Review by anRPGlegend
A cyberpunk epic that spans across a whopping 8 disks!
First of all, I would like to make it clear that Illusion City is hands down, the biggest, baddest, most advanced game that exists on the MSX system. Illusion City is the only game in the entire MSX library that requires you to have the MSX Turbo-R system to even be playable. On top of that you need to have your system upgraded with the FM sounds chip, or even better if you have MIDI output it is compatible as well and the sound is near CD quality. Released in 1991 in the MSX systems dying days and made by Micro Cabin, creators of the Xak series, Illusion City was made to compete with the top RPGs at the time which were Phantasy Star II & III as well as Final Fantasy IV. Micro Cabin was a major competitor at the time of the production of this game, with big hits such as Xak II and Fray flying off shelves, they wanted to make an ambitious turned based RPG to compete with the huge console smash hits. The end resulted in Micro Cabin producing a forgotten classic, a hidden gem, an RPG and a cyberpunk masterpiece.
Illusion City takes place in a futuristic cyberpunk setting (a la Shadowrun, Bladerunner), with mega corporations, urban ghettos, standardized hover cars, huge metropolitan skyscrapers, seedy street corners, and it always seems to be night time. The cyberpunk setting and flavor was very very popular in the 80s and early to mid 90s and to be honest at the time it had never been done in a video game RPG. Micro Cabin was determined to bring out something different, something unique, something to stand apart from the rest of the RPGs that were hot in Japan at the time. By bringing us a dark futuristic setting, where prostitutes and drug dealers roam the streets, addicts beg you for money, and shamans and fanatics preach religion and of armageddon. Homosexual main villains, as well as a transvestite that helps you throughout the course of the game may not seem too crazy now, but at the time of the games release, its apparent that Micro Cabin was going for the extreme and for shock value. The game even has some items that are named after drugs, that heal you, just like the Exile/XZR series.
The battles in Illusion City are very similar to Phantasy Star II in many ways, both cosmetic and mechanically, but this game manages to do it at a quicker pace and a smoother manner. Battles in this game never feel like a chore, there is text that informs you what is happening in the battle similar to the Dragon Quest games, all enemies and every boss is animated, transition and load times are smooth and fast and the music kicks ass. There are no random battles, instead you must make contact with the enemies similar to Chrono Trigger. I found it odd that the main character starts off with so many spells, but you see why this is so when you reach your fist boss. The bosses in this game a great challenge and probably the highlight of the whole game is the boss fights, especially since the normal enemies tend to be too easy at times. You also have many different characters to join throughout the journey keeping things fresh with new faces, new moves, and new spells to see.
When it comes to how the game looks Illusion City delivers with accuracy. The littlest of actions characters perform is displayed with some of the smoothest most realistic animated sprite animation I have ever seen on an 8-bit, heck even 16-bit system. The MSX is a super 8-bit machine capable of producing near 16-bit like graphics, this game is a powerhouse and pushes the MSX hardware to the max , when you enter a battle and witness the smoothness and great animation in absolutely everything you will understand why this game is 8 disks long.
Now lets move on to the category that stands out so much, my words will never be able to express the incredible quality contained in it. The music. First of all, let me make it clear, my MSX is capable of playing MIDI but it would crash the game for some reason (this is my hardware's fault, it is not the games fault), so I had to play the game in FM mode, which is a lower quality sound. Even in FM mode the music is OUTSTANDING, not only does it fit the whole gritty urban environment, but its so RPG-like, the same tunes would easily fit a traditional RPG. If you can get MIDI sound out of your MSX to play this game, you are in for a real treat, heck, your in for a cinematic experience. On the MIDI side of the disk not only does the already great music sound even better but you actually get to hear extra sounds, such as traffic, people murmuring, and all sorts of ambient effects that were way ahead of their time. My absolute favorite tune in the game has to be when your wandering the city talking to people.
All in all, Illusion City is a fantastic roller coaster ride, the games story sucks you in from the very beginning and never lets go until the game is over. The only thing I can really complain about is the games length, It is a bit too short despite being 8 disks long. The entire game can be beaten in around 20 hours, even on your first go through it. But despite that, this game delivers and truly made me feel like I was in Illusion City with Tien Ren and Ho Mei. I guess I have to do one more thing before this review is done and that is give thanks where thanks are needed.... Thank you Micro Cabin
Graphics - 10/10
Music/Sound - 10/10
Gameplay - 10/10
Replay Value - 10/10
Overall - 10/10
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Illusion City: Genei Toshi (JP, 12/31/91)
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