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CONSOLE: SNES DEVELOPER: Quintet PUBLISHER: Enix/Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): September 1, 1994 GENRE: Action-RPG
// review by Jeff

That's not an illusion; it's really Gaia!

Although the NES had its fair share of RPGs, it was the SNES (and to a lesser but nonetheless significant extent, the Sega Genesis) that helped with the upward momentum of the genre. It was on the SNES that many RPGs started their stride into the mainstream gaming circuit, most notably the Final Fantasy series, the Breath of Fire series, and even Square Enix's Mana series. But also notable in the world's RPG timeline was a trilogy (with a somewhat related fourth title subsequently added in the next generation of consoles) from developer Quintet, consisting first of Soul Blazer, then Illusion of Gaia, and lastly the more elusive Terranigma. Illusion of Gaia was the highest-selling title of the bunch and is considered a classic on the SNES. But... was it really that great? Let's find out more!

Illusion of Gaia recollects the journey of Will, a teenager raised in a seaside town who finds himself at a crossroads with destiny. Pretty heavy stuff, eh? He has psychic abilities, being able to move objects using the power of the mind. It seemed a tad unusual to his friends, but nobody seemed to question the reason as to why Will has been given these abilities. After meeting the mysterious Gaia -- more like a floating Medusa head who doesn't turn you to stone -- Will discovers that he has a stronger fate than imagined: he will save the Earth from impending doom! His travels will take him all over the world, and it is strongly hinted that this is, in fact, Earth as we, the player, know it. The game makes mention of numerous historical and geographical addenda, such as the voyages of Christopher Columbus, the Great Wall of China, Incan ruins, and the existence of Aztecs. If this isn't Earth, it's some sort of parallel Earth.


That's right, folks: on occasion, Will is on shrooms.

It sounds daunting enough, but of course, he is not alone on his journey. Friends from his hometown, the snobby princess Kara, the unique tribesgirl Lily (unique as in, "I can transform into a floating dandelion seed at will."), and the inventor Neil, who seems to be able to invent pretty much anything. Most of these people will be of some help at one point or another, though not always. But Will has more help beyond those of the human world. Within the "Dark Space" where he can speak with Gaia (and save and heal), Will has the option (sometimes) of transforming into the Dark Knight, Freedan, or, much later on, Shadow, the being made of pure contained energy. How can Will take on the form of energy? Frankly, questions like these will hurt the brain, so leave them alone. I'm not entirely certain why Will is able to enter this state of metamorphosis, but such is the beauty of video games as art: it's up to the imagination to interpret the whats and the whys. ...or it could just be an oversight on the part of the developer. Take your pick.

Illusion of Gaia takes on the action-RPG format and does so in a unique way. There are no weapons to pick up, no armor to don, and no currency to collect. In fact, items in the game are limited to herbs (the only healing item in the game, which are in extremely limited supply), specialty items needed to advance (such as keys), and Red Jewels (which I will discuss shortly). Sadly, your inventory is questionably limited to sixteen spaces, so you may find yourself in a bit of a quandary later on. And Will doesn't gain "experience points" like other RPGs. Instead, if you defeat all the enemies in most rooms within the different areas of the game, you will automatically receive a boost in strength, vitality, or defense. All I can say is that you should ensure all enemies are defeated. Luckily, if you press Start, there's a nice subscreen that not only indicates how many monsters remain in your area, but also where they are located (not to mention if there are any treasure chests you missed).

I mentioned Red Jewels. At least, I think I did... *looks up a bit* Yes, yes, I did. Red Jewels are hidden throughout the entire world; there are 50 altogether. They're pretty hard to find, especially considering that you can't really SEE them until they enter your inventory. Once you find any Red Jewels, be sure to take them to the Jeweler Gem (or send them flying through the air if you're nowhere near him), who semi-conveniently pops up from town to town in different disguises. I don't know what kind of a name "Jeweler Gem" is, but it sounds ridiculous. Unfortunately, because the game develops in such a linear fashion and has been designed so that you (generally) cannot return to previous locations once you have decided to leave, if you miss a gem (and it's extremely easy to do so), it's gone forever unless you reload your previously saved game or start the game over. The more Red Jewels you collect, the greater the rewards, ranging from a simple herb for healing to permanent strength enhancements for Will & Co., and even a trip to the Jeweler Gem's wacky mansion for... well, okay, aside from another healing herb and a scrap of additional background to the plot, there really isn't any motivation to go here, except for the sake of game completion.


The gang have a tendency to end up in a wide variety of locations... even the middle of the ocean (not by choice)!

But is the game fun? In a nutshell, yes. Going around stabbing anything that moves is always a good time in my book. The difficulty of the game was reasonable enough; the bosses may give you a run for your money, but that's to be expected. There are certain aspects that hold me back from loving Illusion of Gaia excessively. Its translation to English is bland, leaving dialogue between characters dull, awkward, and occasionally confusing. I realize that Illusion of Gaia is supposed to carry a high level of mysticism, but the text of the game failed to feel 'natural', if you will. However, I did appreciate that a pig was named Hamlet early on in the game, only to be roasted and eaten (of its own free will) later on and be lamented with the phrase, "To eat or not to eat." That's wonderful. And although the game IS fun, it also feels empty by comparison to other games of its time. That Final Fantasy III and Secret of Mana came out in the same year makes this RPG feel a bit aged. Its overall customization factor is low -- you have the same weapon the entire game, for example -- by comparison, putting it more in line with Final Fantasy Mystic Quest in that regard. I am not someone who loves excessive customization abilities in a game, but to have none can be just as heinous a crime. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest may have slipped by because it was DESIGNED to be a beginner's game, but this clearly wasn't, so... shame, shame!

The game looks... alright. It's not exactly loaded with absolutely stunning visuals or pretty special effects, but the graphics get the job done, even if they look like somewhat like an advanced creation of RPG Maker. The characters are unique, though the monster designs seem positively corny. However, the environments DO look rather suitable, whether a darker atmosphere or brighter environs are necessary. Likewise, the music is rather quaint and enjoyable, even though it often feels as though there is inadequate variation in the soundtrack.

I asked at the beginning whether Illusion of Gaia should be considered a classic or not. I'm going to declare that it's a decent enough game, but compared to the heavy hitters on the console, it's not quite making the cut. Is it a solid addition to your gaming library, though? Certainly. A game library with Illusion of Gaia is richer than one without. It's definitely one of the better action-RPGs and it could be worth your while.


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