Black Sheep Gaming: The Soul Trilogy

soul6A great majority of video games have a “destructive” theme to them. In everything from RPG to action and even some puzzle games, one can’t get to the goal without killing hundreds of creatures or people on their way. The endgame tends to be destructive, too, what with many stories revolving around having to kill some kind of mighty soldier/god/robot/whatever. It’s normal in games, and not something that one thinks too much about. Have fun and slaughter away!

Less common are games with a “creation” theme. Sure, you see it quite a lot in simulation games. Create a city for people to live in, make homes for people to live their lives, etc. These games, though, don’t have an action focus. Is it possible to create an action game with a focus on creation rather than destruction?

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In 1989, the scenario writer for the first three Ys games, Tomoyoshi Miyazaki, founded the company Quintet. During the 90s, Quintet partnered with Enix to release a number of action-RPGs on the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo. While they gathered a loyal fanbase, most of their work was overshadowed by bigger-named SNES releases. What was unique about their work, though, is that their games tended to focus on a “creation” theme, rather than a “destructive” one.

Their first release, ActRaiser, was a combination of action-RPG and simulation. The player would guide the main character through side-scrolling stages to clear out demons that infest a certain land. Afterwards, acting as a god, the player would enter a simulation game to develop and defend a city on the cleared land. While popular among a certain fanbase, this game isn’t what Quintet become known for. Their next game, a spiritual followup to ActRaiser, would become a very loosely connected trilogy with themes of rebirth and the opposing forces of destruction and creation. While there is no official encompassing name for the trilogy, fans know it as the Soul Trilogy, or the Soul Blazer Trilogy.

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The first game in the trilogy, Soul Blazer, was released in North America in 1992 and Europe in 1994. The player controls a nameless warrior called upon by the creation god of the game’s world. This game’s destruction god, Deathtoll, has sealed away every living thing in the world, and it is up to the warrior to release their souls to revive the world again.

Gameplay is traditional action-RPG style focused on dungeon crawling. The warrior travels through six different parts of the world, traversing monster lairs throughout them to unseal the trapped souls of each area. Each section of the game begins as a barren wasteland along with a dungeon to explore. As the warrior works his way through the dungeon and unseals the monster generators within them, the world itself begins to be revived, with each generator releasing a different portion of the land. Buildings begin reappearing, people are revived and return to their lives, and talking flowers begin growing on cliff sides. As the world is slowly revived, characters begin revealing the background of the world and what happened in the past.

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Quintet’s next entry in the trilogy would follow a more traditional “defend the planet from destruction” story. Illusion of Gaia was released in North America in 1994, and in Europe under the name Illusion of Time in 1995. This story follows a boy named Will, who stumbles across the world’s creation god, Gaia. Gaia explains to Will that there is a comet approaching the planet that will reshape the world, and that he has been summoned to stop it.

Illusion of Gaia is a more typical game than the previous entry. The player guides Will through various dungeons to collect statues that will allow him to stop the approaching comet. The game plays out extremely linearly, constantly pushing the player from one point to another to keep the story moving. Aspects of this game, though, would carry on to the final installment of the trilogy. Namely, the use of a fictionalized Earth as the game world, and a much darker storyline.

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The final installment in the trilogy, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of the series. Entitled Terranigma, the game was released in Europe in 1996. Unfortunately, the game was never released in North America. Terranigma is a sort of combination of the best parts of the previous two entries. From Soul Blazer, it takes the idea of reviving a fallen world. From Illusion of Gaia, it takes the use of the Earth as its setting, as well as a much more involved and darker story. The game involves the use of the hollow Earth theory; the outside of the planet is the Earth as we know it, but in ruins and with the continents fallen into the sea, while the inside of the planet is known as the underworld, with one human settlement surrounded by crystal mountains and rivers of lava.

In Terranigma, the player controls Ark, who accidentally causes the petrification of his entire village when he enters a forbidden area of the village. In order to fix this, he must traverse the underworld to five towers to defeat the demons within, which in turn will revive the continents of the outer world. Once this is done and the village is saved, he is sent to the outer world to continue its regeneration, reviving the living beings of Earth. Along the way, he discovers why the outer world fell to ruin, and faces the consequences of his actions.

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Following the release of Terranigma, Quintet began to slowly fall apart. The company released one more game under the name Quintet, Planet Laika, which was only release in Japan. A selection of staff from Quintet, going by the name Shade, attempted to continue the themes of the Soul Trilogy into a new game, The Granstream Saga (released in 1998 and 1999 in North America and Europe respectively) but it received poor reviews. Shortly after, releases from the company stopped. While no official news of the company closing was made, Quintet seemed to go inactive in 2002. The company closed it’s official bulletin board the same year, and took down its website in 2008. However, the Quintet name appeared in the credits of the Atelier Iris series and in Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia, both from the company Gust.

Despite releasing so few games in a short time, Quintet left its mark among its fanbase. Their games were a strong addition to the SNES library as a whole, but ended up being overshadowed. While the gameplay of the series may be slightly generic, the themes present in the Soul Trilogy are unique and interesting enough to justify a playthrough for any classic RPG fan.