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Tool-assisted game movies
When human skills are just not enough

Submission #5201: Le Hulk's SNES Soul Blazer in 1:29:33.72

Console: Super NES
Game name: Soul Blazer
Game version: JPN
ROM filename: Soul Blader (Japan).smc
Branch:
Emulator: BizHawk 1.11.0
Movie length: 1:29:33.72
FrameCount: 322954
Re-record count: 513186
Author's real name: Rémy Eberlé
Author's nickname: Le Hulk
Submitter: LeHulk
Submitted at: 2016-08-21 17:35:41
Text last edited at: 2016-08-25 22:35:53
Text last edited by: Spikestuff
Download: Download (175852 bytes)
Status: published
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Author's comments and explanations:
Soul Blader is the Japanese version of Soul Blazer. It is the first Action RPG in the loosely-connected trilogy made by Quintet: Soul Blazer / Illusion of Gaia / Terranigma. The hero is sent down on earth by some deity called the Master (who is quite reminiscent of ActRaiser) in order to restore all life in the kingdom. It is a very simple RPG where you must seal monster lairs to release souls and repopulate towns.

Here is a YouTube encode of the TAS with comments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZ5I9cn_siY

Another encode without comments, but in 1080p/60fps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVargEeeRVo

Here is the Twitch highlight of me streaming the TAS and live commentating on it: https://www.twitch.tv/le_hulk/v/83411987

Game objectives

  • Emulator used: BizHawk 1.11.0
  • Aims for fastest time
  • Takes damage to save time
  • Uses death as a shortcut
  • Manipulates luck
  • Walks around in silly ways
  • Features dancing grandmas

About the run

I have put quite a lot of time running this game in real time and developing new strategies, so I knew that at some point I had to take on the challenge to propose a new TAS of this game. I chose the Japanese version of the game because it has much faster text, making the whole run more entertaining in my opinion. Although, I'm sorry in advance because this choice will make this TAS harder to compare to the current publication for Soul Blazer. JP/US differences are covered in a further section.

The TAS I provided has comments (TAStudio calls them subtitles). I chose their coordinates so that they look nicely on the x3 View setting. I hope subtitles won't be too much of an inconvenience. In case they are, I can provide a version of the TAS without subtitles.

General game information

Soul Blader has seven main acts, or worlds. In each world, you start in a empty town (except for the last world), then you find the entrance to a dungeon. The player is supposed to progress through dungeons and seal lairs in order to reconstruct the towns and release the people. Each world has one or more dungeons and is concluded by a boss fight. In the first six worlds, beating the boss releases a main character who gives you a magic stone. Stones are the main plot items in this game: getting all six of them will grant you access to the last world, the World of Evil. The player starts the game in the Master's Shrine, which acts like a "hub" for the game. You can go there for a health refill, to save your game, or to travel to another world you've unlocked. In each world, the Master's Shrine can have up to three teleporters: one leads to the town, and the other two are intended to be shortcuts into the dungeons (they have to be unlocked by sealing the appropriate monster lairs).

In-depth game mechanics and speed tactics

Sword attacks

When the hero swings his sword, the hitbox of the sword is such that you can hit an enemy twice with the same attack if the enemy is close to the tip of the sword. As the hero is right-handed, the sword will end one tile forwards and one tile to the right of him at the end of the swing, so it is generally better to place yourself accordingly when attacking. The duration of a sword swing is 15 frames. It is important to note that swords have a level requirement to be swung. For example, you need to be at least at level 16 to swing the Zantetsu Sword. Although, it is still possible to equip a sword and poke with it (more on that below, in Crab-walking) even if you don't have the required level.

Crab-walking

You can hold L or R to strafe, meaning that you can move around but keep facing the same direction. This is a fantastic feature that more ARPGs should have. It really helps with the positioning in order to attack efficiently (see Sword Attacks above). Also, the hero pokes with his sword while crab-walking. It deals less damage than a swing but is still helpful:
  • for bosses; since you only do 1 damage per hit anyway,
  • for the beginning of the game; because even your swing attacks only do 1 damage,
  • to use swords with a higher level requirement; even if you don't have the required level for a sword, you can still equip it and poke with it,
  • to move around while attacking; swing attacks forbid you to move for the duration of the attack.
When holding R and standing still, the hero can also attract gems by telekinesis. Another extremely useful ability.

