In response to a few recent games that appear to be lacking in the criteria. This is a short list and thoughts on some stand out game mechanics that developers seem to be ignoring and need to build upon.
Greatest Developers: Quintet
Quintet created some of the most unique titles the Super Nintendo has to offer, including the classic Illusion of Gaia. Their games, which were mostly action-RPGs, often dealt with the dark themes surrounding the relationship between creation and destruction. Their gameplay typically featured Zelda-esque combat, puzzle solving and world building. Their games even featured similar fonts for dialogue and menu screens. While they made changes with every game, most of them still felt familiar and engaging. It’s these auteur design decisions that Quintet did best and why I consider them to be one of the greatest developers.
Officially founded in 1989 by Tomoyoshi Miyazaki, Quintet was comprised of developers from Nihon Falcom, the developer most famous for starting the Ys series. Quintet’s first game, created two years prior to their official founding, was an installment in the Dragon Slayer RPG series, Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family (Legacy of the Wizard in North America) for the Famicom and MSX. While Dragon Slayer IV was well received, Quintet didn’t truly show what they were capable of until their next release, ActRaiser. Quintet released most of their games for the Super Nintendo, as well as a smattering of titles for the Playstation and Sega Saturn.
Quintet disbanded in 2002, but not officially. It appears that the members of the dev team slowly drifted away and found work elsewhere, starting with designer Koji Yokota. Yokota formed a company called Shade in the mid-1990s. Quintet did work with Shade on a couple titles, including the infamous Granstream Saga for the Playstation. While they did work on a few games after Granstream, this was truly the beginning of the end. Regardless, they left their stamp on the industry with some remarkable games.
Legacy of the Wizard – NES
ActRaiser – SNES
Soul Blazer – SNES
ActRaiser 2 – SNES
Illusion of Gaia – SNES
Robotrek – SNES
Terranigma – SNES
Solo Crisis – Sega Saturn
Code R – Sega Saturn
Planet Laika (codeveloped with Zeque) – PSX
Brightis (as Shade) – PSX
The Granstream Saga (as Shade) – PSX
Ophen: Scion of Sorcery (as Shade) – PS2
While some of Quintet’s post-Super Nintendo titles were interesting, they don’t have the lasting appeal of their 16-bit library. The Granstream Saga is probably the lone exception in this case, but it wasn’t completely designed by them. The fact of the matter is that Quintet was on top of their game during the Super Nintendo era. Here, in chronological order, are their best and most inspired games.
ActRaiser – 1991
ActRaiser is a fantastic blend of side-scrolling action and simulation. Assuming the role of “The Master”, your task is to save a once populated world from the evil clutches of Tanzra. At first, all of the cites are uninhabited and are instead crawling with monsters. The Master has control over an angel that’s used to help in building cities, and a warrior that’s used for the platforming action stages that are required to complete in order to rid an area of enemies. As you increase the word’s population you’ll begin rising in levels. Each level provides more health for the warrior and more magic points that are needed to perform miracles. The gameplay is addicting, challenging and still holds up today. Sadly, due to requests made by publisher Enix, ActRaiser 2 was a stripped down version of the original that focused solely on combat. It wasn’t a bad game, but the aspects that made the first one great are missing.
Soul Blazer – 1992
Soul Blazer kicked off what fans have dubbed the “Soul Blazer” or “Gaia” trilogy. The game follows The Hero, Blazer, as he seeks to revive lost civilizations that have been destroyed by the demon Deathtoll and his minions. Each area Blazer visits has a set amount of enemies that he must destroy in order to restore buildings and free the souls of the people that have been seized by Deathtoll. Like ActRaiser, Soul Blazer contains some stark themes that make for a simple yet oddly deep story, especially when you take into consideration how bitter-sweet the ending is. Indeed, Quintet was never afraid to provide a dramatic punch in the gut.
Illusion of Gaia – 1994
Illusion of Gaia was the first Quintet game I ever played, and is always the first one I go back to when I revisit their games. The game is centered around a young man named Will who has to save the world from a crashing comet. Will gains the ability to turn into two different forms, courtesy of an ancient being known as Gaia. The first form he’s able to use is that of Freedan, a powerful knight. The second form, Shadow, is a being of energy that’s used in a few areas at the end of the game. Unlike previous Quintent titles, Illusion of Gaia focuses a lot more on characterization. There are plenty of interesting people that Will meets, some of which even join him on his journey. The plot, while strange at times, is relatively engaging and has some fairly dramatic moments.
There isn’t any city-building in Illusion of Gaia like in Soul Blazer and ActRaiser, but the spiritual themes are once again present and the combat is similar to Soul Blazer albeit much more polished. Puzzles are also more prominent, and many areas are based on ancient ruins found in the real world. A couple of side-quests are also available, including one that links Gaia and Soul Blazer together. For how linear the game is, it feels like it has a lot more depth than it actually does. If there’s only one Quintet game you play, you can’t go wrong with Illusion of Gaia.
Robotrek – 1994
I find Robotrek (Slapstick in Japan) to be the most underrated Quintet game. Sure, it’s designed for kids, but the comedy that pokes fun at RPGs, Pokemon-esque battle system and robot building make this game worth your time.
A group called The Hackers are causing chaos on planet Quintenix. The Hackers are looking for the famous inventor Dr. Akihabara so they can exploit his talents. The inventor’s son, whom you play as, takes it upon himself to find out why the Hackers want his father and hopefully put an end to their plans. To help with this difficult task, he uses robots to assist him in during his journey. These robots are controlled on the battlefield like Pokemon, and can even be upgraded.
Robotrek is just a fun time. The music is great, it has the charming design that Quintet is known for, great combat mechanics and a story that is surprisingly clever. Due to poor sales many gamers sadly missed out on this gem, but if you can find it it’s definitely worth adding to your Super Nintendo collection.
Terranigma – 1996
Arguably, Terranigma is the best game Quintet ever produced. As another spiritual successor to Soul Blazer, Terranigma is an excellent action-RPG that delivers in all the right areas. The music, graphics, complex story and dark humor all mesh together to form an outstanding experience. Playing as a young man named Ark, you’re summoned to Earth’s surface to help save the once bountiful population. First, however, Ark must pass five trials in the underworld in order to break a curse that has fallen upon his people. The game’s introduction is among the best I’ve played, and it serves as foreshadowing of what’s to come. As with other Quintet games, much of the gameplay involves reviving lost civilizations and aiding citizens so they can rebuild their cities. Terranigma’s world reflects our own, and many altered versions of historical figures request Ark’s assistance. Sadly, this game was never released in the States as Enix had shut the doors on its American offices. However, it is definitely worth the effort getting a hold of this game.
Greatest Developers is a series that takes a look at visionary game designers from the past and present.