Underrated Classics - Illusion of Gaia
For the life of me, I can’t remember the exact moment I obtained Illusion of Gaia. I have vague memories of seeing it on sale at Target, and asking my Mother if I could get that, instead of an action figure, but how I tricked her into it, I’m not entirely sure. Since the game came out in September of 1994, perhaps it was a birthday present, as that’s my birthday month? In any event, When I was ten years old, I had the chance to play Illusion of Gaia, and to this day, it’s still one of my favorite video games of all time. While it’s been accused of being a clone of Legend of Zelda, this top-down action/adventure game for the Super Nintendo has many features that set it apart, and let it stand on its own as a pillar of retro gaming.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of the game is the story, and while it’s a bit eccentric, there’s a surprisingly cute love story hidden behind the standard adventuring plot. In Illusion of Gaia, a young man from the town of South Cape named Will is the son of a famous adventurer who went missing. Will himself was with his father at the time, but has amnesia and can’t remember anything that happened, but somehow ended up in the village of his grandparents. After angering the king of his land, Will is tossed in jail, and saved by a spoiled princess named Kara. Soon Will and Kara find themselves heading around the world, searching for mystical statues that will help them avert a meteor which is heading towards Earth. The overarching plot of Illusion of Gaia is honestly nothing special, but the bonds that Will forms with his childhood friends, estranged family, and others along the way are what makes the story feel special.
The setting to Illusion of Gaia deserves praise, as the world Will resides in is a mirror of our own, with a touch of fantasy. One of the first dungeons that Will travels to are the Inca Ruins, and while it’s a bastardization of the true ruins of the Incan people in South America, it’s still an interesting set piece. As Will travels around the world, he finds himself going to Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China, and even a place near the Nazca Lines. As a child, I was always interested in history, and so it was great that this game sparked my curiosity for these real, and sometimes not so real, locales.
Even a game with a great setting and interesting story would be bad if the game play wasn’t fun, but luckily Illusion of Gaia manages to be one of the best of its genre on the Super Nintendo. Will normally fights with his flute, and with a few psychic powers, like the ability to pull objects closer to him with his mind. However, Will also gains the ability to channel the power of an ancient dark knight with the help of Gaia, spirit of the Earth. As the knight Freedan, he can swing a sword with more reach and can eventually shoot out dark energy with his great sword. Will also obtains the power of Shadow, an otherworldly being later in the game as well. The puzzles in the game typically involve destroying all enemies in a certain area, or moving objects with Will’s psychic powers, and while they’re usually not complex, they’re still fun.
The Quintet staff was full of talented people, but three people of note deserve some emphasis here, and the first is Moto Hagio, who did the character designs. She’s a manga artist, who worked on many different series, but one that might be familiar to Americans is A,A’, which was printed in the late 90’s. The story of the game was written by the novelist Mariko Ohara, and while I’m not familiar with her work, the story The Whale that Sang on the Milky Way Network sounds interesting by merit of title alone, and it’s been published in America. The final person, Yasuhiro Kawasaki is perhaps the most mysterious, as this person did the music to the game, but I was unable to dig up reliable information to point me towards other games they did. Which is a shame, because Illusion of Gaia has some of my favorite tunes on the Super Nintendo, with South Cape being one of my favorite town themes for a video game.
Illusion of Gaia is one of the crown jewels of the Super Nintendo, and any retro fan should hunt the game down. While it has no true sequels or prequels, it’s part of the Soul Blazer trilogy, which includes the previously named Soul Blazer as well as Terranigma. All games were published by Enix, but made by Quintet, and even though they’re not directly linked, they have similar game play mechanics, and even share story elements. If I’ve managed to convince you to look into Illusion of Gaia, and you want to know more retro games that you should look into, make sure to check out my podcast The Legend of Retro, where I, Craig_WK, am joined by my friends, as we delve into classic video games.