Lagoon is a game that's strongly etched in my memory. Simply put, it is an Ys clone, and it tries to be like Ys on every level, but always hits slightly below the mark. It is a game so content to be as generic as possible, that it really stands out. Lagoon certainly is not the best adventure/RPG in the known universe, but it may be worth a second look.
6.5/10Lagoon is viewed from an overhead perspective, similar to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The first thing you'll notice is that the character sprites, buildings, and other objects are very large, but lacking in detail. And it is this blasť look that strikes me the most about Lagoon's graphics because it accentuates the offbeat details when they do appear. The church looks pretty blasť, but aren't those stained-glass windows gorgeous? I was dazzled by the Silence Cave, where the rocks appear as twinkling stars and a moon on the walls. One thing I love in 2D games are areas where you are up on a high mountain ledge and can see the world below you. As you move, that background scrolls more slowly than the one you're on (ie, A Link to the Past's Death Mountain or Final Fantasy 4's Mt. Hobs/Ordeals). Lagoon has plenty of those, and they don't disappoint. Lagoon's artists weren't even afraid to throw in some things that defy logic, such as a desert town where melted blue faces ooze out of the ground.
The enemies of Lagoon look almost like prerendered computer models (a la Donkey Kong Country), and I'm not quite sure how that style was achieved on a game made in 1990. The bosses are all huge, colorful, very well-drawn creatures. I was mesmerized by the knight whose giant head and hands slowly rise and sink out of the floor, and the six-winged white eagle whom you fight on a starfield background that looks like it belongs in an Enix-Quintet game.
8/10Lagoon eschews the symphonic style of music common to many RPGs and adventure games in favor of rock tunes complete with snare drums, high-hats, and metal guitar. This, again, was a move most obviously inspired by the Ys series. Lagoon's music is quite impressive at times (Dwarf Cave, Elf Field, the two opening numbers, and the boss themes come to mind), but it is not quite as high-quality as the Ys music it so desperately tries to imitate. Lagoon isn't all about rock'n'roll, either. Many of the town themes are spine-tingling scary (Denegul, Voloh), and in some cases, very depressing (Poper). I've also noticed an odd similarity between many of Lagoon's more melodic pieces, such as Gold Cave, and the music in the SNES game Drakkhen, though I'm unsure if there's a connection.
Lagoon also features some decent sound effects, although your sword makes a metallic "ping!" that doesn't seem right. Bosses all let out the same elephantine shriek upon defeat. Overall, it's not as much of a joy as the music is, but there are some decent explosions when things get blown up "real good".
For the most part, Lagoon's control is responsive enough, but there's one minor catch, and if you've heard anything about Lagoon, chances are, this is what you've heard: Your sword has a ridiculously short range. I'm not sure if this was some attempt at imitating the Ys style of bumping into enemies to kill them, or if Nasir just has no arms. I'm tempted to think the latter, mainly because you don't exactly bump enemies to beat them. You do, in fact, have to hit them with that feather-like obscenity. If you're used to playing Zelda games or games like Crystalis and Secret of Mana, this will most likely piss you off at first, but eventually, you can get used to it. Nasir also has the (unique among adventure games) ability to jump. Jumping is actually fun to do because of the way Nasir "glides", and, believe it or not, there are areas where you must jump over pits. You will also eventually learn to use magic spells, which gives you a much-needed long-range attack.
7/10The waters surrounding Lagoon Castle have nourished the world for many eons, but lately the water has become muddy, spreading disease and famine. You, as Nasir, are sent by your mentor, Mathias, to seek the cause of this plague and nullify it. Mathias vaguely mentions that you have been raised to be the "Champion of the Light", and you are sent on your way. You'll poke around towns and dungeons, helping people solve their problems and fighting mischievous bosses, who have to be, you know, disposed of so that those muddy waters will become sparkling clean again. (Well, how did you expect you'd clean up the mess, with a sponge?)
The main plot does involve rescuing a princess, but thankfully, this plays second fiddle to the curious connection between Nasir and the mysterious Thor character. It amazes me that, despite the few brief meetings you have with Thor, I actually cared as much as I did about his fate at the end of the game.
