Illusion of Gaia
  • Genre:
    • Action RPG
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Quintet
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 11/27/1993
    • US 09/01/1994
    • UK 04/27/1995
Score: 85%

This review was published on 10/30/2015.

Illusion of Gaia, known as Illusion of Time in Europe and Australia, is an overhead action role-playing game developed by Quintet for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Famicom. It was released in Japan on November 27, 1993, North America on September 1, 1994, and Europe on April 27, 1995. The game was published in Japan by Enix and Nintendo in North America, Europe, and Australia. This is the second in a series of Super Nintendo games developed by Quintet that are now regarded as a trilogy, which include Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma. Originally, this game was going to be called Soul Blazer: Illusion of Gaia, but the first half of that title was dropped prior to release. Nintendo heavily promoted the game outside of Japan, going so far as to bundle early copies with a free T-shirt in the United States. All that promotion definitely helped to increase sales, as the game sold far more than Soul Blazer did. It deserved to sell even more, though, because the game is good. Illusion of Gaia is an excellent game that should be a part of everyone's life.

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In the Age of Exploration, which took place roughly in the 16th century, countless explorers began traveling the world in search of ancient ruins and the lost treasures hidden deep within them. Many of these daring adventurers risked their lives while looking for treasure, often coming back empty handed, sometimes never returning at all. During these adventurous times, a boy named Will accompanied his father to one such excursion. The father and son duo sailed the high seas in an attempt to unravel the mysteries of the elusive Tower of Babel. Unfortunately, the two met with a terrible fate while on the expedition, as an unknown disaster caused them to be shipwrecked. Strangely, Will found himself back at his hometown, not knowing what had happened or how he got there. Soon after this, a mysterious entity known as Gaia informed Will that he is the chosen one and is destined to protect the Earth from a rapidly approaching comet. Now the boy must go on a journey to save the world from ruin and possibly locate his missing father in the process. You could say Will has plenty of will.

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Professional novelist, Mariko Ohara, was hired to work on the story for this game. You wouldn't think it so, considering how poor the dialogue is. The plot has some interesting twists and features a fair amount of character development, and there's even a few love stories thrown in. Some darker themes are also explored, like slavery. Sadly, the shabby text holds it all back. This is most likely due to a shoddy localization, which was a common thing back in those days. In addition to various grammatical errors, there are times when it feels like the dialogue was written by a child. It's not always that bad, but it frequently bounces back and forth between decent and juvenile. Soul Blazer also had this issue, but that game didn't have near the amount of dialogue that Illusion of Gaia does, nor was it nearly as important. It's a shame the dialogue to Illusion of Gaia isn't better written, because the story it tries to tell isn't half bad. This doesn't ruin the game or anything, as the game play is fun enough to make up for it, but the experience would have been even more remarkable if the story was conveyed more competently.

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This game is a huge step up from Soul Blazer in graphics and music. Influential manga artist, Moto Hagio, worked on the cool character designs, and Yasuhiro Kawasaki composed the swell soundtrack. The colors are bright and plentiful, the sprites are big and detailed, and the backgrounds are splendid. When you swing your weapon, the sprite will actually consistently show the weapon in the same hand regardless of where you're facing, which is nice attention to detail. Environments also have surprisingly realistic shadows, especially for an SNES game. The animation is good, too. Examples of the impressive animation can be seen when Will's clothes sway with the wind in airy places, or how he periodically blinks his eyes. Stylistically, the visuals in Illusion of Gaia look like a cross between Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger, which is a match made in heaven, considering those are some of the best looking games on the SNES. The artists for this game must have also been carpenters, because they absolutely nailed it.

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Will is willful the protagonist of this story and the one individual you control. He is a young boy armed with a flute and telekinetic abilities. Rather than playing music, Will uses his flute as a weapon to swat enemies with. It's not very powerful, but it gets the job done. If you press forward after attacking, you'll do a lunge attack that's a little stronger. With telekinesis, Will is able to block projectiles and draw objects towards him, like small statues. The latter is used to solve a couple of simple puzzles in the game. You can also double tap the d-pad to run. Oddly enough, the game also employs a lives system. Enemies will drop Dark Gems upon being defeated, and collecting a hundred of these will give you an extra life, kind of like the coins from Super Mario. As the chosen one, there are things Will can see that others cannot. Specifically, there are mysterious doors only visible to Will that teleport him to a sort of pocket dimension known as the Dark Space, where he can converse with Gaia to fully restore his health and save his game. This is merely a way to make save points flashier, but it's still cool. Being the chosen one has its perks.

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Early on in the game, Will acquires the ability to transform into different people at most save points. The first person is a dark knight named Freedan, who is decked out in heavy armor and wields a long sword. As previously mentioned, Will isn't terribly powerful on his own, considering he's just a boy and all; that's where Freedan comes in. When playing as Freedan, your strength will be greatly enhanced, you'll have longer reach on the account of your sword, and you'll have access to different abilities. This doesn't mean Will's vanilla form is useless, though, as there are certain puzzles only he can solve. Plus, each form will learn new abilities over the course of the game. While this is cool, the disappointing thing about this mechanic is the fact that there are only two transformations in the game, one of which is obtained nearly at the end. Transforming into different warriors is a cool concept that would have been much cooler if there were more forms.

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Generally, each major area is divided into a town and dungeon, both of which carry similar themes, though that's not always the case. You'll encounter many varied vistas on your worldly adventure, many of which may seem familiar if you're into geography. A lot of the areas are inspired by real world locations, like the Incan ruins, the Nazca Lines, Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China, and the ancient Egyptian pyramids. Mixing fantasy elements with real world history and geography is an interesting twist on the basic RPG formula. You'll do many cool things on this adventure, like escaping from prison, discovering a golden ship of legend, being lost at sea on a raft, exploring a garden that floats in the sky, flying a plane, and even visiting an undersea palace. The varied scenery and more involving story give Illusion of Gaia a far grander sense of adventure than Soul Blazer.

