Illusion is a truly bizarre little RPG Maker game set in the Unknown World, a place where everything is possible, but could also be fake, and any hopes of gaining a greater understanding of it is a futile endeavor. Which serves as the backdrop for the journey of Nawara, a young woman who goes on a walk on a mostly uneventful evening, only to stumble down a hole and wind up embarking on a series of episodic escapades that has Nawara bopping between areas each with their own quirks as she desperately tries to return to her home and her father. With said journey being peppered by the rewriting of reality, death, domestic abuse, magical abstract introspection, shooting pseudo-imaginary dream people in the face, and a positively obscene amount of profanity.
It’s honestly a bit difficult to describe the plot in any concise terms, as it certainly is a odyssey, with hardships and surreal happenings being the norm, and whatever could be loosely defined as progress being difficult to discern from a detour. Though, it never really stops treading forward, introducing new concepts, characters, and tidbits of information about this vaguely defined world. Throwing everything it can to the wall in hopes that something sticks, or the spectacle of the hodgepodge unsophisticated mesh will in some way keep things intriguing, and it certainly does.
I honestly am not sure how to really describe this game without giving examples from Nawara’s odd odyssey. Such as when she is given relationship advice from the moon, threatens to rape a butterfly with legs using the giant penis she got from the place where she formed a romantic relationship with an agender bee, or paddles through what looks to be a river of urine on what she so elegantly describes as a giant purple tampon. As for the proper writing of this story, it is coherent and at times very amusing, but generally lacks the clarity that is indicative of how the developer is not a native English speaker, and likely learned the language via the internet. Personally, I find stilted English weirdly endearing to read, but despite the developer’s efforts to update the game’s script, it still does not sound exceptionally fluent. Though, I would argue that is actually fitting in with the entire messy aesthetic Illusion has going on.
Speaking of which, I originally assumed Illusion would be a straightforward linear adventure game following the first two hours filled with character interactions and simplistic puzzles, but nope! It is also a turn based RPG, and a somewhat unconventional one at that. With Nawara and her numerous permutations throughout the story being the only playable character, combat being mostly relegated to one on one encounters, with a few multi-enemy battles thrown in near the end, a very limited skill set, and a strong emphasis on using items.
Admittedly, the majority of battles are simple bouts of attrition wherein Nawara must fight enemies using the “fight” command, with the options to shoot enemies with her gun, but only if they are illusions, or use a small sampling of context sensitive debuffing items. While the actual combat is pretty unsophisticated, it maintains a good level of tension due to the fact that the game is very linear in structure, and healing areas are reserved to specific save points, which are often placed throughout areas in a very sporadic manner.
This means that the player must rely on healing items to keep them doing, which are dropped by the majority of enemies. So a lot of the game is about keeping an economic balance that is supported by the high damage numbers sported by a lot of enemies early on, the fact that most encounters are scripted, how damage values have a fairly wide range, and how the active time battle system employed here encourages the player to quickly make the first move, lest the heroine take an unnecessary hit. All of which could have potentially been broken through excessive grinding once getting to an area with random encounters and a handy save point
It all feels very stringent and a bit needlessly harsh, but further carries this game’s distinct personality into gameplay, and ultimately keeps things more interesting. Even if whatever distinct ideas that perpetuate throughout this combat system feel more like the result of happenstance than genuine game design ingenuity. Still, it is just one more element that goes to make the game more novel, as if there wasn’t already a surplus of that.
Visually, Illusion looks a pixelated nightmare made in MS Paint or some other primitive program by someone from an informal artistic background, resulting in the game having an amateurish look to it that can also be classified as eye searing. However, I find the game’s environments to be filled with a large degree of personality, and while some of the colors are quite garish, it does result in a series of dreamlike environments that do resonate as mysterious magical worlds. The one thing I don’t really care for about this art style is how the Tim Burton-esque character designs are all rather samey with regards to proportions. With most being distinguished by their hair over everything else, to an extent where I found it hard to remember the appearances of non-central human characters. Oh, and presumably because the developer was using RPG Maker 2003, this game actually runs at a convenient windowed resolution. Go figure.
Also, I should make a clear and distinct warning about the game’s visual trapings. This game should absolutely not be played by anyone who has issues with seizures, flashing lights, or excessive screen shaking, as this game loves to mess with the player’s eyes and it can be especially grating at certain points. Seriously, it almost seems like the developer wanted to give people seizures with some of this stuff.
As for the soundtrack, it is a series of unmelodic blips and boops that sound as if they came from a possessed synthesizer, and it is something that the developer themselves have apologized for, as they are not a composer by any means, and making music is not easy. Yet, much like the amateurish bent to the visuals, I genuinely appreciate this soundtrack for what it is, as it adds to the game’s eclectic, dark, and somehow upbeat tone. It certainly can be grating, and is as unrefined as everything else, but in the messy game that is Illusion, it manages to work. Though the developer is apparently not happy with the current soundtrack and is working on a new one. Yeah, this is why I really should look through the updates before reviewing a game, because even if a game has been out for 6 months, it might still not be fully updated.
Illusion is a passion project from a lone developer with little in the way of experience or matured skills, featuring lackluster elements in just about every category. However, it is positively drenched in a striking and endearing personality all its own, forged over a brief lifetime, and refined by a sense of youthful recklessness. While the final product is certainly rough, and at times a little baffling, it nevertheless feels like a game driven by a sense of artistic purpose, and ultimately makes for a fun and rousing little adventure through a nonsensical world for dream people.