Review: Terranigma (Retro)

Reviewed by Lavar Pittman, posted Nov 24, 2017, last updated Nov 25, 2017
There is usually a very rare game in a system's library of games that some people never heard about until very late after the system's life has ended. There is games so rare that it is excluded from release in several countries. This is one of those games. "TERRANGIMA" Just the title alone requires questioning. What could it mean anyway? Besides that, this like I said is one of those elusive good games that not many people know about, and I certainly didn't, it was no way, not officially anyway. But soon enough I did and now I want to share it with you. I want you to experience this game cause I think is worth knowing. So hope you enjoy this experience.
Nov 24, 2017
  • Release Date (EU): December 19, 1996
  • Release Date (JP): October 20, 1995
  • Publisher: ENIX
  • Developer: QUINTET
  • Genres: Action/RPG
  • PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
A boy's curiosity triggers events that lead to the resurrection of life on the planet. In the distant past, a calamitous struggle between light and dark took place. The clash of the two opposing powers scoured the planet's surface entirely of life, and the two forces fell into a deep sleep. In the world on the inside of the planet, there exist just one small village of crysta. Ark, a mischievous teenage boy, somehow causes a crisis in the village that makes it necessary for him to leave. His trip to save his fellow villagers eventually becomes a journey across time to resurrect the planet. On his epic journey, Ark must resurrect continents, revive all forms of life, and re-establish civilization. What fate awaits Ark at the end of his journey?
Lavar Pittman
"TERRANIGMA" Or "Tenchi Sōzō"

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When the title screen uses the same image as the detailed box art of the game you bought and it look just as good as the real thing, one my think that alone was enough for me to say "WOW! This has to be a epic game." Well this is a unique name isn't? Wondering what it could mean are we? Maybe you probably know but let's just say you still aren't sure. The original title in Japan, Tenchi Sōzō translates to "The creation of Heaven and Earth" Ten being heaven or sky and chi being Earth or ground. Terranigma Has the word Terran or "Terra" in it, which defines the ground or earth, sorta like a DC Superhero you may know. (HINT: She was in the Teen Titans TV Show) So then what about the other half of the word Terra-nigma..... Hmmmm, oh I know. Enigma, which defines to being a puzzle or mystery. So while it may not be directly clear, we can safely say the title is a compound word of Terra and Enigma, so that became "TERRANIGMA" How does that work so far, is it clear? The title is basically saying the Earth has a mystery, so I guess is up to the player to solve it. See what happens when we use our brains? :P

Basically from the title alone, mostly the Japanese title, the game is about "The Creation of Heaven and Earth" So maybe this would be a educational game right? Well if that was your answer, is a good guess but not even close. The developers at the time was known for making games that had a sort of "God simulation" theme. That means in the said game the player would assume the role of a character who is indirectly hinted to being a god of some kind able to influence evolution. For example, the game Actraiser, the player controls this champion who battle the evil forces of the underworld in an action stage. Then proceeds to command an angel to assist in human civilization development across several continents.

This game however is known to be part of a trilogy of games referred to by many for its similar gameplay and notable hints between them. Terranigma is the last of the series of those games coming after Soul Blazer & Illusion of Gaia. Sadly unlike the other two games, this game was not released officially in North America for people like me to play back in 1996 but I sure wish it was. Lucky there is a official english translation of the game released in Pal countries so I'll be using the UK translation for reference.

The creation of Heaven and Earth

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Upon starting the game, you are treated to a description of the story's past events before playing the actual game. Not only does the game tell you a story but has cut scenes about it, if I must be honest, the presentation is the most prominent feature in the game, while storytelling is all done in text, there is a abundance of very large illustrated detailed picture graphics that may be considered unreal at the time. Let's get into that later, the game explains that there is two sides of this fictional Earth, external being the light side we live on, and internal being the dark side which we consider hell. The light side represents growth and the dark represents decline. The two forces who became known as The God and The Devil has been clashing at war for billions of years even during the progress of evolution. Sometime later the final battle ended at Antartica where neither side claimed victory, it is unclear exactly what happened but the game starts sometime after this point.

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The game is composed of 4 chapters, the game starts off chapter one "The Outset" Deep in the underworld is a village of Crysta, Ark along with several other people live there, he is a mischievous teenage boy who usually causes trouble for many of his companions and the village elder is usually scolding him on that. The village has a dark secret, in the basement the elder keeps hidden that no one may open the door. But one day, the village people heard sounds beyond the door, curious as any human, they decide to investigate, Ark being the mischievous person that he is, breaks the door down and finds Pandora's Box and inside is a creature called Yomi. Opening the box sets in motion a very dark past that was hidden away. The elder noticing what is going on holds Ark responsible for it and tells him what he must do to fix it. For the first time ever, the gate to Crysta has opened and the elder sends Ark outside to investigate.

