Editor’s note: Join us over the next two weeks as we look back at the most outstanding and influential games of 1996.
Not many people in the West will be familiar with Bahamut Lagoon. This RPG, with elements of both Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy, was only released in Japan in 1996, with plans for an American release never materializing. Whilst never officially released in the West, some fans had put it upon themselves to translate the game into English, so it can be found translated with a simple search. However, with its release on the Super Famicom, at a time just before the release of the Nintendo 64, resources were probably shifted elsewhere, resulting in its official American release being abandoned. That doesn’t diminish the profound influence it had on RPGs, and its impact on future Fire Emblem games should duly be noted.
The Final Fantasy influence is apparent from the beginning. The game’s development staff included key members from the Final Fantasy series, including its creator Hironobu Sakaguchi as a supervisor, and Kazushige Nojima as director. Bahamut Lagoon‘s storyline borrows so much from the Final Fantasy series that you’d be forgiven for believing it was a Final Fantasy game. The iconic storyline, a resistance force rising against a powerful empire, is something that Final Fantasy fans will be familiar with. However, Bahamut Lagoon does try to differentiate itself from the series and tells the story of their failed attempt at defeating the empire, becoming a story of a reunification of the resistance.
The journey towards this goal leads to your path crossing with many eccentric characters. With so many unique individuals, it’s surprising how development each character had. No matter how minor the role they played, they each had a segment devoted to them. Even those that are supposedly villainous have reason to deserve sympathy, such was the depth of the character development. In many ways, some RPGs could learn from Bahamut Lagoon on how to intertwine the storyline with the development of each character, providing the player with an in-depth insight on how the current situation came to be. The intricate relationship web between each character is some of the finest story-telling of the era.
The writing wouldn’t be complete without a canvas to bring it to life, and unsurprisingly, Bahamut Lagoon is utterly beautiful. It wouldn’t be too controversial to proclaim it the most gorgeous game on the SNES. Many of the environments have vibrant filters, with some surprising detail in many of the sprites. The animation is particularly detailed in the battle scenes, showing intense detail in the slashes from swords and the magic of spells. Extraordinarily, the detail in the battle scenes surpasses that of Fire Emblem. Whilst using the same basic strategy style as Fire Emblem, upon an attack, it cuts away to a new view to provide a better-detailed fight. This allows for the beautiful animation to shine, delivering some of its best gameplay.
The complexity of the battles can’t be understated. To determine a positive outcome requires intricate maintenance of your dragons. A variety of dragons is crucial, as is pairing the right dragon with the right character. Variation isn’t quite as simple as it may appear. For instance, in the beginning, fire spells are much easier to obtain than other elements. As such, it can become all too easy to end up with many fire dragons, and therefore, getting caught out when you require the other elements. Bahamut Lagoon encourages magic in battling more so than any other RPG. This process is ensured by how much of an element you use. This in itself becomes a double-edged sword. The problem is you don’t control your dragons in battle, you can give them brief orders, but you never utilize full control. To obtain better ice equipment would require you to defeat an enemy with ice magic. At the last minute, however, your fire dragon might appear and defeat the enemy so you obtain fire equipment. This unfortunate process is both a strength and a weakness, ensuring a level of difficulty in the diversification of the elements.
With critical battles to be fought, you’d believe the game is a standard good vs evil storyline. Partially true, but the story leaves much doubt under the rubble. Whilst the Emperor of Granbelos, Sauzer, resorts to genocide to get his desired outcome, some of the citizens he conquered become sympathetic. In one such town, the Queen and her people hate their liberation, as the Empire had maintained peace across the land. There’s a morality question whispering throughout, almost like you stand before Osiris himself waiting to be judged, decidedly whether Ammit will devour your heart or not. This might be one of doubt, or simply Stockholm Syndrome in play. However, the people you sought to liberate weren’t always too keen on your liberation.
This graying of the morality leads to a compelling storyline, one that has been fleshed out with the individuality of each character. Bahamut Lagoon is a masterpiece of story-telling, and an often overlooked gem on the SNES, not through the fault of Western consumers, but one of unfortunate timing. With Fire Emblem seeing considerable attention from Nintendo, it’s unlikely a game with similar battling mechanics will ever arise again on a Nintendo console. This is a great misfortune, as Bahamut Lagoon deserves a remake, or at the very least, to be remastered for the Nintendo Switch. However, the focus remains on Fire Emblem, and maybe the best we can hope for is some more Bahamut Lagoon influence to filter through into the next installement.