Movement

There is no diagonal movement in this game. When you input one direction for one frame, you are committed to move in that direction for a total of 4 frames (nothing can interrupt that, not even a wall or death). So, basically, you are forced to move by chunks of 8 pixels, unless you hit a corner or use slopes or conveyor belts, which can offset you by some pixels. It can be useful sometimes to be offset to trigger spawns early, but most of the time, being offset is a nuisance because you can't activate monster lair buttons (you need to stand pixel-perfectly on the monster lair tile).

Horizontal directions have priority over vertical ones (priority order is Right > Left > Down > Up). Although, the directions don't take priority immediately. For instance, if you hold Up and then hold Right one frame later, the hero will move up for 24 frames before switching to right. There is no known glitch involving Left+Right or Up+Down. If you only input 1 frame of movement every 4 frames, your character will move but his moving animation will only display the first animation frame, so it looks like he is floating around. You can get various weird effects (with 5 out of 8 frames of movement, or 9 out of 12) and combine them with crab-walks to create a lot of silly ways to move, without having any negative effect on speed.

Magic and Orb manipulation

You need gems dropped by enemies to cast magic. See the RNG section below for more information on drops and how to manipulate them. Magic is extremely important in this game. Not only is it a good means of killing distant enemies, but also, in a lot of cases it will be stronger than your sword attacks. This is especially true before getting the Critical Sword.

With the exception of the Phoenix at the end of the game, all the magic you cast comes out of the Magician's Orb circling around the hero. Fireballs for instance will be cast in the direction the hero is facing. There is some delay between pressing Y to trigger magic and the moment when the fireball is actually cast, so it is possible to change directions in the meantime to redirect the fireball. Crab-walking fixes the direction the hero is facing, making it more convenient to use magic and send it the correct way. The Magician's Orb will always rotate counter-clockwise, and nothing can alter that. But you have some control on the center of that rotation. The center of rotation will generally be the hero, but there are some ways to change that:

  • If you move towards a wall or a solid object, your character won't move but the center of rotation will. You can use that to send the Orb further away, generally to kill some enemies early. Note that you can move towards a wall while facing any other direction, thanks to crab-walking.
  • The hero receives movement instructions by chunks of 4 frames (see Movement above), but every single frame counts for the movement of the Magician's Orb. For example, if you only input movement once every 4 frames, your character will move normally but the center of rotation of the Orb will only move once every four frames. It's a way to "leave behind" the Orb; however, there is a maximal allowed distance between you and the Orb. Another example: if you have to move a certain way, but you want the Orb to move another, you can input 1 out of 4 frames the direction you want to go, and fill the rest of the 3 frames with directions you want the Orb to go. Note that the direction hierarchy (described above in Movement) matters a lot when doing this. For instance, if you input a continuous diagonal Up+Right, the hero will move right but the Orb will move up-right. If you want the hero to move up instead, the best you can do is to hold Up, and only hold Right 23 frames out of 24, to prevent the directional priority from taking effect. To sum up, you can control the Magician's Orb to some extent, but there are some strong limitations, the biggest one being the rotation itself which you can't prevent.

Enemies

When an enemy spawns, you have to wait 93 frames before his invincibility frames wear off and you can start damaging him. When an enemy is hit, he has 8 frames of invincibility before you can hit him again. That has to be taken into account to defeat enemies optimally.

Damage

There is no knockback of any kind when you get hit in this game, which is extremely convenient when damage-boosting through enemies or any damaging area. You have 32 frames of invincibility after taking a hit, except for a few particular cases (like the seabed without Bubble Armor, or the last World of Evil section without Soul Armor) where you can receive damage at another unrelated pace.

Death

When you die in this game, you lose all your gems and get teleported back to the Master's Shrine. There is no other downside to it. Death is abused a lot in the run as a shortcut to the town. As a side note, you may want to stand still while you receive the final hit, because if you are moving, the game will wait until you have finished your un-stoppable 4-frame movement before it triggers the death animation.

Level ups

When you level up in this game, you get two extra health points and a free health refill. You also get one extra Strength point for even levels, and an extra Defense point for odd levels. It can be useful to target a level up in a specific area to refill your HP at an appropriate time, like I did in the volcano area to skip a Medical Herb. However, there are some instances where it is inconvenient to level up, especially if you are taking damage to plan for a deathwarp.

Monster Lairs

Monster lairs are those pink portal tiles which monsters come from. There are three kinds of monster lairs in the game.

