As a gamer that grew up alongside the industry, it is sometimes difficult to remember just how far gaming has come in 30+ years. As a child, I eagerly booted up each new game, wowed by how fantastic it was, how real it all seemed. Every title was on the cutting edge, the best that gaming could ever be. And looking back, it is hard to divorce those magical experiences, those favorite memories, from the reality of the evolution of video games. Thankfully, Shiro Games built a title that helps to compress my childhood into a few charming hours. Evoland is a loving homage to Japanese RPGs that is sure to bring a smile to fans of the genre.
You start as a barely recognizable pixel being, only capable of going from left to right. In the end, you’re a running, dodging, magic using hero with a name and a purpose. Every progression toward that end comes in the form of a treasure chest. Finding those chests, and enjoying the resulting upgrades is a childish pleasure that apparently still works. They are the carrots that keep the game going, even during the frustrating parts.
And there are frustrating parts. From erratically flying bats that insta-kill with a touch, to widely spaced “save points,” there are going to be moments where the player remembers how much more challenging (or inconvenient, if you prefer) gaming used to be. Opening the chest that gives Zelda style life hearts, enabling the player to survive more than one stinking hit, is an emotional high point. It is a rare game that gets easier as it progresses, and this one definitely does.
Perhaps that’s because Evoland isn’t really about the play mechanics. Other than one level in which you make use of a “time crystal” to devolve from an N-64 style character into an NES, thereby solving puzzles, there is little done in this game that even semi-experienced gamers haven’t already done. Instead, it’s like playing the tourist in an already well-beloved city. All the tropes are humorously represented. I especially enjoyed a Diablo II-esque dungeon dripping with useless, cleverly named loot. One piece guaranteed resurrection in the event of unicorn assault. I don’t want to spoil the jokes though. They are almost the whole game.
I say almost, because there are a couple of other gems Evoland has to offer. Not only does the world progress around you, but your own identity and story progresses as well. It’s a neat little lesson on how the purpose of games has grown over the years to include storytelling along with skill-based thrills. There’s also a little collectible card game within the game that features some pretty good art.
Evoland is not without its disappointments. It is split rather awkwardly between turn-based and real-time combat. The turn-based is so featureless and quick that it seems pointless. The levels you gain in turn-based combat do nothing to improve your real-time stats or abilities. Some upgrades you get from chests aren’t persistent (camera zooming in on opening a chest, for example), ruining the illusion of progression. Finding stars for completion collections in chests instead of new game upgrades is downright discouraging. The ending is perhaps overly abrupt, and one wonders how much further it could have gone, both gameplay and story-wise. Perhaps it’s a sign of how much I enjoyed the game that I imagined taking my character into a Kingdom Hearts style real-time, with tons of magic abilities and an interchangeable party.
Overall, this game took me back to long lost Saturdays, kept me hopping right up to the epic boss finale, and gave me plenty of laughs along the way. If you are or were a fan of JRPG style games, and want to see a clever take on how they’ve changed over the years, you really ought to check Evoland out.