Terranigma - Staff Retroview  

by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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Very Easy
Less than 20 Hours
+ Widely varied locales and events
+ Quick, satisfying brawls
+ Snazzy audiovisuals
- Easy to neuter difficulty
- Unnecessary magic system
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   The usual rule for RPG releases outside of Japan is to spring them upon North America first, with PAL territories getting the titles later or not at all. Occasionally an exception to this rule appears, with the Inazuma Eleven titles coming to mind, but the rarity of these exceptions proves the standard. Terranigma provides a much earlier exception to the rule, and its failure to see North American release when every other Quintet title made the trip is baffling even long after the SNES bit the dust. Those who enjoyed the preceding Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia will find plenty to entertain with this one, a quality game on a console with no shortage of them.

   Terranigma begins in an isolated underground location called Crysta, focusing on a mischievous male named Ark. Investigating behind a door his town elder warned the residents about, Ark finds a box that irresistibly tempts him to open it. The result is that everyone in Crysta turns a completely nonresponsive blue, save for the elder who instructs Ark to go open five towers in the underground in order to unfreeze the townsfolk. Accomplishing this task also releases some very familiar continents to a world above, and Ark's task after making Crysta come back to life is to reach the surface and revive Earth.

   For a large stretch, Terranigma's narrative is quite similar to Soul Blazer's in that the protagonist is simply going to various locations to free new parts of Earth's ecosystem. Once humans have come back into the picture, steering an extremely varied gamut of technological improvement to mankind takes the forefront. The reasons for Earth's stasis become moderately clear near the end, along with some attempts at philosophical statements that manage not to be embarrassing. The narrative isn't exactly delivered in a steady fashion, and the many parts in the middle where not a whole lot is happening could have used a little of the rumination that takes place near the end. Terranigma is nevertheless interesting on a consistent basis, and most of its vignettes are memorable.

   Terranigma's dungeon exploration is clearly descended from that of Illusion of Gaia, but with a number of enhancements to make combat fast and appealing. Ark uses a variety of spears for his armament, and just sticking enemies with the pointy end of one is a very efficient procedure. He also can use dashes and jumps, both of which segue into distinct means of striking the foe. The experience points of Soul Blazer make a comeback, though enemies now drop money that must be manually grabbed. Ark's move repertoire is not huge but each attack is useful, plus Quintet did a fine job keeping enemy variety high. Little palette swapping occurs and the adversaries of each new location are capable of doing something different.

The Amazon is drying out - could global warming be to blame? The Amazon is drying out - could global warming be to blame?

   Quintet did a superb job of making sure Terranigma does not become dull by also varying what Ark is doing. Navigating arid terrain with a lion cub's welfare to mind, infiltrating a restricted location using primitive stealth tactics, traveling through a zombie plague-ridden town, planting time bombs on an airship, and using matter transporters to beam between areas of a laboratory are just some of the scenarios found. There is little risk of becoming bored while playing, and the game's relatively brief completion time of under twenty hours zips by as a result.

   Due to Ark having almost no recovery time between taking hits, along with several dangerous status ailments enemies can inflict, dying is easy while playing. The only consequence is a little foot traffic back to where he died, because Terranigma simply boots the player to the last save point with no other consequence. Proper equipment setup makes a difference, but the single biggest factor for dialing down the game's challenge is simply to gain a level or two. This alters the damage taken and received in a fight by a dramatic degree, and can turn even the nastiest of the game's bosses into something easy to handle. The balance is quite thin, however, and killing a boss with just a few hits provides quite the anticlimax.

   Relatively late in the game Ark starts encountering human settlements that can increase their level of civilization with his help. This generally requires Ark becoming a glorified messenger boy, delivering the right metal to allow canning food or kindling interest in French fashion around the globe. The results are quite interesting to behold, and the process is entirely optional, making for a nifty way to keep the player's interest on the side.

   The inventory of Terranigma is contained within something it calls the Item Box. While its limited capacity can often require things to be tossed out to make room, mostly it is a standard affair that gets the job done. The game's magic system can be entirely ignored, but as spells can only be used by going into the Item Box and accessing a sub-menu, any attempt to test them is unnecessarily trying. It doesn't help that spells are purchased from vendors and loaded onto items in limited supply found around the world, nor that magic tends to fizzle spectacularly because there is no way to aim it once the multiple levels of menu vanish from the screen. This clumsy affair is aided greatly by spells never being necessary to progress.

Not shown: the lion about to chase this woman through a Japanese sewer. Not shown: the lion about to chase this woman through a Japanese sewer.

   Terranigma stands tall among the late SNES RPG lineup with its visuals, which do a fine job differentiating the various locations in an eye-pleasing manner. A few of the optional areas blatantly reuse visuals from earlier in the game, but they're small and easy to forgive. Plenty of Mode 7 visuals appear when moving around the overworld, and the entire package is reminiscent of many other late-period titles on the system's lineup without seeming derivative — though an MC Hammer-inspired sprite provides a reminder of the game's age. The same can be said about the audio, with a variety of strong compositions that occasionally call up memories of other soundtracks on the system without feeling overly familiar. The variety of tracks is quite strong for the game's length, and even the clunkers are simply unremarkable instead of annoying.

   Precisely how Terranigma avoided a North American release is a story that has refused to enter the public discourse even to this day. Nintendo ended up publishing it in PAL territories, and the company was perfectly capable of doing the same elsewhere as it did for Super Mario RPG, especially with a full translation readily available. Terranigma is not the best title in the SNES library, but it is an extremely enjoyable experience that is worth partaking of by anyone intrigued. As Quintet's final hurrah on the SNES, it's a smashing success.

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