Illusion of Gaia was developed as a successor to Soul Blazer. Although it is not a direct sequel, it was developed by the same team, and shares many gameplay elements. Development of Illusion of Gaia finished a short while after Enix of America withdrew and underwent a 5 year absence, but fortunately, Nintendo picked it up for a release in North America.
The game begins in South Cape, where the game's teenage hero Will and his 3 lifelong playmates Lance, Seth, and Erik live. Will's life has been pretty normal except for two things: his psychic powers and his parents. One year prior to the start of the game, Will and his father Olman traveled to the tower of Babel. During this excursion, Will and his father were separated. Will made it back home, where he is now in the care of his grandparents, but no one has seen his father since then. Also, Will was born with telepathic and telekinetic powers, but up until now he has only used them to entertain his buddies. But all that is about to change.
After a day of hanging out with his friends, Will returns to his house for dinner, but finds out that he has unexpected visitors, a girl named Kara and her pig, Hamlet. Then, just as Kara starts to apologize for the intrusion, castle guards appear at Will's house saying that Kara is the princess and shouldn't be out in the town unattended. The next day, Will receives a letter from King Edward asking for Will to bring his father's Crystal ring to the castle. This ring is nowhere to be found, so Will goes to the castle without it, and the angry king throws him into jail. After a few days in the pen, Will receives a telepathic message from his father, who is apparently still alive. Olman tells Will to find the 6 Mystic Statues and take them to the Tower of Babel. Will must now escape from the castle and begin
The primary playable character in Illusion of Gaia is Will, but there are also 2 other playable heroes: Shadow and Fredan. Shadow and Fredan both exist in Gaia's Dark Space. Throughout the game, there is a multitude of portals to the Dark Space, and only Will can see them. Dark Space is where Gaia, the source of all life exists. Gaia will provide Will with new special moves, items, and advice. Gaia will also save the game and restore Will's HP.
All 3 characters have telekinetic powers, which are used to move blocks and statues for the purposes of solving puzzles, and these powers can also be used to pick up the life gems that enemies leave behind. Also, all 3 characters can walk or run in 8 directions. Will's powers include his flute and his psychic attacks. While a flute is normally
thought of as an instrument, Will's flute is mainly used as a weapon; it doubles as a staff. He has both a standard attack and a more powerful jumping thrust.
Will obtains 3 psychic attacks over the course of the game. The first is the Psycho Dash, where Will charges up his psychic energy and slams himself into the target. This power can be used both to attack and to break down walls.
The next power is the Psycho Slider, which can be used either to slide-tackle the enemies or slide under low openings. The final power is the spin dash, where will spins like a top and flings himself at a tremendous speed fast enough to climb up steep hills.
The next playable character is the Dark Knight Fredan. Fredan has higher attack and defense scores than Will, and his sword has a longer reach than Will's flute. Fredan ultimately obtains 3 Dark powers, including a projectile, an earthquake, and a rotating shield. Finally, there is Shadow, who is a being of pure energy. Shadow's main power is that he can melt and re-form for the purpose of falling through cracks in the ground. All of the attacks and special
moves are easy to use and control, but attacks like the spin dash and aura aren't explained well, as Gaia's directions on how to use them us unclear; I had to figure out for myself how to use them.
In addition to the playable characters, Will is joined by his friends from South Cape, as well as by Princess Kara and by the flower spirit Lily. Lily acts as Will's guide, as she knows where the Mystic Statues are. Kara, Lily, and the others never participate in battle, but they provide Will with information and company.
Illusion of Gaia plays very similar to its predecessor, Soul Blazer, as IoG is also a 2-D action RPG. Using the aforementioned playable characters and their special moves, players must complete a variety of dangerous challenges. Most of the gameplay in Illusion of Gaia consists of killing monsters and moving from room to
room. There is minimal exploring involved, and only a few puzzles. Enemies aren't usually hard, but they are all very capable of hurting Will and his allies, so survival is a challenge most of the time.
While there aren't experience levels, Will gains one point of either Attack, Defense, or HP the first time he kills all the enemies in one room. Every dungeon, castle, and cave has a boss, and the bosses are usually difficult. One thing about the game and its bosses is the issue of resource management; although Gaia will heal you as much as you need, there is a limited number of healing herbs available. This means that you must use them wisely, or you could end up, as I did once, stuck in a place where there's a hard boss and not enough healing supplies to win the battle, which left me with no choice but to restart from the beginning. On the whole, I didn't find Illusion of Gaia as fun or addictive as some other action RPGs I've played, but I did enjoy playing it.
The story of Illusion of Gaia wasn't especially interesting, but it made sense and kept me into the game. One thing I liked about the story was that it had several plot twists. Each quest for a mystic statue presents a new legend and new problems for Will and his companions. There is also a big surprise plot twist that doesn't come up until nearly the end of the game. The weaknesses of the game's story are in the dialogue. Most of the conversations are short and to the point, and they just cover what you need to do next. Also, because conversations are fairly rare, and because the dialogue wasn't very powerful, the only characters who are really presented and developed effectively are Kara and Lily. While Lance, Seth, and Erik aren't especially important characters, I personally thought Will was
slightly underdeveloped for a main character.
Another fault of the story is the nature of the text movement. Text boxes often pop up at unexpected times, and
because pressing any button or even touching the directional pad causes the text to move, I found I often missed messages.
Illusion of Gaia features solid 16-bit graphics. The visuals aren't among the best graphics possible on the Super NES, but they are significantly better than those of a lot of early Super NES games. Character sprites are large and all of the important characters stand out well, but I wasn't particularly fond of the artwork used for the humans in Illusion of Gaia. Elevation levels are well defined in places where height is a factor. The color and detail on all enemies, especially the bosses, is great. Even regular enemies have a lifelike appearance that won't cause you
to have second guesses about what kind of monster you're seeing.
Only a few of the bosses were gigantic like the bosses from other Quintet games, but almost all of them dwarfed Will, and in cases where the boss wasn't huge, it was because the boss was supposed to be a small target. There aren't many scenes that show off the special effects that the Super NES is capable of, as the only Mode 7 ever used is on the world map and on a few other occasions.
The music from Illusion of Gaia is decent, but not amazing. The background music was significantly quieter than the sound effects, making it less noticeable. Also, while the tunes appropriately fit the scenes, a few weren't particularly enjoyable to listen to for very long. The main melodies were usually brief and all too quick to
repeat. Also, there weren't a lot of songs, either. There was a song for dangerous areas, for bosses, for towns, for quiet places, and only a few others.
The strong points to the music included clear sound quality, good flute music for the towns and safe areas, and a feeling of nostalgia during the battle music due to its resemblance to music from Actraiser and Soul Blazer, complete with an exciting, synthesized sound and loud drumming.
The sound effects were very good. Almost all of the sound effects used in Illusion of Gaia were also used in Actraiser and Soul Blazer, including the sounds for hitting enemies, swinging weapons, clashing metal, getting hurt, as well as the supplemental sound for moving the cursor and the text. In general, Illusion of Gaia didn't use a lot of sound effects, as no special moves and few enemies made any sounds, but the sound that was there was good.
Illusion of Gaia is a nice action RPG, and a good pickup for Quintet fans. Granted, I think there are a lot of better 2-D adventures out there, but if you have the desire to play a lot of action RPGs, it may be worth adding Illusion of Gaia to your collection. Illusion of Gaia is somewhat easier to find than other Super NES RPGs, so if you want to play it, you probably can.