Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Illusion of Gaia (SNES)

Illusion of Gaia
Action Role-Playing Game, Super Nintendo Entertainment System
1994 Enix

For some reason, Illusion of Gaia is one of the games from my childhood whose box art is forever ingrained in my head. An Enix release from smack dab in the middle of their SNES RPG dynasty, it follows closely to the formula they used in many other games. But does it hold up to the test of time?

Illusion of Gaia: Will whines about his missing father

Our protagonist, Will, has been raised by his grandparents because his archaeologist parents went missing (StarTropics anyone?). He lives out his dull life in a small town, until one day he receives a summons from the king. Armed with naught but a strange psychic flute, he embarks upon a journey through many familiar real-world ancient landmarks to solve the mystery of his parents' disappearance and a strange comet that is due to pass the planet.

Illusion of Gaia: Will navigates a dungeon

The general gameplay consists of towns and dungeons, both of which are reached through a rudimentary world map. The dungeons are much in the style of Zelda, Secret of Mana, or any other action RPG from the same era. Will upgrades his defense, attack power, and health by destroying all the enemies on a given screen. The elements of each dungeon vary, but ultimately the goal is to collect a number of ancient relics.

Illusion of Gaia: Dark Space

One interesting gameplay feature is Dark Space. Sprinkled throughout the towns and dungeons of Gaia are black portals that lead to a screen used to save and change characters. Or, at least transform characters. Or mutate. To be honest, it's never quite explained why or how Will has three forms; perhaps they're different aspects of himself or entirely different beings altogether. It's also not established that Will finds it in any way strange that he, a humble peasant boy, can tear open the fabric of spacetime and shapeshift inexplicably.

While on the tangent of odd character quirks, I should mention that the plot of this game is the real weak point. There are some earnest attempts on Enix's part to create heart-wrenching scenes, but with no attachment to the entirely one-dimensional characters, it comes across as nothing but sappy and childish. This is worsened by the fact that there are a few unskippable, heavily contrived character development scenes (trapped in a prison cell, adrift on a raft at sea). Real life locations are integrated into the world of Gaia, like Incan ruins, the pyramids in Egypt, and the Great Wall of China. While all the art assets are well-drawn, the disjointed and frankly pointless inclusion of some of the places make for a forgettable journey.

Illusion of Gaia: Freedan fights a boss
Bobby, did you get stuck in that hole again?

If you close your eyes and rapidly hit the "A" button to skip through the bad dialogue, you're left with just the dungeons. The controls and combat are tight, intuitive, and interesting. New abilities acquired through the alternate forms of Freedan and Shadow mean you'll have to frequently switch characters in order to complete certain puzzles. Sometimes it takes a bit of thinking to figure out, but a challenge is always good. Aside from the bosses, the enemies are rather unimaginative and often make no sense as to why they would exist in their surroundings.

Even with all the bad I have to say about the game's plot, Illusion of Gaia is actually quite a fun time. Anyone who enjoys action RPGs will surely get some enjoyment out of it. It's sort of like when you go and see the next big awfully-plotted action blockbuster in the theater. It's not because you're expecting a masterpiece, it's because you want to just have some mindless fun. If you go into this game with such a mindset, you'll certainly find something to like.


  1. Wow, I haven’t thought of this one in years! I can’t remember it well enough to remember if the storyline was at all engaging, but I do remember this being a sort of kid adventure with Will and his friends, and I do recall some creepy and atmospheric dungeons. One thing I’ll never forget was having a lot of trouble with a challenging boss fight with a pair of vampires and getting stuck in dungeons a lot with too much pride, or stubbornness, to look in the manual or call the Nintendo Power hotline, LOL. Another thing that has stuck with me is what I remember to be the final screen shot in the game of a freeze frame of Will and his friends in school, but all of a sudden in modern times.

    1. Yep, the "twist" at the end is that they save the world but everyone forgets it ever happened so they don't get any recognition for doing so. Lame!