Illusion of Gaia - Retroview

The Comet Cometh
By: Derek Cavin

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 4
   Interaction 3
   Originality 4
   Story 3
   Music & Sound 3
   Visuals 4
   Challenge Easy
   Completion Time 15-25 hours  

Yay, swordsman upgrade!
Yay, swordsman upgrade!
Illusion of Gaia
After losing his memory and his father, a boy named Will finds himself with some unusual powers. He can now see rifts in space and enter strange voids known as Dark Spaces. He also gains various psychic powers, and the ability to merge with even greater powers to morph himself into various mighty forms. Illusion of Gaia, the second game in the Soul Blazer series, is a bit unusual as it has a fairly developed story, despite being an action RPG. While the battle system is quite good, the game has a poor interface and is fairly lacking in the puzzle department. This hurts gameplay a bit. Thankfully, every time the gameplay begins to become repetitive, Will gains a new power or form. This helps keep the game interesting.

While battles begin in the standard hack and slash style, things quickly pick up. Will's human form gains several abilities such as sliding along the ground and spinning around like a tornado. He can also gain two other forms with abilities such as explosive projectiles, an energy whip, and the power to cause minor earthquakes. While enemies don't give experience points, defeating all of the enemies in a room without leaving a dungeon will result in some type of bonus. These can boost max HP, attack, or defense. The only way to heal Will normally is to win a HP bonus item, use an herb, find a heart item, or locate a Dark Space to rest in. Herbs can be saved and used as they are needed, but there are only about a dozen in the entire game. Enemies will occasionally drop a heart item that can heal Will a little, but these are also very rare. When defeated, enemies will usually drop energy that can be saved up to gain extra lives.

Most of Illusion of Gaia is quite easy provided Will collects powerups at a reasonable rate. A few bosses are fairly difficult, but herbs help quite a bit provided the player has some saved up for the powerful bosses that appear near the end. There are very few puzzles to be found, and most are very easy to solve; virtually all of them involve transforming and using a special power to hit a switch or a transportation ability to reach a new area.

Illusion of Gaia has a poor interface. Several abilities require complex button combinations; even running in a straight line is awkward due to the way the controls are setup. This wouldn't be a major issue if not for the fact that there are several unused buttons. A run button would have been much better than mashing the d-pad a few times whenever Will starts to run or changes direction. Luckily the poor interface is balanced out by the localization, which isn't too bad. Some of the text sounds a little weird, but there aren't any major errors to speak of.

Though some parts of the game, such as the tower of Babel, have been seen in RPGs before, Illusion of Gaia retains a high level of originality for a sequel. Will's ability to transform, not to mention most of his other abilities, are fairly new. While the basic shell of the story may have been used before, it still manages to have a few twists.

Illusion of Gaia has a complex story for an action RPG, but it's not complex enough to rival the larger stories found in some of the traditional RPGs that came out at the same time. While Will is the only playable character, a number of important non-playable characters journey with Will on his adventure and even experience a bit of character development. This helps improve the quality of the story even further and makes it more interesting too.

How can that float so easily?
How can that float so easily?
Like most action RPGs, Illusion of Gaia is fairly short. The story does help add some excess playtime, but it's still fairly easy to rush through in about fifteen hours. There are a few sidequests, such as collecting fifty jewels, that can add quite a bit of extra playtime. Players who take the time to clear even the most crowded rooms for powerups will also take a bit longer. Those that wish to complete everything in the game will likely spend somewhere around twenty-five hours.

Illusion of Gaia's music varies from average to great. The boss tracks are especially good. Unfortunately, there aren't very many tracks and quite a few of them are reused in a large number of places. While the tracks that are reused tend to be the better ones, they still become a bit repetitive after a while. The sound effects are generally fitting, but there's nothing particularly special about them.

With plenty of large detailed sprites and good-looking backgrounds, Illusion of Gaia has great visuals. Though there are a few enemy and boss pallette-swaps, there aren't nearly enough to significantly decrease visual quality. It has great visuals overall.

Illusion of Gaia is a good game that borders on greatness. The battle system is very good, the story is substantial for an action RPG, and even the visuals and music are quite good. Unfortunately, the few puzzles that are actually in the game seem last-minute and aren't very interesting. The interface is also needlessly poor. While neither problem is a major issue, they do hold the game back a little. It's still a great game though.

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