Remember the SNES RPG era? That was a great time. How about the Playstation RPG era? Ah, 90s memories… Wouldn’t it be great to experience not one, but both of those times again? With Evoland from Shiro Games, you can. This PC title will take you on a trip through the evolution of RPGs, and it’s one trip you won’t want to miss.
We have to start with the game’s visuals. They start in GameBoy greyscale, but step by step, they transform into what can best be called smooth Nintendo DS graphics. It’s not just the look of the game that changes, though – the entire presentation moves along with it. Sound effects and music morph too, and you’ll experience no less than three combat styles. Evoland makes stops in Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy, and The Legend of Zelda, and it’s blast; it wouldn’t be fair to call it roller coaster, because that implies drop-offs. This is fan service like you’ve never seen, mixing reverence with a healthy dose of satire.
Story takes a backseat in Evoland, as gameplay and presentation are the game’s crown jewels. Regardless, the narration only boosts the half-reverent, half-satirical feel here. The lead characters, Clink and Kaeris, are one-letter-off parodies of The Legend of Zelda‘s Link and Final Fantasy‘s Aeris (“Aerith” is an Americanization, kids). Hell, the first boss is called “Kefka’s Ghost.” They weren’t even pretending with that one. The places you’ll visit pull the same stunt, borrowing from other series and nerd favorites; the Noria Mines are another one-letter-off parody of Lord of the Rings‘ Mines of Moria. You’ll even visit a straight-up Mana Tree.
You’ll get a taste of Zelda and Secret of Mana gameplay styles in the dungeons and top-down maps of Evoland. Mock Octoroks (“mock-toroks?”) roam around, but Clink’s sword can put an end to them. Bombs and arrows can also be found, lending the game some puzzle-solving sensibilities. Pushing blocks, finding keys, and defeating bosses further this vibe. Keeping spoiler free, you’ll encounter several zones that turn the game’s concept on its head – in a good way. As you’ll find while playing, Evoland doesn’t just hit on genre styles, it captures and improves them.
In the overworld of Evoland, random encounters bring Final Fantasy screaming to mind. These turn-based battles run in patented active time, cementing the Final Fantasy (specifically VII) vibe. The purposeful exclusion of MP means spells can be used freely, and though this leads to some hand-holding, it reiterates the game’s mission: Evoland is about exploring different game styles, not heaping on difficult encounters. With these styles comes combat evolution, as new spells and attacks are learned during the journey.
While this fan service is much appreciated, it doesn’t push Evoland beyond criticism’s reach. While rare framerate hitches and occasional typos (no, really) can be forgiven, there are some issues here that should have been avoided. Some sections last just a bit too long, and one quest in particular involves far too much town wandering. While these could have been intended as satire on similar, common moments in other games, they come off as design flaws. With a game so bent on delivering a snapshot of retro gaming, you’d think the hindrances yesteryear would have been avoided.
On the flip side, Evoland offers two great diversions from its main quest: secret stars and Double Twin trading cards. Stars are hidden all over the world, and they make you want to explore every corner of every location. Double Twin is the proverbial “game within a game,” and it makes for a fun distraction. Twenty-three cards can be found, and finding them all is the key to winning. Double Twin plays exactly like Skylander‘s Sky Stones: place a card on a grid and try to capture your opponent’s. Together with the hidden stars, Double Twin adds another layer to Evoland‘s cake.
Evoland set out to do one thing: take you on a journey through RPG history. It meets that goal, beats it into the ground, and buries it under additions like the Double Twin card game. Gameplay takes you from Zelda to Mana to Final Fantasy, and there are too many in-jokes to count. Though some genre-defining issues are present, the sheer number of styles (some of which will surprise you) more than fill in the gaps. In the end, what makes this game great is the number of things you’ll experience. Evoland hits you with something new in every location, ensuring you’ll stay entertained. While it’s not perfect, it’s as close to perfect as RPGs- or any other genre, for that matter – can get.