Note Block Beat Box: Listening to Underworld from Terranigma

This elusive Quintet RPG uses its remarkable music to deliver its themes of mystery and unease.

Column by Nadia Oxford, .

You know what's easy? Getting mad about how badly Nintendo squandered the Virtual Console's potential across two console generations. The no-show of Quintet's Soul Blazer Trilogy is a prime example of how the Virtual Console ultimately failed us, and failed game preservation in general.

The Soul Blazer Trilogy extends to Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma, three action RPGs that blessed the SNES with epic sword-swinging, heart-stirring soundtracks, and often-dark stories outlining destruction, rebirth, and growth.

If you grew up in North America, there's an excellent chance you missed out on Terranigma entirely. A translated version of the game hit PAL regions in late 1995, but North Americans never saw it -- and have yet to see it in any official capacity.

Why did the western hemisphere miss out on Terranigma and Ark's journey to bring life back to a dead, stagnant earth? It likely has to do with the fact Enix's North American branch shriveled and died before it could give us the game. Indeed, Enix published Quintet's fare in our corner of the world, and once it folded, we were cut off from some of the SNES's very best RPGs (cough cough Dragon Quest).

It's all very disappointing, but given how frequently PAL regions got shafted with major SNES releases, they deserve to gloat a little over their Terranigma exclusivity. Go for it, PAL pals.

Anyway, it's 2016 and the Internet has brought us all together as a big, ever-squabbling family. It's easier than ever to get a Terranigma media fix, and if you haven't done so already, rectify that immediately. Terranigma owns one of the best soundtracks on the SNES, and for a library that includes Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Mega Man X, Secret of Mana, and the Donkey Kong Country titles, that's really saying something.

Choosing a single favorite song off Terranigma's soundtrack is like being asked to choose between oxygen, water, and sunlight. I need 'em all. But there's always a number-one, so I have to give the nod to one of the game's earliest themes: Underworld.

I have a weakness for the SNES's bells and synth strings, both of which Underworld makes epic use of. The song stands on its own, firm, tall, and deeply-rooted. It's gorgeous. But unsurprisingly, it works best with context.

As previously mentioned, Terranigma is a game about a young boy named Ark who's charged with restoring life to Earth. It's one heck of a job that starts with reviving the continents themselves and carries on until the planet is once again covered in plants, animals, people, and cities.

Ark is a biblical figure in more ways than one. He's obviously meant to mirror Noah, but he begins the game with the innocence of Adam in the Garden of Eden. When Terranigma starts, he knows nothing about life outside his little town. In fact, until events start churning and he's ordered to start the resurrection process, Ark has no concept of ideas like outside. There's no exit to the village until the Elder wills it.

When Ark finally sets foot in his strange new world, he finds a crystalized, lava-covered overland bristling with mysterious towers and not much else. Weirdest of all, the looping landscape offers a concave view of the world, with an alien blue field hovering above.

The Underworld theme accompanies Ark through this curious hell, and it's a perfect fit. The song is certainly heavy, but not necessarily sinister. That's because while the underworld is a very unfriendly-looking place that lacks any kind of natural life (quite a contrast from Ark's soft, comfortable home village), there isn't much here that can hurt the red-haired spear-wielder. Underworld's tolling bells are your first indication that Terranigma is anything but a typical kill-the-villain RPG, and that Ark isn't quite your run-of-the-mill spunky hero.

To wit: When Ark finishes his business in the underworld, he visits Earth to awaken its plants and animals. The theme that sees him out is a ten-second loop that's downright goosebump-inducing. It's quite a switch from the usual grand orchestras that guide RPG heroes out the door.

Let's just say it's highly appropriate for a game that deals in shades of grey, not black and white.

(Special thanks: TerraEarth)

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Comments 12

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  • Avatar for kevinbowyer34 #1 kevinbowyer34 2 years ago
    And i just started a Quintet snes playthru last weekend! Actraiser 1 and 2 down, soul blazer just started.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #2 Tetragrammaton 2 years ago
    God I love Terranigma. Such a strange, solemn game. Personal favorite music is the Overworld theme. It's lovely and energetic.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #3 cldmstrsn 2 years ago
    Damn. I just have Illusion of Gaia. I really need to start saving up for Terra and Soul.
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  • Avatar for DCF #4 DCF 2 years ago
    Easy guide on how to get me to like you: Write a cool article about Terranigma and put some of its soundtrack in there!

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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #5 brionfoulke91 2 years ago
    Great article! All Quintet games had amazing music, and Terranigma is no exception! Not a lot of people got to play this game since it was never brought out here... let's hope a few more people get to try this game out!
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  • Avatar for TheOldMan2084 #6 TheOldMan2084 2 years ago
    I really wish they'd shine these up a little, put them in a collection, and sell them for all systems. Some easy money right there.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #7 SatelliteOfLove 2 years ago
    One of the most powerful tunes of generation 4, a triumph of the S-SMP. It almost revels in the destruction and blank, intolerant wastes before you.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #8 jeffcorry 2 years ago
    "Anyway, it's 2016 and the Internet has brought us all together as a big, ever-squabbling family."
    Can I tell you how much I love this quote. So. True.
    Anyway, I would love to play this game, but I am not willing to pay "too much" money for it. I am also anti-rom (I know, I'll wipe my little brown nose later).
    Ultimately, it's as Nadia says at the beginning, "You know what's easy? Getting mad about how badly Nintendo squandered the Virtual Console's potential across two console generations. The no-show of Quintet's Soul Blazer Trilogy is a prime example of how the Virtual Console ultimately failed us, and failed game preservation in general."
    This is how I am beginning to feel. SO much potential, so little caring from Nintendo. The Wii Virtual Console is miles better than the Wii U...and let's not mention the 3DS.
    Nintendo. Up your GAME(s)!
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  • Avatar for GeoX #9 GeoX 2 years ago
    Terranigma is great. You know what would be greater? Terranigma with a competent English localization. Same goes for Illusion of Gaia. Soul Blazer's isn't great, but it isn't AS bad.
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  • Avatar for detten17 #10 detten17 2 years ago
    wow, the underworld theme brought back some memories. I can't really remember something modern, unless I count the original Teldrassil theme from WoW, that floods back memories of playing fantasy RPGs. Crazy how much emotion the SNES sound card could produce.Edited February 2016 by detten17
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #11 Vonlenska 2 years ago
    Yay! Quintet are one of my favorite developers! It's a shame these games aren't really accessible on modern platforms; their entire library deserves to be.

    Nice commentary on one of the best 16-bit soundtracks! Those early hours in the game are so eerie, and the music makes so much of that. Terranigma has such an outstanding soundtrack overall, with a lot of fantastic covers and remixes. These two seem good to highlight for contrast, but the whole soundtrack is a cover/remix goldmine.

    But my favorite track is "The Way Home."
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #12 nadiaoxford 2 years ago
    @Vonlenska That trance remix of Resurrection is remarkable. Resurrection is another ten-second song that just hits me hard.
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