(Super Nintendo)

Illusion of Gaia (Super Nintendo)

Game Review

Illusion of Gaia Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Marcel van Duyn

This being a great game is no illusion

In the early days of the SNES, Enix made the beloved action RPG Soul Blazer. A strange but incredibly effective mixture of RPG and very light town-building elements resulted in one of the system's most underrated games.

Although the game itself did not sell too well, Enix decided to try again, making a spiritual sequel with very loosely linked gameplay and story elements. Named Illusion of Gaia (Or Illusion of Time in Europe), there's no resurrecting of humans, animals and villages to be done this time – it's your typical "young innocent boy from a small village is the chosen one" story. You are Will, a student in South Cape, whose father was a famous explorer up until a few years ago, when he lost his life in a trap in the legendary Tower of Babel. Will was there when it happened, but doesn't remember a single thing – he somehow managed to get back to his hometown unscathed, only keeping a strange old flute he took from a chest in the tower.

It quickly turns out that this flute grants Will special abilities, allowing him to see and enter portals to the Dark Space, where he receives advice from the Earth's life force, Gaia. She (he? It?) tells Will to travel around the world and visit various ruins, collecting the ancient Mystic Dolls and taking them to the top of the Tower of Babel. This must be done to stop an incoming comet that is said to come by every few hundred years, wiping out all of civilization every time it passes.

It is not long before you embark on your quest to visit the world's ancient locales, all of which are either actual real-life places or locations from well-known myths. Throughout the game, you'll visit, among others, the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat and the sunken city of Mu. These are the main ruins you've been told to visit, but they're not the only dungeons in the game – you'll also fight through a diamond mine, an underground river, a literal castle dungeon, and more of the usual RPG fare.

Combat is a bit more involved than in Soul Blazer, in which your character could only walk in straight lines and swing his sword in one fashion (although he did have magic). Will has mastered the art of moving diagonally and has a number of other moves at his disposal. He can do a jumping strike or block projectiles at the start, but will learn additional techniques over the course of the game, such as a slide tackle and a tornado spin. Will probably has the most improbable weapon in any video game ever, as he fights using the flute he found on his father's final expedition – it's fairly strong, but most of the time you'll be wanting to locate the Dark Space entrances in a particular dungeon. This is because at some locales, Gaia will allow you to transform into Freedan, a knight who moves slower but has much more powerful attacks. As most dungeons also have puzzle-solving, however, you can't just use Freedan all the time – some puzzle solutions will require you to switch back to Will. Near the end of the game, you'll gain access to a second transformation, but it is not nearly as useful as Freedan.

Although Soul Blazer (and later Terranigma) allowed you to find and use better armour and weapons, Illusion does things a bit differently. Every dungeon is, quite naturally, divided up into a number of rooms – defeating all enemies in one room will grant you a strength, health or defence power-up. It doesn't really matter if you do it or not, as defeating a dungeon's boss will give you any power-ups you missed, but it might make the boss fights themselves easier as some can be brutal. The game also has a limited number of herbs you can find that will restore about half of a fully maxed out life bar, but be very careful in consuming these – there is no way to get more, and should you die after using one, it will not come back!

There is also a side quest that spans pretty much the entire game. In just about every town, investigating nondescript, hard to find places might net you a Red Jewel. There's 50 in all, and if you manage to collect the whole lot you'll be rewarded with a bonus dungeon that has a familiar face from Soul Blazer as its boss. You'll most likely want to use a guide for this daunting task, though, because at multiple points in the game, all previously available areas become blocked off forever – thus making it possible to miss a single Red Jewel and requiring you to restart the whole game if you want to play through the extra dungeon.

While the plot in the previous game was fairly minimal, there's much more of it in Illusion. Between just about every different location there will be a bit of plot progression, and although the dialogue seems a bit amateurish at times (Enix didn't seem to have very good translators at the time) there are actually moments that might shock and even sadden you (anybody who's played the game should know exactly which scenes we're referring to!).

All of it is made extra strong due to the game featuring another fantastic Enix soundtrack. Although none of the three "Gaia Trilogy" titles had the same composer, each of them managed to deliver in spades in the audio department, featuring perhaps some of the finest SNES music ever. The graphics also improve greatly over Soul Blazer's sometimes lifeless, simple looks and help bring life to the world.

Despite all this, though, Illusion of Gaia/Time is frequently considered to be the weakest game in the trilogy. This is most likely because it is incrediby linear compared to the other two: with not a single side quest other than the Red Jewels, and the fact that many areas become forever inaccessible as the game progresses, most of the time it feels as if you're just going through the game in one straight line, severely limiting your sense of freedom. It doesn't help that monsters do not respawn – repeat visits to the dungeons you can visit multiple times are utterly pointless, unlike the other two games.

