Terranigma
  • Genre:
    • Action RPG
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Quintet
  • Publisher:
    • Enix
  • Released:
    • JP 10/20/1995
    • UK 12/19/1996
Score: 90%

This review was published on 01/28/2014.

Terranigma is an overhead action role-playing game developed by Quintet and originally released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was published in Japan by Enix, and then later localized and released in Europe by Nintendo. What's unusual is that the game never got a North American release. This is an anomaly, because Europe would normally be the one to miss out on games of this sort. Europe missed out on many of the major RPG releases of the time, like Chrono Trigger, so it was especially odd that they got Terranigma. Maybe this was Europe's way to get back at America for getting all those cool game releases early. In any case, Terranigma has a loose relationship with Quintet's two previous action RPGs, Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia. They're all kind of part of the same series, in a sense, even though they aren't directly connected. Illusion of Gaia was initially going to be called Soul Blazer: Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma was going to be named Illusion of Gaia 2. All three games feature similar story themes and are sometimes referred to as a trilogy. Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia are revered classics, and Terranigma is arguably better than both of them. It's a crying shame that North America missed out on this gem, because it's awesome. I'm personally still bitter about that.

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Things start off with the game's protagonist being awoken from bed by a girl named Elle, which is reminiscent of Chrono Trigger's intro. The protagonist is named Ark, and he's a bit of a troublemaker. The village elder asks Ark to go apologize for a misdeed he committed at the weaver's house. After reluctantly doing so, Ark returns to the elder's house to find a bunch of folk gathered around a mysterious door. The folk tell Ark that the elder is away and they want to open the forbidden door. Naturally, since Ark is such a troublemaker, they want him to do the dirty deed. Once the door is opened, Ark steps inside and discovers a box with a talking bat within it. The conversation with the creature is interrupted when a terrible catastrophe befalls the village; everyone in town becomes crystallized! The elder is the only one who wasn't crystallized, and he tells Ark to venture outside of town to find a way to return everyone to normal. Ark agrees to do the good deed and embarks on what he thinks will be an easy quest. Matters quickly change, however, when Ark discovers that the town he's lived in his whole life is located underground and there is another world at the surface. The problem is that the surface world is desolate and requires creation. Ark, the mischievous boy who spent his entire life shirking responsibility, now has the responsibility to create a new world. Talk about an unlikely hero. The game's plot is actually really good, but it's a bit held back by somewhat poor dialogue and occasional grammatical errors. Terranigma's plot is pretty abstract and can be hard to digest, but it's very gripping.

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Since Terranigma is an action RPG of the overhead variety, you can expect some similarities with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past in the controls department. For one, Ark can grab and throw objects like pots or rocks. For two, Ark gets some flippers later in the game that allow him to swim. There are a few other items that enhance Ark's innate abilities, like claws that let him climb up certain walls, but controlling Ark remains the same for the most part. Ark can run at higher speeds if the Y button is held down or if the d-pad is double tapped. Conveniently, the Y button only has to be held down for a second to continue running. The only issue with this is that Ark's jog gets interrupted whenever he runs into something, requiring him to restart his jog all over again. It's kind of like the Pegasus Boots in A Link to the Past, but not nearly as annoying. Unlike Zelda, however, Ark can also jump at any time. The jumping is more for show than practical use, however, as there aren't many situations where you're required to use it. Still, it's nice that the game lets you jump around like an idiot, since being an idiot is fun. And hey, remember all those pits you'd fall into in Zelda games? Well, now you can jump over them! That's far from a bad deal. There are times when the jumping will work against you, though, as you might find yourself falling into pits even more often. The ability to jump is a double edged sword. There's also this thing where you can balance on tight ropes, which demonstrates Ark's keen acrobatic skills. It's possible to crawl into tight crevices, too. The controls in Terranigma are decent and easy to get the hang of.

