Evoland II is the successor to the original Evoland, a game which fundamentally changed how it played as you literally travel through the different eras of RPGs time, with its graphics and gameplay evolving as you move along the storyline. It was a neat game but for the most part felt like some barely strung together gameplay elements with a threadbare storyline at best. Evoland II is Shiro Games’ attempt at making Evoland into a full experience; it’s a much bigger game with a complex scenario based on time travel, characters with their own backgrounds and ambitions, and a stronger attempt at linking the changes in gameplay to the story. Does it succeed? Read on to find out..
The Evoland games are all about time travel, in more ways than one. Even while your characters must travel through time during their adventure, the game itself is a trip through time for the player. The first game effectively emulated time travel by progressing form gameboy era grapics to Diablo, to polygons, and beyond, and sometimes requiring you to move back and forth between 8-bit and 3D game worlds to solve puzzles. Time travel in Evoland II plays a more literal role, weaving time travel into the plot across three distinct eras in which can freely jump back and forth, al la Chrono Trigger. I originally inteded to write about Evoland II during the highly saturated Back to the Future 2 frenzy, but I was too busy well, playing the gosh darn thing. Which is somewhat of a good sign really. Evoland II has its flaws, to be sure, but it’s a bigger, better and more full-hearted effort than its predecessor. In short: it’s what the first game should have been.
The first Evoland began as a LudumDare winner, which had the theme of ‘evolution’. In the game, each chest opened evolved the game world in some way, with useful abilities like “move left” and “sound”. It was a neat idea but more of an experiment than anything, so it was exciting news when the game was planned to be fleshed out and expanded into a full game titled Evoland, while the original was retitled to “Evoland Classic” and is playable for free on your browswer. The full Evoland took the concept further, all the way through to 3D graphics and parodying action RPGs such as Diablo. But the leaps were a too fast and disjointed, and there wasn’t really any underlying structure or plot to add meaning to the experience. The combat was paper-thin, too, with few attack options beyond “attack”. Since Evoland II was first announced, I was curious how it would address these issues. First appearances weren’t promising – it looked beautifully detailed, but the team had gone the route of shovelling in more genres and tropes into the trailer than promiscuous bunnies in a magician’s top hat, including seemingly non-sensical additions for an RPG, like bullet hell shooters and a street fighter 2 esque sequence. Shuddering from memories of Space Quest 6, I dashed away from the screen for a quick bath in liquid oxygen.
After finally having the opportunity to play it, though, I can thankfully say that while it does cram in an unprecedented amount of mishmashed genres, it manges to keep a surprisingly coherent gameplay experience underneath it all. Mostly, at least (more on that in a bit). This is because whether you are in the 8-bit past, 16-bit present or 3D future, the majority of the game will be hack-n-slash (read: button mashing action) all the way, usually in top-down or platforming style formats. The rest of the more distinct gameplay styles are isolated into segments, where particular dungeons or quests will aping a particular gameplay style, although these too, are often the more action-orientated styles with many taking on a side-scrolling platofrmer format. That means that first and foremost, despite the JRPG garnishments, Evoland II is really action-RPG, with the RPG part being important in the same way the deformed half-brother that lives in the attic is kept alive lest his ghost rise and murder the family in a found footage film. It’s kind of grudgingly carried along, but for the most part while you can indeed gain XP and level up, it doesn’t seem to really make a whole lot of difference. Levels randomly and automatically raise some of the core stats of HP, attack and defense with no player input. At the very least, some kind of traits/perks every 5 levels such as “+10% for critical damage” or something would have given levels more meaning. Gold and equipment/loot likewise is almost useless – there’s barely any need for gold, and there are only a few equipment upgrades which you basically won’t ever need to buy, since it won’t be long before you find enough rare ores to upgrade to the best equipment. Those issues notwithstanding, the choice to pick and stick with a core gameplay style at least enabled the developers to focus their already thinly spread attention in favour of fleshing out the action gameplay. While mostly hack-n-slash, your allies have special powers which are often needed to pass certain obstacles, and most dungeons have puzzles which aren’t taxing but at least require some thought. The Slyph forest and the Anaomly have some nice puzzles which utilise shifts between eras and from 2D-3D, for example. It’s still not quite at the depth of a game that focuses all its resources on a sole gameplay style, but the extra thought and attention does make the game better for it.
