Terranigma is a game that doesn’t quite deliver on its promise, but what promise–and what an opening. That SNES faux-orchestral swell just about knocks me over every time I start up the game.
Though it plays like a lonelier, more meditative Secret of Mana, Terranigma has a premise that’s far more ambitious than its more polished contemporary. It shares DNA with Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia, and all three games in the series have themes of reincarnation and rebuilding and exploring a broken world, but Terranigma takes these themes to places much darker and larger in scope than almost anything else in the 16-bit era, going toe-to-toe in the “epic melodrama” department with even juggernauts like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger.
Unfortunately, Terranigma’s story isn’t told nearly as well as most of Squaresoft’s catalog (and even after its acquisition by Square, Enix’s stories continued to have better premises than they delivered on– see Star Ocean: Til the End of Time), and a lot of the potential drama is lost in a ho-hum translation and inexpressive characters. Nevertheless, the story–about a boy who leaves home to singlehandedly restore all life on Earth and all human civilization, ends up having several effective twists.
Terranigma exists at that curious nexus where half the story is told, and not told very well, but the spaces in between, if filled in by a player with a flair for the dramatic and a willingness to invest, could well be one of the most compelling narratives in gaming. It’s certainly difficult to think of another game that matches it in scope.