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Review by tankMage (October 2016)
Terranigma is the final and, in my opinion, the finest entry in Quintet’s Soul Blazer series. Being the third title in the series, it takes concepts from its predecessors and fuses them beautifully into one work that manages to have it’s own personality despite it’s rather eclectic nature. I’ve only rarely encountered mention of this title even though it should hold a place among the lower ranks of the SNES’s classics, which may be due to the fact that Enix may have closed up shop in North America before Terranigma was released. At any rate, this is an excellent title that has a lot to offer fans of the series and newcomers alike.
As SNES games go, Terranigma looks good, but its graphics are not going to blow anyone away aside from a few impressive moments here and there (of course this could probably be said for all 16-bit titles). I found it interesting that some visual aspects of the game are reminiscent of Chrono Trigger, especially the spikey haired protagonist. I’m not sure if this was an intentional move on Quintet’s part, but those who have played Square’s classic RPG may see a connection or two.
Quintet were not afraid to use the Super Nintendo’s layering capabilities in this game and you encounter some aesthetically pleasing touches like the strange bubbles known as “Crystal Blue” that hover over the first town. There’s also an abundance of sprites from monsters to NPC’s that are generally fairly detailed. Not only are there plenty of different sprites, but there are also unique animations available for each spell Ark, the main character, can use and his spear changes color depending on what you have equipped (the spear graphic isn’t terribly impressive, but at least an attempt was made). Speaking of the hero, he has a number of animations from aerial dive attacks to a rather original tightrope walking animation.
Environments are also visually diverse and the player will be treated to some beautiful moments, one of my favorites being the sunset backdrop for Grecliff. Towns tend to evolve as you perform certain actions and a settlement you previously visited may appear very different depending upon your choices. There’s also a fair bit of variety to the dungeons, though some are better looking than others. Dungeons tend to be hit or miss unfortunately, since some of them manage to establish an eerie atmosphere, while others are the sort of stock caves encountered in countless other video games.
Terranigma is not without its graphical problems, however. Many of the bosses (with a few exceptions) are rather lame looking or very small; one boss even uses recycled enemy sprites, which seemed out of character for this game considering the amount of care put into visuals. The last boss is an exception to this rule, since I found it quite colorful and nicely detailed. Some of the NPC sprites were ugly as well (although most are fairly well done and even pretty original). There’s also quite a few Mode 7 sequences and pre-rendered images that were probably impressive at one time, but do not really hold up in this day and age, since they tend to be pixelated.
Do you like a good mystery? If so, Terranigma is the game for you. This game did a good job of piquing my curiosity from the start. The opening cutscene is a bit cheesy, but it managed impart a sense of dread and the fact that you start off in a peaceful, yet bizarre village after watching the intro only made the story more interesting. Even the main character, Ark, stands apart from the stereotypical video game hero, since he tends to be mischievous and plays tricks on people throughout the story…of course there are reasons for this which you discover later.
The story does go through some slow points, but these often set the ground for more interesting plot development. While the plot is creative, there’s not much character development and of course there are the usual problems associated with video game fiction. Also, it is difficult to understand the motivations of some of the characters (especially the main villain) and there are issues with the translation that make the dialogue difficult to interpret at times.
There are also plenty of references to historical figures, some of which should be fairly recognizable. Without spoiling too much of the story, this game revolves around rebuilding and redeveloping the world, much like in Soul Blazer. If you enjoyed that mechanic or find the premise interesting, it’s explored more deeply in Terranigma and you will find plenty of allusions to earlier titles in the series as well.
For starters, this game has the most original inventory/status menu I have ever seen: a box that the hero can climb into. This box has several rooms that contain player info, weapons, usable items, and armor. While this system is whimsical, it’s not exactly streamlined and I found the menus from earlier games to be more convenient. With that said, there’s more gear in Terranigma than Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia combined, which forced the devs to choose between using stripped down lists or a more complex graphical inventory. In some ways I’m glad Quintet went for the visual inventory even if it is not as efficient and comes off as gimmicky. The box also has some significance to the story and explains how our hero can swap weapons and armor in battle without being slaughtered, which is a big plus in my book.
The actual play control handles exquisitely in this title, much like in Illusion of Gaia. My only complaint was that it was often hard to tell if Ark was running or not, since there was not a huge difference between his movement speed while running nor did the two animations look drastically different from one another. This made pulling off certain attacks clumsy at times since you often need a running start to perform them.
Terranigma’s presentation is so sloppy that I had to make a category for it in this review. In terms of polish, this title took a few steps backwards and failed where its predecessors fared well. While the points I’m about to cover do not run the game into the ground by any means, they are things one would expect from an inferior product and not Quintet, who consistently produced quality games.