  • One-by-one lairs: You need to kill the current enemy to spawn the next one. Therefore, each kill needs to be optimal. When you kill one of the enemies, it usually takes 57 frames for the next one to be spawned.
  • Multi-spawn lairs: The next enemy is spawned a certain amount of time after the previous enemy was spawned. This means that you don't really need to kill enemies optimally until the last enemy becomes vulnerable. The spawn rate can vary a lot amongst the different lairs in the game (it can go from half a second up to 5 seconds).
  • "Already there" lairs: When you enter the room, all the monsters belonging to this lair are already spawned. They are generally not particularly close to the lair. There's very few lairs of this type; they generally contain monsters which require a special type of weapon (metal or spirit enemies). Only one monster lair of this type is taken care of in this run (it's actually the very last one).

99% of the game deals with One-by-one and Multi-spawn lairs. In order to spawn a monster from a lair, you must be close enough to it (in most cases, at least one pixel of the lair must be visible on the screen). But when an enemy is spawned, it doesn't need to be visible on the screen to be loaded, meaning that it can still wear off its initial invincibility frames while off-screen. It is a very intersting property when dealing with several monster lairs at once: you can get close to a lair to spawn an enemy, and then go back and deal with something else because you have to wait for the enemy's 93 frames of invincibility anyway. You can alternate spawns and kills of two monster lairs, for instance. Multi-tasking lairs is key to optimising this game.

Monster lairs only have 3 possible states:

  • Active: the lair still has enemies left to kill.
  • Defeated: all the enemies of this lair have been defeated. The lair "explodes" and turns into a green button, ready to be sealed.
  • Sealed: when standing on a defeated lair, the hero seals it, which entails some kind of modification in the game environment. It can be either a change in the current dungeon (a passage opens, a chest appears, a shortcut unlocks, etc.) or a change in the corresponding town (a person or animal is rescued, a building is reconstructed, etc.). In that latter case, the player will generally be given a small health refill (1 HP at the beginning of the game, but that bonus increases as the player progresses).

When leaving a room with monster lairs, the game will only register the current state that the lairs were at. It will NOT remember the amount of enemies you have killed from active lairs. For example, if a lair has 6 enemies and you kill only 4 and leave the room, you will have to defeat the 6 enemies again when you go back to that room. Bear in mind that any type of screen warp counts as leaving the room, especially, sealing a monster lair which releases something in the town. Indeed, when doing so, the game warps you to the location of the thing or person you released, and then warps you back; that really counts as a screen transition, and any active lairs will be reset. You can use this to your advantage as well. For instance, you can defeat a lair and not seal it right away. There's a few moments in the run where such a strategy is useful: when you know that you will come back to that area later anyway, you might as well make progress in the dungeon instead of waiting for the lair to "explode" after you've killed the last enemy. This is the case for the second monster lair in the very first dungeon.

Finally, as this is an Any% TAS, I only take care of the required monster lairs (the ones which unlock a required path, or release a character I need to talk to in order to make progress), and also some lairs which save time (by opening a shortcut, or giving an important item).

RNG

In this game, RNG is regenerated at every RNG call (not every frame). But also, the RNG values used for any given room depend on the frame at which you entered that room. The possible screen transitions due to sealing monster lairs also affect RNG values. Therefore, you can manipulate RNG by waiting for a certain number of frames before entering a room, or before skipping through the textboxes when releasing something or someone in the town. RNG values are used mostly for gem drops, but also for random enemy or boss decisions. There's relatviely few enemies in the game which make random decisions, so the biggest interest in manipulating RNG is to trigger good gem drops. There's three kinds of gems: small (worth 1 gem), medium (worth 5) and large (worth 10). The probability of getting medium and large gems is very small in the first world, but it increases as you progress through worlds. In the last world, you can only get medium and large gems! As explained above, you can impact the list of RNG values used in a certain room, but not every single value, making it impossible to manipulate every single gem drop. The idea is to try entering rooms at different frames and predict the RNG values you will get (I have a Lua script for that), then pick the one which seems better, without sacrificing too many frames of course. Please refer to the Game Resources page for Soul Blazer for more details about RNG.