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There is a huge emphasis on combat in Terranigma. That's not a bad thing, because the combat in this game is very good. There are no turn based battles, random encounters, or active time bars here; everything is done in real time, like in most action RPGs. Ark uses spears and rods as weapons, and he can do a number of cool moves when armed. All the moves are really easy to perform, too. For instance, the normal spear jab Ark does on the ground becomes a twirling flip attack when the attack button is pressed while airborne, making it an excellent attack against aerial enemies. Most of the other attacks rely on getting into a running speed before pressing the attack button, kind of like the many attacks in Kirby Super Star. Pressing the attack button while running makes Ark do a dash jab attack, and doing the same thing with a jump beforehand does an impressive dive attack. There's also a cool continuous jab attack that can be performed by rapidly pressing the attack button, which should come as a delight to button mashers everywhere. Not all maneuvers are centered on offense, as there is one defensive move Ark can do to block some attacks, mostly projectiles. The different moves are good for different situations, but the primary reason to use any attack move beyond the basic one is the increased damage output. Some enemies are weak to certain moves, too. Terranigma's action packed combat is fairly in depth, especially for the time.

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In order to use magic in Terranigma, Ark must find mystical stones called Magirocks. Magirocks act as permanent upgrades, sort of like Heart Containers in Zelda, except they're for magic. Think of Magirocks as Terranigma's MP. The way Magirocks work is that they must first be taken to a magic store to be temporarily transformed into magic rings for a fee. Once acquired, magic rings can be used in battle to perform various magical spells, some that inflict elemental damage, some that heal, and some that have other effects. Rings revert back to Magirocks upon being used. The more potent rings require more than one Magirock, akin to an MP cost. Summon pins work exactly the same way magic rings do, except they exhibit more grandiose effects. Magic can be useful in certain situations, but it's never really required. The usefulness is also limited because, for some reason, magic can't be used during most boss fights. I don't quite understand the logic behind this, as that's when you'd expect magic to be the most useful. You may as well put all that Magirock sitting in your inventory to some use, though. Terranigma's magic system is a bit enigmatic, but it's also unique. I give the game props for coming up with something different, even if it's not the greatest system.

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The main menu screen in Terranigma is actually worth talking about, because it's super neat. Believe it or not, the menu screen in Terranigma is explained within the game's plot in a manner that doesn't break the fourth wall. Remember when I mentioned that small box Ark found with a bat creature inside of it? Well, that box serves as the game's main menu screen. Ark carries the box with him everywhere he goes, and he can go inside of the box at any time to enter into some kind of pocket dimension. This pocket dimension is a series of rooms that lead to all the typical menu stuff, like checking on your statistical attributes, seeing how much experience you need until the next level up, changing a few settings, etc. The furnishings in the room all serve as different sections of the menu, like bookcases, mirrors, and the like. There are even a few sections inside of these rooms that will explain the different moves Ark can pull off in and out of combat. These rooms are also where you'll be changing Ark's equipment, using items, and tinkering with magic. Anyone who has played Secret of Mana will find the item rooms familiar, as they use designs similar to the ring menus from that game. Any item or magical spell can be set to the X button for quick access outside of the menu screen, too. It's mighty convenient, that. Terranigma's menu screen is innovative, charming, and most of all, fun. It provides an amusing explanation as to how video game heroes can carry so much stuff around with them. There's also something reassuring about being able to enter a familiar space like this at any time, no matter how dangerous the current situation is. This game is so good, even its menu screen is entertaining to look at.

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Everything is divided into towns, the world map, and dungeons. There are no enemy encounters on the world map, similar to Chrono Trigger, so the Mode-7 laden map is merely a way of reaching the next destination. That destination will often be dungeons. A lot of the dungeon-like places aren't dungeons at all, as they're outdoorsy areas. Many of the game's dungeons are just mazes filled with enemies. As such, dungeons in Terranigma have an unhealthy tendency of being difficult to navigate, especially later in the game. A fair amount of them also look rather drab, like the dead husk of a giant tree that you venture into early on. I got a strong Deku Tree vibe from that dungeon, but this game obviously predates Ocarina of Time. There are some cool dungeons, though, like a ruined desert town filled with zombies. Every now and then, Terranigma will break up the dungeon action with puzzles. Most of the puzzles involve pushing things around, pressing switches, and throwing stuff. Despite the simplicity, some of the puzzles in this game can be really difficult to solve without a guide. I would say the biggest issue with the dungeons is the lack of save points. All dungeons are long and hard, sometimes too much of both, so the scarcity of save points becomes a problem. The combination of maze-y designs, confusing puzzles, and a lack of save points can make the dungeons of Terranigma a frustrating proposal. There's also a dungeon late in the game that's all about stealthily sneaking past guards, and it sucks hard. Issues aside, the dungeons are mostly fine. Just don't go in expecting Zelda quality dungeon design.

