A long time ago, during the 16-bit era to be precise, Enix was starting to become well-known for releasing games dealing with subjects like evolution, the growth of the planet, and the advancement of mankind. Actraiser and EVO: Search for Eden are two famous examples. The first one was developed by a company that had strong ties with Enix: Quintet. This same group made a series of three action RPGs, at least, they’re often called a series despite not really being one. The only thing tying them together is a similar game-structure, controls and themes. I’m talking about the Soul Blazer series consisting of Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma.
In Soulblazer you take the role of a servant of The Master (Gaia) sent down to Earth to destroy monsters and release the souls of all the living creatures of the world to restore peace. The regular world was destroyed by Deatholl (Dark Gaia) who imprisoned everyone inside of dungeons, leaving The Master’s world empty.
The story is incredibly simple and straight-forward, and the gameplay is not much different. When you find yourself in a town area for the first time, it’s usually empty. You make your way to the dungeons, killing monsters who spawn endlessly. Once you destroy their spawning points, you resurrect something in town. A house, villager, plant, animal, bridge… It could be anything. The Playstation 2 title Dark Cloud followed a similar idea, but explored it a bit further. Often times you reach a point in a dungeon where you can’t advance until you go back to town to get items or help from the people or animals you have just saved. Simple concept, but effective enough.
The story isn’t too great. Gameplay is extremely simple. And the game feels terribly dated and at some points bland. Still, it’s a start. Unless you’re really into old-school gaming, I wouldn’t recommend this one as strongly as I would the other two of the series. Not saying it’s a weak title by itself, but in comparison to what Quintet would do later on, it does feel lacking.
Illusion of Gaia
Illusion of Gaia sees you taking the role of Will, a young boy who managed to find his way back home after a failed expedition to the Tower of Babel with his father. It’s the Age of Exploration, and everyone is eager to find out the secrets behind the ruins and the many mysterious locations on the world. Since you’re the only person who made it back from the expedition to the Tower of Babel, the king requests your presence. With no memory or knowledge of what happened there, the king locks you up and has people search your house. In the meantime you get contacted by Gaia in a strange area called the Dark Space, where you’re told about a meteorite, a remnant of the Blazer War, heading right for Earth and some vague instructions on how to stop it from ending life on the planet.
The game takes a completely different route than Soul Blazer, but if you have played that, you’ll notice there are quite a few familiar elements to the game. There’s a few references acknowledging the previous title, and the basic controls are largely the same. Illusion of Gaia has a lot more depth to offer though. More moves, shape-shifting, as well as a deeper plot dealing with some of the darker sides of human nature, which unfortunately is dragged down a bit by awkward SNES-era dialogue and pacing. Still, in every way Illusion of Gaia is a superior title to Soul Blazer.
In the third and final entry to the series, you play as a young boy called Ark, growing up in a small town called Crysta. One day a voice calls you down to the basement. Once there you find a small box with a strange creature sealed inside of it. Upon opening it, the entire village gets frozen in time and you are sent to a series of dungeon to unfreeze all the villagers. As you cure them of their frozen state, you also resurrect the continents on the surface world, as Crysta is located inside the Earth’s core. After resurrecting all the continents, you are sent topside to bring back the flowers, trees, animals and humans. Then finally you get to help humans advance and develop until they reach the stage we are currently at.
The game is a lot more like Illusion of Gaia than it is like Soulblazer, but with far more polish to it. Everything from the control scheme, musical score, story telling and just basic game mechanics just puts the game at the top of the series. And not just the top of the series, it’s right there at the top of the SNES’s action RPG library. Although that is a small library to be at the top tier of. The only fault I can think of Terranigma would be the way dungeons are spread over the game. The second half seems lacking of them at points, whereas the start is almost overflowing with dungeons.
If you haven’t played any of the Soul Blazer titles yet, you really should. All three games in the series are amongst the highlights of the SNES library. It´s a shame that Quintet isn´t around these days anymore. A company like that could have flourished with the current hand-held climate.