Tenchi Souzou (天地創造), released 10/20/1995, developed by Quintet, published by Enix
The Japanese title of the game means “The Creation” (capitalized, in the sense of “let there be light” god(s) creating the earth). Strangely it was released only in Europe in English, never stateside, making it one of the four RPGs on my list from 1995-1999 that was released in English (the other ones are Chrono Trigger, Lufia 2, and Super Mario RPG)
I first played it on an emulator about 20 years ago; I went into it knowing only that it was the third game in the loose trilogy including Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia. I honestly think this is the best way to play it. This time knowing how the game proceeded and concluded, a lot of the mystery and wonder of the first play was lost. It’s still a good game but on replaying both of them I think I may like Illusion of Gaia better.
I’m going to describe the gameplay first, and I suggest that if you are interested in playing this that you go into it knowing as little as possible about the game. This sort of mirrors the main character (Ark), who begins in his home village that doesn’t even have an exit — when the exit appears very early in the game, you can see that not only is he surprised to see it but evidently he never considered it unusual that there was no way to leave the village.
The graphics have a nice late-SFC quality, and the music is superb — I assumed it would be the same composer as Gaia, but it’s two new people.
The gameplay continues the action-RPG style of the series, but goes back to a more traditional RPG style than Gaia. You move up levels and equip weapons and armor. Ark can do a variety of moves, including a flurry blow, a dash attack, a jump spin, and a jumping dash attack. He can also block with the R button. All of these are useful from time to time.
The biggest failing in the system is the magic, I think. You collect gems called Prime Blue (“Magirock” in English) that you can use along with money to buy rings and crests at magic shops. When you use the rings in battle for the spell, they disappear but you also get the Prime Blue back so you can use it again to buy more spells. The main issue is how cumbersome it is to actually use the magic. You either have to go into the status screen and use several menus to cast it, or you can equip the box item that will let you press a button in battle to then choose one of the rings or crests. The system is far too awkward and I hardly use magic at all in the game because of it.
There are a few balance issues in the game — for the most part you can get smoothly through the game, and if you die you lose nothing except that you go back to the location you previously saved. Sometimes the difficulty goes up quite a bit, and there’s one infamous boss that is way too hard. However, moving up just one or two levels can make a huge difference in the amount of damage you take and do, so on the whole the game is not impossible.
OK, now let’s move on to the story and world — like I said, if you have a desire to play this I recommend stopping now, or at least after the next paragraph which covers the first part. (However, I’m going to avoid the big spoilers in any case)
The main character, Ark, lives in a town called Crysta. He’s a troublemaker and has a “friend” named Elle. After he opens a forbidden box underneath the chieftan’s house, he meets Yomi, a little ball with wings, and everyone in town turns to ice (or crystal). The Elder tells him the only way to revive them is to go to 5 towers outside in the underworld and pass the tests there.
The first weird surprise of the game is that upon finishing the first tower, you see a map of the world and are told that you’ve revived Eurasia. The other four towers each revive a part of the (real) world. Once the entire Earth is revived, Ark decides to continue to the surface to continue to revive the world.
Here Ark revives the plants, birds, animals, and finally humans. Once you revive humans, Ark falls into a coma and wakes up in human times, having lost the ability to speak to the birds and animals (which he could do before).
In the third chapter Ark travels around the world, helping the cities advance and starting to figure out the mystery of what caused the world to vanish in the first place, and who Ark is. Ark also encounters someone who looks just like Elle from the underworld and even has the same name.
One fun thing in this section is that you can help the cities grow by doing little sidequests; most of this is optional but it’s neat to see the cities develop by your actions.
Finally at the end of Chapter 3 Ark learns who he is and what happened to the world. Chapter 4 provides the conclusion, as Ark goes after the true villain and tries to restore the balance of the world.
The ending is poignant and bittersweet, although once again knowing how the game ended did blunt the emotional effect of it a bit.
In any case, this is still one of my top SFC games and worth a play if you like action RPGs, and especially if you liked Quintet’s earlier games. People have hoped for a remake for a long time; apparently the president of Quintet can no longer be located so perhaps that’s why…but remakes often fail to capture the charm of the original in any case.