, known in Europe as Illusion of Time and in the USA, Australia and New Zealand as Illusion of Gaia is an action-RPG video game
that was released on September 1
for the Super NES
(SNES). It was developed by Quintet
published the game in Japan
, and Nintendo
published it worldwide. T
Illusion of Gaia
by Yasuhiro Kawasaki. Moto Hagio
the influential manga artist
is credited with the character designs. Novelist
Mariko Ohara worked on the story.
While Illusion of Gaia
has a large cast of characters, Will, Freedan, and Shadow are the only playable characters in the game. They each have unique abilities, and certain areas are impassable without a specific character. The characters gain techniques as part of the story. Will's techniques are all based on reaching new areas with incidental combat applications, while Freedan's techniques are more combat-oriented. Shadow arrives late in the game, but he is such a powerful character that Freedan becomes basically obsolete with Shadow's arrival.
Combat is relatively simple. Characters share the same health and defense scores, but have different levels of strength. Freedan, for example, does noticeably more damage, and has a longer reach than Will. In turn, Shadow does more damage than Freedan. Attacks are almost exclusively melee, using Will's flute, Freedan's sword, or Shadow's pseudopod. Enemies' health bars appear upon attacking, displaying as a series of red spheres that represent hit points. Bosses cannot be revisited, and enemies do not reappear unless Will loses all his lives or completely exits an area and then returns.
Illusion of Gaia has a general design that is uniquely simple as RPGs go. The game eschews the experience system of typical RPGs; instead, the game has a more novel system for advancing the player character's statistics. Defeating all enemies in a room earns the player a permanent stat bonus in the form of a jewel. These jewels increase attack, defense, or health power. While returning to a cleared area will cause enemies to reappear, the bonuses for defeating them again do not. Also, after an enemy is killed, it will leave a stone - either a small or a large one. Collecting 100 of these allows you to restart closer to where you died with all enemies still defeated.
Also, the game has no currency or equipment systems. There is only one healing item (herbs), and only a small number of those in the game. Unlike most games of its type, previously visited areas become impossible to revisit almost immediately after the story progresses beyond them until the last third of the game, though areas from the first two-thirds of the game remain unaccessible. The only side quest in the game, finding Red Jewels, then becomes impossible to complete if the player fails to find them before advancing the story.
Like most RPGs, the game has only one difficulty setting. Saving is accomplished at 'Dark Spaces' located throughout each level -- including areas without enemies, such as Will's hometown. Will can recover lost health within the Dark Spaces, and occasionally change forms or gain new abilities.
Illusion of Gaia
is set in a partially historical but mostly fantasy
-based version of Earth
. The game contains several real-world sites, such as Incan
ruins, the Nazca lines
, Angkor Wat
, the Great Wall of China
, and Egyptian pyramids
. Each of these ruins hold a piece to the final puzzle, unveiled at the top of the infamous Tower of Babel
It is firstly believed to be the age of exploration (a period roughly corresponding to the 16th century; Christopher Columbus is mentioned at least once), and explorers have begun scouring the world in search of ancient ruins and the lost treasures and secrets within. Many return with nothing, and some are simply never seen again. Will, the protagonist of the game, is a survivor of one such ill-fated expedition. He accompanied his father, a famed explorer, on a sea journey to uncover the secrets of the Tower of Babel, but the explorers met with a mysterious disaster. Somehow Will managed to make it back to his home town, but he doesn't remember how.
When the game begins, Will stumbles into a "Dark Space," where he meets a strange being called "Gaia". Gaia tells Will that he must leave his home and save the world from a coming evil. A comet is approaching, and it will bring ill fortune to the world. As he travels, Will gains the ability to change into other forms, each with special powers: Freedan, a dark knight, and Shadow, a solid form of energy.
It is later revealed that the comet is in fact an ancient weapon used during the last Blazer War, and has the power to change the shape of the world. In the ruin of Ankor Wat, it is discovered that the game is actually set in modern-day era, but the light of the comet has altered time back into the age of exploration.
Will and his friends travel the world and collect artifacts known as "Mystic Statues". At the climax, Will and Kara reach the Tower of Babel, where it is then revealed that Will is the Dark Knight, and Kara is the Light Knight. The two knights join to form Shadow and use the ancient statues to release the ultimate power, the firebird.
Attacking the comet directly, which soon manifests itself as Dark Gaia, Will and Kara manage to destroy its power, returning the world to normal. The spirits of Will's parents inform them that the world will return to normal and that no one will conserve any memories of the adventure. Saddened by that fact, Will and Kara join one last time as Shadow to return to Earth.
The final scene is left ambiguous. All of Will's friends are depicted in what appears to be a modern-day school, implying that even if they forgot about their time together, they remained friends in the "real" world.