Items

In Soul Blazer, there are Equipment items (swords, armors and magic spells) and Inventory items. There's no corresponding button to "use" an inventory item; you just have to equip it in the inventory menu, and the item will be used automatically when it needs to be. Some items are required, and some others are picked up for speed purposes. You can only store one of any kind of consumable item (namely, you can't have more than one Medical Herb or Strange Bottle). Here are some of the most important items:

  • Critical Sword: this is not so great for RTA or casual play, but for TASers, it is definitely the best weapon in the game. It deals a critical hit every 16 frames, which is quite easy to manipulate. Crits kill any enemy instantly, except for bosses or the enemies that require a special type of sword (metal and spirit enemies). It is difficult to evaluate how much time the Critical Sword saves in the TAS, but it's definitely a lot. It has a level 11 requirement.
  • Lucky Blade: when equipped, this sword increases the chances of getting better gem drops. It is not so useful in a TAS since RNG manipulation already does a good job at that. It is not a very well-known fact but this sword is a required item: if you don't have it in your inventory, the grandpa in Mountain of Souls will not let you go to the later part of the dungeon in Act 4. In the TAS, I just get this sword but never equip it. It has a level 15 requirement.
  • Zantetsu Sword: this sword can damage metal enemies. In Leo's Lab, this sword is the only way to defeat required monster lairs, making it a required item to beat the game. It has a level 16 requirement.
  • Spirit Sword: this sword can damage spirit enemies. It's the only way to defeat the required ghosts in Magridd Castle. It has a level 19 requirement.
  • Soul Blade: the last sword in the game. It can kill any type of enemy. It is required to be able to cast Phoenix to the final boss and defeat him. Note that you have to swing the sword to do that, which means that you must meet its level 24 requirement.
  • Bubble Armor: this armor enables you to breathe underwater, making it necessary to survive in the St. Elles seabed.
  • Magic Armor: this armor halves your gem consumption, which is extremely useful, although not technically required. I gave up quickly on the idea to skip this armor because of how precious gems are, and how limited you are in the capacity to manipulate them.
  • Soul Armor: this armor lets you survive deep space in the World of Evil. It's also required to cast Phoenix and beat the final boss. It's funny how this armor lets you breathe in space but not underwater.
  • Fireball: the first magic in the game, but a very helpful one already. It will one-shot most enemies in Act 1. Fireball costs 4 gems per cast.
  • Light Arrow: the best magic in the game. It shoots very powerful light arrows in all four directions at once. Extremely useful for multi-tasking lairs. That magic requires a small detour to get but it's really worth it. Light Arrow costs 8 gems per cast.
  • Phoenix: the last magic in the game. Contrary to the other magic spells, you cast phoenixes by swinging the Soul Blade. It is necessary to damage the final boss, Deathtoll. Casting a phoenix costs 2 gems.
  • Medical Herb: if I die and have a Medical Herb equipped, I get a full health refill. This consumes the herb. The run picks up several of them because they give you much more damage-boosting potential.
  • Strange Bottle: if I die and have a Strange Bottle equipped, I don't lose my gems. This consumes the bottle. It is used to keep the gems after the deathwarp in Magridd Castle.
  • Strength Bracelet: this doubles the damage dealt by sword attacks. And it also works against bosses! That fact alone makes this item worth the very small detour it takes.

Lag management

Like a lot of 16-bit games, Soul Blader tends to be quite laggy when a lot of sprites are involved. So, in some cases, I will kill enemies early, move in a specific way or delay magic usage to prevent lag frames. Some places tend to be very laggy, such as the St. Elles seabed or the first Model Town. Generally, I can deal with lag by trial and error, but there are a few places where I noticed that swinging my sword can help with the lag (making one or two lag frames magically disappear). I'm not sure why it happens. The biggest lag issue which can be reduced is when beating the third boss, the big Skull. His explosion animation causes a lot of lag, so I have to "escape" as quickly as possible after beating him. In other instances, such as the bird boss's fire or Deathtoll's lasers, I didn't find any way to reduce lag significantly.

Known glitches

The game is really solid programming-wise, but there are still a few oddities we can make use of in the run.

