was a title lost between generations. Released in Japan early 1996, this charming Strategy RPG had the misfortune to find itself in the twilight of the Super Famicom and never garnered substantial fanfare or a subsequent North American release. Instead, the only access to this title for those deprived of a finer comprehension of the Japanese language came in the form of a fan translation years later, and with it gamers suddenly received a glimpse back into the glory days of Squaresoft.
By far one of the more remarkable aspects of Bahamut Lagoon is the way in which it manages to capture so many traditional RPG elements and convert them into tools for its storytelling and gameplay. It may be interesting to note that this Strategy RPG began with a working title of "Final Fantasy Tactics" until it was decided upon that not enough Final Fantasy elements remained to dub it as such. The name, as you may know, was recycled for a greater endeavor
a year and a half later.
The tale of Bahamut Lagoon follows a dragon knight by the name of Byuu, who has fled the Kingdom of Khana trailed by the invading Granbelos Empire, whose Emperor Sauzer kidnaps Princess Yoyo with the intent of using her to awaken the power of the Holy Dragons and ultimately obtain the power of Bahamut for the glory of the empire (and no doubt the impressive harem that would ensue). Not one to take a beating quietly, Byuu, accompanied by his motley crew of knights, fencers, wizards, and dirty old men, sets out to seek new allies in his fight against Sauzer and wrestle the floating lagoons from a harsh Imperial hold. But what has the potential to be a serious and politically intriguing plot quickly degenerates into episodic journeys to the various lagoons that still manage to maintain a very entertaining quality. In fact, that director Kazushige Nojima would later go on to be a very prominent scenario writer (for titles including Final Fantasy VII
, Final Fantasy VIII
, and the Kingdom Hearts
series) says a great deal about the compartmentalized tone of the game.
As a result, some of the chief joy in Bahamut Lagoon comes from the interactions between its quirky characters, who never seem to take themselves so seriously that their dialogue comes out stilted. Instead, each character receives his or her own small dose of screen time that suffices to create an identity and a role in Byuu's army which the player can understand.
That said, Byuu's adventures are very structured in the way they progress and form a tidy series of events which culminate in what might be considered an expected conclusion. In some circumstances this may be construed as dry or unoriginal storytelling, but Bahamt Lagoon places so much of its stock in its characters (many of whom look like they could have been very well pulled out of Final Fantasy VI
) that the story holds together under their power alone.
One good turn deserves another
Of course, eventually our dear friends will have to stop talking and start fighting, and that's where Bahamut Lagoon's unique twist on the Strategy RPG formula comes into play. Your units, equipped and arranged with up to four characters prior to combat, are placed on a battle field map, where they move along a grid. Once favorably positioned, they can use special abilities (e.g. magic) to attack enemies directly on the map screen or enter direct combat with adjacent units. When attacking enemy units by means of the second method, the party is taken to another battle screen where a single command can be issued for each character in that unit and what is essentially a single turn of a traditional, Final Fantasy-style battle plays out.
Additional environmental effects also occur when attacking on the battle map: using fire magic on forests will set them aflame and cause any unit standing on them damage, lightning will destroy buildings and cannons, and ice will freeze over water and enable units to walk over it. This certainly lends itself a measure of strategy, especially when your strongest and currently ice-borne units are sunk into a lake by a well-placed enemy fire spell.
But Bahamut Lagoon would be nothing without its dragons, and that is why each allied unit is followed by a dragon, to whom orders of "Come!", "Go!" or "Wait!" can be issued. These dragons can then be fed items outside of battle (and this, for some reason, includes some rather pointy swords) which increase their stats and cause them to change forms into larger, stronger, harbingers of doom. Unfortunately, towards the end of the game, Byuu's dragon becomes quite invincible, so that the only thing keeping the player from a guaranteed win is sheer impatience.
You don't want to see Level 3.
There is nothing remarkable as far as sound and controls are concerned. The soundtrack, fashioned by minor composer Noriko Matsueda, whose groundbreaking works include The Bouncer
and some nonsense called Final Fantasy X-2
, does a fair job of popping out a few catchy tunes, but nothing that won't be dulled by the incessant repetition of the twenty some-odd hours required to put this one away.
All in all, the gameplay is impressive and always interesting, the characters are off-the-wall and often silly, and battle will never become the chore it so often is in the later hours of most Strategy RPGs.
So if you've got the time, the stomach for 16-bit graphics, or simply a love of all things Squaresoft, Bahamut Lagoon is worth a go. In a time of graphical and plot pretension, its no nonsense story and gameplay speak volumes about why we became gamers in the first place.