Thursday, July 3, 2014

My Top 13 Favorite Ninty 16-bit Games from 1994

Written: July 1st-3rd, 2014
All right, time to finally get this thing going!
Some entries will have screenshots I took while others will have box covers
 
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit... and rightfully so.  =)  For my newest countdown I wanted to focus on my favorite Super Famicom and Super Nintendo games that were made in 1994.  Why that year in particular?  Well, since the current year is 2014 I thought it appropriate to spotlight some games that are going to celebrate their 20th anniversary, including some really good classics.  And while 1994 isn't a bad choice for a countdown, it may also be one that will strike as more disappointing towards readers, since (as many good games that came out that year) I didn't play many games from that time that I thought were all that great; at least compared to the SFC/SNES titles that I played that were made in say 1992, 1993, or 1995 (in which case there were tons of great titles).  =(  But, you know, so be it; and if I'm in the mood perhaps I'll make a countdown for those (don't know if they'll be a "Top 13" though).
 
Now before I begin I should point out the specific rules for this recent countdown.  The games had to have been made in 1994 in order to qualify (even if was released in 1995 in the West it must've been made in 1994 first) and unless it came out the same year as the original version ports will not be counted at all; and I had to have played them in their original square ratio for them to count (so if anyone is wondering why Final Fantasy VI isn't on it it's because currently speaking I played it on the Game Boy Advance;... a mistake I aim to rectify in the future, just to let everyone know in advance).  Some of my summaries might be longer than others when it comes to certain titles, but hey, I guess that's what happens when I'm passionate about games.  *shrugs*  If there are some games that you like but find that they're not on my countdown, it's either because I didn't play them or I did play them but I didn't think they made the cut.  Feel free to ask if that seems to be the case.
 
<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>
 
So without further ado let's commence my Top 13 Favorite Ninty 16-bit Games from 1994 countdown, but first here are some honorable mentions: =)
 
HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Developed and Published by: Hudson Soft
 
The first time I remember being acquainted with Fievel Mousekewitz's adventures was not from watching the original 1986 animated film by Don Bluth (which I haven't seen in a very long time) but through its 1991 theatrical sequel Fievel Goes West via VHS in the mid-'90s, which I remembered having watched a lot when I was a little kid.  I recently saw the movie again a few years ago and I still think it holds up (even if it's not perfect I do still enjoy it).  So when I heard that there was a video game adaptation for the SNES, I just could not believe it as I had never heard of it until around 2008, I think.  After having experienced it years ago I think it's a very decent sidescrolling platformer in its own right.  The controls are mostly good although the jumping takes a bit to accustom to, particularly when it comes to platforms moving up and down.  The visuals are really good (albeit adequate; gotta love the sizzling sand effects in the desert and the seamless rain effects in the start of the game) and for the most part they're very faithful to the movie its based on, and so are the locales (albeit with inaccurate events), which is a big plus in my book (none of that adding new places that weren't in the movie just to give it length nonsense, I like that).  I enjoy the fact that Fievel attacks with his popping cork gun, and depending on how many power-ups you have you can utilize it up to three times.  Another element that I feel adds replay value is that even though there's only one difficulty setting, you can choose whether to take the high road or the low road leading to the same exit.  Nice touch.  The music is good, and while I admit to being disappointed by the fact that Hudson Soft didn't recreate any of James Horner's themes from the movie, they're not bad by themselves.  Several of them have got odd jazz themes, but what I feel to be the best song in the game personally occurs during the title... and it gets cut off not halfway through!  I don't get it; in the game it plays for about forty-six seconds before forcefully fading to the demo (there is no options screen and no way to bypass that), but if you listen to it on YouTube there is actually a really beautiful song hidden in the composition.  Why cut it so soon?
It's a bit on the easy side, and while it is cute there isn't much in the way of charm (no stationary pose, just Fievel closing and opening his eyes as if he's got a tick), and there are some elements that I wished showed up in the movie (like Tiger, for instance, but instead he's a just a cameo).  Wylie Burp has got a way of magically appearing on top of canyon tops when he shouldn't, saying the same thing to you until the end stage (and don't ask what that swirly blue vapor in front of him is, because I have absolutely no idea).  Still, despite its shortcomings it's not a bad game, and I do still enjoy playing it once in awhile in the forty-something minutes it lasts.  It's too bad that it came out when it did, as Fievel's popularity began to wade at the time (it also didn't help that it competed with Beauty and the Beast in its theatrical run; yyyyeah, any animated feature going up against either DreamWorks, PIXAR, or Disney at the same time has got no chance... I mean, that's the same thing that's happened in 2001 with Richard Rich's The Trumpet of the Swan and DreamWorks' Shrek or in 2002 with Nickelodeon's Hey Arnold! The Movie and Disney's Lilo and Stitch... the irony of this is that Hudson Soft also created a video game adaption of Disney's classic three years after the movie came out).  It's too bad that there aren't many games with Fievel in it, because I honestly think they could work (perhaps create some adventures which fit in the time period; though I recently found out there were two more video game adaptations based on this movie).  There was also a shortlived animated series that took place after the movie, but I never really saw it (though I hear that it's meh).  Sorry, I've trailed on long enough with this one.  =(
 
Image from Wikipedia
Alternate Name: Rockman X2 [|O|]
Developed and Published by: Capcom
For the longest time the only Blue Bomber game that I genuinely cared about was the first Mega Man X, but recently I gave the original series a chance and I ended up liking them as well (some more than others).  I personally would've been happy if Mega Man X reamined a solitary title, but obviously that wasn't going to be the case as there were loose ends to be tied, like the threatening Sigma video message in the end credits of the predecessor, so obviously he's back.  The controls and visuals are still good (the C4 chip-driven effects were neat), but the soundtrack takes a step backwards (which is a common trait for "first sequels"; the only exceptions I could think of which improved upon the first entry's music are Jaws 2, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, Thor: The Dark World, Mega Man II, and I think a few others as well).  I like how this game's got the Shoryuken secret power up much like the first game had the secret Hadouken power up, which I feel is a nice touch.  There are three secondary villains, which is cool I suppose but I don't really care about; it's nice that they resurrected Zero even after he sacrified himself for X in the first game.  I guess my main beef with this entry was that it was a little more of the same (only you can dash from the get-go), and yet some people find it better than the original X which I don't get (and there's no problem if you do, I'd just like to know why).  At least it was fun while it lasted; it's better than Mega Man X3 at least, it's better than Mega Man VI, it's better than the two arcade fighting games, and I thought it was most definitely better than Mega Man VII (which slightly depressed me because I wanted so much to like it but couldn't).
 
Image from MobyGames
Developed by: Probe Software | Published by: Fox Interactive
The Pagemaster is one of those childhood favorite movies of mine, and one that I enjoy as a guilty pleasure.  I know it's got its issues, but I still like it to this day.  Now, any time I wanted to see the movie on VHS there was a always a commercial that showed the video game adaptations for the SNES, MegaDrive/Genesis, and Game Boy versions which I've always been curious and excited about (funny thing: The Pagemaster was one of the first simultaneous movie-to-game releases ever, which is awesome).  Flashforward a decade and a half later when I finally played the SNES game adaptation, I was super excited.  And persnoally speaking all those years of waiting were worth it as it's a fairly good game.  The animation is downright smooth and beautiful, and much of the visuals are impressive (in particular the stages in the Horror section with the fog and gradient effects).  One of the things I liked about the movie was James Horner's soundtrack, and while none of his cues are present in the game (bummer), the soundtrack's pretty good on its own.  The only downsides I could think of that bog this game down a little are the somewhat slippery controls (but they can be worked around), the fact that there aren't many passwords (but the game is manageable), and the fact that it's not really that hard (plus its areas are short too).  There's still a lot of fun open-endedness when exploring the individual areas, I like the Mode 7-driven bonus segments as well as some of the soundbytes lifted from the movie, and there is an alternate ending (sort of) if you manage to collect all eight library cards which helps lend it some replay value.  It's not perfect, but like the movie I enjoy it for what it is: a guilty pleasure.  =)
 
Image from MobyGames
Developed by: Beam Software | Published by: Activision
Okay, this is one of those guilty pleasure titles for me.  It's not great but it's not bad either, plus it's got a (goofy-looking) skateboard-riding dinosaur, how could anyone not like that?  Okay, so there are some problems, I'll admit: Rex looks way to goofy even for a cartoonishly lighthearted game, the bonus areas with the pogostick are a little hard to control, it only starts off with one continue, and it must be beaten in one sitting (which is a burn).  But there are things to like about it I feel; I think it's got a bit of charm going for it.  The stages are fairly deccent to look at and the soundtrack lends the world its atmosphere; Rex does ride his skateboard but he doesn't keep it forever.  There is a boss which is a little cheap to beat later on but it requires careful patterns in order to overcome his attacks which can be a bit strenuous; the title sequence is catchy with the soundbyte "Radical Rex".  I know it's not really a game that will be on anyone's top list, but hey: would you rather play the original version which has you face a human wizard or the two Sega versions which have got a giant gopher for a villain?  I guess I lucked out here, heh heh.
 