  • Item pre-equipping: it is arguably a glitch, but I put it here anyway. In the inventory menu, it is possible to put the cursor on an item you don't have, and it will be equipped when you actually acquire the item. This is very convenient to save menu accesses, and forces you to think ahead and know which inventory item you will need later in the run. It only works with inventory items, not with equipment items (swords, armors and magic spells).
  • Zombie Lair Seal: it is possible to seal a defeated lair while at 0 HP. Basically, you have to manage to die on a defeated monster lair. If this is a lair which releases something in the town, you will be warped at 0 HP during the cutscene where the thing/person you released appears, and your gem count will have been drained to zero. But you will still get the little health refill from the lair, which will effectively resurrect you! This glitch is only useful in a few cases when I am planning to deathwarp just after sealing such a lair, in order to reduce the amount of hits I must take to deplete all my HP. It usually saves 1 hit, so basically it saves the 32 invincibility frames.
  • Sword Switch Glitch: it is actually possible to swing a sword for which you don't meet the level requirement. The trick is to swing a sword for which you have the required level, and during the swing, use the menu to switch to a sword for which you don't. The new sword will be effectively swung. It can work to defeat metal enemies (but it didn't save time on them) or ghosts in Magridd Castle (it only saves time on a few of them actually). Unfortunately, it does not work to cast a Phoenix with the Soul Blade without level 24, so as far as we know, we really need to get level 24 to beat Soul Blader.

Stage by stage comments

I won't go into great detail here because the comments in the TAS already cover that, but i'll still write about the most important aspects of the route.

Act 1: Grass Valley

I get 17 gems from the first four enemies in the game, which is quite lucky because I only needed to delay 1 frame to get that RNG. I wait for a few frames before entering the Underground Castle to manipulate more good drops, so I'm able to get through the dungeon mostly with magic. There is already a lot of monster lair multi-tasking, notably with the last two lairs, which was a brand-new strategy I discovered while making the TAS. You are forced to backtrack to the town for the elevator and to speak to Lisa, so I use deathwarps for that. In Leo's Painting, the torch room in the beginning is really fast to do with a lot of gems, and looks pretty sweet. I have some fun with the armored enemies when I have time to spare between spawns, or when I am dealing with a multi-spawn lair (because only the last kill needs to be optimised in that case). The boss is ridiculously easy in the Japanese version (more about this in the section about JP/US differences). With the Medical Herb, I can just sit there and tank damage. The boss will die before I do.

Act 2: Greenwood

This act is much harder to optimise than the first act, mostly because of the required gem manipulation to kill all the enemies as efficiently as possible. I had to make concessions about gem usage though, to keep most of them for the Light Shrine where I can make the best use of them. Bushes are annoying: they move randomly (which potentially "uses up" an RNG value for a good gem drop), and they require 2 hits from fireballs to be killed. The best way is to kill them from bottom to top so that the same fireball can hit twice. There's another trick to defeat those disappearing lizardmen: spawn one, then leave the screen and wait some frames. Then shoot magic and put the lizardman on screen again. If done correctly, you can shoot him with magic without him disappearing. That is why I get the 100-gem chest in Fire Shrine, so I can do this trick on a lot of them for maximum timesave. I also need to conserve a decent amount of gems for the beginning of the next act.

Act 3: St. Elles

The Zombie Lair Seal glitch has been used twice to save one hit for deathwarps. I don't save a full 32 frames though because manipulating gorillas into throwing rocks takes a few extra frames. The general plan for Act 3 is to manage to trigger level 9 just after getting the Critical Sword in Durean (the volcano island) and before the last monster lair, where I need to walk on lava. To achieve this, I try to kill a lot of un-necessary enemies without losing time, to build up EXP points. The whole point of that strategy is to skip the herb in Rockbird (the island before Durean), which saves several seconds. In the second half of Act 3, I demonstrate the awesome power of the Critical Sword, notably by one-shotting crabs, which normally take a long time to kill. I also get the Strength Bracelet which doubles my attack power; it's useful for all bosses and all the enemies I can't kill with crits or magic, such as the metal enemies of Leo's Lab, or the ghosts in Magridd Castle.

Act 4: Mountain of Souls

I get the Magic Armor because this area uses so much magic, even though that armor is not theoretically required. Act 4 is probably the biggest act in terms of monster lair multi-tasking, so I had to come up with a lot of clever solutions, making the run hopefully more interesting. I sometimes use crits to kill bats and sometimes don't, because crits are not always faster than using magic. Indeed, even if it takes 9 frames to kill a bat with magic, it might still be faster than waiting for the correct frame to get a critical hit (it happens every 16 frames). The room with the Lucky Blade is by far the most difficult to optimise because there are so many possible routes through it. The one I ended up using was the best one in terms of multi-tasking and crit abuse. At the end of the act, rescuing the grandmas is required to get Phoenix at the end of the game. Curiously, it's not the Mountain King who gives you the 4th stone, but Nome, the snail.

