We’re living in a great age for retro games getting a new lease on life thanks to modern rereleases, enhanced ports and all manner of other goodness. And, delightfully, it’s not just the same old games getting rereleased over and over again (with a couple of exceptions, of course) — we’re seeing some obscure or expensive games getting brought back from the dead, too.
Which is why I think it’s high time we saw a resurrection of the four games in Quintet’s “Heaven and Earth” series. Because they’re excellent, and more people deserve to play them. Plus, both the original publisher (Square Enix, or just Enix back then) and the original developer (in the form of Shade) are still around today, so it’s plausible that this could actually happen.
So here’s why it should!
Soul Blazer, the first of the Heaven and Earth series by Quintet, first came out on Super NES in 1992 as a spiritual successor to ActRaiser (which, while we’re on, it’d also be nice to see brought back). Your aim in Soul Blazer is to rebuild barren wastelands into thriving towns and villages. In order to do this, you must delve into dungeons, defeat monsters, seal monster generators and rescue lost souls.
Upon rescuing lost souls, all sorts of different things happen. Some provide you with special abilities; some unlock deeper areas of the dungeon; some restore parts of the town and the people who live there. In the latter case, between dungeon dives you can, of course, go and interact with the people (and cats and dogs) of the town and get some information — and perhaps some helpful items, too.
Soul Blazer’s hack and slash gameplay seems initially quite simplistic, but as the game progresses and you’re confronted with a greater variety of enemies and bosses, there’s plenty of hidden depth to enjoy. Plus the game has one of the most unusual soundtracks you’ll ever hear, thanks to the highly creative work of Japanese singer-songwriter Yukihide Takekawa.
Between ActRaiser and Soul Blazer, Quintet established a name for themselves as producers of excellent, interesting games that provided distinctive twists on established formulae. And it only got better from there.
Illusion of Gaia
Quintet followed up Soul Blazer in 1993 with Illusion of Gaia, known as Illusion of Time in PAL territories for some reason. While it has some thematic similarities with Soul Blazer, in that it explores ideas of death and reincarnation and the juxtaposition between creation and destruction, Illusion of Gaia de-emphasises the “rebuilding” aspect of its predecessor in favour of more action-based gameplay.
Although often regarded by some as a Zelda clone, Illusion of Gaia lacks a free-roaming element and instead unfolds in a linear fashion as you progress through its various dungeons. This keeps the story flowing, and means that Illusion of Gaia is still well-regarded today as one of the better Super NES titles with a narrative focus — particularly as it tackles some weighty themes over the course of its runtime.
Illusion of Gaia features an interesting character progression system in that you don’t grind for experience; instead, completely clearing a room of enemies for the first time rewards you with a gem that increases one of your base stats. As you continue through the game, protagonist Will also gains the opportunity to transform into other shapes, each of which have their own abilities.
Illusion of Gaia is one of the best looking games on the SNES and would absolutely hold up well in a rerelease package today.
The third entry in the original Heaven and Earth trilogy by Quintet, Terranigma is an extremely fondly regarded Super NES title that has become very sought after in recent years. Originally released in 1995, Terranigma marks something of a return to the “creation” aspect seen in Soul Blazer and ActRaiser; this was a deliberate attempt to do something a bit different to the “destructive” tendencies of other games available at the time.
Terranigma combined the exploration of complex dungeons with satisfying hack-and-slash combat and an expanded “sim” element, where completing sidequests and activities in the villages and towns you encounter over the course of the story helps to boost their economies and connections with other settlements. This, in turn, makes the towns’ facilities more useful to you in various ways.
Due to its release very late in the Super NES lifespan — by 1995, Sony’s PlayStation had already dragged a lot of people into the “next generation” — Terranigma remained largely obscure until the rise of the Internet, particularly as it only ever got a European release outside of Japan.
Interestingly enough, a rerelease of this one specifically seems the most likely to happen — mostly because there’s been a fairly successful petition doing the rounds requesting that such a thing happen, and it has the support of art director Kamui Fujiwara and composer Miyoko Kobayashi. If you’d like to add your name to the list, check it out here.
The Granstream Saga
Shortly after the release of Terranigma in 1995, graphic designer Koji Yokota left Quintet to form his own development company, and took Quintet co-founder Tomoyoshi Miyazaki with him. Miyazaki was a noteworthy figure because he was the designer and writer of the three prior “Heaven and Earth” games.
Quintet continued to operate until the early 2000s — their last games included a PS2 adaptation of the InuYasha manga and anime series, plus some behind-the-scenes contributions to titles like Gust’s Atelier Iris series — but the soul of Quintet had very much been transferred to this new company, which became known as Shade. And their first title was to be a spiritual successor to Terranigma for the new PlayStation platform.
The Granstream Saga, as the new game was known, was historically significant for a few reasons. It was one of the first console RPGs to feature a fully polygonal environment with polygonal characters; it featured real-time combat rather than turn-based battles; and in many respects, this rather deliberately paced, methodical fighting, with its strong focus on dodging and blocking, can be seen as a precursor to FromSoftware’s later work.
The Granstream Saga delivered a solid, dramatic narrative with some delightful characters, but suffered in reviews when critics of the time compared it unfavourably to mainstays of the era such as Final Fantasy, Suikoden and Breath of Fire. Reading these reviews now, it’s very clear that many of these reviewers didn’t spend a lot of time with the game, so it’s long overdue a second chance at success.
As noted above, the most likely of these to happen would be a Terranigma rerelease if the petition comes to anything — but it sure would be great to see a complete “Heaven and Earth” collection on a single Switch cart or PS4 disc. Be sure to show your support if that’s something you’d like to see happen!
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