Illusion of Gaia

Illusion of Gaia
Illusion of Gaia Cover
Platforms Super Nintendo
Genre Old school action RPG
MtAMinutes to Action 30
Keep Playing? Yes
Buy from Amazon

It has been a long time since we covered a classic game here at the First Hour. Not since Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts in March 2010 have we played the first hour of a game more than a decade old (not counting remakes, such as Dragon Quest IV). This used to be a pretty common occurrence, but that was back when it was just me writing and I didn’t have access to any of the newer systems.

Illusion of Gaia has been sitting on my game queue for quite a long time now, I had heard of the game during its initial release but never played it, and then my roommates in college loved it but I still didn’t give it a chance. I decided it was finally time to sit down with this action RPG Enix release on the Super Nintendo.

Released in 1994, Illusion of Gaia seems a bit like Enix’s response to Squaresoft’s Secret of Mana, with both having similar action-based gameplays with some stats playing in behind the scenes. Illusion of Gaia was actually developed by Quintet, who also created ActRaiser, Robotrek, and Soul Blazer. Hearing those names brings up a lot of nostalgia, so let’s get to the game’s first hour before we’re overwhelmed.

Minute by Minute

00 - I select Start Journey and the first hour of Illusion of Gaia begins. The game tells me that A is for Attack/Talk, B is for Item/Cancel, Select is for Item Palette(?), and Y is... not used. What about X, L, R, and Start? Are those used or not?

01 - The game opens in School. Four kids are standing in front of a man named Will. He had gone to the Tower of Babel with his father a year ago, but that ended really badly. Oh wait, I think Will is the main character, he was just narrating his origin for us. Don’t see that a lot, okay, I think I’m caught up now.

02 - The four kids in class are kind of hilarious. Three of them are pretty small and then there’s me, the tall guy with what appears to be a scabbard strapped across my back.

Illusion of Gaia Dark Space Save

03 - I leave the School and immediately enter some kind of portal that takes me to Dark Space. Huh? Oh, it’s a save point. The creepy kind.

05 - I’m exploring South Cape now, actually seems pretty big. Will can jump down from ledges making travel a bit more convenient.

06 - I enter the seaside cave and Will starts to narrate again about how this is his friends’ hideout. Hey, some action! Our fourth friend runs in and says that the Princess of Edward Castle has run away! It wouldn’t be a JRPG without a princess! Oh, she’s supposedly at South Cape, that was quick.

08 - Hey, I have special powers! I can move things with my mind by pressing the L or R button, nice. Guess they didn’t want to spoil that right away.

09 - My friends then try a card trick on me and Will picks the right card, they think I’m psychic!

11 - It looks a bit darker outside now, wonder where I’m supposed to go next? Before you enter a building, Will tells you who’s house it is and some thoughts about it. Pretty useful, actually. What? There’s a pig in Will’s house, he doesn’t seem to recognize it. Some girl named Kara comes from upstairs and says the pig’s name is Hamlet. Punny.

Illusion of Gaia Will Magic Telekenis13 - The girl comments on Will’s father, he still thinks he’ll come back someday. Meaning we’ll undoubtedly meet up with him later on; this wasn’t the era of gaming where characters overcame emotional struggles like that.

14 - Of course, Kara is the princess. Some soldiers are downstairs now and have her cornered. They drag her out of the house non-violently. Will’s live-in grandparents seem undisturbed.

16 - That night Will has a dream about Kara, ooh, foreshadowing. The next morning, Will’s grandmother teaches him Lola’s Melody by singing it to him. I can press the B button to sing it myself, but the game tells me it doesn’t do anything.

18 - Now apparently I have to bring a ring of my father’s to King Edward. Grandpa is unfamiliar with the crystal ring though.

19 - Nice Mode 7 graphics! It’s been a while since I’ve seen those, haha. The world map is crudely rendered and the game automatically walks to the castle.

20 - I have to admit, I like the graphics of Illusion of Gaia. The angle seems a bit lower than most RPGs of the era and everything is designed boldly. Very distinct. I also have no problem reading the game’s text!

Illusion of Gaia Mode 7 World map22 - I find Kara’s room, she says that her parents have changed for the worse. Her mother has hired a hunter? Like an assassin?

23 - There’s the king and queen. The king asks for the ring but I don’t have it, so he throws me in prison! Another JRPG trope out of the way!

24 - Need to escape now, but what can I do? Sing a song? Nothing happens. Wave my magic stick around? Nothing happens. Wait around... there we go. Oh, I was just given some bread.

25 - Now Will’s flute is talking? No, not that, apparently the thing on his back that he twirls. I’m really not sure. Anyways, Will’s father is channeling the flute, haha, again, very quick to the obvious.

27 - Oh geez, he’s delivering the game’s whole mission now... “You must make a pilgrimage to the ruins of the world to find the Mystic Statues. First to the Incan ruins!” Incan?

