Discovering the RPG genre with my SNES via Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, I gobbled up every similar game I could find. I remember watching a special Nintendo showcase for upcoming games on QVC (home shopping network, are those still around?). There were a few games shown, none of which I remember save one, Illusion of Gaia. One of the features touted in showcase was the real world locations (Ankor Wat), that could make the game educational. You can bet I used that bullet point with my parents.
Gaia is an action RPG, where you only control one character, Will released in 1994. A boy from a sleepy cape town, he and his friends meet in their secret cave everyday after school. Will stumbles on something called called a “Dark Space”, a door to a pocket dimension that only he can see. There, a being known as Gaia tells Will he must leave his hometown, a comet is heading for the planet and he must save it. Honestly, the story isn’t that important. The game was developed by Quintet and loosely part of the Soul Blazer series (ActRaiser, Soul Blazer, Terranigma). I never played another game in the series so I can’t comment.
During his travels, Will gets the ability to change forms, only in dungeon type areas though. Most of the game he has access to Freedan, a powerful knight. Late in the game players get access to his third form, Shadow, who is living energy, and looks like he’s made out of blue fire. Each character has different abilities they unlock throughout the game that either simplify combat or puzzle solving. One element I thought was neat was Will’s hair. His hair was said to be fine, flowing in high winds. This was used to show secret passages in the game, where the wind would blow through the unseen cracks, messing his hair. I liked how this changed the typical visual cues. I haven’t seen anything like this in other games.
The most important part of the game is of course, the ‘educational’ areas. Incan ruins, Nazca plains, Great Wall of China (though there was no China in the game), Ankor Wat, the Pyramids, and the Tower of Babel. Other than informing players that these locations exist, there really wasn’t anything educational about them. Turns out it was just idiot market speak. I didn’t care, wasn’t why I showed up.
Eventually the game culminated with some crazy Japanese logic. Will was in fact the Dark Knight, and his only friend to make the entire journey with him, Kara, was the Light Knight. The two combined together to form Shadow, and using some other power, they fly into space to face the comet, which is actually Dark Gaia! Shock and gasp! Using Shadows newfound power to throw flaming birds, the comet is defeated. Earth evolves into present day. The end. The game lacked many quintessential RPG elements; no weapons, equipment, experience points, or items. Gameplay was very similar to Zelda. Upon beating bosses, you would be given stat boosts; otherwise, little changed. There was a side quest to collect 50 red jewels throughout the game. Considering the game’s very linear progression with locking out completed sections, securing these items was very difficult. Players could only backtrack during the last third of the game, and then only to a few sections. Luckily, the instruction manual came with a guide showing all the locations. Finding them all would unlock an optional dungeon, which really didn’t net you anything, just more to play. Inside was an herb, one of the healing items in the game. And another thing, you could regain heath in the Dark Spaces, but there was only twelve herbs in the game. Twelve! Seriously?
Illusion of Gaia was a good game that any SNES or genre fan should at least check out. Gameplay is always king, and here it’s good, which is what’s important. I recommend this game to any fan looking for something of the time outside of the typical Squaresoft games. I really wish this would come to the Virtual Console. Did you play Illusion of Gaia? Even heard of it? Comment below! Got stuck on the twin Vampire boss, picked it up a year later and miraculously beat them.