graced us with Soul Blazer. Soul Blazer was one of the earliest action Rpgs for the SNES in the US and has held up marvelously over the years. This is a great game, and one that remains incredibly entertaining today.
King Magridd has become greedy. In his lust for power and money he sells the souls of everyone in the Freil Kingdom to the demon Deathtoll. The Master, upon seeing this, sends his avatar to the mortal world to release the people’s souls and rebuild the world.
There are many similarities to Actraiser. Like that game you control an agent of the master. The same theme of rebuilding civilization little by little also applies. You’ll also recognize many recycled sound effects. However this is not a straight up action game but an RPG. The theme might be the same but the viewpoint (both figuratively and literally) offers a unique perspective. Compared to other action rpgs of the time Soul Blazer remains unique due to its structure and pacing. It also serves as the first in an unofficial trilogy of some of the greatest action rpgs from that period.
As the Master’s avatar your abilities are actually pretty limited. Your basic sword swing travels in an arc that lingers and can hit enemies behind you. Enemies on the right side of the swing take more damage, adding a little nuance to combat. That positioning also extends to magic. All spells come from your trailer soul, which rotates around your character at all times. There are some powerful spells but ultimately magic is only marginally useful. Every new weapon and piece of armor comes with some additional effect which keeps old gear somewhat relevant.
The world is divided into six regions. Each location is void of any life until you enter a dungeon and destroy monster seals. These seals contain spawn a set number of demons, with the soul trapped within released once all are destroyed. Every soul has some tangible effect in the world. More often than not someone in the local town will be revived but also new passages and shortcuts. The people in town provide clues, offer items, and some join you and provide new abilities. Not everyone is crucial but eventually you will complete the region before moving.
For the most part this is the formula the game follows up until its conclusion. It sounds repetitious, and it is, but it ultimately doesn’t become a negative due to the game’s pacing. The number of monster lairs never becomes excessive, a lesson its sequel could have used. Although you bring back people at a fast clip it isn’t necessary to revisit town frequently. As a matter of fact they will inform you when they wish to speak with you. Shortcuts around the map open up enabling fast travel as well. Probably the greatest feat is the pace of leveling. I never stopped to grind out experience and new weapons and armor are earned with regularity. All of these factors make this one of the best paced rpgs I’ve ever played.
Next to the pacing the story in Soul Blazer is endearing. The ability to communicate with all forms of life offers a unique viewpoint into the lives of everyday objects. You wouldn’t think it but a tree stump who dreams of being a free flying bird free is poignant. There is a race of creatures whose entire lifespan lasts a single year. Seeing the way they live their lives in spite of this fact is interesting to watch. The theme of reincarnation is ever present as some life forms are reborn in a different form. There is a husband and wife pairing that are reunited in an unexpected way and only you know it. It is these little vignettes that keep the story compelling as the main narrative isn’t exactly thought provoking. Considering you’ll spend so much time revisiting each town I’d say they nailed this aspect of the game.
Soul Blazer flew under the radar but is still a great game today. Outside of its sequels there really isn’t anything else like it. A good story and decent production values combine to make this one of the better 16-bit action RPGs.