Evoland is a game about games, a lovingly crafted journey through RPG history. From the 8 bit Gameboy days right up to the Gamecube era, Evoland riffs off power franchises like Final Fantasy, Zelda and Diablo and highlights the innovations of a genre with the most humble beginnings.
It’s a great concept that is executed really well, especially in the first hour or so of play. Even if my own memories of the ‘way back when’ days are fairly fuzzy, it’s an incredible joy to walk through a world and see it build around you. The game evolves through unlocking chests that contain innovations that range from a leap in graphics (from 8 bit, to 16, all the way to HD textures), mechanics (loot drops, combos in combat, turn based combat) and less flashy things like ambient lighting.
I lost my GameBoy in Gran Canaria once. #pray4Sorvah
With the game acting as an homage in many respects, it’s also a relief to see that things aren’t too labored. Although there is something of a ‘HEY GUYS WASN’T FINAL FANTASY 7 AWESOME’ vibe to large sections of the game, overall it is remarkably balanced and the player is never too far away from the next shift in the status quo. This is represented well by the underground dungeons that are encountered early on, complete with enemies, traps and what not. Just as they begin to outstay their welcome, they are jettisoned and the game moves on.
The sense of balance and pace is highly commendable, right up to the point where you hit the random encounters. They zoom you into turn based battles, a la Final Fantasy. Personally, I miss turn based combat systems but my word are they pointless here. If they were some sort of knowing joke, perhaps the game saying ‘haha, remember when random battles happened every five seconds’ and then moving on like it does with most other homage pieces, it probably would have been fine.
The next game from Bioware will feature Pixelated Texture DLC
Unfortunately what you get is random battles every few paces that are utterly, utterly pointless. Your characters only have one kind of attack (although the mage gets a whole new spell later!) and have the option to use even more pointless items like potions. you’ll never use the potions because the battles never put you in any danger. All enemies die within three attacks and don’t really do any lethal damage to you. victory brings a small amount of exp to both of your characters which only serves to make the random encounters more pointless.
The ennui of the random encounters is evident in other parts of the game too. In some sections Evoland is more homage than game and it is clear that more thought was given to one than the other. If you’re making a game that pokes (even gentle) fun at other games, you better make sure that yours is damn good. For example, in the second town a quest is broken down into small parts, with each one forcing you to speak to an NPC who makes you go to speak to another NPC who does the same thing, so on and so forth.
If you cast your damage spell on the wasp, the game crashes. True Story.
I could see what the game was doing and gave myself a wry smile. ‘Oh this does, when each quest meant talking to every NPC in town, what japes!’ I thought. The problem was, Evoland made me do the exact same thing. It’s this sense that the game is more concerned with showing what it knows about RPG tropes than thinking what is actually fun for the player that holds it back from being the masterpiece it could have.
Saying that though, some sections are absolutely inspired. One in particular deserves massive credit, as it has you using crystals to shift between 2d and 3d graphics, with different objects blocking your path depending on your graphical fidelity. This section is Evoland and it’s absolute best because it carries the concept of a journey through RPG history, but the puzzle is also very well thought out and enjoyable to complete. It is a shame that this section wasn’t longer and suffered the same fate as other mechanics once it had been completed.
Still better than Marvel Heroes.
Ultimately what you’ll get out of Evoland depends on where you sit in the grand gamers spectrum. If you have played enough RPGs to understand the references and jokes then it is going to be a chuckle heavy 3 hours. If not, then I wouldn’t be able to recommend Evoland as a game in its own right. The gimmick is everything here and only if you accept that gimmick will you find any fun.