In the twilight years of the Mega Drive’s life a surprising amount of gems came out for the system. One of the biggest surprises for me was the 1994 release 'Soleil.' (Crusader of Centy for America and Shin Soseiki Ragnacenty for Japan)
Now I got very lucky finding this game when I was a lot younger. I was at a market place with my grandfather and I had saved up all my pocket money for four weeks to buy a game. Heading over to the only game stall in the entire market place I picked up the rather suspicious looking 'Soleil,' a game I brought totally blind for eight British pounds and I was very impressed with what I found. It’s now several years later so let’s see how it holds up today.
The game starts in the town of Soleil (which is Sun in French) and puts you in the shoes of Corona, no not the beer, though playing this game with any lime based beverage is definitely recommended, just remember to drink responsibly. Of course you can really call the kid whatever you want from the beginning of the game and that’s the name people will recognise you for throughout the experience, so feel free to insert something amusing. Corona is only fourteen years old and the town of Soleil does what they do to every kid that age, equip them up with a sword and shield and go fight monsters because they are supposedly evil. Life expectancy must be rather short in the town of Soleil to be kitting out kids that age with weapons.
The sword and shield are inherited from Coronas father who died in battle and has a great reputation in the town. On exploring the world and bumping into a suspicious fortune teller Corona loses the ability to talk to humans and can only speak to animals and plants (yep even flowers talk to you in this game). Corona then fetches his faithful dog 'Johnny,' (or Mac for the US release) and heads on a quest to regain the ability to talk to humans. However, Coronas quest quickly expands into something much greater that will alter the world he lives in and question who truly the bad guys in the game are.
Now I have to say for a game that is aimed more at the younger audience this game has one of the most touching plots I have ever come across on the Mega Drive system. This game touches on issues I rarely see in other games questioning who really the barbarian in the game is it the monsters, the humans or something else. There were moments in this that even replaying today pulled on the heart strings. One scene in Soleil has you put in the shoes of the monsters you are actually killing and seeing the world from their prospective. Of course the plot will only appeal to those whiling to immerse themselves in the world making this unsuitable for the arcade focused gamer keen to jump right into the action. There is a lot of text to read in this and of course it is not skipable.
So let’s address the obvious yes Soleil looks like Zelda. It's an overhead prospective action adventure game, you use a sword, and the game contains small puzzle solving elements. Soleil does manage to create its own identity by equipping animals. At one time you can have two follow you which can be switched out instantly in the game menu at any time. Each individual creature gives Corona a special perk, for example Penguy the penguin adds freeze effect to your sword, Flash the cheetah increases your running speed, Moa the Ostrich strengthens the ability of other animal you have equipped. There are sixteen animals in total, most will be found as you progress naturally through the game though some you'll have to earn through small side quests and exploration.
The game also has a fast travel map system allowing you to easily revisit levels and areas once you have completed them. It is worth mentioning a very famous hedgehog known as Sonic, makes a small cameo in this game, you may have heard of him.
The game controls are quite clucky and when you begin the game the Corona is slow and can be tough to control at times, the sword swing does not always seem to connect all the time with enemies and the game seems to favour you throwing it rather than swinging it. You learn to throw the sword early in the game, however, it requires a short charge up time to let loose, this can be a bit frustrating at times. Equipping certain animals fixes this however, the constant swapping of animals to make use of certain perks can become quite frustrating especially when fighting certain bosses in the game. The game does not have any other weapons or items apart from your sword and shield, just the animals to vary your abilities. The shield is completely cosmetic and has no use in the game whatsoever.
For a game that is advertised as something Sega aimed at a younger audience I found this to be very tough the first time I played through it especially early on. Your health is indicated by a bar of apples which I actually found a welcome change to generic hearts, and this bar can be extended as the game progresses. Frequent saving is highly recommended and you can save almost anywhere.
Graphics are very kid friendly. Sprites are cute and cuddly, even a lot of the monsters look sort of adorable. The boss characters however look quite impressive. Usually something massive and threatening though the game really does not have enough of them. The levels and environments are colourful. Though the graphics look fine you can't help but feel the younger look to it doesn't suit the tone of the story and the route it goes down. Music is a nice mix of heavy memorable rocky style tones for the boss fights and serene melody’s when you enter the town of Soleil. The soundtrack is amazing and definitely one of the most memorable features I took from the game, it feels like it hits all the right notes in the right places.
Soleil is long but can be easily finished in a weekend if your able to spare the time for it. The save feature helps if you need to spread the experience out for weeks and if you decide to take an extended break from the game the controls are simple enough that it is easy to go back to. Once you finish Soleil that’s probably it for you. It's the sort of game you'll probably re visit a year or two down the road but there is no varying difficulty or much reason to reply the game unless you want to speed run it or explore areas you may have missed the first time through.
Verdict:- Soleil is a real hidden gem for the Mega Drive. The story alone is worth experiencing touching on points you don't normally see explored in games. If the kiddie graphics put you off I advise to try look past it after all many hated the graphical direction of Zelda: Wind Waker and people seem to love that game today still.
The game of course is not without problems, the controls can be a bit tricky and the games difficulty does spike early in the game and occasionally through the quest. Despite the flaws this is one game adventure fans would be very happy with and worth adding to the Mega Drive collection if you happen to spot it one sunny day.
Second Opinion:- This really was one of the gems the MegaDrive was so famous for having and Transbot agrees that the latter part of the MegaDrive / Genesis lifespan was indeed truly great.
The game itself has so many plus points but Transbot can see why some may not like it, to some it looks kiddy, to others it looks like a Zelda rip-off; however give it a chance and you will find real fun here.
Transbot Scores:- 7.5 out of 10