torstai 12. syyskuuta 2013

REVIEW - Terranigma | SNES | 1995

GENRE(S): Action / RPG
RELEASED: October 20, 1995

After Illusion of Gaia, Enix commissioned Quintet for one last story revolving around creation and evolution. This game was called Terranigma. Determining that they had no chance on the North American RPG market wholly dominated by Square, Enix shut down their U.S. subsidiary indefinitely just before an English localization of the game had been finished, leading the expecting European audience to believe the game would be yet another Japan-only release by Enix. To the surprise of many, Terranigma did see daylight in both Europe and Australia, breaking the usual chain, and for once we got something to flaunt with. Terranigma came in much too late to enjoy any fundamental commercial success, but it turned out the best Quintet game ever and one of the best RPG's on the SNES.

Tales of Creation: Chapter V - The Alpha Game

In his ambition to break every rule, a consciously mischievous teenager named Ark manages to open a tightly sealed door in his grandfather's house, releasing an ancient power that not only curses his home village, but the whole world. Ark's grandfather sends his unruly descendant on a quest to resurrect the world, destroy this dark power and maybe grow up a little in the process.

Just tell me one thing, though. Why do they
all have to have the same hairstyle?
Back in college, I had a classmate - who's since become a good friend of mine - who praised this game, and he wasn't that much into action-RPG's. I knew the game by name, and I knew it was made by the same studio as Illusion of Gaia, but at the time I had no idea it was some sort of semi-sequel to the game. At that time, I liked Illusion of Gaia a lot more than I do now, for some reason, and when I tried Terranigma, it was so much better than the already awesome Gaia that I was easily led to believe that it would be a forgotten gem like no other - no less than one of the best games on the SNES. I never found the time to finish the game, not even close. It still always remained a very dear game to me and I considered it one of the best SNES games of all time even if I didn't know it inside out; as some of you might remember, I even listed Terranigma in the SNES Top 20 I did a couple of years back as a tribute to the SNES' 20th anniversary. I'm glad I won't have to back down on (at least all of) my words - Terranigma is awesome and it might well be my favourite Enix game of all time.

Woohoo, a world map which you can actually
explore. Changes all the time, too.
To elaborate, hopefully for the final time using these games for comparison, Terranigma is not Final Fantasy VI-awesome or Chrono Trigger-awesome. It's awesome in its very own fashion - it's something Quintet had been building up for quite some time, it's the game Soul Blazer was originally supposed to be. It's the best game you can get from those basic ingredients. With Soul Blazer, they made mistakes. Some of those mistakes were corrected with the development of Illusion of Gaia, but they made whole new ones with that game. They made mistakes with Terranigma, but the important thing is that most of the top worst nuisances that plagued those two preceding games are totally harvested from the fray. The result is the most simple, accessible and comfy action-RPG in the series. The downsides are few, but sensible - it's still cryptic, and the storytelling, as unique as the story itself once again is, is clumsy, occasionally dumb, and the game is really stingy when it comes to explaining some of the most basic things. Such as the use of magic in general. Players have to find out things like this for themselves, which means that you'll have to waste good spells just to find out how they work; there are some good spells, but once again some bad ones. There's also no strict, well-explained line between regular items and key items - in theory, you might go on forever before you realize you could've traded a seemingly useless piece of junk for a useful piece of equipment several in-game hours ago. Yes, this time there are different weapons and armour - even shops. While the previous games drew most of their influence from Zelda, Terranigma's definitely an RPG.

I still can't believe there was nothing behind
any of those waterfalls! What kind of adventure
game is this?!
In a word, the graphics are great. Perhaps even too great. As clumsy as the storytelling might be, it was one of the main focus points - the completion of each dungeon is followed by a lengthy, artsy-fartsy cutscene showing us how this "cleansing" affects a certain key element in the world's resurrection. The lengthiest of these cutscenes are almost as drawn out as the ending of any other SNES game. Also, it's funny that whenever you hitch a ride to any location you can't reach by foot on the world map - which is usually right next to wherever you're at - the transporter takes a huge detour, all the way to another continent and back, as if to flaunt with the Mode 7 effects. Flashy, but boring as heck. The soundtrack's an on/off deal - you'll be spending a lot of time in a single dungeon, 'cause almost every single dungeon you stumble into after the long introduction is a much worse maze than Sky Garden in Illusion of Gaia; easier on the eyes and eye-hand coordination, though. A 30-second loop isn't quite enough to cover the whole hour or two.

