Sunday, 20 April 2014

My Number 1 Favourite Video Game of All Time

Soul Blazer (a.k.a. Soul Blader) (SNES – 1992)

(Warning: This blog post contains plot spoilers.)

When I started creating my list of my all time favourite video games, there was some shuffling of the list as I decided upon my top 10, and then the order of that top 10. There was never any doubt that Soul Blazer would be on the list, but it was a while before it emerged in the gold medal position. But it is a position which I feel it has truly deserved.

A key thing to remember about this list is that it is not a list of the ten best video games of all time, it is a list of my favourite video games. Whilst Soul Blazer is a very good game, I will concede that there are many other games out there which many other people would consider to be better games. But when it came to choosing my personal favourite video game, in the end, it simply had to be Soul Blazer.

The game itself is an action RPG game. The King has forced the inventor Dr Leo to create a machine which will allow him to summon the Lord of Evil, Deathtoll. The King does a deal with Deathtoll whereby the King will hand over living beings to Deathtoll in return for gold. The world is soon emptied of life. You are sent down by the Master to restore the world, releasing each individual soul one at a time, over six different areas.

It was not just people who were captured by Deathtoll, but plants and animals as well, and, once released, you’re able to communicate with them – trees, birds, dogs, even mermaids.

One of the humans captured was Dr Leo’s daughter, Lisa, who resides in the first zone of the game (Grass Valley). Early on in the game you obtain a dream rod, which allows you to see the dreams that sleeping people and creatures are having.

Whenever you release the leader of each zone (by winning a boss battle) you’re given a crystal, and once you have all of the crystals you can open up a path to the World of Evil, and take on Deathtoll himself.

Whilst Soul Blazer may not have an award winning plotline, it was fairly sophisticated for its era, with its moralistic tale of how greed and the misuse of technology can bring about evil.

I first played the game when I was about 11, and it was the first RPG that I ever played. I found myself immersed in the world of the game. And the game mechanics worked brilliantly for me. It was the first time that I’d ever encountered experience points, and a levelling up system. If a boss fight was too tricky, you could go and fight some weaker monsters, gain some more experience points, go up a level, and then try the boss again.

Whilst the game itself is fairly linear, you are able to go back to previously completed zones if you want to. This is necessary if you want to release every single creature as some of the monsters in the early part of the game can only be defeated with weapons you can’t acquire until later on in the game. This idea of going back to previously completed levels to do some extra bits was a new concept to me.

Once you complete the game, you’re rewarded with a lengthy ending, with the hero visiting the various parts of the world. Then there’s a section summing up the end of the game, and how Lisa now sees the world:

Just like her father changed impossible to possible, Lisa feels she will be happy if she believes.

This part of the ending is set at sunset, and there were times when I saw it myself, at sunset, on a long summer’s day...

Soul Blazer has always been enjoyable to play on the many replays that I’ve done of it. Although, for a long while, getting to reply it was hard. When I was 11 I didn’t own the game, a neighbour did, but I often borrowed it for long periods. The game was rare, and not officially available in Europe at the time, and so owning my own copy was beyond my meagre financial means at the time.

One time in my youth I came close to owning a copy. I saw a second hand copy for sale in a shop in Harrow (where I live). I didn’t have enough money with me at the time to buy it. But I had some other games at home which I could exchange for it. I went home to get them, and, about an hour later, I returned to the shop. But by then it had already been sold. That was the last time I ever saw a copy for sale in a shop.

Then, a couple of years later, I discovered emulators, which allow you to download and play console games on a computer. Soul Blazer was the first game I went for. I could now play it to my heart’s content!

But I still desired to have my own physical copy. Eventually, in 2001, whilst I was at Uni, and finally had a little money to my name, I discovered the joys of eBay. I found a copy of Soul Blazer on there. And, about a week (and £52) later, I finally had my own copy of Soul Blazer, a copy which still sits proudly on my shelf to this day. (Complete copies of Soul Blazer are getting rare on eBay now, and can sell for double what I paid for mine.)

Whilst Soul Blazer is not considered by many as being amongst the greatest games of all time, for me it is. For me it was many “firsts” – my first RPG, my first video game which told a (relatively) sophisticated story, my first video game where I felt immersed in the world of the story. Even the idea of an end credit sequence in a video game was new to me. Like many people who played the game when they will children in the early 90’s, I feel a lot of nostalgia for this game. It set me on the path of playing many other great video games over the years. But I feel that this game, a game of many firsts, will always be my favourite.

During this list of my favourite video games I’ve often spoken about the music contained within the games. Whilst Soul Blazer does have some good music within it, I just want to pick out one piece for this blog post. It features in the ending, but, from where it appears earlier on in the game, it’s generally known as Lisa’s Song. I’m always brought back to the nostalgic memories I have of this game when I hear it. Here’s a remixed version of the song:

So, there you have it. Thus concludes my list of my all time favourite video games. However, there are so many great games that didn’t make the top ten, that just missed out on the cut. Join me again next week when I’ll be doing a quick rundown of some of these games...

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