Illusion of Gaia
Platform:  Super Nintendo
Players:  1
Save Method:  Battery

    Illusion of Gaia is a game I once told myself that I'd never review simply because I'm biased toward this title.  It is my all time favorite SNES game and I guess if I had to choose I would say it is my favorite video game over all others. Initially this game didn't appeal to me all that much, I had seen it on television as a preview for upcoming titles from Nintendo and it didn't look all that spectacular.  However, for some reason the name stuck in my head until a few years later when I was at a newly opened video store and came across a copy of Illusion of Gaia for rental.  The game had an included strategy guide in the manual and it looked okay, so I figured why not.  It was a day later that I realized what a wise decision it was to pick up this title.  The story line really got to me, the control was smooth, the visuals were great, the sound was amazing, and it was the first time in a long time that I had stayed awake until the middle of the next day playing a game.  I'll try to be as unbiased as possible during my review, but fair warning up front, it won't be easy.  Illusion of Gaia is also sometimes called the second part in a trilogy of games, SoulBlazer being the first, then Illusion of Gaia, and finally Terranigma (which was released everywhere except the USA).  While all three games have the same viewpoint and basic controls, their story lines are not intertwined, and each one is a completely separate adventure in a completely different world with completely different characters.

Description:  (part in quotes taken from the manual)  "In a civilization so ancient that nothing of it remains today, the first great flowering of human knowledge produced remarkable breakthroughs in the sciences of biology and genetics.  These nameless ancients used their knowledge to create new forms of plants and animals that would make life better on earth.  Inevitably, some people twisted science and molded violent beasts of war with hideous intelligence.  The monsters terrorized the people and the civilization began to crumble.  In the end, two forces fought over the earth, the Knights of Light and Darkness.  The ultimate weapon used in that war was a comet that blazed with radiation and a strange light.  The coming of the comet destroyed that race and mutated many people and animals into evil forms, which then hid in the deepest recesses of the world.  In ages that followed, from the time of the Egyptians and Babylonians to the Incas, the comet continued to return every 800 years.  And with the return of this Chaos Comet came times of darkness, destruction and disease.  Fragmented legends of the comet's effects and clues about its origin were passed down to the civilizations that followed.  But as those nations rose then fell and time turned their works to dust, only a few treasures remained hidden in the most ancient ruins of the world.

Our story begins in the age of exploration, a time of great discoveries when brave explorers drew back the dark shrouds of fable and shed light on the ancient wonders.  In that time, a party of adventurers from the seaside town of South Cape set off to unlock one of the greatest of mysteries--the legendary Tower of Babel.  Olman, the header, led his fellow townsmen and even his son, Will, into the tower.  But then something happened and the expedition was lost without a trace... except for one.  Unfortunately, young Will couldn't remember what had happened, how he had been saved, or even how he had managed to return home after his ordeal.  Even stranger was the face that Will now possessed the power to move objects through thought alone."

The basis of Illusion of Gaia sits heavily upon evolution caused by the above mentioned evil comet.  The Egyptians, Babylonians, and Incas all were magnificent races that disappeared quite suddenly, lost from the rapid evolutionary power of the comet and turned into the next great civilization.  The player controls young Will, who leads an expedition with a group of friends to attempt to piece together what happened to his father in the Tower of Babel.  The cast of characters includes: Kara, Princess of Edward Kingdom whom Will befriends;  Lilly, a fairy of sorts from Itory Village;  Lance, one of Will's good friends who's father was also lost during the expedition to the Tower of Babel;  Seth, the bookish nerd of the group;  and Erik, the youngest of Will's friends and also the son of the richest man on the continent.  Many other characters come and go, as with any adventure game.  What sets Illusion of Gaia apart is Dark Space, a gateway that only Will with his psychic powers can see.  When in Dark Space Will can communicate with Gaia, his guardian spirit.  This serves to save your game and replenish your life, in addition as the game progresses you will learn new Dark Powers that Gaia will bestow upon young Will.  Aside from saving and powering up, as you get deeper into your adventure you will be able to turn into two beings from inside Dark Space.  The first, Freedan the Dark Knight, has a long sword for better reach and can also release energy blasts from his sword.  The second, Shadow the Ultimate Warrior, can fire beams of pure energy from his body and can also sink through floors to access new areas.  (Shadow can also fly, but only at the very end to get up to the last boss.)

