Yesterday, out of nowhere, Square Enix unleashed ActRaiser Renaissance upon the world for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC, and even mobile devices. ActRaiser is a cherished SNES title from developer Quintet published by Enix that is remembered for its awesome soundtrack and innovative mix of sidescrolling and god simulation gameplay. It went on to influence majorly successful (and also not) titles, but Square Enix hadn’t shown real interest in the IP in over a decade — until now. I’m honestly stunned and happy to learn that Square Enix hasn’t forgotten its Quintet library. So with that in mind, it would be spectacular to see Square Enix pursue a revival of Quintet’s Soul Blazer trilogy from SNES next. Regardless of if it’s a straight port, a remaster, or a remake, the time is now for a revival of the trilogy of Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma.
Quintet created brilliant experiences with Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma
For the uninitiated, it’s worth explaining that the Soul Blazer trilogy isn’t actually a trilogy in the traditional sense. The three games share minor character or name cameos more than they do any tangible story connections. Rather, the three games share complex themes of evolution, communing with nature, and stewardship of the earth — which, not coincidentally, they also share in common with ActRaiser. The execution of theme varies from game to game, but it’s undeniable that Quintet created more meaningful stories for these games than were available in most other games of the era (or even of some games today).
The trilogy of Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma also share top-down action gameplay in common, though each game approaches it strikingly differently. 1992’s Soul Blazer has a simple, addictive gameplay loop where finite numbers of monsters come out of specific gates inside of dungeons. Every time you clear out all the monsters in a gate, it has an immediate, important effect either on the dungeon or the larger world. Perhaps it simply removes an obstacle to continue exploring, or maybe it restores people or whole buildings that were sealed away by the evil Deathtoll when he ruined the world. So in Soul Blazer, the more monsters you slay, the more of the world you actively bring back to life, and you end up saving the entire world in the most literal possible way.
Illusion of Gaia, which reached North America in 1994, mixes things up. Protagonist Will can’t equip different weapons, armor, and magic like was possible in Blazer, but he does get his own special abilities, as well as the ability to ultimately transform into two other powerful warriors to vanquish monsters. Killing every monster on a given screen grants Will a permanent stat increase, again creating an immediately satisfying and simple gameplay loop. However, like the recent Eastward, Illusion of Gaia is unusually and extremely narrative-driven, and you regularly permanently lose access to old towns and dungeons with little advance warning. Every morsel of Illusion of Gaia is about driving forward the adventure, and it helps that the soundtrack is phenomenal.
Finally, Terranigma, which came to Europe in 1996 and missed North America altogether, became Quintet’s effort to make an epic. Terranigma is the only game in the Soul Blazer trilogy to have traversable world maps, and the narrative is broken down into multiple different chapters as the world itself evolves and civilization ascends to ever greater heights. It portrays a pseudo-version of our own world, where real-life people like Christopher Columbus are referenced. And Ark is an agile protagonist, able to run, jump, and dive in battle and use a limited assortment of magic. However, immediate rewards for combat are gone in Terranigma; leveling up Ark is all you can look forward to. Perhaps that was necessary in order to build out the much larger world Quintet wanted.
So, the point is that Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma are all spectacular in different ways, and Square Enix could do so much with this Quintet trilogy — it’s just a matter of deciding what works best: a port, a remaster, or a remake.
Port, remaster, or remake the Soul Blazer trilogy immediately, please
Honestly, I’m an old man that doesn’t need everything to be shiny and special, so Square Enix could port or lightly remaster the Soul Blazer trilogy today as a Collection of Mana-style release and I would be delighted. Alternatively, dropping Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma on Nintendo Switch Online as parts of its SNES offerings would be okay too. These games are already fantastic, so nothing needs to be changed in order to make them playable today. Peppering in quality-of-life additions like Quick Save and Rewind (like Castlevania Advance Collection received) would be nice and welcome, but that’s about it.
However, if Square Enix were to take the extra effort to remake the Soul Blazer trilogy — and it would be an effort to remake games as different as Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma — ActRaiser Renaissance seems like a hopeful indication that it could be done without ruining everything. Granted, I’m only a couple hours deep into Renaissance, and I acknowledge the sidescrolling graphics look kind of fugly in places. But the soundtrack is excellent as expected, and the additions to the simulation elements have been really fun so far.
I would be lying if I said the combat in Soul Blazer or Illusion of Gaia is especially complex, so a remake would be a good opportunity to juice all of that up. Even Terranigma paradoxically feels a bit repetitive in its combat, as the game gives you a wide set of moves up front but then never gives you much else afterward.
The bigger question is how Square Enix would handle the unique narratives of the Soul Blazer trilogy in a remake. It is of course a shame that several of the important creatives involved in making the Soul Blazer trilogy have scattered to the winds, and it would not be difficult for Square Enix to mess up the delicate narrative balance the original games achieved. But that being said, the localizations of the original games weren’t flawless in the first place, and the storytelling was constrained by available cartridge space on SNES. Nintendo Switch or PC would offer exponentially more processing power to breathe new life into these games and their stories.
I’m not necessarily saying remakes would be better. But they could be worthwhile.
Revive the earth, revive the Soul Blazer trilogy
Two days ago, I thought there was zero likelihood Square Enix would revisit the Quintet catalogue. Now, I beg and plead for Square Enix to do something, anything with the Soul Blazer trilogy. Port, remaster, or remake Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma. It doesn’t honestly matter much to me which option it chooses, since I already own all three. I just really, really love these games (and I accidentally sorta wrote the internet’s foremost analysis of Illusion of Gaia a decade ago), and I would love for a new generation of players to be able to enjoy them like I did. Quintet’s legacy must live on.