Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
Quintet, either you love them or you hate them. Makers of many Enix-published games, such as Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia, Quintet manages to take the tried-and-true action/RPG genre and throw in a twist that, regardless of what you think of the games, makes them original, to say the least.
Terranigma continues this tradition. Originally entitled Illusion of Gaia 2, and later Tenchi Souzou, the game was released in Spain, Germany, Australia, and Japan, yet never made it to the US due to a combination of controversial religious themes and the fact that Enix of America closed before they could bring it out over here. It was one of the biggest tragedies in gaming history, as Terranigma is easily the best of Quintet’s “Blazer series”.
Our story begins in the village of Crysta, where protagonist Ark spends his days causing mischief and generally making a nuisance of himself. The kids love him, but the adults wouldn’t mind if he was taken away by Crystal Blue, the aerial phenomenon which reflects visions of people in another world.
When Ark is dared to open the “Forbidden Door”™, the one that always calls for help whenever anyone gets close, he breaks through to find a long, twisting passage to a basement containing a floating box. When Ark opens Pandora’s Box, he finds a strange, flying pink blob who introduces himself as Yomi. Ark’s girlfriend, Elle, comes downstairs to investigate the goings-on, and is frozen into crystal by some unknown force.
Annoyed that his girlfriend is now, ahem, frigid, Ark goes to see the elder who tells him that he must revive the world by meeting the challenges of the 5 Towers outside the village. Discovering that there is indeed an “outside the village”, Ark begins his quest to restore the villagers and literally revive the world from its slumber.
Terranigma’s story is reminiscent of a combination of both Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia, though with a good deal of originality to boot. As Ark, you travel the world trying to revive the life forms and places that were destroyed/sealed away by some mysterious power for some mysterious reason. If it all sounds very vague, it’s probably because it is. Quintet always strives for epic, world changing games that combine moral and philosophical elements with stories about self-discovery and love, and in Terranigma they finally overstretched their abilities to contain it all within a cartridge. The result was a huge, epic story that, in the end, leaves you feeling as confused as you were at the beginning.
Of course the problem was compounded by a mediocre translation job, something Quintet is famous for, and trying to explain complex metaphysical concepts using broken English is not conducive to understanding. Though I have to admit, Quintet did give the main character a lot more personality this time around; no longer the silent protagonist, Ark not only talks to other people, but talks to himself about himself. At times it’s strange, but for some reason it fits perfectly with Ark’s character.
The character development is surprisingly good for a Quintet title. Breaking from the former games in the series, the characters go beyond merely learning about love to questioning fate, moral truths, and their own places in the universe. Oh yeah, and of course the whole love thing too.
My only big peeve about the story besides the odd translation is how Quintet chucks plot holes at you as if they were baseballs. How does a lion get from Africa to the Tokyo sewers by himself? For that matter, how does Parel get to China from America instantaneously? You have to take these plot elements in stride if you want to enjoy the game. Try not to over rationalize and you’ll be fine.
Gameplay, on the other hand, is nearly flawless. Your journey to revive the world takes place on huge overworld maps that scroll nicely using Nintendo’s patented Mode 7 technique. Located on these maps are areas, such as towns, forests, dungeons, etc., and those dungeon areas are where you fight. Very traditional, no point-to-point system like in Soul Blazer or Illusion of Gaia.
Terranigma’s battle system is very sweet, affording the player the most control of any game in the series. Ark is a whiz with his spear, and you really get that feeling with the 6 attack moves he has. You can do a strike, a flurry of strikes, a jumping spin, a dash strike, a running dash strike, and even a guard move, and you’ll need them all since some attacks work better on certain foes than others.
What’s even better, you can combine some attacks, such as comboing a jumping dash strike into a dash strike to inflict even more damage. The controls make it very easy to pull off these moves, as they’re very responsive. One of the best control schemes I’ve ever encountered in an Action/RPG.