Illusion of Gaia features only one playable character at any time - either Will, a boy who develops psychic powers after surviving a shipwreck during an exploratory expedition with his father, or his alter egos Freedan and Shadow. However, a large group of non-player characters accompany Will from region to region. Included are Will's classmates and friends known collectively as the seaside gang: Lance, a bold, adventurous boy whose father was lost in the shipwreck that Will survived; Seth, a studious, bespectacled boy with a troubled home life; and Erik, a naїve boy that seems younger than the others, but has a courageous spirit. The other characters that join Will are Princess Kara, a spoiled royal on the run from her increasingly cruel parents, and her pet pig Hamlet; Lilly, a member of the mysterious Itory tribe who has the power to transform herself into a plant; and Neil, a brilliant inventor responsible for the telescope, the camera, and the airplane, among others.
Will and his friends face many enemies in their journey to uncover the secret of the Tower of Babel - both those who protect the clues to the mystery, and those who seek its power for themselves. A number of powerful demons guard the priceless treasures of lost civilizations, while the human but power-mad King Edward and Queen Edwina contract Jackal, an assassin, to tail Will and Kara through their journeys. Neil's parents are the driving force behind the Rolek company, which is also the driving force behind the World's slave trade. Later it is revealed that they are replaced by members of the Shadow tribe. The Tribe themselves, are encountered numerous times throughout the journey, being living shadows that lost their corporeal forms after being subject to the comet's light. Will's other notable encounters include Sam, a slave who helps him give Lance's memory back, as well as his adoptive guardians, Lola and Bill.
- South Cape: South Cape is home to many aspiring adventurers. The children of South Cape enjoy playing games when the school hours are done. Once the demons begin to grow into frequent numbers, South Cape becomes a town popular for weapons dealers and fortune tellers. Edward Castle, the seat of the regional monarchy, lies just north of South Cape. Apparently modeled on Victorian England.
- Itory: Itory is a hidden village of the descendants of the Incas. The people of Itory village often have special powers. Will’s mother Shira was a native of Itory; she had an unusually strong power which she used to create a barrier to hide the village from outsiders. Somehow, Olman was able to pass through the barrier and meet Shira, and they fell in love. Natural forces seem to have a special power in Itory - for example, the village elder depends on the protection of flower spirits to stay alive. Bill and Lola escaped to this village after being attacked by King Edward's men. The longhouse-type buildings, worship of the earth, mysticism of the inhabitants, and most notably, the presence of a totem pole, suggest a pre-Colonial Native American village.
- Freejia: Known as the city of flowers, Freejia is prosperous and beautiful. Its name may be derived from the freesia, a flower native to Africa. Despite its attractive exterior this town has a dark secret - bums, peddlers, and slave traders lurk in the back streets. Freejia is an end destination of the global slave trade, and many go on to back breaking labor in the nearby diamond mines. While there are citizens of Freejia who are sensitive to the plight of the slaves, few slaves seem to escape successfully. The proximity of diamond mines, the dominion of blonde-haired, blue-eyed individuals and the enslavement of darker-skinned individuals, suggest an Apartheid-era South Africa.
- Angel Village: The Angel Village is a network of caves that is home to the Angels - the descendants of the people of Mu, who were mutated by the light of the Comet. Exposure to sunlight is potentially fatal to them, and though they are emotionless, they feel their lack of emotion acutely. At some point, a magical painter named Ishtar appeared in the village and began painting portraits of the Angels. Ishtar's paintings consume the people who model for them, but because he would draw the Angels with emotion, the Angels flock to be painted regardless of the risk.
- Watermia: Watermia is a scenic town built over a large lake; all the houses float on rafts. Upon arriving in Watermia, Will and his friends reflect on the fact that beautiful towns seem to have hidden dark sides - Watermia's is indulgence in gambling, including the potentially fatal game of Russian Glass. Lance’s father was stranded in this town after escaping the tower of Babel, however like Will, he also lost his memory. Watermia's proximity to the Great Wall of China and the raft homes employed by the citizenry seem to imply a Southeast Asian setting.
- Euro: Euro is the biggest, wealthiest, and most bustling successful city in the world. The town's prosperity is due to the trading company Rolek. Rolek delivers supplies around the world, but there is a dark secret behind the company's success. Rolek is merely a front for the secret export of slaves, and Euro is the hub of the slave trade operation.
- Native Village: A small jungle village inhabited by tribal natives of Asia. They sometimes spend days hunting and leave the village deserted. Recently, a disease has spread throughout Asia which causes those infected to turn to stone. This has caused a famine, driving some of the natives give up their lives to the labor trade in hopes of bettering themselves. Others hold on, desperately fighting for survival. Although its proximity to Angkor Wat seems to imply that the village is somewhere in Cambodia, the natives' appearance, clothing, and homes are all reminiscent of African tribes.
- Dao: Dao is an oasis town that is in a perpetual sandstorm. It is one of the main slave export towns, hosting up front labor purchases. Some slaves are forced to weave carpets for 40 years of their lives. Pepper is also a hot commodity in Dao. The desert setting, architecture, and proximity to the pyramids are suggestive of Egypt.
- The Modern-day World: At the end of the game, the opening sequence in which Will and company are attending class is redone in a modern setting. The school corridor is modeled after a Japanese high school.
