There’s nothing like the feeling of a good dungeon-crawling RPG. You’ve got your classics like The Legend of Zelda and your modern ones that wouldn’t really classify as “dungeon-crawlers” but have all the elements of exploring exotic locales like Skyrim. There are many disappointing dungeon crawlers that have you feeling like you’re pointlessly exploring the same places over and over again, but the good ones always make you feel like you’re moving, getting stronger, busting through enemies in a fun manner with the brunt of whatever weapon you’re carrying. In this installment, we’re reviewing an SNES classic with just the right amount of dungeon-crawling fun, Illusion of Gaia.
Illusion of Gaia is the second in a trilogy of loosely related games some dub the “Soul Blazer” series (the first in the series called Soul Blazer and the last called Terranigma, which was never officially released in North America). Illusion of Gaia is an Enix creation that sets a distinct overworld style those familiar with games like Golden Sun will recognize. The graphics feel high-quality considering the SNES engine (definitely no different from Golden Sun, which technically was a retro-style RPG for its time), the sprites and backgrounds pleasing to the eye. Immediately upon starting the game, I knew I was in for a good ride.
The game has you controlling Will, a boy with psychic powers with the ability to transform into alter egos, Freedan and Shadow, that give him enhanced power and abilities to traverse different dungeons and fight a variety of enemies. One day, Will stumbles into this parallel realm called a “Dark Space” (which serves as the save point and alter-ego transformation hub) where he meets Gaia, a strange kind of space deity, who warns him that a comet is coming that will bring misfortune to the world. In order to stop the comet, Will has to travel the world and collect artifacts known as Mystic Statues in order to unlock the way to the Tower of Babel and to confront the comet.
The story is a solid fantasy, taking place in a half-historical, half-fantasy world of a familiar-looking Earth, with locales like the Incan ruins and the Great Wall of China featured as mystical dungeons containing numerous secrets. Will goes around making friends at every locale and all the themes of friendship and heroism are great classic fan service to all RPG fans. The dungeon crawling aspect has a fun combination of hack-and-slash and maze-like exploration. With the combination of changing into alter egos and messing with their respective powers (Freedan has the power to sprint-dash and wield a powerfully longer sword while Shadow has the power to condense into a pure ball of energy and plow enemies with a whip of his plasma arm), dungeon crawling is a blast in this game.
Boss battles in the game are not too challenging, but challenging enough. Your HP is shown in blue orbs and your opponent’s HP gets displayed in red orbs. All you’ve got to do is dodge and slash, making sure you’re denting your opponent’s red orbs off his health and maintaining your blue orbs. The game avoids the sluggish pace that most dungeon crawlers that choose a turn-based battle system risk falling into with the hack-and-slash feature, allowing you to finish dungeons quickly and enjoy the storyline at a satisfying pace.
Personally, my favorite part of the game was the cool design. I was a sucker for Golden Sun (Will bears a strong resemblance to Isaac) and the locations based of real places on Earth were a creative delight. Half of the enjoyment of a game comes from just being to look at a still screen of background and say, “hey, that’s pretty cool.” Of course, people obsessed with modern graphics that demand everything in HD will not be impressed by Illusion of Gaia. However, the people who admire the artistry of games under much more restraint with the limitations of the console, Illusion of Gaia shines as an example of a good graphics game for a classic console. RPG fans play your heart out: you’ll find a nice adventure here in Illusion of Gaia.