Retro Achiever Game #52: Soul Blazer (SNES)

Once I hit 50 games cleared on the Retro Achiever series of episodes on my Twitch channel, I pledged myself to play a more substantial game that would take longer to play than the standard fare for the show. When you consider 8- or 16-bit titles, these mostly boil down to RPG-style games, and this prompted me to finally fire up Soul Blazer (ソウルブレイダ – “Soul Blader” in its Japanese name).


Growing up, very few in my circle of video gaming friends were into RPG-style games. However, one was very much into them, and he would master a few of the early J-RPG games to the point of having save files of his quest to beat Final Fantasy using four white mages.

Retail and specialty shops were slim in our hometown, so renting games where I grew up was incredibly popular. Through the late ’80s and most of the ’90s there were always at least three locations renting NES, SNES and Genesis carts, and the two strongest-performing stores remained into the early 2000s. Timely enough, our city’s final rental location – a Family Video that stood in the middle of the city for the better part of two decades – finally closed its doors for the last time about a month ago.

Renting RPGs was a good way to stretch your play time if you planned on gaming alone during a weekend out of school, and this friend would point out the better RPGs. While perhaps it’s a slant to call them RPGs, the two most memorable recommendations came in the form of Quintet’s ActRaiser and Soul Blazer.

These titles maybe had more of a “simulation” vibe, in which progress could only truly be made by restoring civilization and using the citizens’ help to put evil away for good. Soul Blazer is more of a Zelda-style adventure, but ditching an open world map makes this title a little more inviting for new players and repeat players looking for an impromptu play session.

sb1Just like ActRaiser, Soul Blazer centers around a “Master,” who is a deity that sends an avatar to a dying world to act as a warrior against evil. A corrupt king imprisoned a well-known inventor and used threats against his daughter to force him to create a machine that would summon the evil demon Deathtoll into the world. Deathtoll promised the king gold riches in exchange for the souls of the living. Naturally, Deathtoll eventually seals away the king as well, resulting in a completely barren world.

The player is summoned into the world as a human warrior that can communicate with any form of life, which includes plants, animals and other magical items. Deathtoll’s demons now run rampant in the world, but if the warrior can clear out these monsters’ lairs, living souls are returned to the world one by one.

In RPG fashion, the player can level up with experience points, and they are constantly collecting swords, armor, spells and special items that grant passive abilities. Some of the saved souls are more helpful to the player, powering a magic soul that follows the player with abilities that help them progress through the game.

As said earlier, Soul Blazer doesn’t feature an extensive open world, instead offering multiple town hubs that have dungeons branching off from them. Players won’t always be able to free every single soul as they progress, meaning they can revisit areas when they have new abilities and equipment for true completion. In RPG fashion, the player’s quest has them collecting six magic stones that open the world of evil where Deathtoll resides, and an additional quest sends them to find three hidden items that grants the player a spell that serves as the only way to harm Deathtoll.

sb2Soul Blazer offers a decent variety of enemies in a game that, on its foundation, plays like The Legend of Zelda. The warrior can run around and swing a sword, but he also has access to an array of magic spells, and the weapon and armor sets come bundled with a passive ability that is generally useful in at least one of the environments. Soul Blazer is a bit cliché in these environments, serving up “the water stage,” “the mountain stage,” “the fire stage,” etc., but they do also have small spins to the theme that still make them interesting. As such, players get items such as armor that lets them breathe underwater, swords that let them defeat metal enemies in a technology-themed environment and more.

Soul Blazer is the first in a “trilogy” of games, and, while future titles were perhaps more feature-rich, Soul Blazer is amazing for its simplicity, and the soul system was a very unique and interesting feature for its time. Quintet eventually followed up with Illusion of Gaia (ガイア幻想紀 – Gaia Gensoki) and Terranigma (天地創造 – Tenchi Sozo). Illusion of Gaia actually got publishing treatment by Nintendo itself in North America, leveraging its “Only on Super Nintendo” label during its industry battle with SEGA. Terranigma would see releases in Japan and was even translated for release in Europe and Australia, but it never saw the light of day in North America.

The Retro Achiever playthrough of Soul Blazer on my Twitch channel saw the game completed in two parts, and, playing the game casually, forgetting what to do in a couple of parts and seeking out some of the extras, between 7-8 hours of gameplay was enjoyed. Of course, the Twitch series is done in the Retro Achievements emulator, and we completed 65 out of 81 achievements for 263/400 points (80 percent complete).

I do own a Soul Blazer cart, and, to my surprise, it hangs among my top 10 most valuable SNES carts, according to PriceCharting.com. I have a loose cart, and it currently seems to hold a value of $50-plus. Having the love of the game when it first released, I made sure to grab it early when I started finding classic games in record shops when I first started attending college.

I believe I am going to stick with the game, as it has actually seen quite a surge in speedrunning interest as of late. As of my writing, March 30, 2019, the fourth-annual “Everhate” race was held today – a memorial race between runners of the game honoring Soul Blazer runner/player Everhate.

sb3Interest in the game has also been bolstered by a randomizer, which is what has piqued my interest in investing myself in Soul Blazer. The randomizer, maintained by notable speedrunner Le_Hulk, randomizes which souls are released by the monster lairs, and randomizes the items received by the player in any instances they would earn something.

The Retro Achiever playthrough put the basics of what is needed to complete the game back into my mind, and a small test run of the randomizer was an enjoyable time! I’m not certain how involved I will be with the “RandoBlazer” scene, but I expect to stream it on occasion starting in late April.

Overall, I highly recommend people check out Soul Blazer if they have the chance. It provides a Zelda-style experience, but loosens up the exploration and puzzle-solving elements. This means most people will likely clear it faster than a Zelda title like A Link to the Past, but its a great action title with RPG elements that features interesting mechanics and story throughout the game.

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Categories: GemuBaka Feature

Author:indiesnack

Indie Snack is a video gaming Web site focusing on independent developers and game releases. Indie Snack will also soon have services made available to independent developers to include tools aiding them in public relations and game marketing.

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