Another nice thing about Terranigma’s gameplay is the ability to actually earn money from enemies to buy things in towns. Those familiar with the Soul Blazer or Illusion of Gaia know that there was no money to speak of in either game. Everything you acquired you either found or received free of charge (or for the price of a fetch quest). In Terranigma, when you defeat enemies, they occasionally leave behind gold for you to pick up and spend on anything from weapons and armor to food from the local stands in towns.
There’s also the ability to increase your levels by fighting monsters. Unlike in Illusion of Gaia, you don’t raise your level by defeating set enemies: every enemy you kill gives you experience, and every time you level up, you get more HP, Str, Def, and Luck, and when you raise a stat, you actually notice the change in your damage done and received immediately. I enjoyed it.
The only aspect I can’t comment too much on is magic. Magic exists in the form of rings that hold a certain number of charges. By collecting and trading in magirock that you find, you can buy these rings, put them in your magic box, and equip the magic box to use the ring against your opponents.
The reason I say I can’t comment much about magic is that I never actually used it. My spear served me just fine throughout the entire adventure, and with the range of attacks I could use, I always had a move to fit the occasion. I suppose if you really felt out-classed you should use magic (which can have effects anywhere from fire to lightning to invincibility), but I never did. It’s more of a fun option than a necessity.
As you go about killing enemies and reviving the world and all life on it, you eventually restore towns and villages. The neat thing about towns (aside from containing places to buy stuff) is that, at a certain point in the game, you get the ability to help expand certain towns (giving you more places to buy stuff). The process mostly involves performing fetch quests, but the results are almost always worth it. Plus, it actually lends the game a sort of “sim” feel, which is always nice, while not requiring an extensive process with lots of outcomes (whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing I leave for the gamer to decide).
Of course, what would an action/RPG be without puzzles? Terranigma’s got scores of brainteasers that are just tricky enough to vex you, while not being impossible to solve on your own. I only came up against maybe one or two puzzles that I wasn’t able to figure out (thank you GameFAQs) but otherwise the puzzles are a welcome challenge and keep you on your toes.
Adding to the appeal of Terranigma has got to be its wonderful graphics. The character designs are good, though not as detailed as in Illusion of Gaia. Ark comes complete with many different “takes” and frames of animation, both in battle and out, as do a few of the other supporting characters. The game still suffers from the “random villager #53” problem, but there are enough different designs to keep it interesting (including a few African-American characters, finally, and Asia-featured Japanese people, finally).
Enemies show a greater deal of diversity. There IS palette swapping, but never more than two colors per design. The enemies also have decent animations as well as some pretty irritating attacks, which add to the challenge of the game.
Character graphics aside, the backgrounds are nothing incredible. Cliffs and dungeons and forests are all pretty standard, and I have to admit that both Illusion of Gaia and Soul Blazer had more innovation in this department.
Where Terranigma exceeds both titles is in its cutscenes, which are painstakingly detailed and rendered, the result being beautiful pictures that really manage to convey emotion. I was very impressed by what Quintet’s staff was able to do with a SNES game in terms of cutscenes.
Accompanying the wonderful cutscenes is the fantastic musical score. The Overworld theme is epic, while the theme of Europe is a lovely little waltz, very homey and quaint. My favorite pieces have to be the peaceful Crystal Village theme and Magic Rocks, which seems really hip and jazzy. And anyone who has ever played Soul Blazer has no doubt that whoever wrote the Zue theme did work on that game as well. Truly a great score, and I recommend picking up either the Terranigma Arranged or Terranigma OST CDs if you can find them.
The sound effects were decent, though not exactly prominently featured in the game. The sounds of battle were there, and nothing was out of place, but neither was it memorable. Though some of the animal noises in the game needed some serious help.
Terranigma is a wonderful title that you should try to pick up if you can. It was indeed translated into English by Quintet before Enix went under, and was released in Australia (or Aust. in Terranigma’s case). I had more fun with this game than I have with many PSX titles as of late, and if you’re a fan of either Soul Blazer or Illusion of Gaia, I seriously suggest picking up a copy and playing it, as this is far and away the best in the series.
Thanks to the various FAQ authors whose help was invaluable in the writing of this review.