Console: Super NES Company: Enix Release Date: October 1994 Genre: Adventure Number of Players: 1 Save Feature? Yes
Talk about an underrated classic! Illusion of Gaia just might be the most underrated game to be released for the Super NES. In terms of atmosphere and intrigue, this game is as solid as they come. For those of you who couldn't get enough of Zelda or Secret of Mana, Illusion of Gaia is the perfect remedy!
Overview: Illusion of Gaia is a feast for fans of old school adventures like The Legend of Zelda or Crystalis. It has that unique feel that makes an adventure game truly epic with a hint of RPG elements thrown in. The battles are real-time like in Secret of Mana yet there are a multitude of puzzles like in Zelda 3. And while the game is more linear than even Final Fantasy IV (which is saying a lot), there are still enough secrets to keep you coming back.
While Gaia shares many similarities with other adventure games, it actually strikes me as being quite original. This may sound like a contradiction but there is just something about this game that I find special. There is just a certain mystique about the game that makes it so enjoyable. Some of the music creates an incredible feel and the whole ruins/comet theme gave the game a deliciously mysterious feel. You'd have to actually play the game to understand.
In terms of actual gameplay, Illusion of Gaia is as sound as any adventure game out there. Venturing through a variety of locales including the underwater palace of Mu, the Great Pyramid, and even the legendary Tower of Babel keeps the intrigue at a high level while the gameplay is smooth and just a lot of fun. While Will is the main hero in Gaia, two other "spirits" by the names of Freedan and Shadow add enough variety to keep things interesting. I have always liked how each character has unique abilities that only that character could use. This added to the game's challenge because, in certain situations, you have to use a specific character to progress further. Some of the abilities are really cool too. Will can eventually slide and spin-jump, Freedan's abilities include a Dark Friar magic shot along with the awesome Aura Shield, and Shadow can transform into water both avoiding enemies and moving through walls! Pretty sweet stuff!
As I mentioned before, Illusion of Gaia leans heavily on the linear side. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on the player. Some gamers such as myself prefer a game loaded with subplots and sidequests (ala Final Fantasy) while others are just fine with a game that sticks to the main story (i.e. you know exactly what to do next). Personally, I would have enjoyed a more non-linear approach but still, Illusion of Gaia is a quality game pak with a surprisingly high level of lasting value.
Graphics: Being released at the same time as the groundbreaking hit Donkey Kong Country really wasn't fair but still, Gaia's graphics are quite impressive! The various locales are portrayed vividly with vibrant colors, the animation is smooth for the most part (some of the character animations are iffy), and the characters are slightly larger than in most adventures/RPGs. While Gaia's graphics can't match Final Fantasy VI's attention to detail or the earth-shattering ACM graphics of Donkey Kong Country, the game still provides enough eye candy to keep even the stingiest of gamers satisfied.
Some of the backgrounds graphics like the ocean in the Underwater Palace or the parallax-scrolling in the Sky Palace were very nice effects and helped to create the mysterious atmosphere of Gaia. You can't forget the impressive subscreen graphics either (ooh...spooky!) Also, some of the little animations like Will's hair blowing in the wind or Shadow's movements were a nice touch.
Music: Without the music, the mysterious aura that gives Illusion of Gaia its originality would be completely erased. While a lot of the music in Gaia is certainly on the average side, some of the tunes are truly remarkable. Some of the soft tracks that play when you venture deep into the ruins are simply perfect and the flashback/dreaming tune is very fitting as well. The lighthearted town theme and heroic palace tune are also nice to the ears.
Like I said, nothing is really earth-shattering and the game's soundtrack couldn't pass as stand-alone music and yet, within the context of the game, Enix did a magnificient job! I'll admit that it couldn't hold a candle to the legendary FFVI or Donkey Kong Country soundtracks but it does exactly what a video game soundtrack is supposed to do. Like I said before, the incredible atmosphere that permeates Illusion of Gaia would be completely non-existant without the game's music. I couldn't imagine playing this game without the eerie "battle" music or the mysterious "soft" tune; it would go from being an incredible epic to becoming merely average.