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Before you can visit new towns in Terranigma, you must first recreate all the world's continents, and then slowly remake all life on Earth, starting with plant life. As such, you won't be seeing any real towns beyond the starting one for quite some time. It takes a while before you get to reestablishing human life, so most of the game's early "towns" are inhabited by plants and animals. You don't have to build the towns yourself or anything; towns are automatically created as you progress through the game. Even though you aren't building the towns manually, there is still a sense of satisfaction in knowing that your actions resulted in the creation of new life. The payoff is being able to explore these newly established areas and reap the rewards. The drawback to this is that the game's world is initially empty and devoid of things to do. This evokes a feeling of loneliness that is hard to shake. Progression is also fairly linear during the early portions of the game. The game does change dramatically once you revive humans, however. It's at that point that the game truly opens up, revealing a massive world to explore, with plenty of towns to see. There's a lot of variety in the town environments later in the game, as each town represents a real life city or country of some kind. Different time periods are also represented, like some towns have medieval level technology, whereas some are more advanced. A good example of a contemporary town would be the urban city of "Neotokio," which is modeled after Tokyo, with high rise buildings and paved roads. As a side note, this is one of the few Japanese RPGs on the SNES that has black people in it. Due to their variety in cultures, towns in Terranigma are terrific.

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Once humans roam the Earth again, some of their towns can be further expanded by doing side quests. This is where the brunt of the game's optional content comes in. A few towns will have an economist in them that will tell you what the "economic growth index" of the current town is. The higher the economic growth index, the more likely a given town will expand, and the index increases as you accomplish various tasks. There's actually a lot of variety to the tasks you'll have to do, so it rarely devolves into mindless fetch quests. One town's potential expansion depends on the results of an election you can vote in. Voting for the conservative candidate stifles the town's growth, but going for the liberal fellow allows the town to flourish. I guess we know what Terranigma's political leanings are. Other quests include helping inventors, like helping a man invent the telephone, or helping a guy discover electricity. Expanded towns have new things to buy, new things to see, and new things to do. Town expansion is a very rewarding task, so it's well worth your time. Besides the rewards, though, the act of expanding towns just brings a lot of satisfaction with it. It's fun to watch towns grow over time and explore their newly expanded versions. Therefore, side quests in Terranigma are fun to do and not at all tedious.

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It takes a while before you fight a real boss in Terranigma, but when you finally do, it's worth the wait. Bosses in Terranigma are big, usually taking up most of the screen real estate, and they're tough. One of my favorite fights is one that happens early in the game against a giant skeleton monster with scythes for arms. After fighting it for a bit, the giant monstrosity loses its torso and starts flying around, but not before dislodging the ground you stand on. The fight continues as you stand on a piece of land that is free falling into the fiery infernos below. That fight is so intense that it almost seems like it belongs in Contra III. It could easily pass for a final boss if it didn't show up so early in the game. Not all the bosses are monstrously big, but they can still be inventive. There's this one fight later on where you must throw stones at the boss, and a small lion cub helps you by replenishing your stone supply. It's a creatively cute fight. Terranigma doesn't have too many real bosses, but the few that it does have range from good to great.

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Terranigma is an obscenely fantastical game of commendable proportions. The graphics are phenomenal, the music is stupendous, the game play is more than satisfactory, the plot is intriguing, and it all comes together in a marvelous manner. Terranigma is also a long game with plenty to do. It's no enigma why Terranigma is so good. The only enigma is why such a good game never made it to the states.

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