There are a few gameplay elements that aren’t action/action-RPG focused, and while many of them are quite fun and polished in their own right (albeit simple), this may be what can make the game fall over for some. There’s a library section which consists of a whole heap of Professor Layton style puzzles, and a village that does battle through ‘sacred gems’ (read: Puzzle Quest style match 3 puzzles), and a rather prolonged tactical RPG campaign. Another island has a Double Dragon beat em up sequence (complete with overpowered helicopter/whirlwind kick). Finally, one boss battle takes place in a Guitar Hero/Dance Dance Revolution rythm game. I found most of these areas quite fun, especially the tactical battles and Layton style puzzles, but then I liked the games they were inspired from. Certain players have stated how much they hated the same sections I loved. Meanwhile, some of the action sections are strange choices for a game that is delviered a RPG/JRPG wraping. The several shoot em sections are tame by Touhou Project bullet hell standards, perhaps, but if you suck at that style (like me), you’ll probaly hate the sections. A totally unexpected street fighter battle out of nowhere is also a strange edition – for the most part I doubt the steretypical RPG/action-RPG player will be into fighters (of course, I’m sure some are, but on average..). Furthermore, these are all required to beat in order to continue in the game, and you’re usually dropped into these new gameplay styles with little to no explanation of how to play. Sure, I suppose most people know how Guitar Hero and the like works, or the down, down-right, right + punch combo of Ryu’s hadouken (and even then playing the game like my Mum and button-mashing pretty much works anyway).. but even if most of these sections are pretty easy to beat, it still seemed odd not to explain at all. Some of these sections are, perhaps sadly, under utilised as well. The street fighter section never re-appears, for example, while the Double Dragon re-appears but only as an endless coloseum battle with no real benefit or reward. If the RPG elements werem’t so inconsequential – they’d make excellent avenues for interesting grinding for levels, stats or equipment. It seems a waste after all the effort to code these sections not to provide revisits as optional content.
As well as the overall most consistent and fleshed out gameplay, this time there is also a much more directed effort to forge an actual game world and story. The game quickly sets up the goal and the stakes, without pushing too much lore or exposition on you, and is certainly a better experience for it. Waking up with amnesia (I know..), you are advised to head out to the forest where you were found unconsious, to see if it will jog your memory. A boss battle soon after dumps you 50 years in the past, setting up your initial goal to get home. Naturally, things become complicated from there. On that note, Evoland 2‘s length is also drastically longer than its predecessor, too, and finishing it will can take somewhere around twenty hours, providing much better value for your buck.
Evoland II is unquestionably better than the first game in every way. It makes an impressive attempt at fusing so many disparate genres and for the most part, pulls it off. The gameplay is more well-thoughtout than its predecessor, with more exploration, puzzles and abilities to play with. Of course, as a game with such ambitious scope comes with tradeoffs. Such a varied mix of gameplay styles means that more likely than not, you will probably love some sections and despise others. Some of the gameplay styles aren’t really introduced smoothly or explained well, which compounds the problem a bit. If you can endure some of these rougher moments, however, a lengthy time-spanning campaign full of action and adventure awaits.
Posted on November 2, 2015, in Arcade, Beat 'Em Up, Platformer, RPG, Shoot 'Em Up, Strategy and tagged $15-20, 1 Player, 16-bit, 3D, 8-bit, action-RPG, bullet hell, Chrono Trigger, Double Dragon, fantasy, Gameboy graphics, mashup, Professor Layton, Puzzle Quest, Real-time, Shiro Games (developer), side-scrolling RPG, steampunk, Street Fighter, time travel, Turn-based, Zelda. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.