When it comes to “gateway drug” SRPGs – games which are stellar representatives of the genre and which are excellent “points of entry” into the SRPG rabbit hole for someone who’s never played a SRPG – there are three in particular that I’d recommend: Sakura Wars, Shining Force 2, and Bahamut Lagoon, the subject of today’s article. Of these three, Bahamut Lagoon is perhaps the most accessible for general JRPG fans. Why would this be? Take a look at the following screenshot:
In addition to its large-scale SRPG battles, the game blends traditional JRPG battle interfaces for a lot of the combat. Whenever units engage in conflict on the map, they’ll get taken to one of these little sub-screens. As a nice bonus, these battles feature some incredibly groovy music composed by the great Noriko Matsueda. (You’ll know who she is if you played Final Fantasy 10-2 or Front Mission.) The battle interface, I feel, is what makes Bahamut Lagoon such an easily accessible game. Of course, this is but a fraction of the game’s entirety. You also have the aforementioned strategic battles which take place on overhead grids. These battles are rather light on the tactics and more focused on broader strategies and unit customization. By this, I mean that micropositioning isn’t nearly important here as it is in, say, Fire Emblem or Spaceland for instance.
Each of the “units” on the battlefield is actually four separate characters. You can mix-and-match your team members and can also pair up each unit with a dragon. Dragons are customizable via feeding them elemental grasses, drugs, porno mags (yes, really), and other miscellaneous objects. Meanwhile, your human characters are customizable by giving them different equipment. Their skills will also level up commensurately with their associated dragons’ skills. For instance, if your dragon’s “ice” stat reaches level 10, then your character’s associated ice skills (e.g. ice magic, ice hits) will also be level 10. The customization in Bahamut Lagoon is fairly simple and intuitive. This idea of many units comprising a whole is something which Ogre Battle tried to do 1993 but failed at miserably; fortunately, Bahamut Lagoon executed these same ideas with pleasing finesse.
In terms of gameplay, presentation, and story, Bahamut Lagoon is a solid game. I also personally enjoy the side characters. They’ve all got a bit of personality: the proto-Yandere Ectarina, the self-important Matellite, the hopelessly drug-addled Frederica, and of course… Donfan. Everybody loves Donfan.
As for its drawbacks, the game really doesn’t have any notable ones. It suffers the SNES RPG curse that seems to afflict every SNES RPG: all of these games feel comparatively sluggish when measured up against what the PC Engine or Genesis were doing at the same time. It’s also got a boatload of adult content, although this isn’t really an objective problem so much as it is a matter of personal preference. As some examples, you’ve got Porno Mags and Princess Yoyo’s pubic hairs (yes, really) as obtainable items, and Sendak – a flaming homosexual who makes multiple not-so-subtle passes at the main character. So… this may not be a great game to play if you’re of the Puritanical persuasion or if you’re a 5 year old kid. (If that’s you, then I’d recommend Shining Force 2 as your SRPG point of entry.) Otherwise, I could not recommend this game highly enough. It’s an outstanding entry-level SRPG, and probably one of the best ones to come out of the 90s. Unfortunately, it never made its way out of Japan, although two superb fan translations have been released, so this is less of an issue in 2021.
My video review
RPG Classics Shrine’s Bahamut Lagoon info. Easily the best resource out there for BL
Tomato’s Translation: https://www.romhacking.net/translations/280/
Near’s Translation: https://www.romhacking.net/translations/5938/