By Drew D. / May 11th, 2017
|Original Release Date||JP: Oct 10, 1995
PAL: Dec, 19, 1996
|Genre||Action Adventure RPG|
Terranigma is the final entry in the Soul Blazer trilogy/ Gaia series and the culmination of Quintet/ Enix’s finest efforts. The greatest aspects from the previous two games are drawn upon and applied here and the result is one of the most memorable RPGs of the genre. Thought provoking, intelligent, and full of philosophy, yet also charming, deeply emotional, and fun to play, Terranigma is a fantastic experience to behold.
In Terranigma, the waging war between Light and Dark Gaia has come to a standstill as the devastation from their last battle has forced all of Creation to be sealed away. The natural cycles of life from birth, death, and rebirth, as well as the cycles of Light and Dark influencing the world, have all come to an aberrant halt. The only life left is found within the Earth’s underworld where the story begins. The main hero, Ark, is tasked to bring all of Creation out of its unnaturally stalled state by unsealing the continents of the world and resurrecting all life. During his quest, Ark is confronted with the history of the eternal conflict between Light and Dark, how they affect or manipulate the cycle of life, and how their most recent war had caused such calamity as to necessitate the stoppage of Creation’s advance.
Like Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma’s story is shaped by philosophical and religious elements that are considered truths within the game world. The themes of reincarnation, resurrection, fate, and the cycle of life are all reality, but rather than only used as mechanisms to advance the story like in Illusion of Gaia, their use here in Terranigma is sharply distinct. Each element is more deeply associated with specific plot points and characters. For example, Fyda and Royd are two characters that seemed destined to meet and develop feelings for one another during Ark’s quest, but it’s also shown that throughout history, their previous incarnations were also fated to meet and fall in love. This suggests that their destiny for one another and their love transcends time and space, or may suggest that this and other elements of life do not follow the assumed rules of existence. Another example is the need for a hero to fight Dark Gaia. While it may be fate that a hero emerges when needed, it is also suggested that fate may not be absolute, since we learn later that one particular hero is absent when Ark resurrects humanity. I really appreciate that depth because it adds so much more detail and life to the story. It brings out that emotional draw you need for better immersion. It also allows for more creativity in the story and challenges our perceived notions as to what resurrection or fate really are. What we think of as reincarnation may not necessarily be what the game defines it as, which I always find intriguing. Once again, the devs are eager to question our understanding of these concepts.
Also like its predecessors, Terranigma’s story is tonally darker and the devs have again improved upon past efforts, resulting in more distinct, poignant effects on the story. The losses and hardships Ark faces on his journey stand out vividly, as they are particularly emotional and impactful. Whether these tragedies befall innocent bystanders or developed NPCs, the emotional toll is palpable and those drawn out feelings tend to linger. It also goes so much further than loss of life or natural catastrophe, as seen in the previous games. Jealousy, for example, plays a distinct role, as Meilin’s puppy love for Ark turns nasty and her scorn filled actions against Ark become unnecessary anguish for everyone. What I found most stirring was that Ark, himself, suffers much as he endures harsh truths about his quest and, existentially, who he really is in regards to the Gaias and Creation. Finally, as in Illusion of Gaia, Dark Gaia is a being of manipulation and has his own perverse view of his perfect world. His ends and means are defined with terror, but in Terranigma, they are much more subtle, personal, and calculated. Those new layers to Dark Gaia serve to build that constant undertone of imminent danger. Overall, the dark tones with the detail the story received puts Terranigma on such a higher level than its predecessors and achieves a remarkable level of immersion.
Along with improvements in storytelling, Terranigma received an overhaul in gameplay that works to the game’s benefit. The game features a more traditional level-up system, in which experience is earned as enemies are defeated. The pace at which levels are gained versus the increases in enemy strength and difficulty is nicely balanced. There is never a point when difficulty crosses into tedium; play remains challenging and fun throughout. If you do find yourself outmatched, you can always go back and level up before continuing, so you have much more control over just how powerful Ark can become. What is most noteworthy about gameplay is the combat. Although I appreciated the transformation system Illusion of Gaia had, with the specific moves each form possessed, I also enjoyed the combat style here. Combat is very free-flowing, in that players can take advantage of a number of different moves and string them together without the need to charge or worry about recovery time. You can go from a run, to a dash stab (Slicer), then almost immediately move into the jump-dash attack (Slider). Each attack has its advantages, whether it’s range, speed, power, or happens to be an enemy’s weakness. The combat style also noticeably speeds up play, so it’s never a bother to jump in and attack a map full of baddies.
Outside of combat, Terranigma features unique puzzle solving elements and sub quests scattered throughout the game. Most puzzles are housed within the many dungeons the game sports and while some are quite clever, for example, adjusting the heights of chandeliers to create a bridge, none of them are really much of a challenge. It’s more often hitting switches in the right sequence or just hitting them all before moving on. The few that are outstanding are just that and I wish there were more. What I found most impressive, though, is the city-building mechanic and sub quests linked to it. The major cities of the world will start small right after their resurrection, but will have the ability to grow, should you choose. The variety in gameplay these sub quests introduce and the NPCs involved are charming and add significant depth. From meeting the artist Matisse and growing his popularity, to helping Edison with his inventions, these novel tasks are very memorable and add dimension and character to the game that nicely juxtaposes the dark tones of the main plot. What I also liked is all the traveling you get to do in the game and getting to see the different stages of industry and advancement. As you build the cities, getting to see the variations in style between European, American, and Asian is a welcoming touch (Asian being the most modern and technologically advanced because, of course, the devs are going to self-boast).
The aesthetics of Terranigma are similar in quality to Illusion of Gaia, which is a good thing because they got that right before. Visually, the game is just as beautiful as ever, but what’s most noteworthy is how the devs pushed the SNES graphics to their absolute limit. The SNES couldn’t render 3D environments, but that didn’t stop the devs from trying. The beginning of the game takes place within the Earth’s hollow crust and when you travel outside, the environment rotates, as if you were walking within the sphere. For the time, it was a very cool touch to further convey that underground feel, with the entire world hanging above you. The locales of the overworld are equally appealing, from African jungles and deserts to the industrialized Neotokio. Each area takes on its own qualities and their character really shines through. The soundtrack is equally impressive and further builds on an area’s style. Each track matches the place and events on screen perfectly, from the very staunch theme of the underworld, emphasized with pronounced, clock-like gongs, to the fast-paced, desperate sounding track of the airship as you try to prevent another catastrophe. Aesthetically, the only misstep I can really fault the devs over are the NPC sprites. Some of the NPC and enemy design choices are lazy and crude. For example, there is only one sprite for all the adult black male NPCs and they are depicted shirtless with an open vest, parachute pants, and sunglasses (also kinda racist, maybe…). Some of the enemies aren’t the most intimidating either, such as the cube enemy, which is, you guessed it, a spinning cube. In its entirety, the aesthetics really are impressive, as the visuals and audio are some of the best of the series.
Terranigma is the very definition of a hidden gem. It’s one of the greatest 16-bit RPGs ever made, yet most gamers have never heard of it. Its 1995 release in Japan and 1996 PAL release were both at the end of the SNES era. There was never a North American release as the Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 debuted before the game’s English translation became available, nor has there been any digital options since. We can only hope for an international digital release to give everyone the opportunity to play Terranigma and finally witness the conclusion of the Gaia series. The few who have played it will undoubtedly tell you that it is an experience to behold.
EnixGaiaNintendoQuintetSNESSoul BlazerSquare EnixSuper NintendoTenchi SouzouTerranigma