With all that out of the way, let's now officially start the countdown!  =)
 
#13
Image from Wikipedia
Developed and Published by: Capcom
With the newest X-Men movie having come out recently (and the fact that we'll see Apocalypse in the big screen two years from now), of course I was going to include this.  This is basically the result of Final Fight crossed with X-Men on a single plane, and it works.  This is clamored to be based on the '90s animated series, and for the most part it is... with the exception of Psylocke, who was not in the X team in the series and she made her appearance late in the series two years after this game came out (but then, this is comics territory, and if I didn't know any better I would say that it's fan service... how surprising that Rogue is not a playable character here then).  But that's just a nitpick; every X-Men has their tactics, strengths, and weakness; such as Wolverine, Gambit, and Cyclops.  The visuals are colorful and detailed, as par for the course for Capcom, and the controls are very decent.  I also get a kick out of the area designs, and the different Sentinels that you fight look fantastic.  If there are issues I have it's that there aren't many gameplay modes, it's very short, and there aren't many Sentinels in the fight.  It's too bad, really, because the game was really this close to being great.  But for what I got here, I can't help but like it.  It's action-based fun!  =)
 
#12
Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken
Developed by: GRC | Published by: Tomy | [|O|]
It may not be in league with Capcom's Mickey's Magical Adventure trilogy, but GRC's Japan-exclusive platformer, taking place entirely in Tokyo's Disneyland, is a very good platformer in its own right.  It's got an atmospheric amount of charm because it takes place in a real place, and to see the individual Disneyland areas in video game format is nice!  The water/helium balloon concept is not a bad one, as it's actually a well thought out set of controls, but the execution is solid for the most part (it could've used some polish as there is a lot of proper timing that's involving, even in moments where you have to launch yourself up in the air consecutively; at least the controls can be worked around).  The regular jumping controls take some adjusting to do, and the swimming is a little off (though it is still possible to walk or run underwater too).  I don't get the purpose of the action when you press Select (all it does is make Mickey look directly at the fourth wall... why?  There's no reason for that).  But overall the controls are good.  Every area is charming, like the caverns with the pirates, the Waterland logrides, and the castles themselves.  The music is effective in its own right, right down to the surreal Tomorrowland theme, the decent boss themes, and the main ending/credits theme; the only song I don't particularly like is the one that takes place during Cinderella's Castle in the end due to how fiendishly designed, long, and hard that area is (I wouldn't mind if it wasn't overwhelming-sounding to begin with).  I like the interaction between Mickey and his friends between stages, and even though you fight against Pete most times (with a couple exceptions) he's still a competent adversary each time (especially his take on The Black Cauldron's Horned King in the end, which is by all accounts awesome and epic at the same time).
The ending is even extended if you finish the game in the harder difficulty setting, which is a big plus as it adds replay value.  Not to mention, it's a fairly challenging Mickey Mouse platformer for a change which I find refreshing (Mickey's Wild Adventure (PSX Mickey Mania) has got nothing on this).  While I do wish that the balloon controls could've been refined a little bit (as they're part of the reason this game is hard) I do still enjoy playing it every once in awhile.  It also gives you a good idea of what Disneyland is like, which is sweet.  Not great Mickey, but it comes really close.
 
#11
Developed by: Produce and Opus | Published by: Enix
This is one of those games that received little to no attention back in release, and it was also one of many Enix-released SNES RPGs, with the difference being that this was created by Produce--you know, The 7th Saga team.  I think this game had a lot of potential to be great, but there were several aspects that prevented that from happening.  The game starts with the main character Remeer saying goodbye to his father, who not only is never seen again afterwards but is not referenced either so what was the point of that?  There are moments when slowdown is occuring when there isn't that much going on onscreen, which is real bothersome; I think the Japanese version might have smoother flow, though I don't know about that, since I haven't tried that yet.  The translation is awful too, with very big mistakes I can't believe they didn't catch (like "Boink!" in the cave; now there's your reason to not release it in Europe right there), and one of them is even early on in the experience (a lot of others make no sense).  Dammit, [Robert L.] Jerauld, you had one job!  XD  The game is very short too, with only five dungeons and two cities (taking at least seven to eight hours to beat), and to make things worse: there is no replay value once it's over.  I have to wait a while (a year at best) to play it again, which is a shame because among the low quality aspects of it I still believe there are elements that make it worthwhile while it lasts.  The soundtrack is very interesting to listen to, as it doesn't sound at all like something you'd hear from an SNES console, but even then there are some very noteworthy songs from it, like the desert area, the Ice Palace, and the epic-sounding Platinum Shrine.  Another cool detail is how there is a pull-down menu system, another thing you rarely see in an SNES RPG; plus along the way you find various weapons which you can use to your advantage (like the morning star and the boomerang).  There are Jade fairies too that accompany you, but only three are worth taking as the others are completely useless.
One complaint I often hear about this game is that "it's hard", and honestly, having played through this game several times, I don't buy that and I still struggle to understand why such a claim is made.  It's not the dungeon designs, for they're maneuverable and easy to navigate (with the exception of the pitch black rooms in the Platinum Shrine which you must feel your way through, but even then you can get through that); it's not the enemies for they can be fought; and it's not the bosses for they're very easy to beat with the proper equipment (even the grotesque-looking final boss).  The only reasons I can think of for people making that claim is that there is a lot of back and forth, trial and error in rooms with buttons having to be pushed at once to open the door, and the fact that there are puzzle plaques all throughout.  I don't think they're impossible at all, and all of them I've figured out on my own, with a couple of exceptions (one of the ones being the room in the Ice Palace where you have to press the X button to open it; how would anyone know that when the plaque was so cryptic about it?).  My first playthrough took me a while, but the more I played Brain Lord the less time I took to beat it, and part of that is due my photographic memory.  Personally, I find the game to be very easy, and I recently beat it in just one life; which proves that its claims of "being hard and impossible" are completely exaggerated... not so for The 7th Saga.  It's a very manageable game, and despite its many imperfections there is something that appeals to me about this game.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is something charming to me about Remeer's adventures despite its obviously generic structure.  There is even an arena where monsters battle, that's awesome; and I like the very many different-looking shields you find.  Brain Lord may be cerebral and lacking in overall challenge, and it may look and feel a bit generic, but I love it all the same; even though technically I know it's not a very good game!  XD  But hey, that's what guilty pleasures are for.
 
#10
Image from Wikipedia
Alternate Name: Super Donkey Kong [|O|]
Developed by: Rareware | Published by: Nintendo
On one hand, Donkey Kong Country is a tech demo, something that showcases a console's graphical and sound capabilities while not offering much in terms of length and challenge (which usually garners a love-it or hate-it affair from many that play it; I mean just look at what happened with the SNES port of Drakkhen for example).  And while it does kinda fall under that category, on the other hand, it is still a very fun game all these years later.  This is one of those games that I remembered playing a lot when I was little over at my relatives', and the gameplay is so much fun.  Its ACM-rendered visuals, while a little dated by today's standards, are fairly impressive considering when it came out, and a lot of the visual designs and locations are mesmerizing to behold.  One of the great things about this game was the fact that there were animal helpers, and sometimes you could play as them if you collected three of the same golden animal icon (my favorite was, is, and always will be Enguarde the Swordfish; Rambi's okay, but he's overrated).  What gives this game replay value is the branching pathways in each area that would lead to a secret, and some of them are actually pretty hard to get to (but are worth getting regardless).  The downside is that the boss battles are very easy and the game is (as I mentioned) very short, but it's fun while it lasts (if you want, you could try to gather everything for completion, which is quite a challenge).  The battle against King K. Rool is fun though, and there is a clever little fakeout during the middle of it and once that's done and the battle continues I'm like, "d'ooooh, Rare, you're sneaky!"  I always get a kick out of the interactions with Cranky Kong, always complaining about how modern games have been made easier than the retro titles and how things were better in the past (I just love that character, he's awesome!  And he's from the original Donkey Kong arcade game, which is also awesome).  Of course, I can't talk about the original Donkey Kong Country without bringing up David Wise's score, which is mindblowingly phenomenal (just listen to "Aquatic Ambience" if you don't believe me) and it augments a higher sense of tone and atmosphere seamlessly well.  For the most part, I'd say that Donkey Kong Country has aged well as a good game, buuuuuut it would be ousted the following year by the excellent and challenging (maybe too much for its own good) Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest.  ....................  Don't ask me what I thought of the Retro Studio-developed entries, 'cause I haven't played any of them.
 
