Note Block Beat Box: Listening to Underworld from Terranigma

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.

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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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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