Conclusion

Although not as close to perfection as its two brothers, it's not hard to see why Nintendo themselves published Illusion of Gaia/Time outside Japan. It still manages to be one of the most entertaining action RPGs available on the SNES, and a fitting second game in the trilogy.

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User Comments (29)

Ferethor

#1

Ferethor said:

I love this game and even thought its a very hard game to beat im not pleased to see a 8, it definitively deserves a 10/10 !
Great review thought

Expa0

#4

Expa0 said:

Ugh, I think this one's clearly the worst of the trilogy. bar the good difficulty level and graphics the game is meh all-around. 5/10 at most.

Shiryu

#5

Shiryu said:

This trilogy contains some of my favourite action RPGs of all time. I have ablsolutly no problem putting this and the other two way up there with Secret of Mana and Zelda LTTP. Really classy stuff, can't believe none of them have made it to the Wii VC yet, a terrible shame, that.

Fuzzy

#7

Fuzzy said:

Great review. Probably an appropriate score as well. Personally, it is a 10/10 for me. Even though it has its faults, I think the atmosphere in this game is amazing, thanks in no small part to the incredible music, which really does set the mood. I also like the dark-ish tone in the game.
I remember the back of the instruction manual for this game told you where to find each of the 5 red jewels. I wonder if that will be included if it gets a VC release.

WildPidgeyAppears

#8

WildPidgeyAppears said:

The Soul series belongs on VC for sure. SoulBlazer was wicked fun, and Terranigma not reaching US shores is a crime against humanity. I loved this game as a child, thanks for the memories.

Ravage

#9

Ravage said:

I might skip this one after I finish Soul Blazer, doesn't sound that appealing to me.

Egg_miester

#10

Egg_miester said:

i wasn't a huge fan of Illusion of Gaia it was a good game just not as great as some other games out at its time

EdEN

#11

EdEN said:

Own the cartridge and oh how much fun I had when it was released. Actually, I think the last time I played it was 5 years ago.

JebbyDeringer

#12

JebbyDeringer said:

Awesome game. Whenever I go back to play it after many years I'm always surprised how good it is. It would definitely be in my top 5 or 10 SNES RPG's though it would drop down lower if the Japan only RPG's were also in the list.

Link-Hero

#13

Link-Hero said:

I loved this game as a child! This was the first story-driven games I've ever played (I think). Loved every second of this game from beginning to end. Well, except for the hard parts of course. The most difficult part I can remember that took me forever to beat was the underwater place duo boss (if you played this game, you will know what I'm talking about). I also remember this was the first game that nearly made me cry because of those sad parts the reviewer mentioned.

Sadly, I've never played Soul Blazer or Terranigma. Never knew there were a prequel and sequel to Illusion of Gaia even existed. Didn't found out about them until I had access to the internet and started to search "Illusion of Gaia" on Google many years ago. When I discovered those games, I wanted to play them, but after people constantly considering Gaia being the worst/weakest in the series just makes me want to play them even more.

These three games and amongst a few other SNES games are making me consider into buying a SNES and buy those games for it that are taking forever to come onto the VC, or if they are even going onto it at all. I just want to play these games really badly, but I’m a very patient person, so waiting for them to come onto the VC isn’t too bad.

SwerdMurd

#14

SwerdMurd said:

muuuuch better than Soul Blazer. Like, leaps and bounds. This game had my favorite interplay of systems of the three games, despite Terranigma being a lot more polished/having a much larger move selection. Definitely my favorite of the three.

Also, this is one of the few games that actually rewarded you for having an instruction booklet. The book had a FULL (yes--full) walkthrough of the entire game, a-la NES Dragon Quest games, which was a life-saver when trying to grab all the Red Jewels.

thunder

#15

thunder said:

I cleared this game recently. I didn't like it as much as Secrets of Mana nor Terranigma, but its a solid game. I liked the graphic and the design very well. The music was good, but not as great as Terranigma. The story had good narration with variation in gameplay from keeping it from getting boring. But some of the places were a bit annoying and straight forward, but I guess you could find a lot worse examples than this game.

I didn't like the other playable characters, their performance seemed a bit random or foolish in the game context and experiance. I would prefer Will to relay on his own powers, instead of being helped by those inhuman stage stealers, that should appear more awesome then Will, but in my opinions failed. The game had some unique boss battle that had their own styles and ways to fight. Illusion of Time was a bit harder than most of the other games i have played, but I like that in a game.

The game ends up in my Top 10 Super Nintendo list, somewhere in the range between 5 to 10. However Terranigma, is easily the greatest action-RPG I ever have played! But its hard to say if its the best SNES game ever created, there are just too many childhood memories on this console. Because of every gamers individual experience and different meanings of the games, is the greatness always arguable...

CorbsAdmin

#16

Corbs said:

This is still by far my least favorite of the Soul Blazer trilogy. I think Terranigma blows it away and Soul Blazer is still a better overall experience for me personally. But a solid 8, even with the rampant difficulty spikes.

