Terranigma – 1995 Developer Interviews

Terranigma – 1995 Developer Interviews

In these three interviews, several collaborators discuss their work on the 1995 action-RPG Terranigma, Quintet’s final SFC title and the last game in a spiritual trilogy that includes Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia. Over the course of these discussions, Quintet explains their attraction to the action-RPG format and outlines their efforts to encapsulate and evolve the signature points of their previous works.

Tomoyoshi Miyazaki – Director
Reiko Takebayashi – Scenario Writer
Masaya Hashimoto – Producer
Shinji Futami – Producer (Enix)

—How did the Terranigma development get started?

Miyazaki: We started the planning for Terranigma very shortly after completing Illusion of Gaia, so we’re about a a year and a half into the development now. Of all our Super Famicom titles, I think Soul Blazer would be the most iconic Quintet game. However, the world of Soul Blazer didn’t feel like a big, epic—it felt more like you were playing a series of miniature setpieces. That was something I was left a bit unsatisfied with.

Soul Blazer had a unique worldview, though: in that game we tried to depict humans as viewed from a non-human perspective. So the inspiration for Terranigma came from the desire to combine that concept with an “epic”, larger world a la Illusion of Gaia.

—What was your basic theme or concept for Terranigma?

Miyazaki: In Terranigma, destruction and creation are linked together. To give an example of what I mean, your enemies in Terranigma are not simplistic “bad guys”, and depending on how you defeat them the environment of the game will evolve accordingly. In this way, the combat is directly connected to the way the scenarios unfold.

—So destruction is a creative force…?

Miyazaki: Yes. Also, another big theme for Terranigma is duality, or the idea that opposites are inextricably linked together as one. Destruction and creation would be a prime example of that.

Takebayashi: In writing the scenarios, I always had that duality foremost in my mind. I wanted players to ask themselves, for example, if it’s really right to develop this town when it will destroy the natural habitat of these birds, etc.

Tomoyashi Miyazaki, current whereabouts unknown.

—I see. It’s not as though one choice is the “right” one.

Takebayashi: This way, the player is always complict in the outcome, whatever they choose. If you don’t want to destroy nature, then you have to face the consequence of an underdeveloped city, and so forth.

Miyazaki: Good and Evil are two sides of the same coin. I hope players enjoy seeing the response to their actions after deciding for themselves what is right and wrong in a given situation.

—I was extremely impressed, by the way, with the graphics of the overworld map when you leave your starting village for the first time.

Miyazaki: The first map you encounter is the underworld/darkside, so we used sprite scaling effects to make it look like you were on the underside of the Earth. I think we’re the first to do something like that…? (laughs)

—The story of Terranigma has quite a grand scope.

Miyazaki: In the course of making our previous games, I started to think about what the actions of humans would like from a non-human viewpoint. The heart of Terranigma’s story lies in the perspective of the Earth, and how it views human activity.

—The graphics for the scenes after you clear a tower and revive the continent look incredibly impressive. I understand those scenes used up 8MB of memory on their own.

Miyazaki: Right, but we felt it was justified because those are the scenes which are most deeply connected to the concept and themes. We used some incredible technology to bring them to life, technology that is actually used in creating TV weather broadcasts.

Hashimoto: We used the same development software that was used by the English company Rare, when they were making Donkey Kong Country. It’s actually quite hard to make realistic animation with the Super Famicom hardware, and memory is another tough spot, but we really wanted to have a chance, even just once, to try out this development software, as well as fractals and other new technologies.


Futami: It’s a similar technology to what we use for polygon graphics. It makes it easier to display shapes that look natural. We’ve really worked hard on the graphics quality for Terranigma. How many times did we re-do the graphics to get them just right…? I’ve lost count.

Hashimoto: I don’t remember. (laughs)

Futami: And the final result would often turn out completely different from what we started with. (laughs)

A portion of one of Terranigma’s impressive continent revival cinematics; Quintet combined CG-rendered graphics with more conventional technical artistry like palette cycling and mode-7 background scaling to great dramatic effect.

—Could you explain the essentials of the battle system in more detail?

