GameSpite Journal 10 | Illusion of Gaia

Illusion of Gaia | Dev.: Quintet | Pub: Nintendo | Genre: Action RPG | Release: Sept. 1994

Quintet created a cottage industry around making profound statements with their Super Nintendo games. But when you talk about Illusion of Gaia, you begin to hear grumblings of pretension and preachiness infesting an otherwise fine Quintet game, a trap that the developer had always been in danger of falling into given the subject matter of the games they liked to make. But dig deeper and you start to see how the game’s haunting worldview intermingles with a not-so-typical coming-of-age story.

Illusion of Gaia centers around Will, a typical boy who goes to school with his friends in the town of South Cape, a humble port town that looks like it takes place sometime before the age of technology. But strange things had been happening to him, even before the game begins. His father, an explorer of both the world and its mysterious ruins, took him on an expedition to the Tower of Babel. Disaster struck, leaving Will with amnesia about the events that took place there and his father missing. Ever since then, Will has been able to enter a strange place no one else can see called the Dark Space and talk with Gaia, a mysterious being who advises Will.

The adventure seems to throw cliché after cliché at you. You run into a spoiled princess who runs away from home. Will eventually has to run away after he is blamed for everything and eventually learns that the world isn’t as nice as his sheltered life at home. But while the game does throw specific events in your face to get the point across, there’s more to the world than what revolves around Will. After a long journey on a raft with said princess, they make their way to the beautiful town of Freejia. On the surface, pink flower petals create a breathtaking landscape all over town, but dig a little deeper and you find a city reliant on the slave trade. (Will can even rat an escaped slave out in exchange for a gem.) It is this point in the adventure that the harsh realities of the world unfold before Will. He eventually encounters a town that plays with their lives for kicks by playing Russian Roulette with poison, an African tribe on the brink of starvation, and the loss of a friend’s life. Many games depict a kid learning to grow up by going out into the world, but few do so in such a stark manner.

It should come as no surprise that all this comes wrapped in an extremely solid Zelda clone, something Quintet already demonstrated they could excel at with Soul Blazer. The action was great, the puzzles made you think a bit, and transforming into the knight Freedan and the amorphous blob Shadow mixed things up nicely. But it’s the journey that’s important, driven home by the fact that Gaia is unusually linear for a game developed by Quintet. By the end, you can feel Will grow world-weary and mature, quite possibly because you’ve matured a little bit along with him. But though it might serve as a reminder that the world can be a terrible place, the way this semi-fictional Earth shows both its virtuous and vile sides offers valuable perspective into our own realities.

By Jeremy Signor? | Feb. 9, 2012 | Previous: Breath of Fire | Next: RoboTrek