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RELEASE DATE (EU): December 19, 1996 GENRE: Action-RPG
// review by Beverley

Take a journey under Crystal Blue...

Terranigma is a wonderful RPG for the SNES which, unfortunately, never had a release in North America. The game was part of the Soul Blazer series and consists of the story of a young demon named Ark who must go on a quest to resurrect the earth and bring plants and animals, as well as human beings, to their present state. In the process, Ark discovers some illusions of his own and is forced to confront the dark reality of his own situation.

The graphics and music for this game were impressive, considering it was for the SNES. Not only were sprites attractive, but effects were skilfully applied to give almost spiritual meaning to significant events of the game. I remember, for example, the first time Ark was carried by a bird to another continent, the music and the whirling landscape really gave you the uplifting feeling of flying through the air. The soundtrack or this game had an orchestral tone that added to the feeling of an epic quest.

The gameplay was that of a standard overhead action game. It was very straightforward and easy so that even someone with as little coordination or timing such as myself could make quick work of boss fights. Use of magic was also available, but I found I seldom used it and I didn't even need to learn how to block until the second stage of the final boss! Some might call this a drawback, but I prefer simple controls for games, so I applaud this setup. I also found that equipment and weaponry that were found during quests were often far more advanced than the weapons and equipment available in shops, thus rendering weapon shops obsolete.

Although it was exciting to have the open expanse of a (fairly accurate) world map available, the open-endedness of the quest schedule frequently left me consulting YouTube to see what to do next. (Indeed, I ended up finishing the game without even going on the mermaid related quest. Consider how awesome mermaids are, I think this is definitely something worth going back for.) One of the main periods I spent wandering was during a time when Loire, a village strongly resembling Paris, failed to advance though I had completed all the necessary steps. I think there is a glitch here because many people have complained about it. By the time Loire finally upgraded, I had wandered ahead in the plot of many other areas of the game, and so my experience of the game was heavily skewed.

The screenshot on the left is the map screen. Serious vertigo ahead.

What impressed me by far was the variety and creativity of the plot development. Not only did this game feature colourful and engaging characters (some which were based on real historical figures, such as Bell, who invents the telephone), but the game brushes on many philosophical questions, such as those of nature and technology, love, the meaninglessness of life, and themes connected to finitude and death. One of my favourite philosophical moments of the game is near the end, when Ark returns to his home village, the place he had always hoped to return to, but because of his worldly experience it is no longer really his home. His lack of emotional attachment to this village, the lack of meaning of this place which had once been the foundation of his values, was a perfect expression of existential angst. I felt like I stood with Ark when he came "home" to the beautiful village he had spent millennia dreaming of only to realise it was now nothing more than an illusion. Many scenes, despite their 16-bit limitations, managed to cultivate an almost spiritual connection to the content where one felt they were literally seeing the dawn of life, or the progress of man, or facing the essence of good and evil themselves, without being cheesy. A really good example of this was when a town called Neotokio (I wonder what city that could be modelled after?) was hit by a nuclear attack and Ark had to save a child who had escaped to the sewers. This nuclear attack felt like a clear expression of the destruction and evil that was being expressed through the villain of this game.

The game was also full of fun easter eggs that brought a smile to my face. Not unlike real life, I had tons of fun obtaining wine and sleeping in other people's beds (Just kidding, SoyBomb!), and I even got to have a game named after me in reward for saving some poor rube from a ghost. However, if I could change one thing, it would be the awkward way in which Chinese characters were turned into racial stereotypes. That didn't belong in a game that was as magical and special as this.

So I highly recommend Terranigma if you enjoy RPGs, and especially if you enjoy analyzing complex philosophical themes in videogames. Sadly, you will need to find a potentially pricey cart online, as well as a PAL SNES deck (which you may already have if you are European or Australian); if only it was available another way... Since I have never played Illusion of Gaia or Soul Blazer, I have no idea if there are connections between the games in the series, but since I enjoyed Terranigma so much, Illusion of Gaia may be next on my list.

[Editor's Note: Yes, there is a connection between these games...]

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