Looking Back – Illusion of Gaia

Illusion of Gaia has a special place in my heart. Part of a pseudo-series which included Soul Blazer and Terranigma, Illusion of Gaia was a beautifully-illustrated action-RPG. Set on a somewhat realistic Earth in the age of exploration, Illusion of Gaia follows the story of Will, son of a great explorer. A year after his father goes missing, Will stumbles upon an alternate realm known as the “Dark Space,” home of the ancient Gaia, creator of life. Gaia tells Will that he must leave his home town in order to save the world.

The plot, while kinda sorta cliche in the beginning, is all sorts of magical to me. My first experience with this was on my weekend video game rental. I was in the mood for something new (and Secret of Mana was checked out) and something about the cover art struck me. The beautiful drawing of Earth hidden behind an ancient ‘G’, which proceeded to spell out Gaia. I’m not sure why I was so drawn to this, but I was. When I first started playing Gaia, I noticed it was referencing real-world locations and people. The Tower of Babel, where Will lost his father. The Incan ruins, which serve as the first dungeon of the game. Part of me has always wanted to be some kind of explorer, and I think this game is the reason. It was familiar and mystical at the same time.

I started playing this again after finishing up Soul Blazer the other night, and… Wow. The gameplay has improved so much since the first one. No longer is it clunky and bland. Combat has a good feel to it and each of the three characters feel unique. Or, rather, Will and Freedan do. I’m not proud to admit I’ve yet to play Shadow. I blame the twin vampires.

special thanks to my good friend dustyjo for making this image look niceI do have one complaint about the gameplay, though, and it’s also my biggest issue with Soul Blazer. The menu. Sweet Jesus, the menu. It’s the clunkiest thing since… well… Soul Blazer. I’ll admit it’s better, but it’s still far from good. Actually I have two complaints because the twin vampires are jerks.

What kind of person would I be if I didn’t cover the music in this game? (A bad one.) Illusion of Gaia’s magnificent score was done by Yukihide Takekawa and it’s easily near the top of my list as far as soundtracks go. Let me take a moment to compare it with Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack. Both of them are completely excellent and ‘fit’ the settings and narratives.

But Gaia went above and beyond what Chrono Trigger did. If you haven’t heard Chrono Trigger’s music before, please listen to Yearnings of Wind, which I consider to be the most memorable piece. If you’re unfamiliar with Chrono Trigger (which is weird if you’re on this website), this song plays on the overworld map of a mist-covered world in 600 A.D., 400 years before Chrono’s time. Your first ‘view’ of the overworld is from a mountainous, cliffy region. Imagine that, if you will, while listening to this. It fits, doesn’t it?

Now imagine someone succeeding in getting that same ‘feel,’ only with a hell of a lot less music. I hope that makes sense. I’ll just show you an example, for simplicity’s sake.

The otherworldly, completely alien Dark Space. The only things in the Dark Space? Gaia, the ancient creator of life, and two statues. One statue is the legendary dark knight Freedan. The other is the being born from the cursed light of the comet, Shadow. Aside from that, it’s completely empty. Notice how the music, despite being less grandiose and developed that Yearnings of the Wind, captures the feeling of an unfamiliar place that is completely empty. There’s still music there, but there’s also the howling wind and strange bloops in the background. Illusion of Gaia’s entire soundtrack is very much like this. Minimalistic, yet still able to near-perfectly capture the mood of wherever you are.

It has been an absolute pleasure to write about this game. I found it while browsing a recommended game list and the nostalgia immediately came. Illusion of Gaia is one of the greatest RPGs I’ve ever played and despite its quirks, it will forever be among my favorites. As always, thanks for your support and have a good’un.

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2 Responses to Looking Back – Illusion of Gaia

  1. Illusion of Gaia definitely my favorite after Secret of Mana. Those two games defined my teens. Excellent description, thanks for the article!

    • Thanks for the comment! And I always used to compare this thing to Secret of Mana as a kid for some reason. Absolutely LOVED both of ’em.

      And the twin vampires are still jerks, 10+ years later.

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