Tasuki

#17

Tasuki said:

I remember watching my friend play this game, cause I couldn't figure out how to get pass the first boss. I have to agree with alot of you it was good but not as good as some other games that came out during that that. It did have an interesting story though.

Stuffgamer1

#19

Stuffgamer1 said:

I had no idea beating the bosses would net you all the stat upgrades from the enemies you'd missed. I guess that's because I never missed any.:D

I agree that it's not quite as good as Soul Blazer, but I can't comment on Terranigma for obvious reasons.:(

MmBuddha

#22

MmBuddha said:

Hahaha,

'This being a great game is no illusion'

Was it Shakespeare who came up with that snappy tagline? :)

WanderFan91

#24

WanderFan91 said:

Awww, this game got reviewed while I was gone. :( That's okay, I'll get over it.
Great review, Drake. :) A very understandable 8, though I thought it was a 9. :)

I had finally managed to catch up with Illusion of Gaia in late April of this year (via eBay), and it was very enjoyable from beginning to end. :) I cannot recall for the life of me if I've ever seen a copy of the game in stores; which is scary considering I've heard good things about the game prior to having played it.

The visuals are really amazing and gorgeous, and I love the way Will's hair blows in the wind; the animation was also sweet. The gameplay is responsive and I love the way that Will and Freedan learn different abilities throughout the game. :) The soundtrack is especially fantastic!!! :) I cannot decide which soundtrack is better: the prequel SoulBlazer's or this game's? Both soundtracks are that great! I love the way a soundtrack creates a sense of emotion and atmosphere.

Stuffy wrote:

I had no idea beating the bosses would net you all the stat upgrades from the enemies you'd missed. I guess that's because I never missed any. :D

Same. :D

After I beat the game for the first time, I had decided to search for the fifty Red Jewels (though I admit that I have used FlyingOmelette's FAQ a few times). The Jeweler Gem's dungeon was hard, and it took me many tries to take down Solid Arm. The thing I find funny is that: after I beat this game for the second time, I decided to play a new game of SoulBlazer, and at the first boss [Solid Arm], I lost a life. How embarrassing. :$ Must be 'cause I had a hard time defeating Solid Arm in Illusion of Gaia.

I liked the dungeon designs, and I liked how after you defeat every monster in a room you get rewarded an increase jewel; whether it be for health, offense, or defense. :) Very awesome. I thought the plot was good, and dark. I'll admit that there were a few things that I thought were nonsensical, plotwise (I would say what they are, but then I would inadvertently spoil it to those who haven't played the game, and I don't want to do that).
I liked how this game had some allusions to SoulBlazer; some are obvious, others are not.
I do agree with the review: some scenes had shocked me, and there were a few that I thought were sad. I had never cried while playing a video game before, but Illusion of Gaia got me close to doing it. In fact, the ending and credits nearly made me cry (it must've been 'cause of the music that was playing in the background). Illusion of Gaia has the saddest video game ending I've yet seen.

Again, great review, Drake. :) I loved SoulBlazer the first time I played it in August of '09, and I still do (it's a 10 for me). :) Illusion of Gaia was a very good sequel to the aforementioned title. :) Quintenix [Quintet/Enix] sure knew how to make very fun action-oriented RPGs. :) It's a shame that these games, especially Terranigma (I've heard so many great things about it, and I plan on importing it someday), haven't been released on the Virtual Console. After ActRaiser (fun platforming/simulating hybrid) hit the VC in the Summer of '07, I would've thought that more Quintenix titles would've followed, only it didn't happen.
Out of the three Quintenix titles that I've played [ActRaiser, SoulBlazer {heh, both titles rhyme :)}, Illusion of Gaia], this game is my second favorite. :)
I've yet to experience ActRaiser 2, Robotrek, and Terranigma; which are also from Quintenix.

Oh, my gosh, that took a lot out of me. I don't think I've ever made a non-forum post that was longer than this.

pokemonzrpg

#27

pokemonzrpg said:

Well the long comment is understandable, seeing as he suggested it in the Review Suggestions.

WanderFan91

#28

WanderFan91 said:

I have beaten this game for the third time today. :) It's still awesome.
As much as I love SoulBlazer, I like this game's ending and credits music a lot more. It's very emotional music.
This, as well as SoulBlazer and Super Metroid, is also one of those games that did not endure "sprite flipping". Thank goodness.

Rarewarefan7495

#29

Rarewarefan7495 said:

It's great but not as good as Terranigma although better than Soul Blazer because Illusion adds better design in the dungeons and puzzles that keep your mind moving. The music is highly memorable as well. The difficult does increase and decrease at strange intervals but that didn't deter the experience for me. IMO it deserves a 9/10.

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