Soleil (also known as Crusaders of Centy) Sega Genesis Developed by Nextech Released in 1994
Let me just state here that I am a huge Zelda-fan and I enjoy most of the games in this series, with my favorites being A Link to the Past and A Link Between Worlds. I did let Casper review the series, but really felt the need to do something Zelda-ish for the site myself. Fortunately: I acquired a copy of Soleil and felt now was the time to talk about a game that could qualify as AlttP’s rival.
Undertale + Zelda
After an intro that gives us a semi-genesis story, we meet our hero and representation of the player: Corona. We start the story at his birthday-party and he has just turned 14. At this age, he is by the law required to get his own sword and start training to become able to defend himself and the town. With his father’s sword and shield in hand, he sets out to start on the training. However, while on the early parts of his journey to become a skilled swordmaster, he loses the ability to communicate with humans and instead is able to talk to animals and some plants. With this new and odd gift, he sets out to find out what exactly happened and why.
The story is at first a charming one, where it is clear that you are the chosen one, since it is even outright told to you early on. However, the idea of being able to talk to animals and lose the ability to communicate with people is done well, since you need support from people and could even talk and get interesting conversations before this happened, so it is definitely an effective storytelling method to take this away from you. Every character you meet is a treat and all have something interesting or humorous to say. You even have a narrator who acts almost like a DM, by describing creatures from time to time, notifying you if you get more HP, or outright breaks the fourth wall.
The story also tries to ask you why the monsters are considered evil and play with your emotions. It really shows that good and evil is far from black and white, making it easy to question your own motives. While it is not perfect and not as effectively told through gameplay as the communication-problem, it works well since you get little to nothing for killing monsters. Besides the plot, the world itself feels alive and each area has a story to tell, with some being lighthearted and others being quite dark without the tone becoming unbalanced or feeling off. It even throws in elements that are clearly a nod to classic stories or beliefs, such as the Wizard of Oz and the Tower of Babel.
The plot gave me enough to understand what was going on, but also enough to crave for more and ponder upon if what I was doing was right. While it is not a perfect story that hits all the right notes, it is still a charming tale, that has many minor story-bits that are connected to the main-plot, and characters to love. If I may also add: it has been a long time since I was happy, yet sad about an ending.
Story Score 8/10
The legend of Soleil
Being an overhead-view, adventure game with the main-character using a sword and a shield, it is definitely easy to see why it was compared to A Link to the Past. However, though being similar in its concept, there are a lot of differences. First: while you have towns to visit, and dungeons and lands to explore, all are being chosen from an overworld-map similar to Super Mario World. Each area is fairly big, but never felt dull or too long, with backtracking being easy to avoid thanks to the overworld-map.
The combat is simple, with Corona using mainly his sword to attack with. It covers a good range, about 90 degrees in front of him, making attacking easy and lenient. There is not much to this at first. However: you will soon gain the ability to charge up your sword and throw it like a boomerang. This is a heavily used mechanic, since it can get magical powers later on and is even used for light puzzles. The magical powers you will get come from your ability to speak to animals. You will, throughout the game, meet animals that will accompany you throughout the journey and some that you can hire for support. Only two animals can be selected and support your journey at a time, each with different abilities and some with multiple uses. The penguin, for example, will put ice-magic on your sword, which can both freeze enemies and hot lava, and the cheetah can make you run fast, but also jump longer distances. Some animals can even combine their abilities for special powers.
The areas themselves have a lot to offer and are all different from each other. Some focus on you figuring out puzzles, some have a bunch of enemies and make you explore, and some even have platforming to do. The puzzles are easy to figure out, but never dull due to always changing up and vary slightly, and the exploration is rewarding and fun. The combat is not as intriguing, but it is still satisfying to attack enemies, especially with the boomerang-attack. The platforming is actually really clever, since you will only lose one HP if you fail a jump and you have a shadow under you, making it easier to see if you made a jump or not. There are actually a lot of fun parts to the platforming and it even gets some new elements to it, such as using the wind for more air-time.
The only thing Corona can upgrade when it comes to his stats (without the help of certain animals) is his HP, represented by apples. You will get one more if you beat a boss or acquire a golden apple. The golden apples are usually acquired by beating puzzles or going off the main-path, both being enjoyable. While the combat is not much to brag about against the general enemies, the bosses are incredibly fun to tackle, and different from one another. Some of them will definitely put up a dangerous fight and while there are unfortunately some easy ones, none of them feels dull due to the variety and some being puzzle-like, where you must create a clear strategy. Besides the golden apples, you can acquire gold throughout the journey, but it is only used for hiring certain animals, purchasing highly expensive golden apples or for mandatory elements, such as learning how to throw the sword as a boomerang.
The game is not much longer than 5 hours, but there is no downtime and you can save anywhere in the game except for the boss-fights. There is so much to love in this package with a good difficulty-curve, fun bosses to fight, good amount of worlds to explore, puzzles and platforming always changing up to be interesting, there is really not much more I could have asked for. The only improvement, would be to have more interesting combat against the common enemies.
Gameplay Score 9.5/10
A Link to Monster World?
Soleil gives us a colorful and lovely world to explore, with the inhabitants and even most of the bosses having a cutesy look. All are well detailed, diverse and could have easily been mistaken for hand-drawn art. There are also some lovely details, such as twigs and leaves hanging on the side of the screen, creating the illusion of you looking down on our playable character, flowers that dance in the wind, and shadows from clouds that are passing by.
The soundtrack is joyful and lovely, but it is an odd, yet fitting mix of rock, country, orchestral and more. The music is memorable and contains a good selection of tracks, with the boss-themes being my favorite. The sound-effects are pretty good, but the screeches of your sword charging up is not pleasant and will unfortunately be a noise that will be heard a lot. Not game-breaking, but it could have easily gone without.
Presentation Score 8.5/10
Who doesn’t want a magic sword?
Besides maximizing your health, the only extra in this game, is the Holy Sword. To get it, you must prove yourself by getting bronze, silver and gold-medals at the training-ground. These segments are incredibly fun, testing your skills in puzzles, platforming and combat. The Holy Sword is also a great reward and a nice support against monsters and bosses. While there is not much else to really go back to, this optional extra helps a lot.
Extra Score 7.5/10
Soleil was a surprise to me. It definitely borrows a lot from ALttP, but also tries to be something of its own and goes off with flying colors, which I did not expect. With a unique story, interesting animal-companions, adorable presentation, good boss-fights and always changing up the game to give something new, yet in tone with its gameplay, Soleil is not just good answer to A Link to the Past, but a fantastic game on its own.