Although not nearly as overlooked as its predecessor, SoulBlazer, Illusion of Gaia doesn't often get the credit it deserves. In a growing world of turn based, multiple character RPGs, Gaia takes gamers to a different level with its innovative world and eye for peculiar details. The game has pretty animated sprites on colorful backgrounds, and the smallest effects are noticeable, such as the drifting flowers petals across the town of Freesia, or the gently bobbing platforms of the floating city, Watermia. Many of the dungeons are based on real life places, like the Incan ruins and the Great Wall of China, and these references, however unusual, really add to the game if one pays attention to them.

Will's narration

   The star of the story is young Will, a seemingly ordinary boy who resides in the small town of South Cape with his grandparents. Will's father was lost long ago on an expedition to Babel Tower, a seemingly stereotypical beginning to the plot. In addition, there's a "Chaos Comet" that returns every 800 years to rain destruction and evil on the planet, which is somehow connected to the disappearance of Will's father and the exploration party. It's only when Will starts hearing strange voices in his head and developing telekinetic powers that a truly odd adventure begins.

The friends' seashore hangout

   Although Will is technically the only playable character, the NPCs in this quest play a vital role in the story and also provide some comic relief from his battles with the enemies. Each important character's dialogue is a different color, making it easy to tell who's speaking, and also adding a bit of definition to their personalities. Kara, the spoiled brat Princess who comes along to escape her crazy father, turns out to be much more thoughtful and important than you expect (and her little pet pig, Hamlet, also plays an important, if unexpected role in your quest). Will's other crazy friends -- Lily, who can morph into a dandelion, Lance, whose father was also lost in the expedition, Seth, who is extremely smart and inventive, and Erik, the little rich boy of South Cape -- follow him in his journey, constantly getting themselves into trouble. A story that could be trite and irritating becomes entertaining if you pay attention to how the characters interact.

Will gains a level

   In contrast to traditional RPG gameplay, Will doesn't gain levels by experience, and the gamer has only limited control over how strong he can grow. Similar to the second Zelda, Will has an attack power, a defense power, and a life meter. When he defeats a certain number of enemies in any given dungeon, he receives a "force" that raises one of these levels. He can also collect dark gems to gain extra lives. Raising levels would be simple except for the fact that if the gamer misses just one enemy, the force won't appear. Missing one means a level Will won't have later, since the game has just enough levels built in to raise him to the highest level. It might seem crazy to run from room to room looking for one enemy dot on your map, but in the end it's completely necessary, and it's the little details like this that make Illusion of Gaia unique.

Will's mysterious power

   Will's initial weapon is a flute that he uses to hit enemies and also to play melodies that not only unlock dungeon secrets, but also affect the storyline. In addition, Will can use the flute as a way to center his telekinetic powers and move statues and rocks out of his way. (Who ever knew a simple flute could do so many things?) As if Will's choice weapon wasn't unusual enough, he also has a guardian that watches over him during the game, granting him special powers and abilities. Gaia appears during the game as a starry black portal, and when Will (who is the only person on the entire planet who can see these mystical gates) steps through, he is transported to a special dimension where the sound of a ticking clock gives the impression that time is of the essence. Over the course of the game, Gaia allows Will to morph into two other forms granted to him by the spirits of Freedan, a knight, and Shadow, a luminous being that can liquify himself. These two forms are also essential to completing portions of Will's quest, as each has unique powers that are needed to solve specific puzzles.

Map screen

   The game runs essentially in one mode, a 3/4 view, for all towns, castles, dungeons, etc. Navigation of the map screen isn't totally controllable in that you select certain locations to move to and the game takes you there automatically. Another detail to consider over the course of the game is the fact that after a certain amount of time it's impossible to backtrack to the start of your quest. This forces the gamer to be careful and thorough when searching for treasures, and adds to the replay value since you must begin again to find the things you missed. Strangely enough (though one should be used to oddities when playing Gaia), there isn't any money in the game, so there are no weapons or items to buy, but Will can collect red jewels, which, when traded in to Gem the Jeweler, produce special items or abilites. As an added side quest, if Will manages to find all fifty of the jewels, certainly no easy task, Gem will let him into a special stage.

   Illusion of Gaia, a game that could have easily fallen prey to being a mimic of other more popular games, instead stands on its own as a unique adventure. Just as Soulblazer was appreciated and even cherished by its fans, so Gaia, for all its unique oddities and entertaining, well developed story and characters, is worth the time put into it. If you pay attention to all the little details, you realize just how much is woven into its intricate tapestry.

Retrospective by Tamzen Marie Baker.
Illusion of Gaia
Developer Enix
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Action RPG
Medium Cartridge
Platform SNES
Released 1994
FAQ / Game Genie codes
15 screen shots
World map