Bahamut Lagoon is another one of those "experimental" games from Square's mid-90s SNES domination of the console RPG world. Like most of these, it was only released in Japan, is a seriously mixed bag in terms of quality, and is now available to be played in English and a few other languages (thanks to DeJap Translations).

The game is a strategy-RPG most comparable to Shining Force, though it has some differences. The setting is unique and pretty great - a world of floating islands where everyone travels around via complex airships and dragons. Unfortunately, the imaginative setting doesn't lead to a great story. The game puts you through 26 chapters of the typical Ragtag Band of Rebels taking on the usual Evil Empire. There's maybe a touch more depth to the villains here than usual, but the game mostly has a really goofy, nonsensical tone that fails at being funny while keeping you from being able to take any of the characters seriously.

You proceed in pretty typical turn-based style, with a few intriguing touches. First, each of your units is attached to a dragon. The dragon can be given basic general commands like "attack aggressively" or "stay over here", but can't actually be directly controlled. They gain experience and level up like normal units, but in between battles you can also "grow" their stats by feeding them items from your inventory. The other interesting touch is that your elemental magic spells and attacks can effect some of the terrain in the game - grassy tiles and forests can be set on fire, and will then do big damage to anyone sitting on them. You can freeze water to create ice bridges, or flame out people who are standing on ice to sink them for an instant kill.

Both of these strengths of the game have caveats, however. Unfortunately, the dragons are a little too powerful, and tend to unbalance the game in your favor. There are few maps that are really challenging here, and the only ones that are rely on a few enemy power units that have cheap spells that can nearly kill your weaker units in one hit. And the terrain attacks are limited to small, very specific areas in certain maps - and if you kill off enemy units by, say, drowning them or unleashing a flood on them, you lose all the items and EXP you would have had by killing them the normal way, and since you have only finite opportunity to level up that can be a problem. The dragon AI is also idiotic and will happily plant itself in danger, like landing on a forest that is already burning and then taking huge damage the next turn (aren't they flying?).

Compounding the game's problems are a save system that is annoying. Of course, 90% of you will play this on an emulator so with save states it ceases to be an issue. However, playing the cartridge must be a chore, because you are only allowed to save the game at the beginning of each chapter - which is prior to all the story and dialogue for that chapter, and also prior to being able to arrange your units for the next battle. Saving prior to the battle while on the unit select screen would have been the most considerate choice here - Square makes you sit through a lot of tedious shit again if you die or have to quit in the middle of a battle here.

There are things to like here, though. I'm pretty sure the Ogre Battle team worked on this one after Square snagged them, because the sprite work looks almost identical to their characters. There are a lot of great atmospheric and spell effects and generally the game looks quite pleasant. The music is of the "generic symphonic hero epic" type, not very memorable, but certainly not bad (it definitely isn't the Ogre Battle composers, though). Despite some hinks it is a pretty fun strategy-RPG and the combat engine works pretty well.

Ultimately I just found the combat to be too slow-paced, the plot and characters too uninteresting and the game in general to be too easy to consider it a top choice, though. Apparently a sequel is being developed for the DS and I am curious to see what they do with it, however, as this is a formula that could easily be tweaked into excellence.

Links :

* DeJap translation patch

Videos :

* Gameplay Video