As I stated in my initial tromp through the early transformations in “Evoland”, the game is more of an interactive history of different eras and styles of video game RPGs. I also said that it played in a similar style to “DLC Quest”, where you acquire more mechanics and basic environmental aspects (music, scenery, enemies, etc.) as you explore and progress in the game.
However, where “DLC Quest” failed in giving much of a challenge, story, or engaging gameplay outside of “LOL ISN’T THIS SILLY!!!”, “Evoland” succeeds in giving us characters, settings, and plot that doesn’t intentionally keep breaking the fourth wall, winking through the screen at the player as if to say “see what we did there?” There are, of course, little asides and in-jokes scattered throughout the game in the form of bookshelves to examine, items to collect, occasional quippy dialogue, and the titles of all the unlockables, but these aren’t as distracting to the gameplay and story.
And some of the jokes are simply part of the game itself, not just a one-off comment or description that flashes across the screen. For example, about two-thirds of the way through the game you are trying to hunt down a person in the town that has bombs you can use. You get tipped off to talk to a man playing cards who is ex-military and may have some surplus explosives. But when you find him and talk to him, he says he doesn’t have them anymore – he gave them to someone else in the town. So you go track that person down, then they don’t have it, etc. etc., you see where this is going – it’s a fetch quest joke.
Plenty of games have quests where you simply go through a string of interactions with different people in which you either become a courier for all their errands or a low-tech telephone, relaying messages between the world’s inhabitants. There’s never a “LOL FETCH QUESTS ARE RIDICULOUS WEEEE!!!” moment in the whole exchange, but the joke is still present in the mere monotony and pettiness of the actions you have to take.
Now as much as I have to praise this game for being better at referential video game humor than “DLC Quest”, there were a few things that I found extremely frustrating, but most of these can stem from a single personal preference that I have:
I. DON’T. LIKE. TURN. BASED. R. P. Gs.
I cannot reiterate this point enough. I find the whole transition from the overworld to the battle screen and back to be time-consuming. I also think the break between exploration or driving the story forward and random monster encounters to break the flow of gameplay, especially when you are hyper-focused on a mission that includes a lot of walking to and from various destinations. And it really does become a nuisance when you are just trying to travel to a dungeon or town, or are locked into some fetch quest or series of tasks, or are simply trying to explore the world around you. It just becomes constant shifting in and out of fights and rapid-fire mashing whatever button correlates to “accept” to push through and do what you want to do. And this game is an especially abhorrent offender because these battles proc basically every six steps in the overworld! So even though the map is small and the game has a relatively minute scale compared to other full-length RPGs, it’s still a slogging drag to try to cover any ground and go where you need to go.
Another thing I’m not horribly fond of is the fact that no matter how skilled you are at the game, enemies will still be allowed to hit you. This means that you must stock up on healing items of some sort to have a fighting chance during the course of the game. It’s either that, or burn more time retreating to a town in order to pay an innkeeper or priest or whatever to fully heal you. And most turn-based RPGs that I’ve encountered have relatively passive battle systems – wait for your turn, pick your action, pick your target, wait to be hit, repeat. One of my favorite games happens to be a turn-based RPG (shocking!), but I enjoy it because many of the actions have an element of skill attached to them in the form of well-timed button presses. “Super Mario RPG” for SNES keeps the player fully engaged during battles because it allows you to press a button at just the right time to deal extra damage, or buff a magic spell, or even take less damage from an enemy’s attack by blocking and negating a portion of it. (I’m sure there are other games out there that utilize some active feature like this, but this is the only example I can think of that I’ve actually played. That being said, I’d like to see more turn-based RPGs include a mechanic like that which keeps the player’s attention and rewards those who become skilled with that small aspect of the game.)
One direct effect of participating in all of these battles, though, is – of course – gaining experience, and thereby also leveling up and building a stronger set of combat characters. Ordinarily there is at least enjoyment to be had simply by watching the numbers go up on stats, or learning some new technique or spell. In this game, however, the experience and level gains are empty gestures to fit in with the style of gameplay. By the time I was ready to take on the final boss, my party was rolling around level 20+, which is waaay higher than is necessary to complete this game. But even at these higher levels I was continuing to fight weak monsters from earlier in the game and failing to outright obliterate each one in a single attack. If I’m backtracking to the beginning of the game and fighting the same two or three enemies that I initially saw about six hours ago, I should not have to attack them more than once – monsters should just erupt into chunky salsa if I so much as graze them with my blade when there’s such a vast level discrepancy between my first encounter with a wasp and my 578th. On top of that, I continued to miss attacks fairly regularly when pitted against the beginner baddies. Shouldn’t my accuracy increase as I level up? Are turtles that are the size of buildings really agile enough to dodge my rush of sword swipes? It’s simply b******t – the leveling system means next to nothing. I think each level granted me a single hit point, with maybe an extra point of damage dealt or blocked boosted every three levels.