Act 5: Leo's Lab

The Zantetsu Sword is necessary to damage the metal enemies (helicopters, bulldozers and mice; cleaning robots and ball snakes are not made of metal), so I backtrack to get it as soon as I unlock it. I need to poke everything to death with that sword since I can't swing it (it has a level 16 requirement). Damage management was not easy to plan, but I think I made the most with all the damage I could take. This also demonstrates that getting the herb in Act 4 is probably a good idea. After the first deathwarp, I don't re-equip the Magic Armor immediately in order to save one menu access. I re-equip it after the second Model Town, at the same menu where I switch back to the Zantetsu Sword. The Zantetsu Sword is necessary to kill the boss, Tin Doll, which is made of metal.

Act 6: Magridd Castle

The major difficulty in the first half of Act 6 is the ghosts. They have a lot of randomness about them: they decide randomly when to make turns to chase you or when to disappear. I didn't find a way to predict where and when they reappear after disappearing, so the best way was to try my best to have them not disappear. I still have a few of them disappear, but only when it's not an issue (they reappear before the last ghost is killed). A lot of trial and error was involved for ghost lairs. I also kill a lot of un-necessary enemies for EXP because it really starts mattering in Act 6. Snakes give 600 EXP, mimics give 1000 EXP, etc. It is a great way to already save time in the big grind to level 24, which comes up in the last act. I get a Strange Bottle to save a lot of gems especially for the first room of the Left Tower, where I use a lot of magic to multi-task lairs and kill enemies in advance. The bird boss has two possible patterns but I want one of them specifically, so fortunately I managed to manipulate it by only sacrificing one frame before the fight. After beating this boss, you could go to the house where the Queen was in order to get the Super Bracelet, but even if it's not too out of the way it wouldn't save any time for a TAS, so I skip it.

Act 7: World of Evil

After leveling up to 21, things become quite risky because I am forced to take lots of damage to go fast, making good use of the herb I got in Magridd Castle. After getting the Soul Blade, I choose to go back to do the grinding now instead of later, because it involves less travel and makes better use of the time spent killing the flies. I had to make some EXP calculations to know exactly how much EXP was needed, so I'm glad I needed almost exactly a whole number of 3-brick kill cycles (worth 12000 EXP each). Fun fact: it looks like it would be faster to only kill 2 bricks per cycle instead of 3, but that's wrong. It's almost true though: 3 cycles of 2 are only 4 frames slower than 2 cycles of 3! After World of Evil is done I need to go back to St. Elles and Greenwood for Red-Hot Items (doing them in that order saves one sword switch), and then get Phoenix to beat Deathtoll. Deathtoll has 100HP and you can't hit him more than 9 times per phase, so you need 12 phases to beat him. Fortunately I didn't need to manipulate RNG in that last fight because there was always a way to destroy the blue flames optimally with the patterns I got (it might actually always be possible if you can predict where they appear).

RTA speedruns end when Deathtoll receives the final hit, but the TAS needs two more inputs in the final cutscenes to reach the "The End" screen. The whole ending adds about 12 minutes to the TAS run. The RTA equivalent time is 1:17:34, which is more than 10 minutes faster than my RTA PB.

Other comments

Differences between the JP and US versions

I will detail the known differences between the Japanese and the US versions of this game. I hope this will be helpful when comparing this TAS to the current Soul Blazer publication.

