One of the most stunning games for the SNES.
While many people first experienced Square’s foray into the strategy RPG genre through Final Fantasy Tactics, that game was not their first attempt at making a strategy RPG. Just two years prior, the company released Bahamut Lagoon for the SNES. Doing what few, if any other games did before it, Bahamut Lagoon heavily mixed elements from both Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy into an incredibly gratifying package.
Actually, calling it a direct combination of Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy is inaccurate, since it is not an entry in either series. However, it does borrow many elements from Final Fantasy games, the story being the most noticeable about it. Like many games before it, Bahamut Lagoon tells the story of a resistance force rising against a powerful empire, yet the game also does a lot to separate itself from other games. For example, the resistance force actually fails in their first attempt to take down the empire; the story focuses on their second attempt to reunite their kingdom, several years after their initial endeavor. Along the journey, you will recruit a bevy of characters, ranging from flirtatious lancers to playful magicians, in addition to many others. The amazing thing about Bahamut Lagoon is that despite having such a large cast, the game develops every character fairly well. No matter how minor a role a character has, at least one segment of the game will be devoted to them. They do not even need to have a role in the actual gameplay; incredibly small roles, like the Dragonkeeper and the pilot of the resistance’s flagship, get as much focus as do larger ones. Even the main villain of the game comes off as a sympathetic character, very rarely seeming evil or malicious.
The most notable feature of the game is also the one that becomes apparent before you even play the game: the graphics. Bahamut Lagoon may have the best graphics of any SNES game, something it knows. Many of the environments have vibrant filters, and some of the more complex art in the game would still look good in a Sega Saturn game. The animations are very detailed, as well, showing every detail of a particular spell or slash. In fact, they can be too detailed, at times, causing minor slowdown and clipping issues. Yet most of the time, the graphics run without a problem, supplying amazing payoff for many of the game’s features.
One of the features that benefits most from Bahamut Lagoon’s visual prowess is the dragon breeding mechanic. Over the course of the game, you can feed your dragons items to make them more powerful. Sometimes, this results in a dragon taking on a completely new form with an entirely new look. Unless you view the dragons purely by their stats (which the lack of importance on emotional stats makes very possible), this system encourages much experimentation just to see all the various dragon forms that the game offers. Unfortunately, a stronger dragon does not necessarily guarantee a better looking one, as the most powerful form a dragon can have is identical to whatever their form was when you first obtained them. However, there is still good reason to aspire for these forms: they not only affect what abilities the dragon has, but the abilities and power of that dragon’s squad, as well. Because of this, dragons are invaluable to your success in battle.
Oddly enough, while dragons make up a large portion of the game’s battle system, you have no direct control over them. Instead, they are controlled through vague AI commands, like “come” or “wait.” Although this sounds limiting, this amount of control essentially allows you to do whatever you want with your dragons, since they attack of their own volition. In fact, if let loose, dragons will generally attack whatever target they want. This does not mean that they will handle all strategy; even late in the game, when many dragons will likely have their stats at their highest levels, you will have to be careful with how much your dragons fight. As a matter of fact, nearly everything about the battle system overflows with strategy, from party arrangement and environments, to minor things like how you obtain enemy loot. While this may sound daunting, at first, the game is very easy to pick up and play, mostly due to its adoption of the traditional turn based system of strategy RPG play.
Yet Bahamut Lagoon deviates from traditional strategy RPGs in one major way: the battle system. This does not mean that you cannot play the game as you would any other strategy RPG. It is possible to kill enemies both with indirect on-the-field attacks and via the environment around them. While both of these options create a lot of strategy and can be very fun to employ, you will still inevitably use the game’s primary battle system, especially since it is the most rewarding option available. It not only gives more experience than the other methods, but it also contributes very heavily to many other aspects of the game. The battle system is very similar to that of Final Fantasy, in which an earlier formed party (in addition to attacks, the party’s formation determines things like range of movement) fights another party with attacks, spells, items, etc. Although the encounters are brief, they feel just as fleshed out as many console RPGs of the time. The amount of classes is various, each one having its own distinct set of abilities, like summoning and dancing. What ability you use is not only dependent on whatever weaknesses a given enemy has, but also what items you want, since the element of a killing attack determines what loot you obtain.
While this may sound difficult to manage, the opposite is actually true: Bahamut Lagoon is an easy game. Part of the problem is the enemy AI, which is single-minded to the point of attacking a single unit with an area-of-effect attack that could very easily harm many other characters; in fact, if they do end up hitting multiple characters with such an attack, it will most likely be through luck. Granted, the dragons exhibit this same behavior, but their sheer power makes this a non-issue. It is very possible to maximize a dragon’s stats relatively early in the game, transforming them into highly powerful instruments of destruction in the process. Although this does not eliminate strategy entirely, it can be tempting to let the dragons handle the strategy. Yet even if this does not happen, the strong correlation between a team’s power and that of their dragon’s is still a major factor. The large amount of bonus experience given at the end of each chapter does not help, especially when you consider the fact that the dragons get this experience, too (although given the player’s effect on their stats, the purpose of these level ups is not clear). Given all this, it would be very surprising for a dragon or an entire team to die, especially late in the game. Despite the game’s ease, it is still one of the best strategy RPGs available for the SNES. Although it was released only in Japan, it has been translated into English, making it hard to resist looking at Bahamut Lagoon.