Miyazaki: For Terranigma, I feel it’s more of an “RPG-action” game than an “action-RPG” game. I actually wrote that in the initial planning document. (laughs)

I mean, you control your character directly, so in that sense it’s a typical action-rpg, but we also spent a lot of time trying to come up with gameplay elements that would reflect the joy of the turn-based rpg experience, too. Enemies will make combo attacks on you—one will try to immobilize you so the other can attack, for instance. Turn-based RPGs use text to easily explain a fight situation like that, but it’s a bit more difficult for action-rpgs, I think. I really like what we managed to pull-off with the messages being displayed in real-time, though.

Ark’s movements are really great too. It’s not the smoothness of something like Aladdin, but rather the variety of different movement animations that are impressive. It’s on a whole other level when compared to previous action-rpgs.

—Does Quintet really have a thing for action-rpgs, then?

Miyazaki: It sure seems that way since Illusion of Gaia, but the key thing for me is exploring the meaning of the word “action” in action-rpg. Usually it implies fighting alone, but I think of action more broadly, as the freedom to control the character yourself… not merely in fights, but also just walking around and making other movements.

Hashimoto: Take Actraiser, and Illusion of Gaia. They exist at opposite ends of the spectrum. In the Actraiser games, it’s entirely about platforming and fighting, whereas in Illusion of Gaia that kind of action is just one aspect of the gameplay. For me, the quality of the action comes down simply to whether it’s fun or not: the simple joy of feeling the character respond to your inputs. A big concept for us with Illusion of Gaia was how to share a taste of that joy with people who don’t normally play action games, and Terranigma is also built around that idea. So, yes, we do have a “thing” for action-rpgs, but as a counterweight, we are also dedicated to creating something that has a wider appeal, and is not just for hardcore action fans.

—Finally, please share with us what you think Terranigma’s “salespoint” is.

Miyazaki: There’s a complete fusion between the graphics and gameplay system, such that it creates a strong sense of immediacy and “being there” for the player. It’s a game that exceeds the capabilities of the Super Famicom, I would say.

There’s also the fun of exploring all these real-world locations and seeing how all the different dungeons, towns, and other visuals correspond with each geographical location.

Takebayashi: We’ve spent an absurd amount of time developing the story and scenario. There’s so many logic flags in the programming to handle all the different situations, that even I have no idea how many times you’d have to play to see it all. (laughs)

Hashimoto: Actraiser, Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Slapstick… it’s been a wild ride for us at Quintet, developing for the Super Famicom for these last 6 years. Terranigma is the culmination of all our efforts and expertise. We hope it stands as our defining work. In any event, we poured our all into it. We’re pretty damn burned out now. (laughs)

From left to right: Shinji Futami, Masaya Hashimoto, Reiko Takebayashi.
Terranigma – 1995 Developer Interview

with Tomoyoshi Miyazaki and Yuji Horii

—It looks like the Terranigma development has been a really herculean effort for Quintet.

Miyazaki: Yeah. It incorporates all the various elements from our previous games. It’s almost like a “Quintet Greatest Hits” compilation.

—Who wrote the scenario?

Miyazaki: I came up with the general outline, but after that, the whole staff fleshed everything out and completed it.

—What have some of the challenges been for the development of Terranigma?

Miyazaki: This is a 32Mbit ROM, so one thing we struggled with was getting a handle on something of this size and scope, and figuring out how best to use all that memory. Also, our theme for Terranigma was “duality”. The world of the game has an internal Darkside and external Lightside, and the player’s actions influence both worlds. Writing all that was also a big challenge.

Horii: Your games often have neat “mini-game” elements in them, like gathering the Red Jewels in Illusion of Gaia. Does Terranigma have something similar?

Miyazaki: Yes, it has a lot of things like that. Horii, how do you go about writing those kinds of things for your games?

Horii: For me, it all comes down to whether it’s addicting or not.

—What is the number one thing you want people to see when they play Terranigma?

Miyazaki: As the title Tenchi Souzou implies, I really want players to enjoy the resurrection scenes, because I want them to think about the idea that we create our own world. We also put a lot of effort into the graphics for those scenes where the continents are resurrected… I have no idea how many times we re-made them.

