Illusion of Gaia (SNES) review
"Enix/Quintet's Illusion of Gaia is an action/RPG which aspires for philosophical greatness yet only achieves base mediocrity. "
Enix/Quintet's Illusion of Gaia is an action/RPG which aspires for philosophical greatness yet only achieves base mediocrity.
Illusion of Gaia (henceforth IoG) is an odd sort of game. It's 2 parts action, 1 part RPG, and 1 part adolescent philosophy hack. You play the role of Will, a boy who's mother is dead and who's father disappeared not too long ago on an exploratory journey. Will's current friends and the new friends he makes will be involved in the story to come. You start out wielding a flute and telekinetic powers but you gain other abilities, and even transformations, throughout the course of the game.
The game utilizes an isometric view, a viewpoint familiar to Zelda players and RPG players as well. Some may call this a Zelda clone but I do not. Rather, this game is a fairly typical overhead dungeon-crawler. Most areas, including the beginning of the game, start you in a town of some sort, able to use your telekinesis and talk to townsfolk, as well as acquire items. After the town there may be some scripted dialog or events but more often than not there is a dungeon to tackle. The dungeon gameplay can be quite deceptive. In the early parts of the game it feels easy to deal with as you have manageable abilities and the game doesn't plant you in situations requiring deadly accuracy or timing. However, later in the game, where life is a premium, there are far too many situations where you will find your life drained by areas in which you have no choice but to simply get hurt.
Initially the puzzles you face require you make good use of the limited abilities you have. However, the later puzzles and challenges you solve focus almost solely on the most recent of your abilities. About halfway through the game the telekinesis you start with becomes almost completely worthless. This is unfortunate because the abilities they give you could have been quite useful throughout had the game designers intended them to be.
In addition to new abilities you also acquire a limited number of transformations. These transformations help relieve some of the monotony but do not do enough to vary gameplay. The transformations give you the ability to use and acquire new abilities, but such qualities as reach, strength, defense, etc vary so little between forms that their usefulness is often more a contrivance than genuinely good design.
Ultimately the pace of the game is somewhat slow. You have the ability to run, but that doesn't help so much. Backtracking can take a bit of time and dungeons aren't so much large as they are confusing. Many levels require a bit of backtracking and there is occasional frustration when you know you can get healed for free but you have to debate if it's worth running back to the beginning of the current segment of the level. Throw in the fact that healing herbs are limited, you can't simply buy more when you need them, and you end up having to gamble on your future gameplay ability. I imagine that it would be possible to get so far into the game and then have to stop because you don't have any more herbs. The game tries to make up for this with an interesting variant on the multiple lives technique. If you die, for example, in a boss battle you will revive back at the beginning of the fight. The boss gets all his life back but you only get half of yours. On multiple occasions I had to reset the SNES because I didn't want to have to fight the boss all over again with only half my life. When it's easier to simply reset the console because there is a save/life restore point right before the boss that to die and try again you know there's something broken in the design. Beyond this problem, there are some points in the game where you simply have to wait a preset length of time or talk to everyone a certain number of times. These game points are frustrating as you cannot advance until you have met one of these arbitrary conditions.
The graphics in the game initially seem decent for a proper SNES action/RPG but quickly become somewhat bland. The first action sequence is pretty, but later ones, though colorful, are incredibly repetitive. The game tries to use some of the hardware special effects present in the SNES to spice thing up but ultimately all the game manages to do is highlight the limitations most SNES developers butt heads with before achieving true SNES enlightenment. The game attempts to create unique graphics and tile sets for every town and level but those graphics become repetitive within the environments themselves. The graphics in this game are a case of the sum being less than equal to the individual parts that make it up.
The sound effects in IoG are mostly acceptable but they don't always fit well with the visual effect or game event with which they are paired. This may be because the sounds were pulled directly from the incredible Actraiser, an earlier (and very dissimilar) game by Enix. The music is sometimes pleasantly average and sometimes cloyingly bad. Every game has bad music, but this game likes to play the worst of it's musical selections during the parts of the game where you have to sit through insufferably slow text. Even the boss music is fairly low-key and doesn't really inspire.
The story, the actual moving events of the game, are, sadly, the most disappointing aspect of the gam. At first you are simply a young boy, exploring and curious about your father's disappearance. Spirits consult with you and circumstance drives the most pronounced of changes. Later in the game it seems almost as if you are being pulled along by the simple inevitability of your quest. That you are following in your father's footsteps seems almost accidental at times. I began to feel I wasn't really choosing to advance in the game. It was advancing the game for me, in spite of me. Even putting myself in the mind of Will I felt I was simply being pulled along by forces completely outside of my control.
What really stalled me is that the inherent logic of the world makes little sense. This game tries to present philosophical discourse but it's really nonsense in the guise of Great Thought (TM). The characters are clearly 12 - 14 years of age and the story is aimed right at children the same age. If you are over 15 years old you will most likely feel that the game is pandering to you. The dialogue is incredibly monotonous. There are some scripted sequences where you have to sit through such slowly scrolling text that you'll curse the designers for not including text skip in the sequence. And most of the text you are sitting though is just so dull and pointless. There is an attempt at a romance/love story. It is so shallow and needless as to have me wondering why it was even included.
*Begin Rant* (Be careful if you read this next portion. It's opinionated and a bit scathing.)
I could go on about how I think the problems in this game are indicative of a greater trend in Japanese video games and animation, but I'll be nice and try to be concise. The uber-plot in this game, that which ties it all together, is bunk. The creators of the game tried to create this grand philosophical work about life, evolution, and the human spirit, but what came out is rather stinky and contrived. A note to anyone out there with grand plans to make next work of gaming art that transcends mere fun with the power of vital philosophy: make sure you are properly educated. If you know nothing about philosophy or the science of thought and academic processes you will end up with a stinking pile like this game.
In summary, most of the plot and story seems pointless and serves, if ineffectively, only to move you into the next action sequence. A good portion of the game does not in any logical way further the central storyline. The love stories are so pandering that they could only appeal to the 12 year old gamer crowd. If you are over 15 years of age this plot is below average for being ultimately nonsensical and childish. If you are younger than 15 years of age it should at least be amusing if not engrossing on a character level and logically ridiculous.
The gameplay for this title is average due to needless frustration with dying and backtracking, abilities that eventually become worthless after you've gained new ones, and poor explanations in-game about how to use some of the abilities you gain. The graphics are colorful but lifeless. To boot, the high point of the auditory experience consists of sound effects yanked from a far superior game.
I will not play this game again. It was pointless and, though fun for the first third, unrewarding and trying for the latter half. I spent probably 10 to 14 hours on this game. I wish I'd been playing something else instead. The game might have earned a better score if it hadn't tried so hard to be something it's not. So instead of being an average (at best) action/RPG it is a nonsensical mess.
Community review by marurun (August 17, 2006)
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