By – Mike Bezek
The year was 1989. My fingers were stubby, and my hair was reminiscent of a style that should have died at the roller disco. In those lilliputian hands held a gleaming copy of The Legend of Zelda – the faux-gold plating sparkled like a freshly cut diamond, an interactive feat of technology that was beautiful inside and out. I barely had a grasp on the controls and while the story had mostly evaded me, my 4 year old self had taken the first glimpse into the RPG spectrum, and it would hook me for decades to come. The addiction fueled my craving for the many facets of RPGs, from attempting to find my way back to Podunk, USA, to fighting the corporeal Yunalesca in defiance of religious fanaticism. Mechanics, writing, storytelling and once sensitive topics have progressed rapidly over the past 30 years, but we lack any chronicle to the palatial amounts of change.
The waning amount of additions in the genre has meant that many PC gamers have been forced into resorting to emulation in order to satiate the craving for spiky haired teenagers slicing hit points off amorphous blobs. At this juncture, it could be bubblegum-themed Japanese girls with pink samurai swords fighting off demonic prepubescent boys and I would hop right on that freakish train. While it may not be advanced or deep as say, Torchlight 2, Evoland picks up the traditional Action/RPG torch and attempts to teach a bit of development and mechanical history to a crowd that sees less of its beloved genre every passing year. It may be hamfisted at some points but the endearing and well-thought out references make up for those shortcomings.
Navigating through a world that can grow almost exponentially, players take control of Clink, a young knight who is on a quest to fulfill his obligation as a do-gooder. Spread throughout the world are chests, and much like Pandora’s Box, they unleash unfathomable changes upon the world. Starting with the earliest of RPG iterations, players explore the 8-bit, sepia toned world rife with the technology of the day: X and Y plane movement and blocky pixel art. As they continue, opening the copious amount of chests allow the game to grow chronologically, and accurately at that. Chests contain features such as Mode 7, Pre-rendered backgrounds, and even an annoying indicator that beeps incessantly at an awful tone when near death.. What seemed like a novelty at first turned out to be very satisfying in revisiting the previous standards to observe how they have aged.
As a lifelong fan of RPGs, the most important element of games in the genre is if the story is burned into my mind for years to come.. It doesn’t matter how intuitive the battle system is, or how deep the stat diversity and inventory goes – If the story lacks a proverbial punch, the experience is lost on me. Evoland gets off easy by assuming a satirical stance in all aspects of its story. The beginning of the game charges the player with the atypical, “Save the World” trope, which slowly transforms into full Final Fantasy VII mode. I found it hard to mark it as campy or rightfully reverential at some points; creative works that are taking playful jabs at prominent figures in the genre are two way roads. You can either dismiss it as a lazy satirization diminishing the inherent values of the game it attempts to dismantle, or it can be viewed as revealing how hollow the cited game truly is by breaking it down into simple parts.
References, nods and nudges are the threads that bind this game together, whether it be a man named S. Miyamoto penning books on adventuring tips, or the fact that Clink carries a replica of Cloud’s Buster sword, only someone fresh to the genre (and games in general) would miss them. Taken at face value, the references are sometimes shallow, but appreciated nonetheless.
Most of Evoland’s challenge comes straight from a mechanical, and not gameplay standpoint. The lack of controller support can make certain portions of the game frustrating, such a vanishing floor panels that demands near split second reaction times. The WASD/Spacebar/Tab control scheme means that everything from Action RPG battles and turn based encounters revolve around a rather restrictive system. Clunkiness makes itself apparent when I attempted to fight bats, which dart around the screen quite quickly, evading my blade due to the controls not allowing quick reactions. When you unlock the mechanic to allow movement in all 8 directions, combat can become rather cramped for the fingers due to the lack of a analog stick. There is a certain point where players will face up to 15 enemies at once, and combat becomes a test in phalangeal dexterity, which can wear down your hand rather quickly.
The saving grace to these shortcomings is that the game constantly changes battle systems, allowing your fingers to get a bit of a break. Right when I was at the cusp of having to pause the game due to a bit of button mashing fatigue, the combat changed up to alleviate the redundant actions. I can only surmise that Shiro Games are masters at timing as it was more than just an isolated incident. What keeps this game alive is the amount of rapid variety that jumps into the game at random intervals. The transitions from grinding turn based battles to slashing your way through hordes in a deep dungeon prevents the experience from becoming stale.
Is It Worth Your Money?
Coming into Evoland expecting a serious storyline will leave you unfulfilled; it is simply too whimsical and reverential. Instead, it should be seen as a lighthearted play with many acts, showcasing how RPGs have changed over the years by usage of anecdotal segments. Touching on many different, and sometimes obscure games, it presents itself as a quaint little adventure made to tickle the nostalgia bone of many lifelong fans. The subtle tip-of-the-hat to some tropes and idioms reflects an overall pleasantness of the game, leaving you wanting to discover all the interesting quirks tucked away across the world. While the lack of controller support may have aggravated my experience a bit, the quality of the game negates that singular qualm. Currently on sale for $9.00, it is a quality romp through the years where some of the most ubiquitous games were born that every RPG fan should experience.