Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Experience Points 04: A Trilogy(Quadrilogy) Forgotten

Experience Points 04: Side Story Special
The Gaia/Blazer/Creation "Series"

The state of RPG's in North America was rather strange in the early 1990's.  While Squaresoft and some other companies were having huge success in this region, it seemed like Enix(not yet a part of Square) could not seem to find any real success here.  This lead sometimes to a smaller release in Europe of a title they had gone to the trouble of translating, but not sure about spending the money to market it in the busy North American store front.

Here in the West, there is a set of games that are commonly referred to as "The Gaia" series.  Illusion of Gaia was a popular game among my friends of this time as it was comparable to Secret of Mana and higher quality than Secret of Evermore.  Because of the large audience, and copious amounts of advertising in magmazines, Illusion of Gaia is the game that the series is defined under even though it was not the start.  The start was a game called Soul Blazer, while the end of the SNES trilogy was Terranigma(kind of, more on that later).  Both of those last 2 were sold only in the Euro market, never released here.  A lot of people, even Illusion of Gaia fans, do not realize it is part of a larger series of games.

Quintet was Enix's "go to" developer near the early days of the SNES.  They started with the superb Actraiser, an action side scroller that managed to incorporate "Sim City" like game play, at least that's what I called it back when it was new.  Now we would say it has Real-time Strategy elements.  They would go on to make many games in the SNES era, and trickle out  a few in later consoles.  Their height for sure was the SNES.

Soul Blazer is the least amazing looking of the 3, and I found it to be a little stiff, but it probably has my favorite gameplay.  In Soul Blazer you are given the task of finding and liberating a soul that is important to an area, and after liberating it, you start seeing the town grow and mature over time.  Its concept is sort of in the same vein as Actraiser, and indeed some say the games are simpley "Quintet" games, with common themes among all of them instead of being a well defined trilogy.

Illusion of Gaia was made a bit differently than most action RPG's.  There is a linearity to it, leaving previously visited areas of the game unreachable for the rest of the game, this gets rid of the traditional "sandbox" style of gameplay that is expected with this genre.  It uses multiple characters with different skills and instead of levels you get bonuses as you complete content fully in the game.

The masterpiece of the series(and though I've not played Robotrek) and Quintet's crowning achievement was Terranigma.  Again the protagonist rescues a dying world that has been devastated by a war between 2 gods, and instead of rescuing towns like in Soul Blazer, you're reviving entire sections of a world.  Until I saw the "chip" enhanced games Tales of Phantasia and Star Ocean, I chose Terranigma as the most impressive 2-D achievement on the SNES, the game is beautiful.

The "series" has its own Enigma, one I had not realized despite it being a personal favorite of mine.  There is a game called Granstream Saga, a game I rented and later had to own myself.  In the early days of the Playstation, many games were 3-D-kinda-sorta, but not.  One of the first fully polygon RPG's I played was Granstream Saga, and it had beautiful anime cutscenes to help the story along.  This game was also made by Quintet, and carries with it a lot of the re-occurring themes, NPC's, areas, and stylings of the "Gaia Series".  Is it a part of the series?  I leave that up to you.  I am personally on the fence on if it is or not.

If you are a fan of overhead Legend of Zelda and Secret of Mana games, this series is a must play.  While they fall short at various points to being as good as those series, they all have enough great gameplay and awe inspiring(for the era) sequences.  By the time you get to Terranigma, they are doing some things that just aren't seen in some games, and by then were pros at using the hardware.  The Trilogy is only a loose one, so you do not need to start at the beginning, you can choose where you want to start and go from there.  Sometimes the "2nd tier" of a genre gets thrown to the wayside because the "best" is a foregone conclusion, but unfortunately this close mindedness can have missing some incredible games.  Give them a shot.

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