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Ark comes across a tower which suddenly starts talking to him. (The door has a face on it) The tower tells him of the trials he must pass in the five towers in order to bring live to the planet. Ark completes the first trial and then begins to witness the resurrection of a surface continent, and sets out to complete the other trials. Soon after he completes the other trials, he meets with the elder again and begins to tell him more of the past and why he hid it from the villagers. The elder takes Ark to a large hole in the ground that was formed when the last trial was passed. The hole is the portal between the surface world and the underworld. Completing the tower trials has restored the surface world but it is not yet completed, while the terran is there, life ceases to exist, the elder sends Ark to the surface world and ask him to bring life to the world, thus begins his quest to bring upon resurrection of the world leading to the game's them of "The creation of Heaven and Earth" (That was just the prologue and chapter one by the way, the story gets more complex and intricate than that)

I can't believe it! MY EYES

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The first thing I should mention about the game is the graphics, this game boast a whopping 32 Meg cartridge (That is 4 Megabytes in case you was wondering, those bits was a big deal back in those days) This made it on par with games like Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger in terms of visual quality... You know what, while Tales of Phantasia and Star Ocean was 48 Megs (6MB) and even more technically enhanced, I will still even go as far as saying is closer to those games as well, these games appeared very late in the SNES life and is very notable for being more impressive than most games on SNES at the time. The first thing that hits you in the face when you turn it on is the graphics and the game isn't even sugar coating it, the game constantly hits you with new imagery that somehow the snes was able to handle with ease.

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While most games at the time looked like... well a game with is cartoonish look, there is some highly detailed pictures and animations from parallax scrolling to so much use of the famous Mode 7 features. It also feature multiple graphics layers that give it various effects like clouds, and snow, bubbles or even light shading, honestly this was a the makings of impressive games at the time with all the different tricks the developers would use to show off how good a 2D sprite based pixel art games can look with is small and limited file size compared to modern times where we improved on it.

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At various parts of the game's story, you are shown very detailed images of things like mountains, grass, skies, the artwork is just amazing to be seeing in a game at the time. Is like the devs wanted to show the player just how real this game is gonna get. I mentioned in the story part earlier how the game is a type of god simulator, well kinda yeah, your job is to revive the process of life and evolution. During the game you visit real life places. Continents of our very own world is referenced in the game, North America, South America, Africa, "Eurasia", Antarctica, and even Australia are all referenced here, some more obvious than others. There is even nods to some historical people like Christopher Columbus, the explorer who help discover America plays a role in the game. There is even people of various nationalities too. There is places like this one called "Freedom" Which is basically like a parody of Boston, and "Nirlake" which is close to the great lakes, Indus river, colorado, New Zealand, there is so much hints at this realism that the game teases you with is insane. At some point, I thought this was a educational game but is not, completely fictional. I may be making this more than what it is, maybe instead of talking about, you better off witnessing it yourself. (With the screenshots)

What is that I hear?


You thought the game's visuals was good, the music is just as good. Using that Sony branded SPC700 sound chip embedded inside the SNES, the game sound like a properly orchestrated symphony that really sets the proper tone of mood for every situation. There is a lot of music in the game that is not very overwhelming but sounds good none the less. You got music that sounds like gospel type, then very somber melancholy, from those very tragic moments to the lighthearted moments. There is a multitude of music here, over 50 different songs to hear as you progress. The sound effects are also a nice touch. While I didn't have much to say about the soundtrack, I still wanted to point out how much effort was put into it. Basically all of the system's most compelling features was used to is near limits to produce a quality game. While many may not consider it as memorable as maybe some bigger known composers at the time like Yuzo Koshiro for Actraiser, Yoko Shimomura for Super Mario RPG or Yasunori Mitsuda for Chrono Trigger, is still good, and this was composed by two people.

