Retrospective: Terranigma

I’m breaking the rule I set myself for when I started these retrospectives and covering a game that I have actually played before. In fact, Terranigma is the last game I ever bought for my Super Nintendo before I upgraded to a Nintendo 64; and foolishly sold my SNES and all my games for what was probably $50 or something equally dumb.

Terranigma Retrospective

Developer: Quintet
Publisher: Nintendo, Enix
Platform: Super Nintendo
Players: Single-Player
Genre: Action Role-Playing
Release: (JP) October 20th 1995, (PAL) December 19th 1996


Terranigma was developed by Quintet and published by Enix, a combination that also brought us the games Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia/Time (another beloved game from my childhood that might get a future review). You play as Ark, an irresponsible teenager who lives in a village in the hollow core of the Earth. Ignoring the village elder’s warning, you open a mysterious box which destroys all life on the Earth’s surface. You are then tasked with fixing things by first restoring the five continents (Europe and Asia are counted together and Antarctica isn’t counted at all) and then restoring life to the surface and helping shape the growth of humanity. It’s a story that really is as epic as it sounds.

It’s a game that takes you across the breadth of the world and to different towns and dungeons, each with their own unique feel. The whole game is filled with memorable characters and touching moments (If you can honestly say that helping a little lion cub pass his test of adulthood doesn’t warm your heart, then I don’t even know what kind of monster you are). It’s a game that utilises both comedy and tragedy and has bright, happy towns and dark, foreboding dungeons.

There’s a good mix of things is what I’m saying.

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Terranigma is what I remember being classified as an action-RPG which; looking back, basically meant it was an action game where you could talk to people (the 90’s were a very different time for video games). The game has a top-down view with real-time combat similar to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past or Secret of Mana, and has a very simple leveling system (the kind of system where your stats are Health, Attack, Defence, Luck, and nothing else).

There is also a magic system which; to be honest, I barely ever used as a child. Throughout the game you collect Magirocks which can be traded for single-use spells. Once the spell is used, you get the Magirock back to trade in again. This time around I gave it a go and, well…it sure is a system that is in the game. It’s not a bad system or anything, it just feels unnecessary on top of the perfectly functional combat that is already there. This is a shame because most of the rewards you get for exploring hidden areas are Magirocks and to me at least, were basically useless.

If you’ve played a Zelda game then you’re already going to be familiar with how Terranigma works. The combat all takes place in individual levels that span several floors. There are simple puzzles to solve, sometimes you can’t proceed until you get an object located somewhere in the level itself, and then at the end you fight a boss. Quintet aren’t exactly reinventing the action-RPG genre with this game but it’s not like they need to; they stick with what they know and it works.

There is one exception to the overall fun of the gameplay and that is Sylvain Castle. This was a level that I remember hating as a child but I’d forgotten exactly how much I hated it until playing it through again. Remember that basic leveling system I mentioned? For most of the game it isn’t something you ever need to pay attention to because the game is designed in such a way that playing the game normally increases your level at the same rate that the toughness of the enemies increases. And then you get to Sylvain Castle and you go from fighting enemies where’d you inflict thirty points of damage per attack on, to enemies that you inflict one point of damage per attack on.

One! Point! Of damage!

Suddenly the game is about backing these enemies into corners and just mashing the attack button for several minutes. Your choice now is to:

  • a) spend either a large amount of time grinding to get your level higher to do more damage or
  • b) fighting a boss where each of your attacks does one point of damage and the whole thing takes like fifteen minutes.

Neither of these options are fun. The good news is that once you beat this level the game goes back to having enemies in line with your leveling rate but god damn, it is an infuriating level to get through.

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I do genuinely like Terranigma and I don’t want to bring this retrospective down too much by talking about what I hate so let’s move on to one of my favourite parts of the game. What I always remember most fondly about this game was the side-quest to increase the economic activity of towns throughout the world. Written like that, it sounds like something very complex and interesting (or incredibly boring) but really it’s just a series of item trades where you take something unique to one town, show it to someone in a different town and bingo, you’ve got economic growth. There isn’t much to this but I always got a real sense of satisfaction from helping the towns grow and change. It’s nice to be able to have that kind of positive effect on a game world (assuming that economic growth is a positive thing which one or two NPCs make sure to mention to you).

It’s a nice extension of what the game is about. Specifically how it is about creating things. Continents, life, economic growth by trading fancy cloths between Europe and America. It’s all about helping things grow and develop and it’s an idea you don’t see very often in video games.

…unless those games are SimCity I guess. The point is, you very rarely do we see an action game focusing on how special it is to create and nurture something.

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Ultimately I think that’s what always appealed to me about this game. The sense that you’re just a kid who made a mistake and now you’re trying to make up for it. It’s a good, positive theme and after playing games like Jak II: Renegade and God of War, it feels refreshing to play a game where you aren’t motivated by revenge or anger.

Final Thoughts

Terranigma came out pretty late in the Super Nintendo’s life and wasn’t released in North America so it’s become one of those gems that you never really hear anyone talking about. If you can get your hands on this game definitely give it a chance because you won’t regret it.