#9
TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure
Alternate Name: Pop'n TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventures [|O|]
Developed and Published by: Konami | [|O|]
This entry is a stretch since both the Japanese and European versions came out in the year, and yet while the Japanese version's copyright says "1994", the European version's copyright says "1993".  Since the Japanese version came out first (albeit on a January), I'm inclined to believe that 1994 was indeed its year of inception.  A sequel of sorts to Pop'n TwinBee, this was the first of three spinoffs in the series that strayed far from the cute'em up formula: in this case, a platformer.  Sure, the TwinBee, WinBee, and GwinBee jets all have arms and legs, why shouldn't they star in a platformer?  And despite the different formula, the series' lighthearted charm is still intact here, with a few quirky bits here and there.  The world has got good pastel-toned areas, the sense of wonder and lightheartedness is fantastic, and while the controls do take a bit to click they're still very solid in their own right.  I liked the way that Konami combined elements of not only Rocket Knight Adventures (heh, same company) but also Sonic the Hedgehog and Bubsy of all games!  I mean, really, why would the lookaround feature be present otherwise?  What I also appreciate is the amount of replay value that is in here, for there are stages that have more than one exit, the endings vary depending on how many secrets you've uncovered, and if you find everything you'll get the best ending yet.  I love it!
I feel so bad for Europe since the version they received was the equivalent of receiving the short end of the stick, with various changes from the Japanese original (in the PAL version it was more linear, the dialogue before stages were cut out, there was a password feature as opposed to a battery save, and there were fewer endings than there were in the Japanese version).  Seriously, why does Westernization have to involve removing elements that made the game in the first place?  It's very unbecoming!  Despite its spinoff status it still has got a very good plot and it ties well into the mainstream cute'em up series; the main villain Dr. Warumon and his EvilBees would appear in TwinBee Yahho! (one of the greatest cute'em ups of all time) and Princess Melora from Detana!! TwinBee has to be saved once more.  The boss fights are very fun, and it's also fun searching every nook and cranny there is to find everything.  There is one boss fight where they actually cry once you win, and it is just the most humorously cutest defeat I've seen in awhile.  I mean, awwww!  There is even what I believe to be an homage to the Power Rangers in one of the later stages, which is awesome.  The final encounter with Dr. Warumon legitimately surprised me in the way it panned out, and I was like "Oh, no way!"  Yeah, I'd say Konami's done an incredible job with this one, and trying to get every single thing will prove to be a challenge.  It would've been better if it got an American release as well!  =(
 
#8
Developed and Published by: Natsume | Licensed by: Taito
As much as I dislike a lot of what's wrong with this game (that is its unenthusiastic translation, underwhelming storyline, slow dialogue during cutscenes, no stakes at all for the final battle, no sense of worldy threat, the title being a total misnomer in that it's Pocky all the time in the lead while Rocky is an optional ally, and the blatant Ganbare Goemon apporach that really bothers me), I still think it's a very competent follow-up to the first Nintendo 16-Pocky & Rocky.  I still like its environments, such as the October Fields and some of the music is actually really good.  The controls are good too, and I like the fact that you could cast magic to transform into your ally.  It offers a bit of challenge, but it's so much easier than the previous installment, espcially on Hard mode, and the reason is, save for a couple stages, your partner is almost always around you and you'll find yourself throwing them towards bosses in order to inflict a lot of damage.  It makes things a lot easier and it eliminates a lot of the challenge that was present in the last game; give the first game some credit, it at least tried to throw everything except the kitchen sink at you even on the easiest difficulty setting.  Here, things are a little slower paced in comparison; but even so it does offer new elements: a lot of the various allies you find have cool abilities (even the unlocked ones), and the fact that you have armor and can get bigger cards is cool.  Something this game does different than the first game is give you a few forks in the road, which lends it replay value even though the destination will be the same.  It's fun and its Japanese folklore is charming, but as a sequel I honestly felt that it both delivered and disappointed at the same time; but overall I thought it was good (though I don't think it's hundreds of dollars' worthy).  The final boss' pattern is so easy that you'll never get a game over during it; the final confrontation in Pocky & Rocky wasn't lenient with you at all.  For what it was though, I liked it and for what it's worth, it's fun while it lasts.  Oddly enough it got a Nintendo Power issued cartridge four years later, I still don't get that.  At least it's a better follow-up than Pocky & Rocky with Becky for the Game Boy Advance was... now that game was dumb!  >=P
 
#7
Image from Wikipedia
Alternate Name: Mother 2 [|O|]
Developed by: Ape and HAL Laboratory | Published by: Nintendo
This RPG is really curious, if I may say so myself.  It's funny and quirky, and it constantly breaks the fourth wall and makes in-jokes about the RPG formula, which I like.  It's very colorful and it's so unusual in terms of everything; but that's what makes it fun.  For a very long time I was intrigued from all the good things I heard about the game and once I eventually got to play it I genuinely enjoyed it.  There are lots of easter eggs and cameos too, which is sweet; and there's so much mystery behind it too.  If I'm having a hard time talking about it it's because I didn't get all that far in it as I only just played it a couple days after I got my Wii U on Christmas, plus I play lots of other games too which may be why, but so far I enjoy it.  But if the music, which doesn't sound all that bad, wasn't the cause for its delay in its re-release, then what the hell held it back!?  The fact that it was the only Mother game out of the trilogy that saw a release outside of Japan?!?  Thank God for the Nintendo Wii U eShop so gamers can play it without having to shell out hundreds if not thousands of dollars!  The battle system is neat, with the Dragon Quest-like approach adorned with psychedelic backgrounds and the hilarious descriptions of the enemy status and attacks (which I can't help but laugh at).  Locales and characters are pretty likable, and I can't wait to explore more.  It's weird man, but it's the good kind of weird.  =)
 
#6
Image from Wikipedia
Alternate Name: Kirby Bowl [|O|]
Developed by: HAL Laboratory | Published by: Nintendo
It's funny how what was initially going to be just a regular mini-golf game at one point became one of the greatest Kirby spin-offs ever made (next to Kirby's Star Stacker).  Kirby's first SNES game is also one of those games where HAL took advantage of Kirby's rotundness and utilized it in such a clever fashion that it's very fun to play (alongside Kirby's Pinball Land and Kirby's Block Ball).  And to me it works really well, and as far as spinoffs go, this is one of the most addicting ones to play.  I like the way that the controls were implemented, the Marble Madness-inspired courses look colorful, and the various areas look great!  It's hard to make a hole in one shot as the trajectory shots have to be carefully planned out, and I love how some games require these types of strategies (for it adds a lot of replay value).  As fun as it is, the only real issue I have is the final boss King Dedede; it's way too easy.  The first time I played this game (and Kirby Super Star) was back in 2005 at a friend's house after having escaped Hurricane Rita, and I remember how two-player mode was a blast and how we would try to knock each other out or how the playable Kirby would fall asleep and skip a turn if he's out of tomato health.  *sigh*  I miss that.  <=)  I played this game a lot at the time (more than the other aforementioned Kirby game) and it quickly became one of my favorites.  Still one of my favorites now, it's really great.
 
