By Jonathan Higgins / January 22nd, 2013
|Title: Soma Bringer
Developer: Monolift Soft
Release Date: February 28th, 2008
Over four years ago, when I first heard about Soma Bringer, I was fairly confident this game would jump across the pond and into the arms of gamers from North America and the PAL region. Based on the impressions I read across various sites/those who could translate Japanese magazines, I pegged Soma Bringer as standing apart from the contemporaries of its day, as being a truly unique experience on a system absolutely filled to the brim with RPGs of both the mainstream and “niche” variety.
Alas, I was wrong about Soma Bringer’s fate outside of Japan. But I never would have imagined I’d wind up importing the game. I gather many who may read this are apprehensive about importing games in another language (and justifiably so, especially RPGs). This review shall seek to quell those apprehensions.
How Import-Friendly is Soma Bringer?
Very. That’s an awfully quick and confident answer, is it not? I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but there’s a reason I’m so confident. Outside of the initial shock one may experience from being introduced to certain gameplay elements in another language, this game is extremely easy to understand for RPG veterans. Have you played Phantasy Star Online, Diablo, Secret of Mana or the many, many games of a similar ilk? If you have, then you’ll be alright. You’ll wrack your brain for a few minutes as you choose your character, class, and go through the game’s tutorial, but by the time you trounce the game’s first boss, you’ll have things figured out.
Soma Bringer relies heavily upon the use of icons and symbols. When you’re choosing a class, you’ll find familiar images to guide you. What kind of class do you all associate with a tiny guy in a pointy hat? If you guessed a more magic-friendly class, which the game refers to as “Somas”, you’d be correct! For more on why a familiarity with the action-RPG genre helped frame this game for me, look elsewhere on the site.
The following aspects of the game are all tied to very apparent, very familiar symbols: 1) choosing one’s class, 2) setting, growing and enhancing one’s skills in battle, 3) buying, selling and storing loot you gather in dungeons, 4) accepting quests in the game, and perhaps the biggest testament to the game’s import-friendliness: 5) story progression.
That’s right: You may not be able to read this game’s story for yourself, but you will never be lost or greeted by some impassable barrier that you cannot conquer. There are numerous points in the game where you cannot progress in a level until certain “conditions” are met. These “conditions” are always remedied by talking to someone/interacting with something either in a town or in the dungeon itself marked with a specific symbol. Yes, I said always.
Soma Bringer is a wholly linear experience. So much so that you’d be hard-pressed to find an FAQ or walkthrough of the game. Believe me, when I was first coming to terms with the game—I tried. Everything I read seemed to suggest that people started to compile walkthroughs, but gave up when they realized the game practically spoon-feeds you progress. If this game were in English, I imagine some may consider its linearity a detriment. In the context of this review however, for reasons you’re beginning to understand, this is a major, major plus.
The Quality of Soma Bringer
The best possible transition between talking of import-friendliness and the game itself is to mention the game’s story. As I mentioned in my analysis: I can speak as much as you like about what happens in the game, but I cannot tell you why it happens. Those susceptible to the art of video games will relate to this sentiment in the same way that someone who only knows English watching a Spanish soap-opera might relate to those characters. It’s extremely easy to get a sense of who everyone is, what’s happening, and the drama that ensues because of the multiple mediums that help accent a video game.
That said, even if it is in another language, I can still tell a grand tale when I see one. There’s plenty of twists and turns, and plenty more sadness. I felt empathy when certain characters were confronted with tragedy, so I can only rate this game’s story as a success, even if I couldn’t really tell you why beyond that. Keeping the above sentiments in mind though, if you play RPGs solely for the stories they provide, perhaps importing is not for you, lest you wish to teach yourself Japanese.
From there, I can move on to speak highly of the game’s music. It’s by Yasunori Mitsuda. Mitsuda tends not to push a system to its limits insofar as the quality of its composition (for that, I would turn to Yoko Shimomura/Radiant Historia), but I would still call the Soma Bringer soundtrack extremely entertaining and well put-together. Mitsuda injects emotion into his songs, and that emotion helps to better accent a game I cannot understand. There’s not a single tune in that game I wouldn’t call memorable, ladies and gentlemen.