Illusion of Gaia will take you all over the world as the game progresses.  From small seaside towns, to mystic underground villages, an ancient Incan gold ship, slave labor camps, pyramids, floating ruins, sprawling deserts, even to the Nazca lines, the Great Wall of China, and eventually the Tower of Babel.  This game just also has so many moments where it sends chills down my spine either from story view points or characterization.  It has an interesting mix of Zelda-like switch puzzles and memory type directional puzzles that keep things fresh throughout.  Most importantly, there is a real sense of an epic adventure in this game, there are just so many locals visited and plot twists, including a huge one at the very end.  Powering up is controlled through eliminating all the enemies in an area.  Doing this gives you either a hit point, strength, or defense upgrade.  Clearing an area of enemies also opens up doors to new areas, similar to the Zelda titles of its era.

Graphics:  One word: spectacular.  While not the dark or super detailed tour de force games like Chrono Trigger are, Illusion of Gaia has a very unique feel and is well animated throughout.  The bosses are huge and extremely detailed.  There are few sprites as well animated as Will and his counterparts in any game.  From how people walk, to the wind blowing through Will or Freedan's hair, to how breathtaking long jumps are presented, the enemy design, the gorgeous backdrops, the lighting and transparency effects (yes in a SNES game) everything just seems very lively and realistic. The art sets a very subtle tone for the feeling of each stage, especially outside the Incan Ruins, the Sky Garden (where there is a top and bottom that you actually leap off the edge of the world to move between), the Seaside Palace of Mu, and especially Angel Village.  This is also extremely well represented in the town of Watermia, which seems like a quiet floating river town until nightfall when a deadly drinking game is held called Russian Glass which you must win to obtain a pack of Kruks, giant kangaroo like animals used to transverse the desert.  Returning to the wind blowing through young Will's hair, this becomes crucial to solving many of Illusion of Gaia's puzzles such as looking for secret passages.  Another great graphical effect to bring up is how Shadow the Ultimate Warrior pulses with streaming energy throughout his body, this kind of graphical detail in a sprite is unheard of in any other game.

Sound:  Sound effects are where this game falls a little short.  The music, however, is amazing.  How they managed to get such great sound out of a SNES cartridge is beyond me.  You'll hear drums pounding, full orchestras playing, flutes soaring... it really must be heard and ads a ton of atmosphere to an already great game.  Some of the songs are strangely haunting, such as the music just prior to the ending sequence and final battle.  The music is so much perfectly suited to the game that it is woven into the atmosphere of each area.  This is easily apparent at the map screen, which contains one of the most interesting little compositions in the history of video game music.

Play Control:  For the most part, it's similar to Zelda III.  While this game is an action RPG, a hit points system is used, not all unlike Zelda III except after you attack an enemy you are shown how much damage has been done.  Control in Illusion of Gaia is perfect and more responsive than any other action RPG I have ever come across.  Everything moves at a fast pace and the wealth of special attacks and complex jumps become intuitive very quickly.  A good portion of the puzzles rely on making long timed jumps using ramps to give you a speed boost, these would be a chore if it wasn't for the spot on play control, thankfully they are a breeze and one of the most enjoyable parts of the game.

Replay:  Illusion of Gaia was the first game where the moment I had completed it, I started a new journey and set off to play through it again.  There are 50 red jewels hidden across the vast worlds, if you find them all and return them to Gem the Jeweler he will take you to a hidden stage in his mansion and reveal his history.  The Illusion of Gaia manual has a step by step guide to where each red jewel is hidden, however there are a few that are poorly described so if you really want to find them all I suggest reading a walkthrough online. Sometimes the measure of a game's replay value is that it makes such an impact that playing through the entire story again is reason enough to hit that reset button and open a new game.

Final Verdict:  Now I've tried to review this title without giving anything away, which has proved to be very difficult.  Illusion of Gaia is my all time favorite video game, not because of one thing or another, but how the whole title effects me.  This game has the most surprising ending of any title to this day, be sure to wait until after the ending credits.  If you haven't played it, you really should.  If you have played it and didn't think that much of it, then your opinion is fine and somewhat widely agreed with.  Illusion of Gaia was hyped by Nintendo to be the ultimate RPG on the SNES, as we all know it didn't go down in history as being such.  However, it remains one hell of a journey, a fantastic game from Enix, and my favorite video game.

Written on 05-12-03 by David,
Last amended on 11-19-07 by David,

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