#5
Alternate Name: Mickey & Minnie: Magical Adventure 2 [|O|]
Developed and Published by: Capcom
Some claim that the middle chapter of the Mickey's Magical Adventure trilogy is inferior to its predecessor The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse, and yeah, admittedly in some ways it is.  The game is more grounded to reality and has a story more akin to that of a comic book (there's nothing wrong that, if you were reading a comic), the name wasn't chosen properly as the circus takes place primarily in the first stage while the mystery isn't really all that great or mysterious (it's Pete, duh!), the soundtrack is too lightweight and not that imposing (though a few of the songs are legitimately good), the buildup is weak, and there was nowhere near as much magic as was present before (yet the Japanese version and GBA remake retained that in the title).  A common complaint I hear about this game is that it's a lot like The Magical Quest, only Minnie's along for the ride, and yeah, it's not hard to see why if you've played both games.  For me personally, where it stoops at its lowest is the cameo with Emperor Pete, and while I admit that it's not a bad fight with a cameo, all it does is painfully remind me of the first game's ending which I did not appreciate at all.  Aside from all those negative points, I personally thought The Great Circus Mystery was a big improvement over The Magical Quest, and it was the first game I'd played out of the two.
I thought the visuals and animations were more lively and polished than before (not that it wasn't in the first game), the areas felt more even in terms of length, and the payoff was actually rewarding and not a hard slap to the face despite its weak buildup.  There was still a bit of atmosphere and depth in the areas, in particular the tower segment in the Haunted House which looks amazing when seen in motion and totally blows the tower segments from Super Ghouls'n Ghosts, Skyblazer, and even Mickey's Wild Adventure out of the water.  The thing I also liked was the fact that now the final boss had two forms, which made things more interesting.  It's the easiest of the trilogy, but it's fun nonetheless and I always enjoy playing it despite its glaring issues.  Jumping controls aren't anywhere near as bad as Lisa made them out to be in 2003's Game Informer magazine, I don't know what she's talking about (she never even elaborated on that statement).  Capcom's best Disney game would come out the following year and combine all the best elements from both games to create the best Nintendo 16-bit Mickey platformer: Mickey & Donald: Magical Adventure 3=)
 
#4
Image from Wikipedia
Developed and Published by: Konami
This series as a whole is fascinating, not only for its cult following but for its underappreciated charm and playability, replayability even.  Not only was this the only Nintendo-made game with Sparkster as a main character, but also the only spin-off (which got the same name as the MegaDrive/Genesis sequel to the first game).  Now I just want to point that I've only played this game and Rocket Knight Adventures, which I thought was okay and fun enough (I think it shows that I got to that game very late in my life).  Now SNES Sparkster, on the other hand, is a magnificent gem that's got fast-paced gameplay and adrenaline pumping entertainment going for it.  The visuals are crisp and smooth (I especially love the watery reflection at the bottom of the first sage), and all the animation rocks; despite its high speed at times it doesn't really affect the frame rate all that much, which is a plus in my book.  The soundtrack is beautifully epic and adventurous, and Sparkster is such a likable and versatile possum.  His rocket power doesn't take very long to get used to, I like the laser sword that he wields, and the fact that he hangs by his tail when it comes to branches and pipes makes it all the more charming.  All the areas are well designed and creative, like the maze inside the pyramid and the instrument-laden area and throughout there is a good sense of challenge.  There is also a lot of replay value as there are different endings depending on the setting that you play, and the harder the difficulty setting the longer the game will be.  To me this is one of the best games that Konami has made, and it still befuddles me how none of the games in the series has ever been remade or rereleased.
Image from Wikipedia
It's not like they're based on licensed material, they're not, and I don't see what's holding them back from doing so.  Konami's not the kind of company I think of that would give complete priority to one game or series while snubbing others; much like how Square-Enix is with ActRaiser which for them takes precedence over all the five other Quintet games which have never once since release have been ported or rereleased (they're basically saying "Screw everything else, ActRaiser's the only important game they made, it's not like people demand them or anything!  Screw anyone that believes otherwise!!"  That kind of mentality really upsets me, since all of Quintet's games should be treated with equal importance despite some games being better than others; Tenchi Sōzō--Terranigma to all--being the zenith of them all and Robotrek being the nadir of the lot in my opinion).  And that's the key word: "demand".  People have been begging and begging and begging Konami for a port, remake, or rerelease of the three Rocket Knight Adventures games, but they've never done it.  Why?  You'd think that they would deliver and offer customer/gamer satisfaction by doing so, and cartridges do not last forever (unless you take good care of them).  You'd think that it would be in Konami's best interest to introduce the current generation of gamers who cannot afford an SNES or MegaDrive/Genesis these games with Sparkster in it, considering that they'd done it with pretty much all their non-licensed material of the past.  But no, instead we get the belated third game in the series Rocket Knight from several years back, and from what I hear it was uninspired crap.  Such a shame, because this series deserves so much better.  =(
 
#3
Image from Wikipedia
Developed and Published by: Nintendo
There is really nothing I could say about this gem that hasn't already been said a million times before, it's just that good.  But if I may say something: I was first introduced to Samus not in a Metroid game, but when I played Super Smash Bros. with my relatives as she was a playable character there.  But when I eventually got to see her in a Metroid title, I was blown away by its eerily atmospheric indepthness.  This was the first game in the series that I played, though I don't remember having played too much of it; I did get more into it when I played it again several years later as a teen and I loved it.  I love its Alien-inspired tone, the gameplay is a blast as you gradually earn new capabilities with for your suit and arm cannon (not just for survival but to progress further), and the plethora of secrets to find is phenomenal in terms of the various ways to get to them.  This is one of the most detailed-looking games you'll find on the SNES, its sense of atmosphere is ominous and eerie, plus the boss battles are just great (especially the last one against Mother Brain which is epic).  And that's the keyword that befits all of Super Metroid: "epic".  There is a lot of replay value whether it be how much you can gather in your quest and how long it takes for you to fulfill it as you're timed.  The epic feeling lingers throughout, and the payoff is absolutely perfect.  My number one favorite Metroid of all time, with Metroid Fusion being a close second (never played the second Metroid, which is weird since I was interested in that game since 2002, and the fact that I haven't experienced it yet just boggles my mind).  Again, there's really nothing more to say; every praise you hear about this game is completely and 100% true.  =)  If you haven't played this game yet, then shame on you.
 
#2
Gokujō Parodius! ~Kako no Eikō o Motomete~
Developed and Published by: Konami | [|O|]
I think the best way to describe Konami's Parodius cute'em up series would be that it's essentially the video game equivalent of LSD.  I mean, all the ridiculously over-the-top and risque wackiness was intentionally implemented, and all the while these crazy shenanigans are going on you honestly cannot help but wonder what substance they've had in order to make this possible.  Not much of anything makes sense and you're wondering what is even going on while laughing at the same time, although to be fair: maybe that's the entire point.  Same holds true for this Parodius installment, which quickly became one of my favorites the moment I played it.  I love it just as much as the predecessor which I played on the Game Boy, even more I should say.  Who wouldn't want to play a parody of a serious shoot'em up (Gradius in this case), and who wouldn't want to play as Pentarou, Upa Upa, Vic Viper, TwinBee, or even Takosuke the octopus?  The cast of characters is great, yet for some reason the Rocket Knight himself Sparkster isn't a playable character (why?  Konami proved in Rocket Knight Adventures that he would fit in a shoot'em up perfectly; hell, a whole stage is dedicated to that paying homage to Gradius.  What makes this so different??).  Everything is wacky and nonsensical, right down to the story (oh wait, there is none, never mind), some of the area designs in the backdrop and foreground, and even the music takes a wacky jab at famous music with hilariously over-the-top instrumentation that I cannot help but chuckle.  The ending music is so serious-sounding considering all the silliness that occurs that it's the most hysterical thing ever.  There is even a post-credit stage to play too, which adds to the replay value (aside from the eleven characters and seven difficulty settings), and there's the obligatory Moai heads abound (as Konami always likes to include in their shoot'em ups and cute'em ups).  I love it, man, one of my top favorites; it's more manageable than a regular shoot'em up is, but the latter difficulty settings amp up the difficulty a lot.  =D
 