Dragon Quest head honcho Yuji Horii (1995)

—For a single town, are there multiple stages/phases of resurrection, or does it happen all at once?

Miyazaki: For the big levels, there are 3 different stages of resurrection, but honestly it depends on how you play, and there’s a lot of different ways things can develop.

Horii: That must have been a real challenge to create. For the first Dragon Quest, the townspeople always say the same lines no matter when you visit them, but with DQII and every game after, we made it so the dialogue changed slightly depending on what you did. DQV had so much of that, it brought me tears. (laughs)

Miyazaki: I know what you mean. In Illusion of Gaia, at one point we stuffed it so full of dialogue that we were left with a mere 26 bytes of space. In the end we somehow managed to fit it all in there though.

Horii: Also, I was wondering, when you’re making your games, do you ever stop and think “is this really a good idea…?”

Miyazaki: All the time. There’s a mountain of doubts.

Horii: Developments always begin with a wealth of different ideas, but when its time to actually get down to brass tacks, at some point one has to stop with the new ideas, and begin the phase of polishing and refining what you’ve got. Even then, it’s hard to stop coming up with new ideas, because things often feel incomplete. When I actually play the games we’ve created, it’s common for me to feel like only half of what I wanted to include is in there.

Miyazaki: Another concern for me is whether I’ve adequately explained the world of the game to the rest of the development staff.

Horii: Having a shared history with your development staff is very helpful for that, to an extent. We’re currently making the 6th Dragon Quest game right now, and the same staff has worked together for so long that they know what we’re all going for. In contrast, you make a different game each time, so I imagine that must make things more difficult for you. On the other hand, while your games aren’t officially labeled as sequels, they all share a lot in common, and have a similar direction, I think.

Toroyoshi Miyazaki (1995)

Miyazaki: It would make me happy if people perceived our games that way.

Horii: The one thing I’ve been absolutely insistent on, for the Dragon Quest games, is that the protagonist must not speak. I want the protagonist to be the player’s avatar, so I don’t want to do anything that would violate the will of the player. Is there anything similar you’ve insisted on for Terranigma?

Miyazaki: In Terranigma, the protagonist does speak, but for important scenes we made sure that the player can select his responses.

—Horii, what do you think of action-rpgs like Terranigma?

Horii: I like the responsiveness of action rpgs—they’re just fun to play. The Zelda series is a masterpiece in my opinion. Just walking around and swinging your sword—even without any purpose in mind—is simple, good fun for me.

—And Miyazaki, what do you think the appeal of turn-based RPGs is?

Miyazaki: I like how players can control the tempo on their own, with turn-based RPGs. Also, with action-rpgs, you’re controlling one character at a time, so battles tend to be a 1v1 kind of thing, right? With turn-based RPGs, you can fight multiple enemies, and there’s a lot of different situations you can create for players. I’ve been thinking about how to include some of those elements in Terranigma, actually. I’ve got a number of ideas I’m working through right now.

Action-rpgs are, I think, a kind of real-time “turn-based” RPG. In Terranigma, the special attacks of the monsters are shown both visually and with text. Of the 120 different monsters, about 100 have attacks that we display text for. Those convey information about what attack you’re receiving, but we also don’t want to destroy the tempo of the combat with too much text, so it’s a balancing act. On the other hand, if the combat pacing is allowed to be too fast, then the game will be over too quickly, so we also have to keep a sense of volume in mind.

Horii: You’re putting in a lot of work to get the details right, and I think that’s precisely why Terranigma is going to be an excellent game.

—A question for the both of you: where do you get your ideas from?

Miyazaki: I love travelling, and often use a world atlas to get ideas. I look at places on the map and get inspiration for different scenes and events.

Horii: I like manga and books, and in my free time I devour whatever I can. Then, when the time comes to think up new ideas for a game, I find that those things I’ve recently read and seen have been transformed within me, and I draw from there.

—This is also for both of you, but as development deadlines draw near, what kind of work, practically speaking, remains to be done?