The game play (FINALLY)


This game plays like a adventure game, similar to Legend of Zelda Series. But instead it is classified as "Action RPG" That being the fast paced action type real type combat games mixed with role playing games where player has progression and growth of levels and changeable weapons, armors and items to collect like Final Fantasy. So maybe you would compare it to another well known game at the time, Secret of Mana. The game is played from a top down perspective, with the player controlling Ark (Or whatever you choose to name the hero of the game) he wields a spear or a rod as a weapon. The game has various segments, in villages you talk to people and can buy items and such, you can't use the rod here so don't try to kill anyone. Then you have a world map, is where you travel from place to place. Is very big, think of it as like Final Fantasy, eventually you get a boat and a plane to make it easier later in the game, you get to see a lot of mode 7 here. Finally you have the dungeon areas, where you must to go battle enemies usually resulting in a boss. You get used to it as you play.


Now the interesting part, remember when I mentioned that you find a creature inside Pandora's Box, his name is Yomi. He is your assistant in the game, sorta like Navi in Ocarina of time. He provides hints which is story specific rather than when player may choose to inquire about. On the other hand, he lives inside Pandora's Box and he manages your status. Remember how I went on about the presentation? Well your status menu isn't just words and text on the screen with a background like most games, it's inside the box! Looking inside it seems like an actual place to live inside. It has books to read (the options screen and manuals) a mirror to look at (the player status) then the three rooms like weapon room (where you can equip the rods) armor room (where you can equip armor) and items room (Where all your items go) How cool is that? While at first it may be confusing, it will become more clear and easy to use with progress. Yomi being the nice and humble person he is gives you a tour the first time you visit as thanks for freeing him from captivity.
The rod weapon is used during combat and has a variety of ways to attack enemies with it. It ranges from standard, jumping, sliding, rushing, slicer attack and a guard used to block projectiles, all which are explained in the battle guide from the library with in the box. The five attacks are more of a situational use. Each one can cause more damage to specific kind of enemy. Standard is a basic standing attack, spinner is an aerial attack used to damage airborne enemies, slider is performed by attacking during a running jump, Ark will perform a dive kick type attack sliding into the ground, uses for small enemies that hits in large area, rushing is a rapid attack used for attacking "Hard" enemies, not very informed on what it means but I guess it means like stone skin type... and the slicer attack is for attacking fast and speedy enemies. Having these different attacks allow for various battle strategies so the game isn't as repetitive to play.


Most of the game is to tell a story, there is lot of reading to be done. The translation isn't terrible but it could have been better. Most words get hyphenated due to the font being very big and having only three lines of text in the box. So for example words that are big ending in one line uses "-" to finish it. (Over-Rated Multi-Tude Poly-Ness to name a few examples) Some words leave me questioning if is just a poor translation or is it intentional. "Babe" for example, is used for describing "Baby" a infant child. I know it means the same thing, though in American language we spell it that way. Being as this is not a American Localization, I had to wonder if this is UK old English of some kind, maybe that is how they spell baby there back then and is different than what I'm used to. Hard to say either way. Other words are fairly understood, is clear there is religious content in the game, references to god, hell, damned (Once again spelled "Dam") that for the most part was able to comprehend. Maybe someone who knows that native language better than I do can vouch, someone not American, I dunno. For the most part, is playable and understood without most struggle which is good, still leaves me wonder why the game wasn't official released in North America.

That is a lot, sounds like it can be difficult!


Well now that the cat is out of the bag, might as well confess. Yes this game is a challenge. Some battles are frustrating and difficult, sometimes is not the player's fault but the game. Some battles against bosses don't have clear indication of what to be doing, they have limited exposed vulnerable points making it difficult to know when to attack or how, and some just stay out of range for too long. But that isn't the worst part, that comes from the game's balance. After playing a few times I come to the conclusion that is mostly the severe difficulty spikes of the game that may frustrate players or even become unappealing to them. The game biggest problem maybe from the integrated "RPG system" Unlike previous games that the devs made didn't focus too much on the character's stats but the players skill, this game uses a traditional level progression system. Gaining exp and having changeable equipment.

The problem is the exp gain is very low for the most part and compared to the required amount for level up is stretched very far. From level 35 to 40 requires about 66,000 exp that most enemies don't even get you over 100 exp, you will spend lots of time fighting enemies for those higher levels which could be maybe 20 mins to get one level up very late in the game. The other problem comes from calculation of the stats in the game, each level improves your max life, your strength, your defense and luck. You can also increase these stats by finding chest with the desired potion stat in them (this doesn't help much) during level gain your stats can raise between 1-3 points while your life can go way up to like 45. I also must mention the max level is 50 with 999 of your max life and 99 of the other stats (Regardless if you use the potions or not) During play when you are fighting enemies, you may take like one between 1-5 damage with a critical hit nearly reaching 10. Enemies sometimes have very high HP and can take long time to defeat. But once you start leveling up and gaining about 2 strength you may think how poor that is, but actually that plus two stat boost starts to notice hitting like almost 30 damage! That sure is a huge number two you did there.