And my #1 favorite Ninty 16-bit game made in 1994 is:
Wagyan Paradise
Developed and Published by: Namco | [|O|]
Wagyan Paradise (or the whole Wagyan series for that matter) may be very obscure to most Western games, but essentially what they are are hybrid games where you have to go through a platforming stage and then have to fight a boss in the end via one of several puzzles.  After playing the near-excellent Super Wagyan Land and the disappointing Super Wagyan Land 2 back to back beforehand (I got all three in a bundle; but not beat them the first day), I not only was pleasantly surprised by Wagyan's Super Famicom swansong iteration, but it is a game that I become enamored of every time I play it.  This game is so cute and charming, with a neat little storyline going for it, some of the most impressive parallax scrolling I've seen in a 16-bit platformer, plus it's got the most atmospheric and in-depth pastel toned color scheme I've seen in a long time.  Namco outdid themselves here, and as far as I'm concerned this is the best non-arcade game they've ever made.  As simple and not very complex as the platforming segments are, they're still fun to explore, and it makes up for that with various puzzles.  In the other Wagyan games there was this one puzzle called "shiritori" which is a complex puzzle where you must connect an image that begun with the syllable or kanji that the previous one landed in.  This one doesn't have that, but it does have a few kanji-relevant puzzles whereas most of them are rather simple but fun.  Everyone is likable, and I mean everyone, even the main baddies who get their comeuppance (there's some anime charm going for that), and inbetween specific areas are bonus games (which aren't mandatory, which is a plus if you don't feel like playing them).
The soundtrack is upbeat and uplifting, and the song that plays for the final boss sounds freakin' epic.  It's easier and shorter than the other games in the series, but for me it is an hour and a half full of joy.  I can't really think of anything that's all that wrong with Wagyan Paradise, for it's one of those games that to me is absolutely flawless.  It's atmospheric yet lighthearted, and that's part of why the game works is because of the fact that it's humorous and lighthearted, not to mention the fact that it's easy (for the most part) doesn't in any way deter my enjoyment of it.  I love this game, for it's energetic and upbeat with its lighthearted theme (and it helps lifts my spirits if I'm in a sad mood); and I think personally Namco did a better job here than they did with Xandra no Daibōken: Valkyrie to no Deai (Whirlo to the few European gamers that got to play it), which I felt had a depressingly dark and grim tone (or undertone, rather) despite its lighthearted façade (plus it's too hard, which is not a good combination with a story about trying to save a dying baby not to mention Xandra's terrible fate if he loses all his lives).  Wagyan Paradise works because it doesn't take itself so seriously and doesn't demand such a high difficulty.  I love playing it everytime and I always feel good by the time I'm done with it; one of the best whim-based gaming decisions I've ever made (since I found this game by accident).  One of the best feel-good games I've ever played!  =)

Well, these were my personal Top 13 1994 SFC/SNES games, I hope you enjoyed reading about them and if you have any questions please let me know.  Thank you for reading, and take care.  =)

<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>

Friday, June 6, 2014

Tenchi Sōzō (SFC) Review

Written: May 29th-June 5th, 2014 / Published: June 6th, 2014
Alternate Name: Terranigma [|O|]
Year: 1995 | Developed by: Quintet | Published by: Enix | [|O|]
 
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; very passionate about video games, big retrophile, and massive fan of all things 16-bit... especially this one.  =D  In the '90s there were a handful of RPGs available for the Super Famicom (in Japan) and Super Nintendo (at least, largely in America) consoles; and at the time you could count on two noteworthy companies to give you a really good RPG experience: SquareSoft and Enix.  While the former acted as developer as well as publisher (unless they published for some other company), Enix only acted as publisher for developers who could not publish themselves.  One of the developers that worked for them (technically speaking) was Quintet, who had proven that they were capable of crafting really exceptional games; like SoulBlazer and Illusion of Gaia (or Time if you live in Europe).
 
These games not only performed well but have earned quite a cult following over the years.  Though no character shows up in more than one game (well, the main characters at least) and the tone was significantly different between the two (the former was lighthearted while the latter had a much more darker approach), these two classics were connected through Quintet's trademark touch (and charm) and in terms of its recurring themes, some of which they was brave enough to address while most companies at the time could not touch these.  Yes, they took risks, but as far as I see they were risks worth taking.  =)  SoulBlazer was a near-excellent A-RPG (despite its brevity and easygoing nature) which could work as a starter game for those new to the genre, while Illusion of Gaia I find is a very competently good follow-up despite the fact that it was more linear and easier than its predecessor (if you could even believe that).
By the time the console reached the halfway point of the decade, Quintet figured that the SFC/SNES had room for just one more game.  So they went to the drawing board and decided to craft the third and final entry in what is revered to be the "Gaia trilogy", taking the best elements from both games and turn it into something even greater (and more outstanding) in the process; that game was Tenchi Sōzō (or Terranigma in Europe).  Released in late '95 in Japan and less than fourteen months after the fact in PAL countries in '96, it left a very strong impression and impact on gamers since it came out, and for good reason.  Sadly due to a series of unfortunate events and poor timing on Enix's part, it never made it to U.S. shores, which upset many American gamers at the time and even today (but more on that later).  =(  So, what can one say about Tenchi Sōzō?  Aside from being the best freakin' game ever!!!  =D  I'm serious, this is one of the best games that's ever been made.

The start of a great adventure begins now!  =)
I gave my first impressions on it back in 2012 (with embarrassingly tiny Times New Roman font), and I was blown away by how magnificently well-crafted and emotionally in-depth it was; it also left such a strong impact on me that its become my number one favorite game of all time.  Having played through it again, I still feel that way about it, so I've decided to talk about this masterpiece in further detail.  The third in the Gaia trilogy was immensely successful and received a huge amount of high acclaim from both critics and gamers alike; in a way it was unlike any other game that's come out before or since.  In fact, I don't there'll ever be another game quite like it, which I'll get to in the review.

Oh no, the Black Mage escaped from Final
Fantasy again!
Having bought a Retro Duo after I got my first Super Famicom cart Alcahest back in May '12 I was very excited for it opened up a new world for me: I could play SFC games from Japan.  =D  One of the games I considered importing next was this one, but there was a problem; while the Retro Duo could play pretty much any Super Famicom game your heart desires, the same cannot be said for SNES PAL carts.  While some will work just fine (like with Super Morph, which I got back in March this year) it's likely that it won't work for many of them, which I looked up.  One of the games on the "won't work on Retro Duo" list was Terranigma, so as a result I largely focused on importing Super Famicom games from Japan.  But a thought occurred to me, "Terranigma won't play on the Retro Duo,... but they didn't say anything about Tenchi Sōzō, now did they?".  And I'm glad I carefully thought that otherwise I would've bought the PAL cart and have been disappointed that it would not work; so I opted for the Japanese original instead as a result (which is less pricey than the PAL and repro carts), which was more likely to work.  It was my fourth SFC cart following Alcahest, Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken, and Gokujō Parodius! ~Kako no Eikō o Motomete~.  That was one summer that I wouldn't forget, and once Tenchi Sōzō came that July boy was I in for something special!  =)

Battle in the big heavy snow
4.6 billion years ago the planet Earth was created, and as time passed the world grew and civilizations were made.  Eventually there was a battle between Light and Dark, God and Devil, which affected the blue planet gravely in the aftermath; causing the continents to disappear, being scattered to the Earth's core inside, the Underworld, as souls.  One day in Crysta a young boy named Ark discovers and stumbles upon a mysterious (Pandora's) box which was sealed away for quite a time; once coming in contact with it he frees a tiny fluffball named Yomi (or Fluffy in Germany;... heh heh, gee, I wonder why) who will aid him throughout.  Once that happens though it ends up setting off a series of events which leads to Ark journeying to free the continents once more, and afterwards enter Earth's surface the Overworld with little chance to return to his homeland to restore all that had been lost in the great battle.  What fate will be in store for Ark in his big mysterious journey into the unknown?

