Monday, June 2, 2014

Evoland Review: Hero Of 1000 Generations?

He is known by many names, over many times, over many generations.  He is The Hero, who has come before, and will come after, to save the world from Evil.  And on his journey The Hero will meet new people, including The Girl, traverse dangerous dungeons, face heartache and suffering, and finally realize his true destiny before finally facing off against The Villain.
Its the hero’s journey narrative that has been perpetuated throughout modern culture, from books, to movies, and video games in some form or another.  And while the basics often remain the same, the way the stories are told change as the writers and readers change.  Evoland, an independant game developed by Shiro Games,  is an attempt to show how this type of story has changed and evolved over the course of the videogame history through the lens of the venerable JRPG genre.
You are The Hero.  Last in a line knights protecting the kingdom from Evil, you must journey through the generations to defeat The Villain.  And journey through the generations you do, starting with the ability to move right in a monochrome strip, all the way up to moving and fighting in a fully 3D environment, from attacking enemies in a The Legend of Zelda style dungeons to Final Fantasy style turn-based battle.
Evoland hits all the proper beats, displays a large number of styles in its attempt to pay homage to many ways the RPG genre has changed from the mid-1980's on.  Yet, aside from a brief jaunt into Diablo style action-RPGs, it seems to stop having something to say around the year 2000.  Actually, Evoland kinda doesn't have anything to say at all.  For all the changes the game makes throughout its length, most of them are showing how the genre, and games in general, have changed and improved graphically.
Gameplay wise, it only has two actual styles:  Legend of Zelda style action-RPG, and Final Fantasy style turn-based RPG.  The turn-based stuff does not change at all, never moving beyond the beginning level attack/heal dichotomy.  The action style goes from original LoZ style movement and attacking, to a style like its successor: A Link to the Past by adding a Bow and Arrow and Bombs, while seemingly adding in 8-way attacking, and a basic combo as a concession to the move from 2D to 3D.  In the end, the game is still a one-button combat game.  In fact, the most interesting part of the game is the forest that acts as a big LoZ:LttP style puzzle dungeon involving using the bow and arrow to light torches.
Graphically, Evoland goes through several graphical styles that at least manage to portray the various changes the improving technology allowed.  It starts out on grey-scale with blocky rounded pixels, to color and 8-bit, 16-bit, 3D with flat colors, then with low-res textures, high-res textures, dynamic lighting, and even a Final Fantasy 7 style pre-rendered town.  It all looks very good, and evocative of their eras, the art style is largely uninspired.  The Hero and Girl are stock anime characters, the enemies almost rip-offs of enemies from LoZ and FF, and the environments almost don’t rise above the most basic of tileset construction.  Its starts off being the loving homage, but slowly turns into an unintentional parody along the lines of “This is how games used to be, isn’t it funny and cool?”
Musically, Evoland follows a similar route.  Starting out at the most basic of chiptune music and sound effects, gaining more sound channels and fidelity, eventually going full synth, and even (an approximation anyways) full orchestral near the end.  Its short enough that it doesn’t need that many pieces of music, but the few there are repetitive enough to be annoying.
And really, that’s the breaks.  Evoland starts with a good premise.  A game about the changes that have happened to videogames (and the JRPG subgenre specifically) over the various generations of videogames.  But then if gets bogged down in the specifics of improving graphics and music, only giving the barest of lip-service to the other ways they have changed.  True, the JRPG subgenre is not known for the being the most forward thinking in its evolution, but its done more growing up than Evoland seems to think it has.  Instead of trying to talk at length about game design, it ends up pointing and laughing at some of the old style anachronisms that still exist in the genre today.
My bottom line:  Its functional and works, and looks and sounds nice across the many changes in graphical and audio styles it showcases, but the game itself is not terribly long or deep.  Its a few hours of diversion, and not much more.

Disclosure:  Evoland is game for Windows PC and Mac, and available from Steam, GoG, and the developer’s website.

Writer's Note: I wanted to include my own screen captures, but PC issues forced a complete HDD wipe and Windows reinstall before I could get this written.

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