Review by PizzaDude371
"A fun and mystifying action RPG"
Illusion of Gaia is the middle child of the Soul Blazer trilogy, a loosely-tied set of action RPGs developed by Quintet for the SNES, with Soul Blazer being the first released and Terranigma being the last released. This review may contain several comparisons between Illusion of Gaia and the other two games in the series, so forgive me if you getting tired of hearing of them. To me, this game holds sentimental value since it was the first RPG for the console that I played through and beat. Back then I knew little about the large library of SNES RPGs I would eventually experience; I knew only of the wonders of whacking enemies with a flute and sniping them with Dark Friar in good ol' Illusion of Gaia. Even though I may have a little bias for this game, I still feel that this is a genuinely good game that has some real substance to it in terms of gameplay and atmosphere. It may not be a perfect game, but I still love the crap out of it.
Illusion of Gaia is an action RPG that has gameplay similar to Soul Blazer yet different enough to stand on its own as a unique-feeling entry in the series. For those unfamiliar with the Soul Blazer trilogy, they are action RPGs that are in the same vein as the Zelda series. You control the protagonist Will, who wields a flute as a weapon and gains psychic powers that act as special moves, such as the psycho dash, throughout the game. Later on you can control Freedan, a dark knight, and Shadow, a man made of pure energy. Each of these three characters have their own abilities, thus there are some areas that are accessible to only one of them. This makes you have incentive to use all three, which diversifies the gameplay a bit and makes the dungeons a lot of fun, particularly the late-game ones. The progression of the game consists of traveling from towns or peaceful areas, where you interact with NPC's and advance the story, to dungeons, where you fight monsters and other enemies. The real meat of the game takes place in the dungeons, which are a real blast. The dungeons consist of combat, puzzles, and using Will and his allies' abilities to plow through dungeons that may or may not have a boss battle at the end. Unlike Soul Blazer, there are no weapon upgrades in this game. Instead, you power up by defeating all the enemies in a screen, which will increase one of your stats. Once you kill the enemies, they are gone forever, so there's no way to grind in this game. Also, the game feels more linear than most RPGs, since the world map is very restricting and you are not allowed to revisit old areas.
Items are somewhat rare in this game. There are healing herbs and other story items you can obtain, yet for the most part items are not too important here. However, there are some important hidden items called red jewels that you can trade with a collector to get healing herbs or new abilities. Some of these are very well hidden, so it may take a couple playthroughs or a walkthrough to find them all. If you find all 50, you get access to an optional dungeon towards the end of the game. Getting all 50 can be tough, since you only have one chance to get most of them since you can't revisit old areas. This red jewel hunt helps to add a little replay value to the game that is otherwise lacking it.
Illusion of Gaia is a lot of fun to play. The game may have some problems but its core gameplay is not one of them. The level design for the dungeons is great, and the game has a steadily rising difficulty that never gets too easy or too difficult. I think the worst parts of the game are the times between dungeons, which can be a little dry and go on for too long and hurt the flow of the game. Most of the time the game is a lot of fun, though.
The story of Illusion of Gaia follows Will, a young boy with psychic powers who has a connection to Dark Space, which is a metaphysical place where he talks with a being known as Gaia and can transform into the dark warriors Freedan and Shadow. Gaia informs Will that he must venture out from his home village to save the world from an evil brought forth from a comet. It is also a bit of a coming-of-age story for Will and his band of friends. Will lives on the actual planet Earth, with many real-life places such as the Great Wall of China making appearances in the game. On the whole, the storyline is decent but nothing too spectacular. There are times where the game feels very surreal and mystifying, such as the time warp on the gold ship. The story definitely has its moments, such as the last parts of the game and the part where you visit a starving village, yet there are also many times when the storyline drags and the dialogue feels forced or awkward. I will say that it is an improvement from Soul Blazer in terms of its story, however it isn't on the same level as Terranigma.
The characters in Illusion of Gaia are fairly interesting, yet there is no one who stands as the best character. Will, the main character, has a bland personality, even if he does undergo some character development. The same is true for Kara, the female lead. The supporting cast seems to have more interesting personalities, such as Lily and Neil. Freedan and Shadow may not have personality or character development but are worth it as characters simply because of how badass they are. There is never a truly centralized villain until the end of the game, yet there are many mini-villains, such as an assassin named Jackal, that you will encounter. Overall the characters in the game are good enough, even if the protagonists are a tad uninteresting.
-Music and Sound Effects-
The music in Illusion of Gaia is quite good most of the time and helps to give the game a great sense of atmosphere. There may not be as many memorable tracks in here as there are in other games of its time, yet there are still some excellent songs. My favorite song from the game In the Earthen Womb plays during the ending and is truly beautiful. The town theme is also really good, as is the sad theme called Will's Dream. Many of the themes in the dungeons and in the areas between dungeons give feelings of ambience that give the game a powerful atmosphere. I would say that, like the story, this game's music is better than Soul Blazer's yet not quite as good as Terranigma's.
The sound effects are acceptable enough, I suppose. There is nothing that sounds too impressive yet there is nothing that is underwhelming or out of place. So overall they are about what you'd expect from a 16-bit game made in 1993.
The graphics are a step-up from Soul Blazer, and the game still looks good today. It's not quite on par with later RPGs on the SNES, yet I still think the graphics were well done. The sprites have a good amount of detail on them and the backgrounds look good as well. The graphic design for the towns and dungeons was done well, as most areas have a distinct look. Many of the bosses look large and threatening. Shadow's sprite looks really well done. The final battle is also impressive visually. There are also some small details in the graphics that I appreciate, such as Will's hair moving in the wind. Overall, I like the graphics in Illusion of Gaia. I think any lover of 16-bit graphics would too.
-Challenge, Length, and Replay-
In all honesty, the game is at about a perfect challenge level. As I said earlier, the game steadily gets harder yet never becomes too challenging or too easy. It is probably about the same challenge as Terranigma, though in different ways. Since you have very limited healing items in this game and there is no way to grind, your combat skill is at a greater emphasis in this game, which is a good thing.
Like all games in the Soul Blazer trilogy, Illusion of Gaia is pretty short. It will probably only take 12-15 hours to beat. It is probably longer than Soul Blazer yet shorter than Terranigma.
There is not much replay value in the game, other than the quest for red jewels. Then again, it is a short game, so replaying it again wouldn't be too huge of a time investment.
Gameplay 9/10 (great)
Story 7/10 (above average)
Music/Sound 8/10 (good)
Graphics 8/10 (good)
Overall 9/10 (great)
Any fan of action RPGs or Quintet games is advised to track this game down and give it a shot. It shouldn't be too expensive to find the cartridge on eBay, and it would be well worth it for any SNES enthusiast. It may be clear from the review that I think that this game is right in the middle in terms of quality in the Soul Blazer trilogy. In other words it's better than Soul Blazer yet worse than Terranigma. It should be noted that I think all three are high quality action RPGs.
This game holds a lot of nostalgic power in me, so I may be more lenient on this game than some others would. Yet I also truly think there is a great game here, one that newcomers can appreciate to this day. The game's greatest strength is its dungeons and its combat, without a doubt. Its greatest weakness is its story and the sometimes boring gaps between dungeons. In the end, Illusion of Gaia still offers a really fun experience despite some of its weird flaws.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/07/11
Game Release: Illusion of Gaia (US, 09/30/94)
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