  • The title screen is skippable immediately in JP, which is not the case in US (you have to wait a little while after the title has appeared).
  • Text is drawn out one character per frame in JP, versus one character every three frames in US, which ends up making a very significant difference in the course of the run.
  • The only actual gameplay difference is bosses. Here is the complete breakdown:
    • First boss: Solid Arm. It is MUCH MUCH easier in JP. If you have level 3, the herb and full health, you can simply go towards him and poke him to death. There is no conveyor belt on the middle part. In US, there is a conveyor belt in the middle (going down), and the ones on the sides go up. The strategy is to go to one side, tap down to stay at the same altitude to make sure you hit the boss constantly and don't get hit by his body. It's much more difficult in real-time.
    • Second boss: the Elemental Statues. The first two are identical, but the third one has different AI between JP and US. I find it harder in JP personally, but that depends mostly on what your strategy is. It doesn't really matter for the TAS since you should be able to kill it optimally, regardless of which version you are using.
    • Third boss: the Floating Skull. He has less HP in JP, allowing for a 2-cycle kill, while 3 cycles are required in US.
    • Fourth boss: Medusa. She was censored into Poseidon in the US version. 3-cycle kill in JP, versus 4-cycle in US due to a different HP amount. The JP version requires you to move more to dodge her spear. But you have a bit more room to work with on the sides.
    • Fifth boss: Tin Doll. In US, he fires missiles immediately, but in JP he fires missiles after a little while. It is debatable which one is the easiest. I don't think it makes any time difference for a TAS.
    • Sixth boss: the Demon Bird. He has less HP in JP, allowing for a 1-cycle kill, versus 2 cycles in US. Depending on the RNG you have, it might be harder to manipulate two good patterns in a row in US, compared to only one good pattern in JP.
    • Last boss: Deathtoll. There is no difference on the first phase. On the second phase, when he spits out his three fireballs, they are more split apart in US than in JP. I don't think that makes the boss easier or harder. Apart from that, he has 100 HP in both cases, so there is hardly any difference in my opinion.

From my RTA speedrunning experience of the two versions, I estimate the difference between the two speedruns to be roughly 9 minutes. The text difference definitely contributes for the most part of that, and the boss differences for a small amount. JP and US are considered separate categories in RTA, but I will let the judges decide whether they should also be separate categories in TAS.

Known mistakes and improvement ideas

This run relies heavily on gem manipulation and Magician's Orb movement which I have limited control over, so I had to make concessions to get the best possible results. There are places where I don't use magic even if I could have, and places where I wasn't as fast I could have if my Orb alignment were better. Also, after rewatching parts of the TAS, I found several mistakes that could have been avoided, and FatRatKnight also notified me of some things I missed. Here is a list of known and potential improvements.

Grass Valley

It was definitely possible to use Zombie Lair Seal for the two lairs before the first two deathwarps, but unfortunately I didn't think of that back then (even though I was aware that the glitch existed). It would have probably saved 32 frames on the first deathwarp (if you can get a blue slime to kill you on the lair), but probably less than that on the second deathwarp because you might need to wait until a torch or the last lair enemy shoots at you. Before the first deathwarp, I also had enough gems to kill one more enemy with magic and save 8 frames, but it's difficult to plan gems ahead with all the RNG uncertainties thrown in. In Leo's Paintings, I could have saved a frame when opening the Medical Herb chest if I were crab-walking facing north instead of turning north in front of the chest. Also, the orb's position was terrible before the block enemies so I had to walk into them to get the orb aligned properly. Maybe this could have been avoided if I thought about shooting one "useless" fireball to freeze the orb for a moment. I couldn't solve that situation only with regular orb movement manipulation.

Greenwood

I just want to say: you could probably be faster if you could manipulate more gems. But that would apply for pretty much the whole game. The first room before Water Shrine could definitely be faster with better RNG, but the result I got was the best through all the possibilities I tested (unfortunately, I don't want to spend months testing every single possibility). Also, I chose to backtrack to the teleporter after finishing Fire Shrine, instead of revealing the teleporter sooner, get the Strange Bottle, and deathwarp. I'm pretty sure my route is faster for the US version but it might not be so in JP (I didn't formally test it). Death in JP is less costly because the Master's text is much faster. Though, even if my route is slower, it is definitely not by a huge amount. The waiting in the Fire Shrine before the second upward bridge was awful, but here again, I didn't find any way to counter the bad orb positioning. Getting the 100-gem chest is a good investment but costs time, and I wonder if one could manipulate enough gems to remain efficient in Light Shrine without getting the chest. It is hard to tell. Finally, there's one lizardman I didn't kill with magic in the dark room of the Light Shrine, but maybe I could have. I would have had only 27 gems for Southerta but that might have been enough actually.