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Towns are jovial places in Illusion of Gaia. Most towns are bustling with activity, filled with countless people to engage in pointless conversations with. Due to the way in which villagers wander about, towns in this game feel livelier than usual. The first village demonstrates this by having the townsfolk walk around and do various things, like a woman lifting a pot from one location to another, or two townies stopping next to each other for a bit of a chat. These types of movements make it seem as if the villagers are capable of sentient thought, even though they obviously aren't. All of these actions are scripted, of course, but they preserve the illusion that these are real towns with real people. It's that illusion that helps establish an immersive world. Perhaps that's the illusion the game's title is alluding to. I kid, but you never know.

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Dungeons are action packed and full of monsters, traps, and sometimes puzzles. Comparisons to Zelda are unavoidable here, though the dungeons in this game are less reliant on puzzles and locked doors. Similar to Soul Blazer, killing enemies is sometimes necessary to progress further, as the demise of certain foes will occasionally create bridges or destroy walls. As such, dungeons are more a test of your brawn than your brain. The first few dungeons are leniently linear, but they do eventually increase in complexity and decrease in linearity. Some dungeons incorporate interesting gimmicks, like this floating fortress that has you switching between an upside down and right side up version of it, or another one where you need to lower the water level. However, for the most part, dungeons are just an excuse to slaughter enemies. That's okay, though, because slaughtering enemies is fun.

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Most major dungeons conclude with a boss battle, and most of the bosses in this game are hard. It takes a while to get to the first boss, but once you do, you're in for a rude awakening. As hard as the boss battles are, though, they never feel unfair, and they're always doable. Besides, the bosses in this game are also pretty cool. The aforementioned first boss is a giant demon that pokes its head from out of a pit and swipes at you with its hands, while also shooting projectiles around the room. It may not be that innovative, but it's hella rad, and the intense difficulty helps keep the fight interesting. Another particularly unique boss fight is against a husband and wife vampire duo. In this battle, a friend of Will's is tied to a bomb and you need to win the fight before it explodes. This is wildly considered to be the hardest boss fight in the entire game, but it's also one of the coolest. Bosses in Illusion of Gaia are certainly difficult, but they're also good.

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Like many RPGs, Will can and will grow stronger as he journeys the world. Unlike many RPGs, however, you don't get experience points or level up. Instead, you have to perform certain tasks, which usually consist of defeating all the enemies in a given area. Basically, most dungeons are divided into multiple rooms, and each room has a static amount of enemies. Eradicating all the foes in a particular room will reward you with a permanent stat upgrade in one of the three attributes: HP, strength, or defense. Pressing start will show the number of enemies currently in the room, reveal their locations via radar, and also whether there's a stat boost or treasure chest available. You can't farm enemies in the same room to repeatedly get stat boosts; this is a onetime thing that can only be done on a per room basis. That prevents you from being over leveled, as there's a limit to how strong you can get during each point of the game. This is perhaps the greatest thing about the game, because it totally eliminates the need to grind, but still rewards you for killing monsters. More games should adopt this awesome system.

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Red Jewels act as this game's main and only side quest. The point to gathering Red Jewels is to give them to a jeweler named Gem, a self proclaimed master of disguise who takes on the appearance of a different person every time you meet him. Every so many jewels, Gem will hand you a prize. The prizes range from permanent stat boosts to extra or enhanced abilities, making jewel collection well worth the trouble. The problem is in actually getting them. They're secretly hidden throughout the environment, sometimes being completely undetectable to the naked eye. Most of them are hidden inside jars, Dragon Warrior style, while some are simply found in treasure chests. A few of them require tedious tasks, like this bit at the beginning of the game where you need to repeatedly reenter a cave to get a bejeweled fisherman to appear. That's by far one of the worst ones to get, because it takes forever. Red Jewels are certainly useful, but they're annoying to get.

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There are two massive problems with this game: it's extremely linear and too many things can be permanently missed out on. Almost every area of the game instantly becomes inaccessible after you leave it, preventing you from revisiting old towns and dungeons. As a result of that, if you missed out on any Red Jewels or potential stat boosts, then you're usually out of luck, because you'll never get a second chance at obtaining them. This can place you at a significant disadvantage later in the game, as you'll be weaker when taking on the tougher bosses. The same is true of herbs, which are consumable items that replenish your HP. There are a finite number of herbs in the game, and if you miss or squander them all, then you won't have any for the truly tough fights. The game doesn't have any currency or shops, so you can't simply buy extra herbs. Essentially, if you don't want to miss anything important, then you'll have to play the game while following a walkthrough, and that's lame.

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The wondrous quality of Illusion of Gaia is no illusion. This game improves upon Soul Blazer in almost every department: graphics, sound, story, and game play. The world feels worldlier, the adventure feels more authentic, the boss battles are awesome, and the leveling system is brilliant. It does mess up a couple of things, though, like the fact that it's completely linear and the total ban on backtracking. Nobody likes it when backtracking is mandatory, but outright preventing the player from doing so isn't the correct solution to that problem. The game has a beautiful world, and you're not allowed to revel in that beauty. That's downright criminal. It's also a completionist's nightmare, what with the Red Jewels and stat bonuses being permanently missable. The game does make up for those shortcomings by being really good, though. Illusion of Gaia is a bit too linear, but a fantastic game nonetheless.

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