But – again – the point of the game wasn’t to be a game.
Well… I mean, it was a game, but that wasn’t the main goal. The point was to explore the visual, auditory, narrative, and gameplay history and tropes of the RPG genre in an interactive way by having the player experience little tidbits from each flavor.
A full meal made up entirely of hors d’oeuvres.
And in that respect, it succeeds mightily. All of the elements and references and subtle (and not-so-subtle) nods that are sprinkled throughout the game are all very famous and uniquely identifiable.
Having hearts for health, bombing out secret passages, mowing the forest’s lawn, and putting every potter into bankruptcy is clearly from the Legend of Zelda franchise. The turn-based battle system with the blue menu at the bottom of the screen, an action meter that slowly fills up, and a post-battle fanfare and distribution of money and experience is most definitely from the Final Fantasy / Dragon Quest series. And the red orb of health, copious amount of items and slots, and overwhelming number of simultaneous grunts to fight at once is indicative of Diablo’s layout and game style.
All uniquely identifiable.
All considered to be the granddaddies of their section of the overall RPG family.
Now that I’ve kinda’ given an overall general sweep of my opinion on the game, allow me to regale you with a few specific stories, praises, and beefs that I now have coming out the other side of this museum.
SPOILERS INCOMING IF YOU CARE ABOUT THAT SORT OF THING
… alright then.
The first time you fight the big bad evil guy at the tower on the far east side of the world, I didn’t realize that you were supposed to initially lose the battle. There’s no way for you to beat him with your current stats and abilities, and so Zephyros (the BBEG) overpowers you and your companion, making it look like a “game over” that requires you to head back out into the world to grind, or find some special item or spell, or just generally become stronger somehow.
I was tricked into throwing all of my potions and phoenix downs into a useless attempt at staying alive just so Mooch (the girl) could die during a cut scene. (Although I should’ve seen this coming because [MORE SPOILERS !!!] Zephyros’ name is so similar to Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII. Duh.) Which – to be honest – was a huge wast of money, sure. But it wasn’t like I was strapped for cash at this point in the game – I had about 30,000 gold laying around at this point, so it was no big loss. Still, the time and effort that went into dragging that battle on for far longer than it needed to go was unnecessarily washed away into the void of time like our dear hero’s tears at the loss of his dearly beloved mage.
And immediately after you purposely allow your friendly magic user to parish in battle, the hero is granted a special technique which allows him to summon mother-f*****g Bahamut to lay down some serious firepower against Zephyros’ cheap ass. Doing this once triggers the end of the battle… and then that’s all of Bahamut we need. Really. He is a waste of talent that is unnecessary for the rest of the game. The ability to summon him automatically recharges after a certain length of time, so it’s not as though you need to keep some sort of item on hand in order to call upon his services. You can just call him in every so often. But the only other appropriate times that you are able use him are when you are fighting a mishmash of the same five or six enemies that are present in all of the overworld. You don’t need to save him up, and the normal enemies are so weak that going through the normal motions of combat is actually a bit quicker than repeating the whole summoning animation again. You don’t even get to use him against the last two bosses in the game, so what’s the point of letting me keep the ability?
Another rather infuriating series of events transpired when I was trying to get the “Dodgeball” achievement, which is acquired when you defeat the first boss (shadow-you at the end of the Noria Mines) while at full health. It wasn’t “don’t take any damage”. Just simply “win when at full health”. Rather lenient of the designers to make it like that, so I thought, “Psshhhh – no problem. This guy sometimes spawns bat minions, so if I get hit I can kill them and just pick up the hearts they drop to heal back up.”
Yyeeeeaaahhh… about that.
