Illusion of Gaia – Main Theme (Yasuhiro Kawasaki)May 23, 2010
If you were growing up with an SNES back in the day, you might have come across an RPG called Illusion of Gaia (1993). An action/RPG that was part of a trilogy (the other two being Soul Blazer and never-released-in-the-US Terranigma, Illusion of Gaia chronicles the adventures of a young boy, Will, who’s father had travelled the world trying to unlock ancient secrets held in the temples and ruins. Loosely based on famous mysterious locations in the real world (such as the Incan empire, the Nazca ruins, and Angkor Wat), Will explores these with the help of warrior avatars he can transform into. The game is fairly similar to Zelda, but with an experience system. Sadly, the game’s narrative (its most important part) is a bit unwieldy and too hokey and melodramatic in places. Sorry, but I just can’t understand how we got from a happy Incan village to a ghost ship that somehow magically has all of Will’s friends aboard, and I’m not moved by the spirit of a pet pig who sacrifices himself to save starving villagers. It’s more that the characters aren’t fully developed and so not that likable (especially Will’s girlfriend, a whiny princess and owner of said pig). Still, it has some fun and memorable points. Progressive Boink has a nice article on the game.
Illusion of Gaia‘s main theme, “Illusion of Gaia”, is the very first thing you hear when you turn on the game (well that and the company logo jingle). It has a bright trumpet blaring the opening notes of adventure that defines the game, and these proud, bold notes are immediately recognizable after only one second. This alone makes it a strong composition as the notes are memorable and properly establish the game’s mood and themes immediately. The main theme builds on these notes, adding a variation in strings before moving into a more subdued interlude dominated by drums, low trumpets, and plucked strings. This section is accompanied by narrative text and images of ruins and skeletons of dead adventurers. In the third section, the theme slowly builds intensity for heading into adventure before calling the notes of the main theme again for a final time. I have arranged the theme here so that it fades out at the end rather than looping to the beginning. A fine composition.
The main theme has a second variation, “Beautiful World“, which plays on the map screen. Here, the theme is played with whistling and guitar, instruments that are rather high quality samples. It is a slower-paced version of the main theme, serving as a nice, casual interlude for traversing the vast open spaces between centers of action. The Main Theme has also found at least one remix on OCR (“Will’s Journey”), but there is also a nice piano and guitar mix of some of the game’s other music from Dwelling of Duels.
Aside from the main theme and town themes, most of the music in Gaia is heavily dominated by trumpets and intense drumbeats that signal long, twisted monster-filled passages that extend out into the darkness. They’re often trudges through dark, forbidding ruins full of monsters that must be hacked and slashed away – this type of exploration is more like Zelda than Indiana Jones, and the music here again captures it quite well. One of the best examples of these is “Descent into Darkness“, the main dungeon theme (each area has its own theme based on its geographical location, but this one is used in more than one place). The strings build a tight web of danger and tension in the introduction, which opens into the main section through a nice trumpet blare. The combination of trumpets and bubbling strings is actually quite reminiscent of Marble Mandess. The track also has creepy whistling (I believe here played on a tin flute), another element of the song that makes it instantly recognizable.
The composer, Yasuhiro “Yaz” Kawasaki, has worked on dozens of titles across his career as well as TV shows, film, and TV. His homepage lists a complete list of works. Illusion of Gaia was his second game project, following his first, Silent Service for the PC. Other notable works include Super Producers and the Zoids series.