Bahamut Lagoon
  • Genre:
    • Strategy
  • Platform:
    • Super Famicom
  • Developer:
    • Square
  • Publisher:
    • Square
  • Released:
    • JP 02/09/1996
Score: 85%

This review was published on 03/30/2014.

Bahamut Lagoon is a tactical RPG developed and published by Square for the Super Famicom in Japan on February 9, 1996. Even though it was never officially released outside of the land of the rising sun, Bahamut Lagoon did get an unofficial fan translation by a group of hackers who called themselves DeJap. The fan translation was released sometime in the early 2000s, and it allowed those with emulators to finally enjoy the game in English. Fan translations into languages other than English soon followed, giving people of many different cultures the chance to experience Bahamut Lagoon. If it weren't for the emulation scene, Bahamut Lagoon would still be a relatively unknown game today. In any case, Bahamut Lagoon is a highly experimental, yet highly remarkable game that everyone should check out, especially fans of Square's 16-bit works.

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In the sky world of Orelus, there was a fierce war being fought between the Kingdom of Kahna and the wicked Granbelos Empire. The Granbelos Empire attains victory over the Kingdom of Kahna and captures their princess, who is strangely named Yoyo. The Granbelos Empire succeeds in conquering every domain in Orelus, making them the supreme rulers of everything. Luckily, a rebel force known as The Resistance decide to take on the Empire. Byuu, the hero of Bahamut Lagoon, is the leader of The Resistance and he is joined by some former members of Kahna's army. Together, they travel the world on their wonderful airship, recruiting support from the other fallen kingdoms in the hopes that they'll be able to free everyone from the Granbelos Empire. The premise to Bahamut Lagoon's story might sound simple, but like most Square games of the time, it's much more complex than it initially seems. Bahamut Lagoon does go a little overboard with the sheer quantity of cutscenes, though, especially later on in the game. The story also has an unusual sense of humor. A big example of the strange attempts at comic relief is the running joke that Sendak, an old wizard who joins your entourage early on, has homoerotic feelings towards Byuu. Aside from some of the awkward humor and overdose of cutscenes, Bahamut Lagoon tells a solid tale.

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Like Shining Force, the game is cleanly divided into two parts; exploration segments and the tactical battle sections. Exploration segments usually take place inside of towns or on the hero's massive airship, though the amount of freedom during these sections is limited. There's no overworld map to speak of, and the game progresses in an extremely linear fashion. You don't have any choice in which town, if any, you get to explore. The exploratory bits merely serve as a buffer between tactical battles, allowing players to prepare their troops for action. When in towns or on the airship, there are plenty of shops to purchase weapons, armor, items, and all that jazz. Besides the shops, there are a lot of hidden items scattered throughout towns, like inside boxes, barrels, treasure chests, etc. The annoying thing is that you can't return to any old towns you've already been to, so it's possible to miss out on a lot of stuff. You can also speak to characters to get additional dialogue and cutscenes. To get out of these exploration sections and back onto the field of battle, you'll have to talk to a specific character. This can be mildly annoying at times, as it's not always clear who you need to talk to in order to advance the story. While Bahamut Lagoon lacks the exploration found in more traditional RPGs, it does have more exploration than the average tactical game, which normally has none.

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Battles progress in a turn-based manner, with the player and enemy soldiers moving in phases. It's like a game of chess, except each player can move all their pieces on their turn, as opposed to only moving one piece per turn. Each unit on the battlefield is usually a team consisting of up to four characters, and the units move along the map like a grid. How many spaces each unit can move depends on the characters within that unit, with lightweight characters being able to move farther than heavyweight characters. This should sound familiar to anyone who has played a tactical game before, but where things get different is when two units get close enough to initiate a melee fight. Whenever that happens, the game switches to a different screen where a more traditional, Final Fantasy type of battle begins, with the enemy and ally parties lining up in opposing rows to fight it out. During these short skirmishes, each side gets to attack once, and you issue battle commands to individual characters within the party. Graphically, these short combat sequences look fantastic, with amazing art and decent animation. The only flaw the battles have is that it's all about character levels, meaning there isn't a whole lot of strategy involved. That's a minor issue, though, and it's greatly overshadowed by how much fun the battles of Bahamut Lagoon are.

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Spells and special techniques produce different effects depending on whether they're used on the field or during direct assaults. Indirect attacks sometimes target multiple enemy parties, making them excellent not only for range, but also for their crowd clearing capability. Formations have somewhat of an impact on how powerful techniques and spells are, as having multiple characters of the same class within the same party enhances the power of their magic. For example, a party of four wizards will have stronger fire magic on the battlefield. Parties with spell casters can attack enemy units from afar, which allow them to avoid triggering those Final Fantasy fights. It's a good way to avoid taking damage, as this bypasses the enemy's ability to counterattack. An extremely nice touch is how certain spells have environmental effects, like ice magic freezes water, lightning magic destroys bridges, and fire magic burns trees. These environmental changes alter the tide of battle, like freezing a river so your ground units can walk across it. All these mechanics combine to form a deep and engaging system, one where abilities and spells do more than just hurt your enemies. It's all rather robust and easy to understand, too.

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Dragons are the other big part of Bahamut Lagoon. Each party must have a dragon assigned to it, which will then be controlled by the AI during battle, in addition to imparting abilities and spells to the characters on that team. Dragons automatically move after its associated party makes a move, though there are basic tactics that can be issued to each dragon to slightly alter its behavior. What's most interesting about dragons is what you do with them outside of battle. Dragons can be fed items outside of the battlefield to boost their stats and elemental attributes. Literally any item will do; weapons, armor, potions, books, etc. Every item either raises or lowers a different attribute, and dragons evolve into different forms depending on their stats. There's a surprising amount of depth to this mechanic, almost to the degree of a Pokemon game. A dragon's behavior in battle can even be partially influenced by what you feed it, so they not only get stronger, but also smarter. The stats dragons gain upon leveling up are negligible, which makes feeding the main way to strengthen dragons. This system is pretty cool, but it does have one problem: certain evolutions are completely undesirable. You have to be careful what you feed your dragons if you want to avoid the negative transformations. It's always possible to get out of a bad transformation, though, so this isn't too big of a deal.

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What would an RPG be without side quests? Bahamut Lagoon has a few of those, though they're a bit different from the way side quests work in other RPGs. The game calls them side quests, but they're actually just additional battle maps. The same side quests can be completed repeatedly, with more becoming available as the game progresses. These optional fights are accessed outside of a main mission, and they're merely ways to grind for experience points outside of the story. They're also good for grabbing extra items to feed your dragons with, as the items enemies drop can be manipulated by using attacks of different elements. There really isn't much more to them than that. It's nice that the game lets you do this, though, as most tactical RPGs have a tendency to not let you fight battles outside of the main story mode. This prevents you from ever becoming stuck due to low levels. There's also a New Game Plus mode similar to Chrono Trigger, where you start the whole game over with your levels and stats carried over. I always appreciate the inclusion of a New Game Plus feature, even if I never use it. Bahamut Lagoon doesn't have too many optional things to do in it, but that's not a major problem as the main game more than makes up for it.

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Bahamut Lagoon is a splendid game that deserves to be forever enshrined as a classic. It's got impeccable art design, wonderful music befitting 16-bit Square, and deep gameplay. The only bad thing about Bahamut Lagoon is that nobody outside of Japan got to experience it back in its heyday. Everyone can enjoy the game now, though, and that's ultimately what matters.

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