Alright, alright – let me just say that this became a problem because of me. It was my fault. I just shouldn’t have gotten hit and lost health so that I had to wait and rely on him spawn the bats in the first place. I got that. But it’s like he knew – he f*****g knew! – when I was missing health and he was on the brink of destruction. This son of a bitch REFUSED to summon any of these tasty life-force morsels when I had him one hit from death and I wasn’t at max capacity. Just wave after wave of fireballs, then diving at me, then more fireballs – on and on and on! This should’ve been something that I went back and accomplished in about five minutes, but instead I spent close to thirty waiting on him to summon bats, him not summoning bats, and then me killing him and resetting the battle. During the first attempt I sat at minus one-quarter heart for almost ten minutes waiting for him to give me something else to slaughter, but he rejected my need for that last piece to restore my injured, beating heart and continued to taunt me with wave after wave of fire.
Once again – all on me.
(Still frustrating, though.)
Speaking of retracing my steps back to the Mines, a little realization happened when wandering through a second time looking for collectibles – I just so happened to stumble through a wall and into a secret side room with a chest. This wasn’t a weak piece of wall that I could bomb through and could easily identify as a bombable wall – no. This was my character simply phasing through a section of the dungeon, stumbling around in the dark, and finding a hidden chest. And when that happened, my shoulders sank, I heaved a sigh, and just said, “Ooohhh f**k.”
Because now I have the knowledge that hidden passages exist which can only be found by pressing up against illusory walls when traversing the various areas of the game.
I was pissed. I mean, this revelation soon evolved into the manic, single-minded thought of “now it’s time to backtrack through the ENTIRE game, sanding my face down to a smooth, flat specter of what it once was as I walk into every single tile of wall in the game in the hopes that somewhere there is one that is incorporeal”.
Just… great, just great. Thanks.
A quick reminder that this game contained a collectible card aspect as part of it.
This is not a requirement to beat the game, but it is required if you are trying to complete the game. Part of this completion involves not only finding and collecting every single card in the game, but also beating the only other card player in the world on four difficulties. This wouldn’t be that much of a problem, except that I am sure that the opponent AI begins to cheat at the “Hard” and “Champion” levels of competition. Honestly – this guy ALWAYS had a hand of cards good enough to not only beat my draw, but also flat-out counter and overpower my draw! By the grace of the god of random number generation I was able to eventually beat him on these higher levels of play, but it was a nightmare playing countless consecutive matches in my quest to do everything in this game.
There were also a couple of cool moments that I enjoyed as well. (Not everything I have to say in this article is “f**k the world”.)
There were a few points in the game where you had to shift back and forth between the old-school top-down view and the shinier 3D perspective in order to solve puzzles and fully explore an area.
These multidimensional mazes are made possible by allowing you to trigger the time-shift crystals from a distance (with arrows) or a delayed reaction (with bombs) in tandem with dimensional stones that were strewn about an area. As a reminder: you can only cross these stones in 3D mode, so planning out when and where you needed to be in which dimension in order to solve a particular task was a lot of fun, and a pretty cool and fresh concept (to me, at least).
All five boss battles were unique from one another in their play style and provided a nice skim through the different subgenres of RPGs. You start with Kefka’s Ghost at the end of the caves which is in the style of “Final Fantasy”. Second is the battle with Dark Clink – a nod towards the battles with Dark Link in the “Legend of Zelda” series. The third is the initial battle with Zephyros (also in the style of “Final Fantasy”), which features multiple stages in the combat where he becomes more powerful as you move through the sections of the fight. On top of that, he escapes after being defeated and shows up at the end of the game in his final, stronger form. The next boss is set in the “Diablo”-esque section of the game where you go toe-to-toe with the Undead King. And lastly is a rematch with Zephyros – again in multiple parts – which culminates in an energy ball tennis match reminiscent of the battle between Link and Ganondorf at the end of “Ocarina of Time”. These battles required much more skill than any other part of the game, so they were pretty satisfying to play and to win.
Overall, I think I came out of this game with kinda’ “meh” feelings about the whole ordeal. On the one hand, it was incredibly cool to play through the chronicles of the RPG genre and sort of relive so many classic and influential elements that spawned from these different games. On the other hand, it suffers from the same flaws that “DLC Quest” does, namely that it is a referential/joke game. “Evoland” is still fun to play, but during my playthrough I couldn’t help but think, “You know… I could just be playing one of these games it’s alluding to instead, and I’d probably have a better time.”
And while that may be true, that sentiment is missing the reason that this game was made. It wasn’t made to compete with these games, but to pay homage to them and give players a way to walk down memory lane – to rekindle their affection for some of these franchises.
In those regards, I think it does quite well for itself.