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Anyone who was a gamer during the 16-bit era knows that the Super NES is a veritable treasure trove of RPGs. There were standard RPGs like FFVI and Chrono Trigger, Strategy-RPGs that were never released in America like Tactics Ogre, and Action-RPGs like Secret of Mana, Soul Blazer, and Illusion of Gaia.
Of the last category, there’s a game you’ve probably never heard of–the ever-elusive Terranigma. This mysterious title was the third part of an Action-RPG series that included gems like Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia. Unlike those two titles, Terranigma never made it to the states. This is a shame, because Terranigma was an innovative Action-RPG that told its story in a unique way.
For those tired of linear narratives with everything dictated to the player, Terranigma’s approach to storytelling was refreshing. Terranigma almost always gives you hints of where to go next, but the purpose of your adventure couldn’t be any more vague. The adventure beings in a small village enclosed by a forest that is teaming with floating crystal bubbles. You control a character named Ark, who is quite the trouble maker. He loves to steal food off of tables, throw pots at villagers, prevent the local mill from operating, and regularly flirts with a village girl. Ark appears to be an orphan of some sort; he’s a resident at the village Elder’s house. Inside the Elder’s residence, there’s a mysterious blue door that is supposed to remain unopened. One day when the Elder was out, Ark decided to give into temptation and open the blue door at the request of some rowdy village people. Inside, he found a mysterious box that spoke to him. Ark cautiously opened the treasure, and a calamity immediately befell the village. A creature that decided to accompany Ark was unleashed, but the village people were rendered motionless. The Elder soon returned and reprimanded Ark. He then gave Ark some instructions to set things right.
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Ark was shown the village’s previously hidden exit and was told to seek out the underworld’s five towers. This is the last instruction you’re given for a few hours. From that point on, you’re fed bits and pieces of information about what you’re supposed to do, but you never really know the purpose of your journey.
What Terranigma does best is provide a profound sense of discovery. You are constantly exploring new lands, creating life, and seeking the purpose of your adventure. Besides endowing you with a great sense of discovery, Terranigma also allows you to impact the game world. Once the adventure reaches a certain point, you have the ability to trade between towns and affect the world’s outcome by advancing technology. This doesn’t really affect the game’s ending itself, but you can witness changes being made in the world through the expansion of towns and the introduction of advanced structures like airfields. To put it simply, Terranigma makes you a god on Earth.
Besides having a creative story and side quests where the player can have some impact on the game world, Terranigma also includes wonderful visuals. The game features impressive lighting effects and shadows that few other games on the SNES pulled off. It also has a diverse set of environments that was nearly unrivaled during the 16-bit age. Terranigma has you touring a bleak underworld with rivers of lava and crystalline mountains; it has you climbing massive towers, exploring barren wastelands, combing through lush jungles, swimming through underwater caves, fighting off hordes of zombies, and riding elevators in mechanized cities. The backgrounds look impressive, as do many of the game’s enemies and bosses. The character sprites aren’t quite as astounding, but are similar to what you’d see in many other 16-bit RPGs.
Terranigma sure looks nice, but how does it control? Well, it controls similarly to its two predecessors and games like Secret of Mana. You can run in eight directions, swing your weapon, cast magic, and block, all in real time. There are no charge attacks, but you can perform dash attacks, diving slashes, and you can even jump. Your character can also crawl through small holes, swim in rivers, climb sheer cliffs, and run fast. Most of these abilities aren’t anything special if you’ve played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but they’re nice to have nonetheless. Combat is fairly simple for the most part, but it gets repetitive after awhile, and I found the magic system useless. It would have been nice if a tutorial was included that described how to use magic, and some charge attacks or different types of weapons would have added more variety. Still, the game rarely gets boring, because the nature of the game is constantly changing.
Besides having a fine combat system, Terranigma is also home to a great soundtrack. It’s not quite of the same calibur as Chrono Trigger, FFVI, and Secret of Mana, but it’s a wonderful soundtrack nonetheless. Terranigma’s story is fairly dark and mysterious, and the music does an excellent job accompanying what is occurring on-screen. It almost always manages to convey the appropriate mood, and there are a few tracks that will likely stay with you after you complete the game.
Terranigma is a great SNES Action-RPG that we should have received in America, but it’s not without its flaws. The gripes I have are fairly minor, but they’re problems nonetheless. One issue I had with Terranigma was that it was occasionally difficult to figure out your destination. Most of the time this wasn’t a problem, as there are no enemies on the world map that get in your way, but looking for certain objects could get annoying. Terranigma also has some difficulty-curve issues. Most of the game isn’t too difficult as long as you continue to slay monsters throughout the adventure, but the final boss is incredibly unbalanced. When fighting him, you’ll want to have gained enough experience so that your character is at least Level 31; otherwise, your attacks won’t even phase him. These issues keep Terranigma from being a perfect experience, but it’s still an epic quest that no SNES RPG fan should miss. Hopefully Square-Enix will consider bringing this fantastic adventure to Wii Virtual Console in the near future.
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