Evoland – PC
Release Date: 04/04/13
Developer: Shirow Games
Evoland might be the most brilliant game I’ve ever played. No, it’s not exactly a revolution in game design. It’s definitely not trying to refine game design, but rather act as a parody of the RPG/Adventure genre as well as certain pillars of gaming culture like Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda. It speaks volumes to how well the game is crafted that the parody never outweighs or over shadows the design of the game itself.
Evoland lovingly takes you on a simplified quest through periods of gaming history. Not only are we poking fun at certain titles, we are also poking fun at the entire genre, and it’s growth. Treasure chests throughout the world will unlock a further stage of gaming development, so what starts as a monochrome colored Game Boy style game quickly evolves into an 8-bit NES style game, then to 16-bit and so on. Other chests will unlock different gaming tropes, like NPC characters, shops, even a random kid running around a town chasing a small animal. (Think about it. This is in pretty much EVERY RPG!)
Locking all of these game play conventions away is a brilliant master stroke because it keeps you glued to the game, waiting to see what that next little morsel is going to be.
For those of us who have been been living and playing games long enough to actually remember the transitions from 8 to 16-bit, then 32-bit etc; these little nuggets serve as an appreciated walk down memory lane as well as a mini examination of where we have been as an art form.
The theme of evolution also carries over into the actual game play. Shirow was able to join elements of adventure Zelda style gaming in dungeon and over-world areas, with an active time turn based battle system, ala Final Fantasy in other sections. There’s even another dungeon area that decidedly takes a fantastic nod towards Diablo, complete with a seemingly endless supply of enemies and loot. The marriage of these styles works surprisingly well. The change between them works naturally, and I was never left with a sense of confusion. It always worked in the context of what the designers were trying to parody. The battle systems themselves are very simple. For example, you won’t be worrying about mp management while doing the ATB sections. That’s okay though. I honestly think that adding too much to the title would dilute its charm. There are a few cleverly designed puzzles that would stand out in any game without the element of satire. One fantastic segment had you “time traveling” between 32-bit 3d perspective, and an 8-bit over head perspective in order to make your way through an area. Simply put; there is some solid stuff going on here.
The plot of the game is an obviously generic one, centering around the search for a crystal in order to restore peace to the land I say obviously generic because unlike more serious RPG entries, plot doesn’t take center stage in this game. It doesn’t need to because of the theme of evolution of design and substance is strong enough to be the compelling factor. Still, you will definitely notice some strong nods to classics like Final Fantasy VII and a number of other games.
I’m going to keep this review short so I don’t go into anything that will spoil the experience for you. There are some genuine laugh out loud moments, but the brilliance is that they didn’t come from the script most of the time. It was in the brilliance of the game play conventions that you unlock along your journey. The only negative thing that I could say is that if you haven’t been playing games that long, then a lot of the humor is going to be lost on you. It simply won’t mean as much to the gamer who started playing during the PS2 years as it will to old farts like me who were wowed that Final Fantasy 3 (6 in Japan) was coming out on a 24 meg cart. If however, you have been playing games this long, or at least have an appreciation of the history of gaming, then you owe it to yourself to have this game in your library.
Evoland speaks volumes about how gaming has advanced as an art. It’s a testament to the designers at Shirow that they allowed the satire to come from their design, and not have to rely on script alone to convey their ideas. The fact that gaming can parody itself in this manner proves just how far our hobby has advanced as an art form. After all, the act of satire or parody is an art unto itself. To have a game be able to do that through the sheer wit of it’s design is absolutely remarkable.
Evoland is currently available on Steam for $9.99, however you may want to keep an eye out for their year end sale. I was able to snag my download for $2.49 during their Thanksgiving sale.
Highly, highly recommend.
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