It’s not a secret that some of Squaresoft’s best games came out during the SNES era. Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger; all of them were excellent games, but there were many more that never saw a release in the States. All of these games are worth covering at some point, but for now I want to talk about the hidden gem, Bahamut Lagoon.
The reason I chose this one first should be obvious to any Final Fantasy fan; Bahamut is one of the most popular summon monsters in the series so there’s a natural curiosity to what this game was about. It turns out that Bahamut Lagoon was Square’s first attempt at a Strategy RPG. While there is no direct connection to Final Fantasy beyond the use of summons, the game was initially titled Final Fantasy Tactics during development until it was decided to place it outside the common lore, i.e. Chocobos, Moogles, and a guy named Cid. There are similarities between Tactics’s battle system and the one found in Bahamut Lagoon but the general feel is completely different.
The story takes place in a land called Orelus which mainly consists of floating islands called lagoons. The Granbelos Empire, under the command of Emperor Sauzer, has been waging a war of conquest for years. One of the few countries to resist them has been the kingdom of Khana, mainly due to their guardian, Bahamut. The royal family is able to communicate with him and maintain a strong bond. However, Bahamut eventually falls into a deep sleep leaving the kingdom without its protector. It isn’t long before the Empire attacks and scatters the soldiers and royal family. These survivors band together along with a mercenary group to take back their home and defeat the Empire. Along the way, they uncover a larger plot that could bring the entire world to devastation.
The plot, at least from summaries I have found, is typical RPG fare, but it works well and the battle system certainly spices things up. The Khana military, including the silent protagonist Byuu, can use smaller dragons in combat. The dragons are almost entirely autonomous with the exception of a few basic commands but can easily turn the tide of battle and provide much of the strategy for the game. The dragons even have their own levels and stats and can be groomed outside of battle to become stronger and take on new forms. Dragons also have their own elemental type and if the character connected with that dragon uses magic related to that element, it will receive a boost in its effectiveness.
Humans have access to the typical range of abilities like attacking, techniques, and magic and come equipped with a variety of jobs. Adding another layer to the system is that the characters can be grouped into parties of four with a maximum of six individual parties. This makes it possible to have a wide range of abilities in any one party and truly play up the tactical level. Combat comes in two varieties: long range attacks that happen on the grid and close range attacks that play out like a standard RPG battle. Long range attacks are generally less effective but keeps the party safe while close range attacks cause more damage but your party can be damaged as well. Finally, one of the coolest aspects of the combat is that magic has a direct effect on the environment. For example, bodies of water can be frozen so you can cross or so you can bait enemies toward you before casting fire and drowning them. Outside of combat players can shop, talk to their party, take care of their dragons, etc. Like many Strategy RPGs, there is no overworld to explore and it’s generally a linear affair.
Bahamut Lagoon was one of the last games Squaresoft developed for the SNES and it shows. These are graphics that came after the brilliant sprite work of both Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. It’s all very detailed and animates well. The music is also on par with past Square efforts though there’s nothing as iconic as Nobuo Uematsu’s work.
If it’s not clear by now, this game would be an awesome treat for all of the strategy RPG fans out there. Even if it was just translated and put on the Virtual Console or given a DS release like Chrono Trigger, fans would be happy. There are too many good ideas and rich potential to leave it solely in Japan. I’d love to play it, and I’m sure you guys would too.