Little Things: Quintet's Saving Grace

Real shame about Quintet, you know? It started so well. Masaya Hashimoto and Tomoyoshi Miyazaki played big parts in making Nihon Falcom games, but they broke off to do their own thing as the 1980s ended. They called their new studio Quintet, and they worked with Enix to craft Super NES games that blended action-RPG elements with strangely existential themes. Then Quintet detached from Enix, experimented in other genres, and was hobbled by one failure after another. Though technically not dead, Quintet has stood dormant for years, like a remote and dispassionate version of the world-creating gods their games often featured. Or like Willy Wonka’s factory.

Most of Quintet’s Super NES outings are good action-RPGs on their own, yet they're elevated further by director Tomoyoshi Miyazaki’s frequent searches for something deeper. Soul Blazer follows a divine emissary as he rescues a kingdom’s worth of people, plants, and animals, many of whom deliver little homilies about their lives. Illusion of Gaia turns a world-trekking boyhood adventure into a steadily darker tale of sacrifice and cataclysm. Terranigma, Quintet’s crowning achievement, finds its hero exploring the light and dark halves of a world and creating an entire civilization along his journey. The three games swing from the routine to the unexpected, dotting melodramatic and simple narratives with some intriguingly thoughtful moments.

One of those moments arises when saving. Like a lot of RPGs of the 16-bit era, Quintet’s titles let you record your game by talking to someone, who then asks if you want to continue playing. Other games reset to the title screen if you answer “no,” but some Quintet works don’t. They instead continue in an unbreakable loop, apparently thinking it rude to stop before the player does.

This first appeared in Actraiser, in which a godlike being tends to a human civilization through omniscient overseeing and side-scrolling battles. After you’ve saved and told the game to stop, it brings up some comforting text from your little cherub sidekick, who flutters in mid-air until you turn off or reset the system.