RELEASED: November 27, 1993
AVAILABLE ON: SNES
PUBLISHER(S): Enix, Nintendo
"Is that The Legend of Zelda?" It might look like it, but no - it's Illusion of Gaia, one of Enix's most popular 90's titles alongside any Dragon Quest game. This game was promoted quite well internationally, thanks to Nintendo themselves, who took on the duties of publishing the game everywhere in the world a year and a half into its original release in Japan - in Europe, we knew the game as Illusion of Time. Connections to any earlier games were hardly mentioned back in those times, it was only later that people stopped looking at the game as a stand-alone, cute little RPG, and started to treat it as a follow-up to 1992's Soul Blazer, therefore also a follow-up to ActRaiser, although the Master is no longer part of the equation. Illusion of Gaia was also much closer to a true RPG than any of its predecessors in this curious arc by Quintet, but still as simple and accessible as a genre game could possibly be in those times and survive the competition. And, it's pretty good; a strangely attractive game, despite a slow start and a few major shortcomings.
Restoring the laws of evolution
|Sure about that, slick?|
I always had some sort of infatuation with this game. Perhaps it's because I like the word "Gaia" so much, perhaps it's because it was treated moderately well for an Enix RPG in a time that Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger were the genre games to watch for. I first played the game in 2001, and back then, I could see the errors of its ways, but I appreciated how simple and accessible it was, and I liked how the combat combined elements from both Legend of Zelda and conventional RPG's. After getting run over by a train of frustration when it comes to the worst parts of Soul Blazer, I find myself appreciating Illusion of Gaia even more... but in turn, I've matured and I can see the unique errors of its ways a lot clearer than before. Simply put, Illusion of Gaia is definitely not as good as I remembered, but definitely worth a look if you're able to digest all the cons I will try my best to cover as I go.
|Freedan in Mushroom Kingdom.|
You are asked many questions with multiple choice answers, but only one of them's right. For an easy example, if you answer "No" when you're supposed to answer "Yes", the NPC just keeps repeating the question until you say "Yes". Sometimes, NPC's will artificially comply to whatever your response is, but the story still develops according to the "right" answer. How open-ended indeed.
General graphics are only so-so when pitted against the most fabulous-looking genre games of the time, but there are some nice level-specific elements like a rain of flowers or a whole village that bobs up and down while you're exploring. The music ain't that special either - they once again opted to switch to a different, inexperienced composer, and this time, they didn't end up with one truly memorable tune. It's not bad, just forgettable.
On your trip, you'll find regular gemstones yielded by defeated enemies. Gathering 100 of these grants you an extra "life" (it's-a-me, Maaaaariooo!!), in this case meaning a checkpoint at the last door you entered; otherwise, you'll return to the last save point. Believe me, you'll need those - the game likes to have a huge piece of your ass every once in a while. You'll also find hidden Red Jewels, which there are 50 altogether. Bringing these to Gem, who is found in most inhabited areas, and hitting a certain numerical mark grants you a special item or ability. For a simple example, further boosts to your basic stats. No special weapons or anything like that, but for the last item, an optional boss to fight, and he might or might not be someone you know from the earlier games. Neat.
|The three heroes and the boss lady.|
I said you'll have to do with the flute, but would I like the game if it was that simple? Probably not. Quite early on at another particular save point, Will goes through a metamorphosis and changes into a pumped up knight with a long-ass sword called Freedan. Freedan has high power and range, which make him a very essential "friend" to have along on dungeon crawls, but he lacks Will's special talents (in the beginning, it's always the case of the fucking flute), which means that you can't just go bashing everyone's face in using Freedan all the time, but need to go back to the save point or sometimes, just wait for the game's decision to revert him back to Will. There's another alternative character that steps in much, much later, who's even better, and once you finally get to play as this character, you will find it very tough to be forced to go back to your own self.
|I burned a guy alive. With my flute. I'm awesome.|
As a whole, Illusion of Gaia is an entertaining and challenging game for any 16-bit RPG and/or adventure game enthusiast. You just have to fine-tune your receivers a little. The writers were very likely high as kites while scripting this game, it's extremely linear and the "cutscenes" are drawn way out of proportion, and it's really confusing at times altogether, but it's also an effortlessly accessible game for the RPG newbie, and the combat's simple and paced really well. I think that in the end, the game plays out slightly better than Soul Blazer... but has nothing on the final game in Quintet's SNES trilogy.
+ Easy access
+ Good combat mechanics, with a clever development system directly tied to the combat
+ Some clever puzzles
+ Another unique story with a lot of real world history tied in...
- ...However, it is told very poorly; the dialogue is uncomfortable to read with the third-person narrative mixed in, it's dumb anyway, and finally, long, linear and sometimes cryptic sequences ruin every remaining ounce of enjoyment
- Very confusing level design, partly caused by the graphical limitations (ie. dimensional differences)
- Item management is still a huge problem - although an update to what we had to suffer through in Soul Blazer
< 7.9 >