Aww, takes me back to SoulBlazer  <=)
The premise is exactly just as it sounds: the resurrection of Earth.  And honestly, that's a mindblower right there.  There have been games that took place on Earth before, but the very notion that you're helping contribute to restoring the planet to its former glory (after an aftermath) is something that wasn't done before, and Quintet managed to pull that off with flying colors.  =)  There is a great sense of accomplishment any time you successfully finish a big task, and the way that the world gradually unravels its wonders the more you progress, little by little, is absolutely incredible.  It's something that must be experienced firsthand in order to believe it.  For the sake of posterity throughout the review I'll refrain from making any major spoilers to the game's plotline, and please excuse some drop in quality when it comes to certain screenshots I've gotten (Windows Media Player refuses to work on my laptop for some reason anymore since last month, and now I must attain them through Windows Movie Maker at the moment).  But a perfectly engaging story means nothing if the gameplay is bad; well fortunately that's also where Tenchi Sōzō excels.  =)

Would you look at the sun looming in the
distant background
Taking gameplay aspects from its previous two predecssors and mixing them to one, Quintet managed to make one of the most versatile and most responsive controls you'll find in a 16-bit video game.  Like its oldest brother SoulBlazer you could equip your weapons and armor and level up should you reach a specific amount of experience points, and much like the middle child Illusion of Gaia you could roam around in all eight directions and dash (by either double tapping the direction you want to run towards or by holding the Y button and pressing any direction).  Unlike the two games that preceded it, in Tenchi Sōzō there are some enemies that leave behind money which you could spend to buy vital items, cures and treatment for ailments, weapons, and armor in stores (which is also new since you didn't have to spend a single penny in the last two games).  From time to time you would find potions which would enhance your stats by a few points; whether it be the health, the strength, the defense, or your luck stats.  There are even magic rings that you could use to attack if you felt like it.

Now that is one ugly parasite
One of the things that set this A-RPG apart from the other games in the genre was the fact that Ark did not fight enemies with a sword or a blade, a common weapon that's usually used in a game like this.  Instead you get to attack enemies with variants of spears, pikes, and tridents; which is very refreshing after all those times you played RPGs with swords, and I'm glad that Quintet went with this decision.  The moving and action controls are very polished, and the several different ways to attack with said weapons make things more flexible and versatile in the process.  There's the regular attack, the multiple jab attack should you tap the button repeatedly, the dash-lunge, the diving-sliding attack after you jump while dashing, and the slicer attack if you just attack while jumping in midair.  The ability to jump in Tenchi Sōzō is very welcome, particularly during moments where platforming is a must in certain dungeons, which can also be done while attacking; it is also possible to climb up ropes and jump down cliffs as well as create a magic shield to guard you from projectiles by holding down the R shoulder button plus crouching underneath tables and inside small holes, among other things.

Let's shop for some magic
You can have up to nine of the same vital item in your inventory, which I think is a fair number (and the amount of spots in the inventory are much more reasonable than Illusion of Gaia's sixteen, plus the same items (such as herbs) are included together here and do not count as separate items (i.e. small herb x 7) like in the aforementioned predecessor).  It's okay, I don't expect every RPG to have backup storage like Seiken Densetsu 3=)  And speaking of the menu, it's got some of the best interactivity I've seen in a 16-bit RPG, in my opinion.  Most RPG menus would have a basic cursor blink from Point A to Point B, but in Tenchi Sōzō you guide Yomi inside the (Pandora's) box, and what I like about it is the very smooth transition of events, for he'll hover from Point A to Point B (and other points too) very smoothly which I find more than refreshing.  Thank you, Quintet!  It's also possible to adjust some settings like the color of the dialog box or what speed you want the dialog to play out, et al.  So yeah, the controls are really good.  =)

Come, Simb--- I mean, little lion cub;
follow me
The soundtrack is, simply put, outstanding; for not only does it perfectly capture the tone and atmosphere of any situation (and I mean any situation) but it just matches the myriad of locations that you'll be traversing to as well.  Of all the numerous high points from this game, the soundtrack deserves a lot of praise.  Comprised of really good instrumentation, the songs range from beautiful, to ominous, to mysterious, to awe-inspiring, to action-packed, to upbeat, to emotionally wrenching, to epic (I probably got the order mixed up in describing this but you get the idea).  As far as I'm concerned this is one of the best soundtracks you'll hear from an SFC/SNES game alongside Secret of Mana, Alcahest, and Chrono Trigger among others, and the strong and powerful effect leaves a big impact once heard.  One of the many good songs from Tenchi Sōzō is the theme of Ark's home Crysta in the beginning of the game; it's a very sweet melody imbued with deep chords and notes which resonates well on an emotional level.  =')

Into the fortress we go
Another fantastic song, and one of the best in the entire soundtrack is the Underworld theme.  Holy crap, is it incredible!  It starts with impending tubular bells and harp strings, but then shortly after it starts it segues to a rivetingly adventurous theme thanks to riveting and inspiring string work throughout, and it works so well any time you're venturing in the Dark World (this is a very good way of expressing that your adventure has just begun).  The Light World theme which takes place on the Earth's surface sounds adventurous in its own right too, with riveting string work accompanied by light horns, concluding with a grand finish.  =)  Some of the dungeon themes, like the fortress and the ones that take place in a cave, all have a distinct theme, and one of the last dungeon themes is overwhelmingly intimidating.  There is one theme with tubular bells and eerie orchestration that plays in a couple moments which I personally consider the scariest song in the whole soundtrack, in that it freakin' gives me chills; oh, my God!  O_O

The more you venture forth the more the
planet evolves gradually  =)
A lot of the different safe areas have their own distinct sound and feel, which I feel is appropriate since Tenchi Sōzō does take place on Earth.  In the areas that take place in what is clearly Japan or China there is an oriental composition which is neat; some cities in Europe have a quaint little accordion ditty with charming sound; the towns in North America have got a calm-sounding jovial theme that matches the locale; and the theme for when you're in the green area filled with flowers and the trees is so beautiful and super relaxing that I could listen to it all day.  =)  There is a theme that plays when you're in a port, and it's a pretty emotional theme; one of the key characters' themes is so deep in terms of music that it's a little gut-wrenching to listen to.  Some of the other key characters have got their own distinct themes as well; one of them is a hip-hop style number that is so funny (if only because of what the character does when you see him), and Yomi's theme is cute (even though it's a brief techno number).  What's incredible about the soundtrack is that even if some cues are very brief they leave a lasting impression because of the way they were composed, which I like.

Very effective atmospheric lighting in this
Buddhist temple  =)
Sometimes there might be a foreboding number that might play before a dire situation occurs, and the boss theme is really good.  Yes, a lot of it is riveting string work; but hey, at least it's more action-packed with intense notes and a bit of punch given towards it unlike the main boss battle theme from ActRaiser 2.  The final boss theme is incredibly intense but sounds so epic as well, and the credits is just unbelievable (one of my top favorite video game ending songs of all time).  That song has got a lot of emotional resonance on me, it's very powerful music, and it's a rewarding theme in the end.  ='{  I'd talk about the rest of the soundtrack, but it would take quite a while for me to do and I don't want to risk repeating myself (I am trying to describe them with words as best I can).  All I can say is just take the soundtrack for what it's worth, for it really is that good.  =)  The sound effects are well-chosen, like the sound effect for Ark's weapon and the sound effect for each set of kanji in the dialog box; there's also something quite intriguing about no sound playing at all once the boss is breaking down as they're defeated.

Incredible place
Let's go over the visuals next.  Some have compared the look of Tenchi Sōzō to that of Illusion of Gaia preceding it, and honestly I'm not sure that's really fair.  I mean granted, the middle Gaia chapter was very colorful and brightly detailed, but with this game while it's not as vibrantly colorful it's got a very well-balanced color scheme and there is a lot of great attention to detail all around (personally I like this game's visuals better).  Whenever you go to a new area it doesn't feel like you're going to the same place twice thanks to the diverse variety in areas.  One area in particular that leaves an impression is Crysta where it's a breezy area full of grass and streams that are around it... also floating in the sky there are realistic-looking 16-bit soap bubbles.  FREAKIN' BUBBLES!!  =D  (Sorry, one of my favorite Nostalgia Critic memes, couldn't help it)  It's a great-looking area, but that was just one example.

Penguins!!!!!!  ^o^
There are a few subareas where the sun sets in the distance and it looks really cool.  There is an area which is ridden with rapids, some barren deserted areas, and even snowy areas.  There are a couple caverns with a lot of intricate detail surrounding the rocks and the falls.  Okay, one example is a village set in the snow and ice with igloos scattered all around with penguins (yay!) residing in the land.  There is a green place with plants, mushrooms, and flowers (which initially starts out as a dangerous wasteland), and what I like about it the most is the serene feel, especially with some portions of the land shaded while others are light (one of my screenshots shows you what I mean).  Some areas have got pretty nifty effects that lend them depth and atmosphere, like the falling snow in some cases, heavy mist in one cliff area, sand flying in desert landscapes which makes it a little less colorful and dark, or even one room in the game where it's all surrounded by a dimly lit red-orange light setting with soft candles scattered about.  It's a really cool setup for an atmosphere.  =)  One area in particular looks highly advanced compared to the majority of areas.  A lot of the areas have got their own look and charm to them.

Soar to the sky, feel the wind around you,
embrace the unknown  =)
One of the highlights of the visuals are the Mode 7 effects!  =D  In particular during the point where you navigate Ark in the Underworld, it just looks incredible.  It's a little like the Dark World gradually unfolds before you whenever you move, and being placed underwater too (considering the hardware it's very impressive and blows me away every time).  With the surface world it's a little more straight-looking, but I still find it incredible that Ark is exploring actual continents in a Mode 7 driven world.  Oh, I mustn't neglect to talk about the cutscenes: every now and then after a big mission is completed there is a scene with rendered backgrounds and what transpires in these moments is beautiful (a few of them always bring a smile to my face).  See it for yourself if you don't believe me.  =)

The world's most breathtaking view
The character models are well-designed, and the amount of diversity between character models varies depending on which location you're at, which is nice.  From an observer's standpoint they look a little like something you'd find in a SquareSoft RPG (and speaking of which: doesn't Tenchi Sōzō look a little like a SquareSoft game?  If I hadn't known any better before playing it I would've easily assumed that it was a Square title.  Seriously, in my opinion this is the best-looking SquareSoft game that Quintet made, if that makes sense... never mind).  The animations are solid, in particular Ark's with his jumping, running, diving attack, and shield animations (some of his other animations are fun to look at); I even like the flittering of Yomi's wings despite the fact that he's quite miniscule (also like his design).  I also like the varying designs between the humans and the animals (in particular, the penguins); and a lot of the enemies sport neat design as well (such as the black mages, yetis, ghosts, gigantor knights, skeletons, et al).  The bosses are huge and wonderfully detailed, some of the best-looking in the genre.  There's a shapeshifter that sometimes transforms into bats, a behemoth that is about a third the size of the screen, a parasitic creature, among others.  The final boss has got a fascinating design, even during his final phase (my God, it looks menacing).

Charge!!!
*sigh*  What to say about this game's level of challenge?  Some have contested that it's easier than Illusion of Gaia, and some have argued that it might not be the case.  Personally I consider Illusion of Gaia to be even easier than SoulBlazer (if only due to the more flexible gameplay), but here's the thing: out of the three Gaia titles this one's not only more challenging than its two older siblings (not to say that it's a hard game, but out of the three it comes close) but it actually becomes rather challenging if you get to specific situations where you haven't leveled up enough.  Let me explain what I mean by that: like SoulBlazer you could level up and equip weapons and armor, but unlike the first Gaia chapter where you reached each boss at a proper level each time Tenchi Sōzō gives you a chance to defeat as many enemies as you can before fighting the boss, which you may need to do.  The thing about the boss battles is that if you're not properly leveled up or equipped it may become hard for you, but if you reach a certain appropriate level you may have less of a hard time in that regard.  But if you are willing to persist and feel confident on taking them down while underleveled, bear in mind that it may take longer and recovery herbs (of any size) are not unlimited should you sustain a margin of damage, so use them conservatively.  The same holds true for the last few boss battles, which at best should take a few tries.

Check on each town, they grow gradually  =)
Regardless, each boss battle requires a precise strategy in order to take them down, and as I said before the last few boss battles are quite difficult if you're not careful.  For the first time in the trilogy the main character could get afflicted with an ailment such as poison or even get temporarily stunned whether it be by shock or by being frozen.  Some ailments vary, and for each kind there are cures and reliefs which can be bought in shops.  Some are temporary while others last a little longer, and if one of them consistently counts down then you'd best have the cure in handy.  The thing I find fascinating about Tenchi Sōzō is how it starts out in a linear fashion but then after awhile the adventure becomes nonlinear, which I feel is a good balance for a game like this.  =)  The various dungeons and enemy areas are greatly designed, and sometimes there's more than one path that leads to a specific room.  Now that is not to say that it's a hard game, for it's still a very manageable A-RPG like the two predecessors; it's just that Quintet decided to add some difficulty in the mix for this iteration.  And... I'm okay with that.

Not only did Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma perform really well upon release sales-wise, but it earned unanimously rave reviews from critics and enjoyed a lot of praise from gamers.  To this day pretty much everyone that's played it ended up either liking it or loving it, like myself.  And yet while that's true it's a fairly underrated game by today's standards; and that's a shame because it's really that damn good, and deserves a little more credit than it gets now.  Had it been released in America too it probably would've been more popular among everyone, but as it stands it wasn't meant to be.  Not getting an American release was a hard blow for gamers in the continent looking forward to playing it, feeling like they have missed out big time.  There have been NTSC repro carts of Terranigma for years, and while most American gamers felt that it made up for the game's glaring absence in the country, it did not completely undo the damage that was done almost two decades prior (as technically it wasn't official).  Unfortunately having come out during the latter years of the console was a risky move, and at the time Enix of America was struggling financially.
It also didn't help that some of the last 16-bit games they published in America did not sell as many units as they had hoped.  So in order to avoid bankruptcy Enix's American division temporarily closed down but at a great cost.  =(  The English translation was completed by the time they closed down, but the American version got cancelled in the process (although, if it did get an American release, I shudder to think of the changes it would've forcibly undergone in the transition).  Not wanting to put a hard-worked translation to waste, they decided to use it for the English-speaking versions of the PAL release, which is rather curious as reportedly (I only played the Japanese version) there is a secret room that makes a joke referencing Illusion of Gaia 2 (in Europe the second game was known as Illusion of Time, so some PAL gamers unless they were well-informed were likely confused by that name).  Some have hypothesized that Terranigma was at one point going to be known as Illusion of Gaia 2, much like Illusion of Gaia was at one point to be called SoulBlazer: Illusion of Gaia, so it would make sense to throw that clever tidbit in-game.  =)

Oh, poor Quintet; they must've foreseen their
own future and that's why they went with that
logo  =(
Another unfortunate setback was that, like both its predecessors (and tangentially speaking: ActRaiser 2 and Robotrek), it was a 16-bit console exclusive.  For years and years and years people have begged that these Quintet/Enix games to be released again, in particular for the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console several years ago.  And honestly these would be great games to introduce to the current generation of gamers.  But despite all that begging it never happened.  Why?  There's nothing at all objectively wrong with these games, and whoever's got the license of Quintet's games (I don't know if it's still Square-Enix) is just not taking advantage of a golden opportunity like this.  It's one thing if they're only available for the Super Famicom and Super Nintendo consoles, but (in the era of the Nintendo Wii U, PlayStation 4, and ... ugggggh... Xbox One (Microsoft, you fail with that name)) not everyone can afford them, which is sad since currently speaking they're the only means to play roughly 83% of Quintet's 16-bit library (the only exception is the first ActRaiser, which got more than one rerelease since it came out; now that's just unfair negligence right there).  Rereleasing these games onto a modern console (or downloadable service) would greatly increase the chances of people playing these wonderful masterpieces, and current-gen gamers would get to see what all the commotion is about, in the end experiencing these games.  Not rereleasing these games even once is just border-on criminal!  >=(

The Gaia trilogy is noteworthy in being spiritually connected as well as approaching themes that Quintet was one of the few companies that was brave enough to express in their own way, and with this third game it's no different.  The fact that these games did not get another release after their initial outing is very sad because they are truly some of the best games you'll find not only in the genre but also on the 16-bit console.  Unlike SquareSoft where they were both developer and publisher, Quintet was the developer while Enix was the publisher (and ever since Enix merged with Square over a decade ago they seemed to have focused more on SquareSoft property than Enix property).  It's ironic then that ActRaiser should take top priority while the remaining quintet of Quintet's 16-bit lineup bites the dust and remain cart-only due the lack of rereleases.  =(  I'm sorry if I'm sounding rude about it, but this has been a problem for what... seven years, maybe more?  I'm just tired of these underrated games consistently being snubbed by solely one title (especially since most of them have been around for twenty years) when they deserve equal amount of exposure.
Now if Square-Enix (or whoever holds the license anymore for Quintet's property) can get themselves in gear and stop fixating on rereleasing this game numerous times
Robotrek was also developed by Streets of Rage team Ancient, but it still counts as Quintet property
and start considering giving these five a second chance at life for the first time, then we'll be one step in the right direction.

So now that I got my little rant out of the way, what is the final verdict on Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma?  I could literally say a thousand things about this groundbreaking gem and still not have said enough, for it is just as good as everyone has clamored it to be.  =)  While SoulBlazer was lighthearted and Illusion of Gaia was dark, the third and final game in the trilogy offered a good balance of both.  Ark is a very charming protagonist (with his share of manga-like reactions and animations, like when he's shocked for example), and a lot of the other characters and numerous settings are very likable as well.  The soundtrack is spectacular, the gameplay is highly polished and very intuitive, and the plot is absolutely incredible in the way it unfolds (there are plenty of twists and turns, one of them literally leaving me all like "Whoa, no way!  How is that possible?").  Even though I only played the Japanese SFC cart version, I had no trouble at all becoming engaged in and enthralled by the experience until the very end.
As far as I checked online the only real difference between the localized version and the Japanese version (aside from the much thinner English letters from time to time) is that there is an extra Magirock that's not present in the Western version.  Scattered throughout both the Underworld and the Overworld are peculiarly-shaped rocks made out of crystal, and while you won't get any points for collecting all of them (I do come close though) they are a requirement if you decide to purchase magic equipment in magic shops (just regular gold won't cut it).  Some are found right in the open while others may take a little bit to get to and sometimes they serve as a prize if you win an event.  This event in particular involves correctly answering a guy's "yes" or "no" questions until you got them all right inside the secret Quintet building, but get one wrong and you'll have to start over.  But since I can't read Japanese kanji I have a hard time attaining this Magirock, no matter how hard I try to correctly guess.  If you are intent on getting this one when playing the Japanese version, then make absolutely sure to do so before one of the breaking points near the end otherwise you won't get a chance at it again.

Biplane from Pilotwings, eat your heart out  =)
Tenchi Sōzō is, simply put, what I'd like to call a "back to basics" entry to the Gaia trilogy, much like Ys IV: Mask of the Sun (and to some extent Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys) was to the Ys games and like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was to the Zelda franchise; an entry that reverted back to the original game's formula, which was altered slightly in the last iteration, and improved upon said original in more ways than one.  It managed to take every element that made the past two games great and turned it into something even greater and more in-depth than ever.  =)  It's funny that I bring up the third Zelda, 'cause I don't think it's a real secret: today's game is basically Quintet's own A Link to the Past, and as a competitor not only does it prove to be its equal in terms of quality but it really works as well.  Even so, I enjoyed this game for what it was: a flawless experience.
I know I already reviewed SoulBlazer awhile back, but I'd be more than happy to re-review it again one of these days, especially since I recently got to play the Japanese original SoulBlader.  There aren't many differences between versions (unlike with Actraiser and ActRaiser) but I think they're worth bringing up all the same.  =)
I still have to talk about this game????
As for Illusion of Gaia, this is one Gaia installment that I have yet to review.  But that's okay, since I also recently got to experience the Japanese SFC version Gaia Gensōki, and I was surprised at the amount of the differences between versions.  And to be honest, I much preferred the Japanese original over the localized version; and if you're still dubious about my claim of this spiritual follow-up being easier than its predecessor, then the Japanese version should be proof enough.  When I get to reviewing this game sometime in the future I have to warn you: I'll be giving the American version lots of scrutiny for comparison's sake.  =|  Doesn't mean I still don't like it, though.

Awesome-looking behemoth
While Tenchi Sōzō/Terranigma is technically the final game in the Gaia trilogy, some have contested that The Granstream Saga (developed by some Quintet staff members who formed a group called Shade) for the PlayStation One is a part of the series.  Most people would rather it having nothing to do with the three, however, for its often gotten deadly mixed reviews.  Some believe it to be okay while others find it to be a colossal disappointment.  I haven't played it so I can't say how I feel about it, but I'm not sure which camp I'll fall under if I do get to experience it; I guess it'll all depend on my state of mind.  Maybe one these days I'll try and see for myself if I decide to experience The Granstream Saga this summer.

Tenchi Sōzō is one such A-RPG that left a strong impact on me since I first played it.  It managed to strike every right note depending on the situation, and it was also a deeply and emotionally involving experience as well.  In moments that were uplifting, there was genuine happiness; in moments that were sad, there was genuine sadness; if there were moments that were so ominous that you couldn't help but feel a little nervous (you know the moments I'm alluding to), then there was fear or nervousness.  The boss battles are fun, the last one I personally thought was epic, everything's just chockfull of charm and personality, and the difficulty was evenly balanced (starting easy but then gradually gets harder the more you progress).  I still struggle to beat it on one life like with its couple predecessors, but maybe on my third playthrough I'll get more lucky?

Tenchi Sōzō is one of those few games that I wish would not end, for you often feel a sense of awe and wonder throughout, and you want to explore more.  But when it does end, I look back on the experience and all that occurred until then, and that's when it finally hit me: I cried.  When I beat it two years ago I cried, which is something I rarely do when it comes to video games (there are a few times that I have come close, though; Secret of Mana, Super Mario Galaxy, Illusion of Gaia, Kirby's Return to Dream Land).  The ending is one of the most beautiful that I have witnessed, for it's sad yet at the time it's very uplifting (I won't spoil it, you have to see it yourself firsthand).  Even though I knew what was going to happen, I still cried at the ending after my second playthrough, and it's just incredible how much emotional resonance there is throughout Tenchi Sōzō=')

It's a little hard for me to make a spoiler-free review of this game because the experience itself is incredible, but believe me I do try my best.  It is the most excellently beautiful 32-MegaBit SFC/SNES game that I have played, and it is absolutely brilliant; in my book, this is Quintet's Magnum Opus.  =)  It just amazes me how the grand scope is huge and epic even though it's not too long a game; the first time I beat it at Level 36 at around 28 hours, while in my second playthrough I beat it at Level 32 at around 20 hours.  If you are curious about this game, then I recommend you give it a go.  It's not only one of the best A-RPGs you'll find on the SFC/SNES, but I think that it's the best period; and I think you'll get more appreciation for it than you already would if you played SoulBlazer and Illusion of Gaia beforehand.  I do still wish that it was released in America at the time, but I'm glad I imported it in the end.  Once you play it for the first time, prepare for a journey that you won't forget.  =)  Highly recommended!!!  =D
 

 
<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>
P.S.: If I have offended fans of the first ActRaiser in my magenta paragraph, then I am sorry.  =(  I do not dislike it, but what I don't like is its overexposure which gets to me personally because compared to it the remaining five Quintet classics feel underexposed, which is not fair.
 
P.S. 2: I am not sorry, however, for criticizing Microsoft for naming their third video game console the Xbox One.  =P  There is only one Xbox One as far as I'm concerned, and that's the first one that came out in 2001.  I swear, they were not thinking straight when approving that name.
 
P.S. 3: In case you're wondering: yes, I am aware of the recent fanmade sequel/reboot/remake/whatever made for the PC recently called Terranigma Origins.  Being a fan of this game I am interested, but I haven't played it (if only 'cause I'm not as into playing video games with a keyboard as I was when I was younger; don't know if it'll support a USB controller if I end up changing my mind).
 
P.S. 4: I love this game so much!  =)  I hope I did a good job reviewing it, for I can't remember the last time I took awhile to talk about one of my favorite games.  I try to do a conscientiously good job when reviewing, even some of the most highly acclaimed of games.
 
P.S. 5: I don't know what else to add.  Tenchi Sōzō is more than a game, it's an experience; a wonderful experience.
 
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and let me know what you think!  Hope you have a great summer, take care!!!  =D
............................................................................
Squirrel: "Hey.  Do you know a squirrel by the name of 'Zero'?"
Ark: "Ummm, no?"
Squirrel: "I didn't think you would.  Now, Conker, on the other hand, he's pretty well known."
 
Moments later...
Squirrel: "Hi there, stranger!  You haven't by chance been acquainted with a squirrel by the name of 'Mr. Nutz', have you?"
Ark: "Actually, I have."
Squirrel: "Really???"  =D
Ark: "Yeah,... what about him?"
Squirrel: "That guy owes me ten bucks!!"  >=(