The graphics also boast a similar quality. Pretty game is pretty. I imagine folks can get a good feel as to how Soma Bringer operates just from looking at screenshots. The environments you’re graced with, the enemies you face, all have a unique breath of life to them, very similar to what you may find as you play through Xenoblade Chronicles.
Soma Bringer Feels Like a Portable Xenoblade
There is so much I can say when it comes to the gameplay of Soma Bringer, but no sentiment rings more true than that. The game features what’s clearly a pre-cursor to the Topple and Daze elements found in Xenoblade that take the form of Break and S-Break. Wail on an enemy long enough, and you will knock it down. This will help you kick a beast while its down, and may turn the tide of battle.
It also features a pre-cursor to gem-crafting. This one is much simpler, of course, but there are orbs you can find in dungeons (or create) that enhance features in weapons, armor and accessories. Understanding what these orbs do is a trifle difficult for someone who doesn’t understand the language, but with process of elimination, I’d say I was able to figure it out.
Soma Bringer even has Super Bosses! As you progress through the game, you’ll meet your standard foes that go down easily, stronger foes who lead them, powerful foes who feature a change in music as though to say “brace yourself”, and… the strongest foes of them all that feature a bright blue/green health-bar not found anywhere else in the game that…you won’t have more than fifteen seconds to try to dent before you get…properly pwned, as it were.
It’s definitely a game made by Monolith Soft, and it’s definitely geared towards fans seeking “Xenoblade-Lite”. Further emphasizing the “lite” aspect is the game’s linearity, which I’ve mentioned before, and the fact that every level in the game features numerous warp points. These warp-points better serve as checkpoints that can aid you if you wish to save your progress, then head back right where you left off…or if you die, it accommodates you in that way. You can also create these warp points to head back to town if necessary (read: when your inventory is full of loot), kind of like the Telepipe in Phantasy Star Online.
The game doesn’t punish players for dying. You lose experience, but it can be reclaimed if you visit the spot where you fell. Nothing is unequipped, you don’t lose your hard-earned cash… the game makes you pay to revive your allies if they die, but not yourself.
Unlike Xenoblade, you can only control one character for the entire experience. But the game offers incentive (more story, the chance to go through as a different class, etc) to those who play through as every character. And changing around your party to see what all your allies have to offer is a breeze. The AI is actually better-suited in this game than it is in Xenoblade (read: no wandering into the ether and dying; your allies stay real close to you and serve to help, not hinder).
Bosses and “stronger” foes are difficult, not gimmicky. Soma Bringer continues to be linear at heart, but environments become more sizable with multiple paths to explore as the game progresses. Rare loot makes itself available to you, and is easily distinguished from the norm in terms of color (red and gold-colored weapons > white or blue colored weapons). Beat the Super Bosses, earn some bragging rights. All in all, this is a game I could see myself spending a hundred hours with in short bursts, which makes me all the more bitter to Nintendo of America that this game never found its way here.
I spent just under thirty hours getting to the credits of Soma Bringer. But I did get to the credits of a game I don’t understand, and I am going back in again to play through as another character and grab more loot. The gameplay, as with its contemporaries, is extremely addicting and fun. And when it comes to playing through a game in a language you don’t understand, that’s truly what matters most. Beyond presentation, beyond all the harping I’ve done on the podcast and in my analysis of the game—Soma Bringer is freaking outstanding and deserves a chance from everyone who considers themselves a die-hard fan of Xenoblade Chronicles.
So there it is. I’m awarding a game I don’t completely understand with the highest of marks. In terms of both quality and accessibility, you can’t do much better than this. Soma Bringer was my gateway game to the importing experience. “If you import one game…” let it be this one.
I enjoyed this Japanese game more than I’ve enjoyed most English ones as of late. If that doesn’t speak volumes, I don’t know what does.
Game imported from Japan for review by author.
Monolift SoftSoma BringerYasunori Mitsuda