Horii: In that final phase, I look at the big picture and focus my attention on balancing the most important elements. I also pay attention to how it feels playing, and the sense of volume/length. The most important thing is whether the game has “staying power”: do you get bored of it after awhile, or does it remain fun even after long sessions? That’s our top priority.

Miyazaki: I go back to the action-rpg fundamentals, and look for places that might need more substance, or where the tempo isn’t good, and make adjustments accordingly.

Horii: I think there are 3 essential things you need when making a game. First, good ideas. Second, the talent to create a system which implements and realizes those ideas. For that you need both perseverence and patience. And finally, the third thing I think is really necessary for game development is the willingness to cut out unnecessary elements from the finished game. If you can’t do that, the game will never take shape. Only when those three elements are in place, do you really see your game for the first time.

It’s mysterious to me, but all that work is very difficult, and when I’m in the middle of it I just want to quit. But somehow when it’s all over, I want to do it again!

Miyazaki: Yeah, I know what you mean. I’m in the thick of that feeling right now with Terranigma. (laughs) It will be a game of epic scale, one where you can really feel the size and breadth of the world. I really hope you’ll play it once it comes out.

Horii: I can’t wait, so please keep up the good work!

Miyazaki and Horii end the interview with a photo and boy, does Miyazaki look thrilled.
Terranigma – 1995 Developer Interview

with art director/character designer Kamui Fujiwara

—I understand you’re not only doing character design for Terranigma, you’re also working as the art director…?

Fujiwara: At first, I was only designing the human characters and the boss monsters. But as I was drawing some event scene sketches, I would get ideas for things to add to the game, like wouldn’t it be cool if this happened here, or if this moved like that, etc.

—So the art design had a big influence on how Terranigma was made, then?

Fujiwara: When you’re doing character design, you have to draw the characters in a variety of poses for the animation patterns, and as I did that work, I discovered things I really wanted to see included in the game. Basically I fell down the rabbit hole, of my own accord. (laughs) On the other hand, going that deep made the actual design work itself very easy. However, if you don’t understand the world and vision of the game, you can’t really get into it, so I did end up creating a number of things on my own, to fill in the blanks. (laughs) When drawing the character concept art, if an idea would pop into my head for an event scene or dungeon trap/feature, I’d just plunge right in and start drawing it.

—Can you describe more specifically what kind of event scenes you drew?

Fujiwara: For example, for the Tower of Trials, they told me they wanted some way to visually convey the influence the towers have on the Lightside/surface world. Also little stage features, like a crumbling bridge, things like that… I can’t say much more at this point, though.

—You must have been captivated by the world of Terranigma, then, to be so invested in the design.

Fujiwara: Yeah. That dualistic structure of the game, where what you do in one world affects the other, was extremely interesting to me. As a creator, the world had a certain openness to it that stimulated my imagination. I mean, I liked it so much, I wish I had been more involved with it from the very beginning. (laughs)

—Who is your favorite character?

Fujiwara: Definitely the protagonist, Ark. Compared with other characters, I had to re-draw him over and over, and he ended up very different from how I originally drew him. Of course the more you struggle with something, the more memorable it is.

Concept designs for Ark and Yomi, taken from the second Kamui Fujiwara Illust-shuu book.

—The main character’s movements and animation are very smooth.

Fujiwara: Being an action-rpg, we of course focused our efforts on how the character moves. Also, Ark’s loose clothing partially obscures his individual legs, which helped make his animations appear very smooth.

—Now that Terranigma is nearly done, what are your feelings about it?

Fujiwara: I’m really satisfied with the work we did. Because they let me be a part of the process, instead of just treating me like a contractor who just completes the work he’s given, I think it turned out very well.

—Finally, for our readers who are excitedly awaiting Terranigma, is there a particular part of the game you really want players to see?

Fujiwara: I’d have to say Ark’s animations and movements, yeah. They came out just as I had envisioned, so please enjoy them.

—Thank you for your time today.

If you've enjoyed reading this interview and would like to be able to vote each month on what I translate, please consider supporting me on Patreon! I can't do it without your help!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *