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
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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!!"  >=(