Graveyard: Illusion of Gaia

Out back of the Hardcore Gamer office you’ll find our Graveyard, where countless long-dead classics lie. We come here to pay our respects, to reminisce, and to wonder aloud what a passing mad doctor might be able do with all these corpses and some high-definition lightning.

Every fan of the JRPG should be familiar with the Super Nintendo. It was home to many classic RPG’s which many gamers have remembered fondly over the years. But whenever the conversation turns to the classics that appeared on the console RPG’s like Final Fantasy II and III (Yes, I know it’s actually IV and VI), Secret of Mana, and Chrono Trigger usually tend to hog all the spot light.  There are many other great classic JRPG’s that appeared on what is possibly Nintendo’s most revered console. The classic JRPG that we will focus on today will be Illusion of Gaia.

Never heard of it? Well let’s fix that.

Illusion of Gaia is a top down action RPG that was published by Enix, pre-Square, on the SNES. Illusion of Gaia is a game that does everything right, and is incredibly fun and engrossing with good graphics, art style, and music that help to make it a definitive experience to have on the SNES. Rated at 60 hours in length, it managed to achieve that number with actual substantive gameplay instead of padding the game with filler so that it could quote a long playtime. And while Illusion of Gaia does have a few weak spots, it is a solid enough title that could put it just behind Secret of Mana based on overall quality.

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You play as a young man named Will, whose father met with an ill fate and is being raised by his grandparents. The game’s story starts out relatively lighthearted with good character set up and introduction. Illusion of Gaia is mainly a dungeon crawler, but it also actually manages to offer good incentive to run around and explore every in game area to its fullest including towns and non dungeon areas. Hidden jewels, that work to enhance your characters stats among other things, can be collected along with other goodies that wouldn’t normally be found had you not taken the time to search the area fully. There are also portals to find with a mysterious being called Gaia that enables you to learn new abilities as well as take on new personas with unique skills. You end up getting pulled into an epic tip around the world which is interestingly somewhat based on real life cultures and ruins.

The gameplay is reminiscent of Zelda style dungeon crawling, but is certainly unique enough to set itself apart from any other game series. There are enemies to slay, using your flute (yep) or other weapons when you  gain the ability to change form. The story is well written and will keep you engaged in between the dungeons which are riddled with puzzles to solve and enemies to defeat. Defeating all the enemies in an area is a must as the final enemy will offer a stat upgrade and will sometimes be necessary to unlock access to another area of the dungeon. The 16 bit graphics as per the usual have aged well and were pretty high quality for the time. The soundtrack has some very strong moments with songs that are appropriate and emotive, but it also some weaker moments where the music playing is only so so.

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The strong gameplay elements and quality story are what really make this game a must play. The towns are fun to explore and the NPCs have good dialog that is worth the time to read and explore. The dungeons are long, and filled with puzzles, but not overly onerous or difficult. The boss battles are kind of a letdown, but every other aspect of the gameplay is strong enough that boss battles are not an overly integral part of the play experience.

Overall, The Illusion of Gaia is certainly worthy of being called a classic. Hailing from the 16 bit era, it’s a shame that it’s not out on virtual console, but the carts can be found for a decent price on eBay. If you happen to own a SNES, definitely take the time to explore this gem of the past and relish in one of the outstanding examples of why the console is lauded as home of the JRPG.