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Remembering an underappreciated JRPG trilogy

Jason Schreier

This is a column by Jason Schreier dedicated to the analysis (and occasional mocking) of his favorite genre, the Japanese role-playing game. Whether it's because they're too antiquated or just too niche, he believes JRPGs don't get enough attention in the gaming industry today. It's time to change that.

As gamers, we spend a lot of time playing God. Whether it's building worlds in Minecraft or destroying them in Skyrim, we're always looking for ways to manipulate forces that are normally beyond our control.

Some games even allow us to play God in less subtle ways. Simulation games like Ubisoft's From Dust and 2K's Civilization series allow us to steer the course of history and directly guide the fates of entire populations.

These deity simulators are all well and good, but what if you want a more personal holy adventure? What if instead of playing as a god, you want to work for one? Or destroy one?

Well then, you need to check out the Soul Blazer trilogy.

Developed in the early 90s by a small Japanese company called Quintet, the series comprises three Super Nintendo games: Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma. All three are top-down action-RPGs stuffed with religious overtones, disturbingly dark moments, and smart dungeon design. And each game is excellent in its own way.

Soul Blazer, which Quintet originally released in 1992, puts you in the shoes of an angel-like avatar who answers to a deity called "The Master." As this avatar, you're tasked with saving the mortal world and its people from the dreadful prisons in which they've been trapped by a nasty monster named Deathtoll.

The game stands out for one neat main gimmick: You have to kill everything. Rather than zipping through its levels in Zelda or Secret of Mana-like fashion, hacking apart only the enemies that stand in your way, you have to eliminate every monster in order to open up new sections of dungeons and rescue townspeople from their invisible cages. You'll fight through a variety of locations, including an ocean palace, an animal village and a creepy scientific laboratory -- each of which must be depopulated and then repopulated by your actions.

Quintet later released Illusion of Gaia, a quiet game that took on a darker flair than its predecessor. You still report to a higher being, but this time you're participating in slave trades, fighting off evolution, and eating a pig that may actually be somebody's mother (don't ask). Solemn stuff. The English script could have used a few proofreads, but it's still a fantastic game with some clever themes and mechanics.

You might not have heard of Terranigma, the final game in the trilogy, because it never came out in the United States. Lucky Japanese and European gamers were treated to a meaty, twisting adventure across a warped, mangled version of Earth. Like Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma touches upon some dark topics that even many of today's games are afraid to tackle. Broad, sweeping themes like evolution and resurrection are all over the place in Terranigma, and even when they start to feel hacky, they'll always leave you thinking.

It might be tough to get your hands on copies of the Soul Blazer trilogy today, but they're well worth the time and money for JRPG fans -- or anybody who just wants to go on one hell of a divine adventure.

Jason Schreier is a freelance writer/editor based out of NYC. He's a contributing writer for and occasionally writes for a number of other sites and publications, including Edge Magazine, the Onion News Network and G4TV. You can follow him on Twitter at @jasonschreier.

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