- Larai Cliff: Based on the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. The Incans had no written language, but are said to have left their legacy in song. Because of this, many of the puzzles of the Larai Cliff involve music. Many explorers have entered searching for lost Incan treasure, especially the Inca Gold ship, but all have failed thus far. Castoth guards the entrance to the Gold Ship's dock.
- Nazca: The in-game Nazca plains differ in many ways from the actual Nazca lines. In the game, the Nazca Plains are an ancient map of the constellations, using rocks to mark the stars. There is a secret tile buried in the sand that corresponds to the comet's perceived position in the heavens that transports Will to the Sky Garden.
- Sky Garden: The Moon Tribe calls the Sky Garden their "mode of transportation". The relationship between Nazca and the Sky Garden alludes to a theory from Erich von Däniken's book Chariots of the Gods, which suggests that the Nazca Lines are landing strips for ancient spacecraft. Visually, Babylonian-inspired statuary in the Sky Garden suggests that the area is based on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The player can jump off the edge of the Sky Garden and enter an “upside down world”. This is the bottom of the garden, a virtually prefect mirror image to the upper section. By retrieving four crystal balls from the maze the player may challenge Viper for a Mystic Statue.
- Mu: Based on James Churchward's Mu literature. Moai-like statues suggest that Easter Island was also a source of inspiration. The Japanese version of the game contains a reference to the book The Lost Continent of Mu by Churchward, in which the ruler of Mu is named Ra-Mu. (This is obscured in the English version of the game, where Ra-Mu is renamed Rama.) The spirit of Ra-Mu/Rama possesses the third Mystic Statue. Will and his friends leave Mu via an extensive undersea tunnel, hundreds of miles long, that the people of Mu used to escape the fall of their civilization. The tunnel leads to the Eurasian continent.
- The Great Wall of China: A huge wall that spans the desert near Watermia. Over the years, it became over run with snakes and fire demons. The soldiers themselves then turned to demons. The Great Wall is said to be home to a monstrous centipede, whose vital fluids are said to have the power to cure any disease.
- Ankor Wat: A forgotten temple complex overrun with insects, and demons. This is the biggest ruin in the game and one of the most difficult to navigate. It is obviously based upon Angkor Wat in Angkor, Cambodia. It is also the only ruin with no Mystic Statue. In the center of the temple, Will meets an ancient spirit that gives him a glimpse of the new world that is coming. Will is horrified by the “gray world” of buildings and cars with few trees or rivers. Once the spirit disappears, the Gorgon Flower is revealed.
- The Pyramid: The tombs of the ancient Egyptians, full of hieroglyphics, wall paintings, and dangerous traps. Will gains the ability to transform into Shadow in order to fully explore it. Olman wrote a guide on the Pyramid and the puzzle that opens the Mummy Queen’s chamber. This is of course simply a generic pyramid from Egypt, which may be based on the Great Pyramid of Giza. The boss of the Pyramid, the Mummy Queen, appears to be modeled after Cleopatra.
- Tower of Babel: The Tower of Babel is located on a lone island in the very center of the world map. It can only be accessed by sea or by air. This is based on The Tower of Babel as written in the book of Genesis in the Bible. The tower is full of spirits giving their enlightenment to all who will listen. Will's father and the final confrontation await at the top of the Tower, but in order to get there, Will must challenge all the demons he fought during his journey. Along with the Sky Garden, is the only ruin which does not exist in the "real world," though the game's closing sequence implies that the skyscrapers of modern day cities are the spiritual successor to the tower.
A pre-release English version of Illusion of Gaia
has been uncovered, which contains a number of differences in presentation and translation. First and most apparent is that the prototype has a different title screen, based on the original Japanese one. It features small sprites of the main characters running on the surface of the comet, and the title is given as Soul Blazer: Illusion of Gaia
.. Another noticeable difference are the name changes of most of the characters. The main character's name is Will in the final release of the American game, whereas in this Beta version, his name is Tim. Kara is Karen, and some of the other children have different names. In the final release of the game, the character who stalks Kara and Will on their journey is named The Jackal. However, in this build of the game, his name is The Black Panther. Most people assume that his name was changed due to the American political party The Black Panthers
. There are also a few script errors in this game, and some of the script is even changed, making some of the characters more sinister, such as the Jewler Gem. Nintendo is not listed on the title credits, but the prototype was almost certainly designed for Nintendo of America
The game mechanics are identical to the final version, but there are some graphical glitches. One such instance occurs at the end of the opening sequence, where a mode 7 display is rendered incorrectly.
Nintendo released a bundle pack in America that, while supplies lasted, included a "one size fits all" T-Shirt that featured the logo, Freedan, and Shadow.
It was rated the 186th best game made on a Nintendo System in Nintendo Power
's Top 200 Games list.
The online magazine Hardcore Gaming 101 (published by GameSpy) has referred to Illusion of Gaia and a few other Quintet games as the Soul Blazer series, pointing a few common themes between the different titles.