Retro Love letter
Remember Final Fantasy V, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger and Zelda? Shiro Games, the developers of Evoland 2, certainly does. This is its second attempt at a love letter to those old Japanese RPGs, and like all role playing games, the adventure begins somewhere in a quiet rural town. Although initially the game takes its visual style from the aforementioned games and 16-bit computer graphics, the twist is that the twee tale of a war between humans and demons spans several dimensions of time.
After coming across an ancient stone, you and your party are thrown back in time, with the graphical style of the game changing to reflect this temporal shift. Travelling further back, the world morphs in to an earlier 16-bit, 8-bit and even black and white (Game Boy) style. Eventually when you journey into the future the game switches once more into a clean looking three dimensions (think Nintendo DS or PlayStation with anti-aliasing).
Secret of Meta
Evoland 2 isn’t just playful with the graphical style. From the get go, the story, characters and scenarios all reference older games. As mentioned, the developers remember the classics – and they’re keen to share this knowledge. For some, catching all of the references may act as a light-hearted meta game, for others it will simply be off-putting. Referencing isn’t necessarily understanding, and Evoland tends to stray into the territory of cringe-worthy pastiche.
The bulk of the game roughly follows a simple action-adventure/RPG format. Similar to Link to the Past or Secret of Mana, you chop your way through sets of enemies, making sure to scour clay pots and tall grass for gold coins and hearts when your health is low. You can charge up your single attack in order to call forth party members, whose abilities are often used in rudimentary puzzle solving. One member’s long ranged swipe can be used to activate levers, which are used fairly extensively in dungeons. Another’s ground-pound ability destroys rocks and obstacles blocking the way forward. There are a fair few puzzles in Evoland, although it’s likely you would have seen the majority of them in other titles.
A slight case of displaced nostalgia
Evoland’s references extend beyond its plot and dialogue. Built into the game are numerous mini-games, as well as larger segments pulled from different, although mostly Japanese, gaming franchises. There are several changes of pace – whenever you think Evoland has settled on a particular style or set of mechanics, more will arrive out of the blue. Whilst dungeons follow a similar format to Zelda, and there is a Final Fantasy style “overworld”, there are also 2D platforming sections more reminiscent of a Super Mario level. Later in the game combat switches to turn-based, in the style of both classic jRPGs and isometric tactic games. Suddenly there’s another transformation and you’re playing Street Fighter or a side scrolling Beat ‘em up in the spirit of Streets of Rage. At one point you have to swap gems like a game of Bejeweled. There are even vertical Shoot ‘em up sections where you fly a miniature airship.
Evoland 2 has a little bit of everything. Whilst it’s not un-proficient at the many genres it tackles, it is unfortunately all ripped from other, better games. It’s a Jack of all trades, but a master of none. It’s also a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster – every amalgamated part has been clumsily stitched together, and the seams show. Although the game means well and has some “heart”, it’s difficult to praise such feeble pastiche. Evoland is fan-fiction as opposed to artistic endeavour, and although it may cover a lot of ground, the game shouldn’t be mistaken for a Greatest Hits album. As fuel for nostalgia you’d be better off installing a Super Nintendo emulator.
Nice retro visuals, a genre-trip with a good variety of game styles, if you like references to other things…
None of the game styles it flits between are exceptional, it’s likely you’ve seen it all before, some bad puzzles and mini-games, a twee and clichéd narrative