Back in the 16-bit era, the Super NES had amassed quite a lineup of stellar RPG/adventure games. Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy III, Secret of Mana, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Breath of Fire, Ogre Battle, the list goes on and on. Because of this, some games were bound to slip through the cracks. Nintendo did everything in their power to make sure that didn’t happen to one particular game from Enix, throwing all their marketing muscle behind it, and even publishing it themselves worldwide. The game was a decent success, but it hasn’t been heard from since. That game is Illusion of Gaia.
Illusion of Gaia is the second part in a sort of trilogy of Super NES games. I say “sort of” because the games are related, but they aren’t exactly direct sequels to one another. The first game was Soul Blazer, which earned a cult following and some moderate success. Illusion of Gaia was the second game, and thanks to Nintendo’s marketing muscle, it wound up being quite successful for all parties involved. The third is Terranigma, which has gained a legendary status for its connection to Illusion of Gaia and Soul Blazer, as well as its unfortunate condition of being fully translated into English and then never coming out in America. But regardless of how interesting the games on either side of it are, Illusion of Gaia is well worth your time.
You play as Will, a boy who lives in a town by the ocean, has a group of friends who meet in a cave, and also has telekinetic powers and beats monsters up with his pink flute. One thing leads to another, and you get swept up in a globetrotting adventure featuring some vaguely religious real-world places and things. You’ll meet all sorts of interesting characters, fight all sorts of rad-looking monsters, and watch a pig commit delicious suicide so you won’t starve. It’s pretty weird, sure. But it’s damn good.
Probably the coolest thing in the game is the transformation aspect. As you play, you will encounter doors to another dimension. Inside, you meet up with Gaia who saves your game and refills your health. Eventually, you’ll use these rooms to transform into the knight Freedan and the weird blue creature Shadow. Each transformation comes with their own unique set of abilities, and shakes up the formula whenever things start to feel stale.
The game’s presentation is also worth noting, because it’s pretty much the perfect portrait of what a 16-bit RPG looks like. The art direction is solid, and the music is beautiful and catchy, but it’s the overall feel of the game that makes it so darn memorable. Certainly nostalgia plays a part in it, but if ever there was an example of what adventure RPGs were during this era, Illusion of Gaia is it.
So where can you get this awesome game? Absolutely nowhere except the Super NES! for reasons that I can’t even begin to comprehend, this game has never been ported to anything else ever. No eShop, no Wii Shop Channel, no quick & drity Game Boy Advance port, NOTHING! The good news is that as long as you’re not looking for a sealed copy with the promotional t-shirt intact, Illusion of Gaia can be found for relatively cheap, especially considering the current state of the Super NES collectors market.
If you loved this era of RPGs and haven’t given this game a go, do youself a favor and change that as soon as you can. Between the bright visuals, fantastic soundtrack, and unconventional approach to RPG mechanics, Illusion of Gaia has plenty to offer anyone looking for adventure.