“Illusion of Gaia (ガイア幻想紀 Gaia Gensōki, lit. “Records of the Illusion of Gaia”), known in Europe and Australia as Illusion of Time, is an action role-playing game that was released on September 1, 1994, for the Super NES. Developed by Quintet, Enix published the game in Japan, and Nintendo published it worldwide.
Illusion of Gaia was scored by Yasuhiro Kawasaki. Moto Hagio, the influential manga artist, is credited with the character designs. Novelist Mariko Ōhara worked on the story.”
….For a child of six or seven living in rural Australia, hanging out with your friends outside of school was quite a logistical feat. So, with me being an only child, my parents in their pity bought me a SNES to keep me company in conjunction with the cats. In retrospect it was a pretty neat childhood– largely thanks to the incredible range and quality of SNES games.
….The console came with Super Mario All Stars which was super neat, but after a while my insatiable appetite for entertainment far outgrew the confines that Mario could provide and I reached out towards a seemingly mystical and sacred place — the ‘video store’.
….It was at this ‘video store’ where one could pay a small amount of money in exchange for the possession of a VIDEO TAPE or GAME CARTRIDGE which you could borrow on the proviso of returning it at an agreed upon time. The TAPES were of little interest to me, it was only the GAMES that mattered…
(I can still remember the shop owner talking about games running from CDs. He was quite excited, but I told him not to bank on it taking off)
….There are some games I borrowed from that store that clearly stick in my mind, Desert Fighter, an overhead arcade style aircraft action game set in a barely obfuscated Iraq — Mario Kart, which at the time everyone thought was a novel if one-off concept — and Harvest Moon, which was bought for me for Christmas by my parents who must have hoped it would create a bubbling passion for agriculture (sorry, folks!)
….But there was one game that really stood out — and still gives me chills to this day! Illusion of Gaia (or Time in Europe and Australia) — Set in an alternate reality age of exploration beset by monsters the game follows the story of young Will, whose father disappeared searching for the infamous tower of babel. Mysteriously, Will too was on the expedition with his father, but was found miraculously safe and sound near his home town of South Cape.
….The plot might seem a little bit trite now, but it was 1994 and I was seven years old (and this shit was mindblowing)
….Will, now being raised by his uncle and aunt, is inexorably drawn into adventure and is visited by a being called Gaia who claims that tracking down six statues across the world will provide him with the answer he seeks about this father, and avert calamity–!
….The statues are hidden in locations borrowed from the real world like the great wall of China, the great pyramids at Giza, Machu Picchu, the Nazca lines, and Angkor Wat — and Will has to hack and slash (with a combat system a lot like Zelda) through dungeons full of monsters to continue his quest.
….But Will isn’t alone. He meets a princess named Kara, and his childhood pals tag along too, for parts of the adventure. But best of all, Gaia enables Will to become an avatar of two ancient heroes, one Freedan, modelled in the style of a knight, and another, Shadow, a dripping being of pure energy.
….The player has to utilise all three characters in order to progress through various sections of the game, gaining new skills for each as the story progresses. All the while accompanied by an amazing soundtrack by the enigmatic Yasuhiro Kawasaki. It’s definitely my pick for #1 SNES soundtrack.
….Illusion of Time was a really new experience for me in the realm of video games. At one point, Will and Kara are adrift on a raft after a shipwreck. All you can do is pace around the tiny raft with no combative gameplay whatsoever, just a sequence representing several weeks adrift and the emotions it brought out between the two characters. Having control taken away from me as a player for the purposes of narrative totally blew my mind. The sequence only ends when Will, whose perspective we experience the story through, collapses from scurvy.
….But it’s really the main story that gave me chills and has caused me to come back to it again and again. Spoilers to follow, but as Will gets closer to possession of all six statues it becomes clear that there are bigger things at stake than finding his father — as revealed by Gaia, a comet is on its way to Earth, a remnant of an old war, and a force which could mutate the very planet out of the fabric of reality (seven-year-old, mind blown).
After collecting the six statues and scaling the tower of Babel, Will and Kara learn that they are two beings, a knight of light and darkness. With their combined power, and the power of all the life of Earth, Will and Kara fly through space and defeat the dark Gaia inhabiting the comet moments before it strikes the planet.
….With the power of the comet defeated, the world rapidly changes and warps to its true form, the world of our 20th century. The spirits of Will’s parents tell the children that they will too warp to their true forms, as kids of the 20th century, forgetting all about their past world — and eachother.
….They hold hands as Kara tries to burn Will into her memory, and Will vows to find Kara again, no matter how long it takes. The two characters merge once again into Shadow, the being of light, and fly back to earth from the comet, which defeated now orbits the Earth as our moon.
Seven year old brain, melting out of my ears.
….Illusion of Gaia was an incredible experience and I’m glad that I was able to have it in my childhood — It was a high water mark for many years in terms of a narrative that really grabbed me. In a round about way it’s even one of the reasons I’m living in Southeast Asia as a reporter (and dying to visit Angkor Wat while I’m here)
….It was my most influential cartridge rental ever. Games on CD, PFFFFT!