Last week’s Valentine’s Day look at gaming’s most romantic moments saw me reminisce about a very poignant moment in a lesser-known Action RPG title on the SNES. That game was Illusion of Time (Illusion of Gaia in Japan and the US). Developed by Quintet, the game sees you take control of a young boy named Will who lives in the small village of South Cape with his friends Lance, Erik and Seth. Will finds out he must save the world from a comet that is due to crash into the ‘Earth’.
The reason for the inverted commas is that the world in which Will traverses is very similar to our own. In fact, the game itself feels like a brief introduction to the ancient wonders of the world. You will be traversing the Nazca Plains, Angkor Wat, Incan Ruins, the Great Wall of China; even the Great Pyramids and the Tower of Babel make an appearance. It’s definitely fair to say that this game played a small part in my passion for ancient history, and there are places on the above list that I will have to visit before I die.
But enough about me, let’s get back to the game. Will finds out his quest by being whisked off to a realm known as Dark Space where he meets a guiding entity known as Gaia. It becomes clear that there are many places in the world that have portals to Dark Space, which essentially acts as the saving point for the game, as well as being an opportunity for Will to learn new skills as the game progresses. Ones of note are Will’s ability to transform into two additional heroic forms – that Dark Knight Freedan, with a long sword, or the malleable form of the mysterious entity known as Shadow.
Unlike other RPGs, there isn’t a standard levelling up system in Illusion of Time, more that for each room/section that is completely cleared of monsters by Will (combat consists of melee combat using an attack button) Will earns a gem that will boost his strength, defence or health permanently. It’s an interesting shift in focus, as it means that farming will get you nowhere as these gems do not respawn, and the only way to improve your character is by ensuring you defeat all enemies in a given area – which can sometimes be easier send than done, given their weakness or location.
There’s also a side quest running through the game where you need to find all the game’s Red Jewels, but again unlike most other RPGs, you cannot revisit earlier sections of the game once you have moved on, and so if you miss one, you’ve missed it for good. A very unforgiving rule in a genre that is normally less strict.
However, what really earns Illusion of Time a place in my heart is how this all rolls up into a very quirky adventure. Aside from the above, you will also encounter people who can turn into tiny flowers, cannibals, vampires, slavery, heroic piglets and that’s not counting the romantic raft scene between Will and Kara – a spoilt princess – that won my vote as one the most romantic in any videogame. It’s this blissful combination of so many varied elements in a backdrop of ancient history that is not only very different from what was available at the time, but it’s the fact that for some bizarre reason all of these elements are put together so that they actually work very well together.
In short, there’s not a game quite like Illusion of Time, which is a refreshing thing in a time of sequels and shameful copies. In no other game could you use a flute as a conduit for telekinesis and take on a form that allows you to melt through the floor, all whilst exploring the Pyramids. It is those quirks coupled with a story that despite not being revolutionary, is fairly detailed, and involves a fair few characters which makes Illusion of Time endearing. It proves once and for all that a game can be as mad as a box of frogs and still be good if it’s given enough care and attention.