St. Elles

At the beginning of the seabed, the first jellyfish kill is far from optimal, but that was in order to get excellent gem drops from these first fights. There's often tradeoffs between pure efficiency and being conservative for gems. At the end of Rockbird, I'm not certain if it was really necessary to remove my armor to optimise the deathwarp, but I couldn't find any faster way to take damage. And unfortunately, my plan to get level 9 in Durean pretty much imposed level 8 a bit before dying in Rockbird, making things more difficult in that area. Although, we're talking more about frames than seconds. Durean was quite hard on gem manipulation, so I had to stop for a bit to get a big gem from one of the rock enemies. Also, after rewatching my TAS, I discovered that I missed a way to die faster at the end of Durean: if I had taken one more damage from gorillas, I wouldn't have needed to do that little waiting on the lava before the lair, and saved 29 frames. In the seabed, there's a crab lair south-west of the town entrance, which releases a nice shortcut that could be used for the boss or the Durean revisit. It would probably waste more time than it would save, especially since killing crabs without the Critical Sword is really slow, but to be honest I didn't test it.

Mountain of Souls

I think it would be crazy, but maybe someday, a TASer might be able to skip the Magic Armor and still save time. To save any significant time though, you would need to give up the other chests that go with the armor chest, so you wouldn't get the 50-gem chest or the herb that I used later in Leo's Lab. I don't think skipping the Magic Armor can save time, but again, I'm not 100% sure. There is only one little turn in the ice for which we need the Mushroom Shoes. After some glitch hunting in that area, I couldn't find a way to get across without the shoes... If anyone could find a way to get to Laynole without the Mushroom Shoes, that would be a huge timesaver (about a minute). I was quite disappointed when I discovered that the very linear and canonical strategy that RTA runs use for the Lucky Blade room was actually a bit faster than all the routes I tested... So I didn't go with the RTA strat and chose my second-best strat, which features more multi-tasking and eventually generates more gems. You can consider that a speed-entertainment tradeoff of about 20 to 30 frames. In the first room of Lune, I also sacrificed 3 frames to get the red wizard gems just before they disappeared. But as I finished Act 4 with 30 gems, those extra few gems were probably not necessary. The room before the boss fight also has so many possibilities that I didn't test all of them, so again, I'm certain there has to be some other slightly better way. Also, I had to wait a few frames to crit a wizard at some point, so there's that at least. The worst mistake in the run (I also noticed it way after finishing Act 4): after beating the boss, I seal the monster lairs which release the grandmas, starting with the left one. But that's slower movement. If I had started with the right one, I would have saved 8 frames. I'm so dumb!

Leo's Lab

In the big lair multi-task before the first deathwarp, I had to sacrifice some frames (about 10, I don't remember exactly) to get an extra hit to optimise the deathwarp. The first Model Town has a lot of lag, most of which can't be avoided though, but maybe a few frames of lag could be saved there?

Magridd Castle

My strategy of spawning the first two ghosts early was more or less obtained by trial and error, but I think that if you can get better RNG, spawning 3 or 4 early might make more sense. In the left tower, I prevented lag by killing chess knights early, but the extensive use of Light Arrows created some lag as well. Maybe some time could be saved with better lag management. I don't think any other un-necessary enemy that I killed wasted any time though. Speaking of un-necessary enemies, maybe some more could be killed to build up even more EXP, but they would need to amount to at least 4000 EXP to make a significant difference, which I doubt is possible without wasting time.

World of Evil

Again, maybe one could get slightly better results with better lag management. I also delayed 9 frames when sealing the metal gorilla monster lair to get my HP low enough so I could die in 2 hits instead of 3, but maybe there was a way to take that extra damage earlier in the seabed without wasting time. Finally, I doubt any time can be saved on Deathtoll because all my blue flame killings were optimal, and lasers are based on non-random timers, so I don't think lag can be reduced even more. But I could be wrong again.

Shoutouts

  • Kaz, the original TASer of Soul Blazer, who literally started the Soul Blazer speedrunning thing.
  • FatRatKnight who provided lots of ideas and pointed out mistakes. I also adapted his Lua scripts for BizHawk to predict gem drops and view monster lair information. His help was HUGE.
  • The Soul Blazer speedrunning community, which is very small but provided a lot of ideas and inspiration. Especially Everhate who will never see this TAS...

Suggested screenshots

9564 - 40867 - 45598 - 67237 - 84012 - 85259 - 109757 - 165528 - 184769 - 222413 - 249047 - 277701

Enjoy the run!


Samsara: Judging! Also, title changed to the US release title for clarification and policies and such.

Samsara: Absolutely fantastic run! Masterfully planned and entertaining from beginning to end. Loved the style choices, loved the commentary, loved... Well, everything about the run, to be honest. Definitely accepting this as an improvement to the published run with an upgrade to Moons.

Spikestuff: Publishing.


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