Jokes aside, that is very confusing to the player to see your stats having small growth but having serious impact. At first you would not bother fighting cause how tedious it can be to level up but then here comes a boss and can take up to 10 mins in that fight due to low attack, so you can spend maybe an hour gaining 4 levels and then less time fighting a boss or having a long boss battle. One thing I should note is while you do get to find different weapons in dungeons, they seem to be specifically elemental to help defeat the upcoming enemies easier with their weakness, but the problem is there is more enemies in the area without any elemental weakness or even more resistant to the acquired weapon which once again is confusing to the player. Usually when you get a new weapon and see is stronger you imagine it should hit harder, but is confusing when it doesn't work on all of them. This basically becomes a game of trial and error with various weapons which can take time to remember all those things especially when is not clear between most of the enemies in the game.

The Verdict


Well after playing the game a few times all the way through, this game was a experience. The game succeeds in making the player adventure through a interesting story and compelling situations that is relatable to realistic morales. There is good times and bad times in both the game play and it's story. Story wise, this is probably the best reason to play the game, god simulation Action rpg game where you basically help create life, and help influence evolution of human technology, inventions, trade and other such realistic things. Gameplay wise it's unique for what it offered, not many games offered a full action based game with expanded game play through is RPG elements and presentation. If there is one problem with the game it is the difficulty. But don't let it stop you from trying the game. I can understand that the devs wanted to try something new with their game and probably wasn't experienced when it came to balance for the exp and stat growth, they probably saw the popularity of rpg growing and wanted to add it to the game. If you don't mind a challenge, then this game is for you. It isn't as bad as I make it seem but it is noticeable.


Honestly this would have been a good game to feature on Nintendo's Virtual Console or The Snes Classic in modern times world wide. Had they been able to obtain licensing to actually publish, it would fit well alongside such historical event games like Star Fox 2 or Earth Bound beginnings and Sin & Punishment. Research show that people who did have opportunity to play this game recommend it for release on modern systems to experience. While we don't know why it was never released in North America, or why our plea for the games ports or even what happened to the dev team after this and their other God simulation games, it might have made an impression on people who did play it.
+ Graphically impressive attention to details
+ Wonderfully orchestrated symphony of music
+ Interesting storytelling and presentation with unique concept
+ Innovative game play design expanded upon common concepts
- Not very well known game to many people
- Questionable translation
- Inconsistent difficulty spikes
10 Presentation
The graphics and sound is very high above average quality for snes games at the time. Being a late release in the system's glory showed how much can be done with the system as time progress and people come up with more ways to fit lots of stuff into a small data size. The presentation is very much about telling a story the player can feel compelled to complete with how interesting it can get. While a bit too intricate to some, you may come to appreciate it when you finally understand all of it.
6 Gameplay
While the idea of Action RPG was new way to remove slow turned based combat into more fast paced action that can be enjoyed with players who like more control and skill to the game, the rpg innovation was a problem I had. I have played other RPGs before this and most handle them well without it being too tough or too easy, this one has very problematic difficulty spikes and tedious need to gain levels at very slow rates to start noticing a very huge change in difficulty that isn't even related to what kind of stuff you can equip yourself with. Most may not agree but give it a try if you think I'm wrong.
8 Lasting Appeal
Playing this game again is always a experience, I played it several times and thought of ways that could be causing me some discomfort. While I think it maybe the RPG elements, it could also be I'm just a impatient person. The game is long. Even in one sitting could take hours. There is plenty of time where you are watching animated scenes or reading text, but that is what the game is about, telling a story which it does well. Even with the story being important, it doesn't forget it is still a game and continues to rapidly progress as one. One thing for sure, if you didn't fully understand the story the first time you may play it again to get better understanding of it.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
This is a rare game indeed, in terms of quality and content as well as its release. Taking inspiration from various games at the time, this seem to set out to be a huge deal but failed for some reason due to decline of the company perhaps. A game with impressive visuals, sound quality, story with more relevancy to real life than most games did, and gameplay that test your patience, didn't sell well for some reason makes me wonder why. Besides that I still think is one of the games people should experience just for the sake of having been a owner of SNES. Is one of the games that you suggest people to play even if most won't like or appreciate after trying but is the experience that matters , and that is why you do suggest a game like this.

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