There are a lot of bizarre and unique enemies and background objects in Lagoon, but one nitpick I have with the atmosphere is that the characters are really generic. You meet the standard RPG races such as humans, dwarves, and elves, whose designs are so cookie-cutter, they look like they belong in Santa's Workshop. You are occasionally given close-ups of characters' faces, but they are mostly generic anime designs, with two exceptions: Zerah, who bears more than a striking resemblance to actor John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones), and Thor, who has one blue eye and one red eye. Even so, Lagoon's world does have a unique and almost eerie atmosphere, perhaps augmented by the chilling town themes and the weird pastel graphics.
Lagoon is certainly not an overly difficult game, but it does have some moments worth mentioning. It's two main challenges come from A) mazes that are very large and confusing and B) really tough boss fights. Starting with "B" first, I mentioned that you have to get uncomfortably close to enemies to damage them with your penknife of a sword. This issue is compounded in boss battles because you absolutely must use your sword (magic doesn't work in boss rooms), and bosses do a helluva lot more damage than normal enemies. However, for most of the early bosses you may notice that the first time you reach one, it'll kill you right away. But then if you level up a bit, you'll probably beat it with ease on your next try. This may lead you to believe that all boss battles will be like this, but the game throws a curve ball at you for the last two. The first is a giant ball that rolls up and down the screen with six octopi-like statues on each side of it. This thing is extremely tough to outlast, even if you're at the level cap. (No points for figuring out that you have to destroy all six statues before you can even damage the ball.) The last boss battle consists of six separate entities that you fight in a row. Some of them are mind-numbingly easy, but a few are so tough that if you haven't saved your healing items, you may not be able to beat them. Leveling up won't save you now.
Lagoon's overworld areas are curiously small. But the mind-boggling mazes that constitute the world's dungeons more than makes up for this. From the very first cave of the game, I was so lost, that I resorted to Nintendo Power's Counselor's Corner for help. Their directions took me to a dead-end, so I guess it was confusing even for them. I also recall seeing an NP solution for the Phillips Castle dungeon, which basically said to find said items, locate the prisoners, then give them something. But once I tried navigating Phillips Castle, myself, I realized that probably what people really wanted to know were exact directions for getting through it! The walls, floors, doors, and decor of most interiors look alike, thus making it difficult to find your way. The final, four-story castle is a complete nightmare! But okay, I'm exaggerating a little. I did spend much time lost, and even on replays, I still get lost in Lagoon's labyrinths. But they're not impossible, and there are a few tricks (aside from drawing maps), which can help, if you should figure them out. Otherwise, Lagoon is really rather easy. Levels go up pretty quickly. You can refill hit points and magic just by standing still. Enemies are easily dealt with, as most have a similar AI: They walk around in a rectangular pattern and are only differentiated by their speed.
Part of what makes Lagoon fun to play is its fast-paced nature. You don't really have time to be bored with it. The mazes can be confusing at times, but they're still fun to explore, and there are just enough enemies that you neither get tired of fighting them nor feel overwhelmed by them. The story is rather barebones, even by NES literary standards, but it tries to cram so many plot twists into such a short timeframe, you'll instinctively duck some of them. But like everything else, it's paced quickly enough to keep you interested, even if it often feels like a non-entity.
Another interesting facet of Lagoon is that the dungeons aren't completely devoid of hazards (besides enemies). One of my favorite areas is the Dwarf Cave, where dragon heads shoot up out of pools of lava, fly into you, and push you in the direction they're going. If you get pushed into the lava, it could be a quick end to your adventure. Some areas have pits and chasms that have to be jumped across. But overall, the dungeons are not as trap or puzzle-oriented as in a Zelda game. Lagoon also has its fair share of finding hidden items, weapons, and armor, but there are no true sidequests.
I will conclude this review of Lagoon by saying that if you don't own it, you're not missing much by not having played it. But if you own a Super NES and happen to find Lagoon somewhere for a reasonable price, it may be worth picking up. It's a nice game to play through at least once, or maybe a few times. And unless you import, it's the closest thing to an overhead-view Ys experience the SNES has to offer.
SCORE (not an average): 6.5/10
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