Firstly, the story is split into chapters and at the beginning of each section the chapter number and title appear on a black background. While this was a nice touch, the chapter numbers were aligned poorly, which was just ugly and bothered me. I know this seems like a petty complaint, but this mistake is something one would not expect from professional developers (although the localization team may be to blame for this). Also, the symbols for status ailments were left untranslated and ironically stuck out like a sore thumb even though the game was originally in Japanese.
There were also lines of text that would pop up in dungeons every so often. These messages were intended to inform you that an enemy was casting a spell or talking, but they were highly distracting, detracted from the flow of gameplay, and were for the most part extraneous. Thankfully, these intrusive bursts of text were not constant and not even present in some dungeons.
Finally, this game had timing issues. There were often long pauses during dialogue scenes that were unnecessary and made them drag, even though the dialogue itself was entertaining. Long delays between the killing blow on an enemy and it’s death animation also tripped up the flow of gameplay.
Terranigma has a lot to offer in this department. Quintet was very creative with this entry in the Soul Blazer series and explored a number of new ideas and implemented elements from previous titles as well. Many of the dungeons incorporated different challenges and objectives that kept the gameplay fresh. One of the dungeons didn’t even have combat, but managed to be interesting since the player had to avoid being spotted by guards with lanterns. Other dungeons were based more around combat and puzzles. There were points where the gameplay sagged a bit however, especially in the second chapter, because many of the early dungeons resemble each other and the game was very linear. On the bright side, the game picks up momentum in chapter 3 and doesn’t slow down.
Terranigma boasts not only a decent arsenal of weapons, but plenty of spells and a variety of special moves the player can perform, which is an accomplishment that neither Illusion of Gaia nor Soul Blazer fully achieved. Ark can perform a number of different attacks with his spear, some of which are more difficult to use than others. While it was nice to have so many attack options and spells to choose from, I found myself relying on some more than others; it would have been nice if the developers had found ways to make more of Ark’s abilities useful. Still, there’s plenty of potential for experimentation with gear and Ark’s abilities, since there are so many powerful pieces of equipment with different effects.
Features like side quests and exploration were more developed in this title than in earlier Soul Blazer games. Players can explore a world that eventually opens up and become less linear than those of its predecessors. Terranigma’s open endedness applies not only to exploration, but aspects of its story as well, since some of the choices the player can make will impact how the world develops. There’s also plenty of weapons, armor, money and magic rocks (which are needed to cast spells) scattered throughout the world map and dungeons that the player can collect, which makes this game a good choice for completionists.
Players will also encounter a wide variety of monsters in this title, though most of them are standard RPG fare. Unfortunately, the bosses are about as flawed and unbalanced as those in Soul Blazer. While some of the bosses managed to challenge me (especially the last boss) many of them were very easy, especially one that can be killed in just a few blows with the right weapon. The game was also inconsistent with its rules: some boss battles allowed the use of magic, while others didn’t and there was no explanation as to why the devs were so fickle with the implementation of the magic system.This felt like another step backwards, since Illusion of Gaia has improved upon the series’ boss battles greatly and Terranigma had managed to improve upon almost every other aspect of the series. I also found some of the puzzles to be very difficult to figure out, since the hints provided for them were very subtle; of course this is a moot point these days since a simple Google search will yield the solution to any puzzle.
When all’s said and done, Terranigma had the best overall gameplay of the series and Quintet did an excellent job of synthesizing elements from Illusion of Gaia and Soul Blazer into one title.
Music and Sound
Terranigma had a number of great compositions, but came nowhere near matching the quality of Illusion of Gaia’s symphonic grandeur or Soul Blazer’s energetic rock based themes. Still, much of the music in this game is quite good and suits the setting fairly well. My favorite tracks were the main title song, Crysta’s BGM, and the overworld theme. While the first two titles in the series shared sound effects, Terranigma has it’s own unique effects. For the most part the sound effects in this game are an improvement over the original, but the change does make this title feel a bit less connected to the first two games.
All too often we see a series decline or stagnate over time as one sequel follows another, but the Soul Blazer series grew and progressed steadily. Each entry brought with it something new and explored common themes from the series in its own way. Terranigma is the perhaps one of Quintet’s finest moments despite it’s eccentricities. While I enjoyed this game greatly, I will say that appreciated the endings of the first two titles more than that of Terranigma. At any rate, this title was excellent and made for an exquisite finale to the series. Those of you who are interested in learning more about the the Soul Blazer trilogy should check out the TerraEarth fan site by clicking the following link: https://www.terraearth.com/
Anyone who enjoys ARPGs, should play this game as its one of the unsung classics of the SNES. People who enjoy action adventure games like Legend of Zelda may also get something out of this title. Either way, I can’t recommend Terranigma enough, it’s just that good.