28 - Hamlet the pig approaches and he has a key tied to his tail! Kara has freed me. I need to go to the “item palette” screen and select the key by hand. Because picking it up, walking two feet and pressing the A button would be too easy! I save my game.

Illusion of Gaia Sword Attack Skeleton30 - Yay, we’re fighting bats! The A button attacks instead of talks, and I level up after defeating three of them. Or at least my hit points have increased.

32 - The bad guys are definitely not very aggressive, stabby stabby while they wander around aimlessly. I beat down on a snake thing in the water and a skeleton. Does King Edward know what lurks in his prison?

33 - You can perform a dash attack that does two damage instead of one. My strength increases after I defeat all the enemies in the room. Interesting way to dole out stat boosts.

35 - Another room cleared, and my defense is upped. Pretty fun, though simple.

37 - I think I might have just fought a boss? I’m not sure, it was a brown bat and it took about six hits to kill instead of two.

38 - Will finally gets to play his flute! There’s a mysterious flower growing in the corner and somehow he knows that playing the song will get the job done. The job was triggering some mysterious voice that wants me to push a switch on the count of three, Final Fantasy VII style.

Illusion of Gaia Freedan Transformation40 - We found another save room, but this one has another statue in it... HOLY CRAP I JUST TURNED INTO A KNIGHT!

41 - Okay, my quick theory is that I’m either playing my father (which is cool), or I’ve just been morphed into an older, stronger version of myself (which is meh-ish).

42 - Big version of me has a longer reach and does a lot more damage, but the game quickly throws a brown skeleton at me which makes me hit the A button more than normal. Ooh, his head flies off after you destroy his body and you have to kill that too.

45 - After leaving another area, I’m forcibly turned back into my weakling self. Dang. Some girl named Lilly is at the end of the hallway and questions me on how I could possibly know how to transform. Seems like the song was the key, but then she says she knows my grandmother who taught me the song... so she does know how I did it in the first place. Weird conversation/translation.

47 - Back in the castle proper now and ready to save Princess Kara! But before we leave, we need to grab some food from the basement. I find some yak roast in a barrel and the game plays this short, triumphant piece of music like I just found the Triforce or something.

50 - Mode 7 walking back to South Cape... We arrive at Will’s house but it has been trashed. Well, at least the village hasn’t been burned to the ground in our absence.

Illusion of Gaia World map Edwards Castle51 - Kara spots the mark of the Jackal, which indicates this is what the queen had hired the hunter for. The mysterious Lilly shows up again for some answers.

52 - She says my grandparents are safe in her magical village. I’m out exploring South Cape again, I’ve got some money to spend, just need to find the merchants.

54 - I check out my friends’ lair, and while they’re all there, they pretty much ignore me. I was just imprisoned and rescued a princess! Do we not have anything to talk about?

57 - Will tells Lilly he’s ready to head out of town and the three of us Mode 7 travel to Itory Village, which is blatantly on the world map, even though it is magical and the princess has never heard of it.

58 - Oh, we need to play the flute to make any buildings appear. Hey, there’s Will’s grandparents, this is rather an idyllic village.

60 - With the freedom to wander the village, I find a save point and finish off the first hour of Illusion of Gaia.

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 30

Illusion of Gaia Freedan Dark SpaceWhat I loved: While the game isn’t exactly quick to the action, it’s pretty fun when we get there. It’s obvious this will never be as deep The Legend of Zelda, let alone Secret of Mana which came out just a few months before Illusion of Gaia, but it is simple yet addictive fun. I love the idea of clearing areas of enemies to power yourself up over time. While it’s obviously not as direct as simply gaining experience, there’s still a great sense of reward. Plus just limiting the stats to attack, defense, and hit points means I can worry about other things.

I also really like the graphics of Illusion of Gaia. I commented earlier about the angle of the camera and it honestly gives the game its own unique feel. Most RPGs seem to hover further above the player character but deciding to place it at more of a 45 degree angle lets the artists have some fun with their background sprites.

Transforming into beefy knights is awesome, what else can be said about that?

What I didn’t like: The item screen is pretty awkward, you can only have one item equipped at a time and you can’t even tell what is equipped when not on the “item palette” screen.

Feels like a tremendous overuse of common JRPG tropes in just the first hour of Illusion of Gaia. I know that this was the period of time where Squaresoft and Enix were DEFINING those tropes, but they feel tired nearly 20 years later. Of course, one of my favorite games, Chrono Trigger, pulls off the runaway princess right away too. But at least Marle has some spunk.

Mode 7 graphics... hahaha. If anything can date a Super Nintendo game it is this.

Would I Keep Playing? Sure, I feel it would be a disservice not to. Illusion of Gaia features an above average first hour that improves quite a bit when the action kicks in halfway through.