To open my WedSNESdays / WedNESdays segment up is a title that I think gets overlooked a lot due to the fact that the only way you could play it in an English rendition is through emulation and, even then, it didn’t quite get the word of mouth that other titles of the time did. Thanks to the guys at Dejap Translations, though, this is a game that, to this day, I always revisit and chip away at. While I’ve plowed through the story in my early days of discovering it in high school and later playing a thoroughly translated version a few years later, I always come back because, like the Fire Emblem franchise, I never seem to be able to play the game the same way twice and so long as I don’t play too much of it in a short time, I don’t ever get sick of it.
For those who don’t know, Bahamut Lagoon is a title by Squaresoft for the SNES that never truly saw a North American release. As a Strategy RPG, it was originally cast to be the original Final Fantasy Tactics but was changed in development to be its own title, which might have something to do with why it was never released over here, as brand power was a big deal in video games at the time. It’s a title that is near and dear to me as a title that never really got the widespread recognition I felt it deserved.
Playing the Game Then
Riding high on the heels of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI – improperly titled Final Fantasy III at the time on North American shores – I was pretty much willing to try any hyped-up title from Squaresoft and I was really into the Japanese market of video games as a result, in anticipation of what might be coming ahead and find a way to know what to expect from upcoming localizations. At the time, Bahamut Lagoon was picking up a lot of steam and I remember there being a lot of talk about it; I’m not sure where I first heard about it from, if it was from an internet forum, through friends, or through the grapevine on webpages. I was getting really excited to give this game a shot as it looked amazing and, at the time, I really hadn’t been that versed in Strategy RPGs as my only real exposure that hit the mainstream was Ogre Battle and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms franchises and even then I wouldn’t really venture to say that those franchises were mainstream at the time. Either way, I was excited, I jumped aboard the Squaresoft hype train, and I was off, especially as the game was slated to be released in North America at an unannounced date.
However, the game never came. To this day, I’ll never truly understand why they never brought the game stateside. It was the 17th best selling game, the year of release, in Japan, and it saw two very successful Virtual Console ports; to the Wii and Wii U. Thanks to the translation from Dejap, the game also saw a measure of interest and success over on this side of the ocean, as well, and Squaresoft has just never seen reason to bring it over here, even though Dejap has been known to periodically sell their translations to companies like XSEED to lower localization costs. It’s simply never been explained and it’s just like Mother 3 / Earthbound 2 in the sense that no logical reason is given and the answer to seeing it is a muted and straightforward “not at this time” or “no.” It was a real shame as I was greatly looking forward to this game.
I really struggled through the game, initially, because while I was eventually able to emulate it, the game wasn’t translated at the time I first played it and… let me tell you, it was really difficult. The game was hard enough as it was without having to flip through translation guides and walkthroughs in order to get through the game but after all that, it was practically a extremely stressful experience just to get through battles, much less plod through the story. It wasn’t until the Dejap translation patch was released, which I didn’t find for some time, that I dedicated myself to playing through the game proper and, finally, beating it. It was a bitch to get through, all the same, but it felt liberating to get through it and completely understand what I was doing.
However, due to the game’s innate difficulty and sometimes nauseating visuals, it was exhausting to get through and I couldn’t play large sessions of the game at any one time. While the story was incredibly deep – at the time – and the musical score was great, the pacing of each sometimes felt a little off and disjointed and in that it reminded me a lot of the SaGa and Seiken Densetsu franchises, where you could be progressing along and getting a lot done and have the score pump you up only to abruptly and weirdly come to a halt, leaving you wandering around, wondering if you should continue progressing or wondering how to progress, at all. It didn’t affect me as much, now, but like I’ve mentioned before, in the past, I wasn’t nearly as patient of a gamer as I am now. A lot of the plot elements kind of went over my head and I didn’t really appreciate nearly as much until I played Suikoden for the first time and my first real playthrough of this game was… choppy, to say the least.
Playing the Game Now
Coming back to the game, I’m having, more or less, the same experience, weirdly enough, but for different reasons. There are things that I overlooked when I first went through it when I was younger but that was kind of a mixed blessing as while it kept me from fully enjoying some of the elements of the game, it also helped me overlook some of the stuff that probably would have put me off back then, had I noticed it. One of the biggest things that I’ve noticed from this game upon revisiting it is that it’s mostly an uninspired title: it borrows elements from a lot of games and a lot of those games it borrows from are in the Squaresoft library and it does this a lot. This game, at the time of release, broke almost zero ground and it feels kind of like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain in the sense that it didn’t really set out to be a ground-breaking experience but rather it set out to bring forth an incredibly refined experience and that’s exactly what I noticed in just about every element in the game, from its battle system to its musical score all the way to its visuals.
This is where Bahamut Lagoon truly succeeds and it follows a formula a lot of extremely successful games follow: don’t seek to be new but seek to do what’s done before even better than before. Bahamut Lagoon also makes proceeding through the game extremely rewarding in some regard or another: it might be a piece of loot, a story twist, a vengeance against a battle you had trouble with, a high-paced score to support your investment in the game; one way or another, there was something there to keep you going, even if you had to take breaks. I can say that while the game feels stale compared to other RPGs that came out just before it from Squaresoft, I can say that I feel better revisiting it than I did with other titles from the company.
However, I still have some bones to pick with the game and, strangely enough, they’re mostly the same from before: the art style still feels very out of place at times, especially with enemy design; the music and plot feels disjointed at times in the fact that it just changes pace suddenly; sometimes the mix of visual effects just makes my stomach turn. All of these things, of course, probably just boil down to personal preference, but that much hasn’t changed, along with the abuse of Mode 7 but I can kind of blame Seiken Densetsu for that one.
It just feels like this game, for what it brought to the table, could have stood to have been polished just a little bit more. In places it truly succeeds, you expect more from because it comes from Squaresoft and you know they’re capable: look at Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, both games that came before Bahamut Lagoon and both, while not as diverse in scope and gameplay as Bahamut Lagoon is, were refined to their utmost potential and explored some positively great new ideas. It didn’t take much but that care to detail showed in those games.
The Final Verdict
Bahamut Lagoon will forever stand in my memory as the game that almost was; in every way that it succeeds, it falls just short of becoming a masterpiece. It’s a beautiful game with deep gameplay, deep story, and wonderful music that will always be mired by the fact that it could have done better by bringing at least one marketable element to the table that was new and exciting. It’s like a sporting team that played marvelously against another awesome team but still somehow lost and just didn’t do enough. It’s really a shame, too, because I think that having that much more “oomph” would have likely brought it to North American shores, too.
Looking back on my recent playthrough of the game, I have to say that I would have loved to have seen a sequel so that Squaresoft would have truly been able to flex its muscles but, thankfully, instead, we got Final Fantasy Tactics, a game that was superior in almost every way and truly felt like a Final Fantasy game. It’s games like this that feel like Squaresoft was always building towards something else and while it could have been better, you’re still thankful for its release and development because it paved the way for games that shaped the future of the genre of Strategy RPGs.
That being said, I still can’t play the game for more than a few full-scale battles at a time.