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‘Illusion of Gaia’ – A Timeless RPG

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Illusion of Gaia

“No matter what kind of world people have, if they think they’re happy, they’ll be happy.”

The passage of time is as inherent as it is unrelenting. Man is born only to die, empires rise only to fall, and history is made only to be forgotten. Time, as a concept, is overwhelming, overbearing, and frankly difficult to comprehend in its totality. Time makes no promises. Life will not necessarily get better with time. One’s suffering is not guaranteed to end in time. The only certainty that time brings with it is the promise that life will change. Which is exactly the core premise of Illusion of Gaia.

Time affects everyone and everything, and the only influence someone has over time is deciding what they do with their time. Of course, being the hero of an RPG, protagonist Will’s adventure is a rather rebellious one that sees him actively fighting against the onset of time, but Quintet takes a rather candid approach to how the narrative reflects on the concept of time. Yes, time is often cruel, but time also allows a boy to grow into a man, a girl to find her place in the world, and a world to evolve towards a new era.

Like Soul Blazer before it, Illusion of Gaia takes a rather candid and mature approach to how it addresses its core theme. Although its localization isn’t nearly as good (barely just serviceable,) the central narrative is strong enough where it can make up for any nuances lost in translation. Illusion of Gaia is very visual when it comes to its story. There are quite a few moments when the text dominates the game’s pacing, but, for the most part, Quintet makes smart use of its set pieces to weave a tale that’s centered around time. Quite literally. Unlike most RPGs, time is a constant presence in Illusion of Gaia.

illusion of gaia

Will never shies away from letting audiences know just how long his adventure is taking. Early in the game, he and co-lead Kara are lost at sea for three weeks with players maintaining control during their voyage. Later on, Will and friends are lost in a cave for days on end. While the sequence isn’t as played out as the former, players do take control of Will during this time, allowing for some reflection on the passage of time. Far too often, RPGs— especially those of the era— simply allow the sun to rise and fall in order to telegraph the passage of time through shorthand, but Illusion of Gaia uses time as a means of character and plot development.

Will and Kara develop a romance not because they’re compatible, but because they spend three weeks alone together (and perhaps due to some light destiny.) Will doesn’t mature because of some crucial moment in his journey or arc, but because traveling the world for months while witnessing tragedy after tragedy will force anyone to grow up fast. It’s this emphasis on time that separates Illusion of Gaia from other coming of age narratives. Just about every member of the main cast grows up in some sense over the course of the game, but almost exclusively because it’s time for them to grow up.

Spending so much time with Lilly, Lance feels himself develop into a more in-tune and responsible young man. Growing up in the story proper thanks to an actual birthday the cast celebrates, Lilly lets go of her insecurities and stops using Will as a shield from the rest of the cast, personified through her relationship with Lance. Neglecting his family and home life for years, Neil laments how he distanced himself from his parents and accepts that it’s time for him to inherit the family business.

illusion of GaiaIn the same way, most NPCs in Soul Blazer philosophically reflected on death, NPCs in Illusion of Gaia make mention of time rather often. Of course, due to the poor translation, said mentions aren’t nearly as insightful as they were in Quintet’s previous action RPG, but the script still manages to convey the importance of time as a theme. When NPCs do mention time, they’re prone to a bit of morbidity. In one of the last towns Will visits, an NPC tells Will that the women in his hut were born to weave carpenters for 40 years. While cruel enough in its own right to be born into decades-long servitude, the NPC twists the knife further by telling Will to remember that not everyone is born into a fortunate life.

Perhaps in another, lesser, RPG, this would result in Will saving the women from their fate outright, but who is he to fight against a culture behind the times? The very nature of Will’s journey likewise pits him against the clock. With a comet on its way to Earth, it’s only a matter of time before it forces mass evolution at a rapid rate, destroying Will’s world as he knows it and ushering in a new age without him or humanity. Humanity’s time has come to an end, but Will refuses to accept his fate.

Even then, fighting against the tide of time doesn’t result in a happy ending for Will or the world. In defeating Dark Gaia, the world nonetheless changes. Humanity remains intact, but time races forward to the late 20th century, leaving the fantastical setting behind. Trees are replaced by buildings, rivers by roads, but humanity remains. Will and his friends are together in this new world, but with none of their memories of the past. Will can fight fate, but he cannot fight the passage of time. One of the last sequences in the game sees Will and Kara witnessing the continents rifting rapidly from outer space, further cementing time’s presence in the overall story.

illusion of Gaia

Just like how Soul Blazer integrated death into its core gameplay mechanics, so does Illusion of Gaia integrate time. Unlike Soul Blazer, however, Illusion of Gaia takes a more abstract approach to its theme. For most of the game, combat and dungeoneering are shared between two playable characters: Will and the Dark Knight, Freedan. A much taller and older character, Freedan, is heavily implied to be an older version of Will himself, willed into the world by Gaia in order to help Will on his quest. It isn’t exactly time travel, but— much like how The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time would use the same concept on a thematic and gameplay level years later— Freedan’s presence does tie into the overarching theme of time while giving players some much needed gameplay variety.

More importantly, time as a concept through gameplay comes not from the literal passage of time, but from reflections on eras of time. Every major dungeon in the game owes its influence to a different culture in history. Will traverses Incan Ruins, fights his way through the Angkor Wat, scales the Great Wall of China, and solves the riddles of an Egyptian Pyramid. Even the Sky Garden, the game’s most fantastical dungeon, is clearly based on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. While most dungeons in the game tie into the theme of time by simply being an area out of time, the Incan Ruins go one step further by having Will interact with the Incas.

Upon completing the dungeon, Will meets the people of the Inca Empire, ready to sail off into the new world. On the ship, multiple NPCs interestingly allude to Will being the lost emperor of the Inca people. Considering Quintet’s heavy usage of reincarnation in their games, playing a key role in both Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia’s ending, it can be taken quite literally that Will is the reincarnated Inca emperor, reuniting with his people one last time before continuing on his quest. It’s a moment that gets little to no narrative focus, but it’s an important thematic moment.

illusion of gaia

Time as a concept isn’t just about the linear or literal passage of time, it’s about looking back on what’s been lost to time. The Inca are gone; the Angkor Wat is littered with zombies and decay; the Pyramid is a testament to what happens when one’s time is up, and the Nazca Desert serves as the only proof that the Sky Garden ever actually existed. Time leaves history, culture, and people behind. The very ending of Illusion of Gaia suggests that Will’s journey, his struggled, and his past have all been lost to time in order to make room for a modern, industrialized age.

So long as people think they’re happy, they will be happy regardless of what time has taken away. But this is the wrong message to take away from Illusion of Gaia. Time marches on, but that doesn’t mean history needs to be forgotten. Before their reincarnation, Will tells Kara that he will find her in their next life. They might not remember each other, but he vows to track her down. After the credits have rolled, after the world has turned over, Will is reunited with those he lost. Time might pass the world by, but there will always be friends finding each other, there will always be couples falling in love, and there will always be a reason to reflect on what’s come and gone. That is the illusion of time Illusion of Gaia wants its audiences to reflect on.

illusion of gaia

An avid-lover of all things Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, and pretentious French lit, Renan spends most of his time passionately raving about Dragon Ball on the internet and thinking about how to apply Marxist theory to whatever video game he's currently playing.

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‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

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It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.


Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child

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Magic of Nintendo

Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.

The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.

The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.

 Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.

Super Mario Odyssey Wooden Kingdom

Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.

When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.

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Games

‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.

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Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.

It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.

In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.

Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.

Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.

Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.

I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.

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