Funny how much he reminds me of the worm
in Silent Hill 3.
Let's get the downsides out of the way right now. Don't let Ark's admittedly fancy combat moves and such an odd feature as being able to jump fool you. If it's a fast-paced and fully dynamic game you want, then Terranigma might not be the right game for you - it's not just the cutscenes, it's occasionally a very slow game with constant halts. Ark's walking speed is muddy, the discovery of an important item results in Ark holding it up for about three years, and every time an enemy uses a special attack, text describing the attack appears on the screen and halts the game for several seconds. Just to mention some examples. It's all something you get used to rather quick, if you're not from the _most_ impatient end. Usually, I myself perceive such a slow pace as a near-lethal flaw - depending on the game, of course - but I can tell you that after a few hours, you won't even notice it anymore. In every other way, Terranigma is a giant leap forward from its predecessors.

The use of most magic is extremely clumsy, but also irrelevant - you usually have to resort to it only during boss fights since you might not be able to reach them physically, and the spells can't really miss since the boss is directly in front of you 90% of the time. All spells are consumable items - you can buy more spells from a Magirock Shop using gems called Magirocks, as well as a few gold coins, for currency. Item management was a huge issue in both preceding games - in Terranigma, it looks more complicated and uncomfortable than it really is. Pandora's Box, which you have in tow the entire time - a "little" artificial size difference between the Pandora's Box in God of War and the one in this game - serves as your menu, and the bat-like monster Yomi as your sidekick/navigational instrument through the initially confusing mass of maps, stats, settings, items, equipment and jewelry (magic).

Hanging out with "Simba", in a plot setting
that's actually ripped straight off The Lion King.
Items are actually quite easy to use. For example, in Soul Blazer, you only had room for one health item at a time. To use it, you had to equip it from the menu, perhaps to replace and sacrifice your armour on the behalf of being able to continue once your health ran out. In Illusion of Gaia, you also had to equip it from the menu, and depending on the situation, it was even more of a pain to use since you had to trigger the use of the item yourself, at the absolutely correct time window, and you even had to confirm your choice to use the item. I lost count how many times I got my ass kicked for answering "No" in a hurry. Also, in Soul Blazer you could only carry one health item at a time, in Illusion of Gaia you had space for plenty, but they didn't stack and there was a limited quantity of them in the whole game anyway (if you didn't find them all or used them "recklessly", you regretted it in the final boss fight). Terranigma doesn't have any of these problems for its burdens. Health items come in fair quantities, they stack, and you can either use them from the menu itself or equip them for immediate use any time during gameplay with the press of a single button. Consumable items (and unfortunately, some more or less useful accessories) have their own slot in the HUD, so you don't have to worry about trading your armour for a small drop of health for one second.

Terranigma offers up some good challenge - item management alone makes it a much easier and reasonable game to deal with than either one of its spiritual predecessors. However, the level design is so consciously confusing that you'll be in for a whole bunch of in-game hours just navigating the sumbitch. The bright side is that the enemies respawn each time you go to a different room, and grinding is not nearly as painful as it can be in many games with turn-based combat.

The occasionally extreme pacing problems and altogether crummy storytelling common to the series aside, Terranigma is a great RPG anyone into the SNES simply must check out. If you're a patient one, you might even be able to overlook the awkward pacing - hell, even appreciate it. I'll be back for seconds one day - that is something I haven't honestly said about any game in a long time.

+ Once again, a simple game with easy access...
+ ...Spiced up with a whole bulk of advanced options and development from "real" role-playing games
+ Ark reminds me of Yoda; walks real slow, but has some real awesome moves in combat
+ Finally, item management works...

- ...Magic doesn't
- Subpar telling of another good story
- A somewhat slow pace to everything
- Not good at explaining things

< 8.8 >

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