Back in my day..!
Evoland, the upcoming game from Shiro Games, has an unusual storyline. Unlike most RPGs these days, where the focus is the players quest to save the world from some horrible evil or chain of events, the focus of Evoland is to take players back in time to the very beginning of RPGs and the way they used to look and play. Little by little, as players progress, they unlock more and more features that a game just has to have in the modern world. What sort of features you ask? Well let's just say that at the start of your epic journey you won't have any color or sound in your game.
This was an incredibly interesting concept to me, especially because I grew up with games like this. Maybe not black and white soundless RPGs, but I was certainly there for eight and sixteen bit RPGs, so this was one great big nostalgia trip for me as it progressed further and further until I arrived at more modern, 3d gaming. Maybe by the time Evoland gets a sequel we'll have Virtual Reality, eh?
If this wasn't enough to interest you in the story of the game, there are all sorts of jokes and shout outs to games from the past which clearly inspired Evoland. If you grew up playing old school RPGs you're going to love the jokes encountered along the way. I certainly had my fair share of "Hah! I remember thinking that back in the day!" moments.
Gameplay over the ages
So how does the game play? If I didn't know what this game was all about I would say it had a fairly serious case of schizophrenia.
Early on I felt like I was playing a classic Legend of Zelda game, running across the land, poking and prodding at anything that came across my path with my trusty sword while avoiding the touch of sudden death that any enemy could deal. Back in the day there was no such thing as saving your game. But do not fear! This lack of saving is remedied quickly and I could go about ramming my face into enemies without too much care once more.
Before long I opened up a chest which unlocked turn based combat. It was a nice change of pace from the nostalgic but uneventful combat of poking things with my sword, and it was amusing to see ancient, Final Fantasy style combat that I haven't seen since I was a child. However with turn based combat also came something I did not miss in the slightest - the dreaded random encounter! Just as I remember, sometimes it was spread out nicely, at other times it was a nightmare as encounters occurred every other step, often right after I took another step.
Luckily these encounters aren't terribly difficult, so players can cut through these with ease, until Evoland decides that you no longer need your healer for the moment and makes her run off for one reason or another while you try to explore ahead! At least that's what I did, and I ended up fighting a war of attrition through the wasteland in an attempt to get back to town. This inevitably ended in me dying at the town gates. Don't you just love how random encounters work?
Unfortunately, our review copy is not without issues, being a pre-release build and all, and they showed up at what I thought could have been one of the best parts of Evoland's journey through gaming time and space. Upon hitting the first three dimensional town of the game I noticed some performance hiccups. At first I didn't think anything of them, since, in the past, some games had quite noticeable performance issues from time to time, but they usually cleared up quickly. There was even a store in the town selling a performance upgrade to the players "system" to help it load faster. Sure enough, as soon as I left that area of the world map all was well once more, until I sauntered over into the next dungeon which turned the usual Legend of Zelda style segment into a Diablo-esque area.
The good news is that Evoland does a very good job of capturing the essence of what made Diablo great to begin with ,and even makes a great deal of fun of the wide variety of loot players could encounter in a dungeon crawler, ranging from useful sounding to just flat out confusing. The bad news is that this segment of the game suffered from enormous performance problems that made it unplayable; it's pretty difficult to fight off a horde of enemies when combos require precision timing and the game is performing so badly that you can barely control the movement of your character, let alone time your attacks to wipe the floor with a wall of enemies. I spent the next three hours trying to get through this segment so that I could finish the game but any room that contained a fight, especially large ones, just brought Evolands performance to a grinding halt. This was just not happening.
So far this has been the only issue that I've come across in Evoland, but it was such a big one that it stopped me from finishing an otherwise incredibly enjoyable game with quite an unique concept. Still, this is a pre-release build and I am certain, or at least very hopeful that such a glaring bug will be fixed by release. I still have so many questions too! What does the ultimate evil look like? Does it expand into modern open world RPGs or even poke fun at MMOs? Sadly, I'll have to wait for the release to find out.
I would have to say that, barring that unfortunate bug I encountered, Evoland is certainly worth picking up. Gamers who grew up with old school RPGs will love it and get a kick of the jokes spread out through the game. I do worry that Evoland will go completely over the heads of new gamers however. Just about every single joke in Evoland relies on that "Yup... I lived through those shenanigans." that older gamers have. On the other hand, new gamers will probably appreciate how much smoother current generation games are in comparison to games of the past.