Play Control: The controls in Gaia are extremely smooth and user-friendly. If you have played any other adventure games like Zelda or Crystalis, the learning curve is virtually nil here. Seriously, this game would make any old-school gamer proud because, while it reeks of simplicity, true mastery takes both time and skill. The battles can be a lot of fun once you master special abilities like Freedan's Dark Friar and Will's slide and spin-dash attacks. There comes a point in the game where you will have had to master these skills too; trust me on this one!
Challenge: While some of the enemies and guardians can be awfully tough to defeat (That last dungeon is simply brutal!!), the real challenge in Illusion of Gaia is being able to figure out the various puzzles and learning what to do next. And believe me, there will be times during your first playthrough (or third like in my case!!) that you will be completely lost as to what to do. In some cases, you will need to find a certain item and place it in the correct location (like the Incan statues or Statues of Hope in Mu) while in others, you might need to attack a wall, search the area through and through, or play the flute to progress further. What really impressed me about Gaia is that there are a wide variety of tasks that you will have to accomplish during your journey. The variety is actually quite remarkable! Even pros will find this game to be difficult at times.
Storyline: If you enjoy astronomy and/or history, you'll love the story in Illusion of Gaia. It is mysterious enough to add to the game's interest yet it involves actual locales! The Incan ruins, Great Wall of China, Great Pyramid, and Tower of Babel are all here in addition to true legends such as the underwater palace of Mu and the Sky Palace. Enix did a very nice job of creating the right feel for each area too. Mystery pervades this game from start to finish.
Simply put, the main story involves a doomsday comet, a young hero (Will) and his friends, and a quest to search out the world's ruins for answers. As you progress further and further, the truth gradually comes into focus and the true identity/purpose of the comet becomes known to Will and friends. However, there is so much more to the game's story than what meets the eye. For one thing, the story is surprisingly deep. In actuality, this comet is not approaching the Earth for the first time. As you will discover, past civilizations experienced a similar visit and various signs including a massive drawing of the constellation Cygnus the Swan prove that the comet has indeed been near the Earth before.
Not only that but Will himself even has a mysterious connection with the comet. A visit to the Tower of Babel one year ago changed young Will's life forever. His father is missing, he mysteriously winded up back in his hometown of South Cape without a scratch, and he now possesses strange telekinetic powers. It all adds up to a very intriguing adventure!
Funfactor: Illusion of Gaia is quite the surprise in this area! In terms of overall playability and enjoyment, I would have to place it right up there with the legendary Zelda 3 and Secret of Mana game paks! This is truly remarkable because, while Gaia is substantially shorter in length and relatively unknown compared to these two giants, it is just as much fun to play. Searching out the ruins with three unique characters, discovering secret treasure chests and red jewels, and being introduced to one of the more intriguing stories is tough to beat! Definitely give this game a whirl if you haven't already!
Negatives: At least to me, Illusion of Gaia came across as being both too linear and too short. More areas, more subplots, and more secrets would have been wonderful additions to this game. And while the challenge level is relatively stable, things get totally out of whack in the game's final area. Having to fight three bosses in a row without herbs or a save point is simply ludicrous!
On the more artsy side of things, some of the character animation (e.g. Kara "running") feels very stiff. It just doesn't have that loose and lifelike feel of Chrono Trigger or even Zelda 3. And while some of the music in Gaia is very impressive, additional tunes would have been nice. Some tracks like the dungeon theme just grow old after a while.
Ratings: Graphics: 4.2 Music: 4.2 Play Control: 4.3 Challenge: 4.4 Storyline: 4.5 Funfactor: 4.5 Overall Score: 26.1 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Silver Stud!
Back to Super NES SpecialLast Updated: May 21, 2006