Evoland’s page on Steam describes itself as “a journey through the history of action/adventure gaming.” That right there gives away Evoland’s hook: as you play the game, you’ll move from primitive calculator graphics to the glorious 3D you’d expect to see in a JRPG from the late 90s. It’s a neat concept, which is what makes it all the more lamentable that Evoland doesn’t have a lot of substance beneath the references and throwbacks.
Evoland claims to be a retrospective of the history of RPGs, but in actuality it’s focused tightly on four specific games: The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy VII and Diablo. There are other games that get referenced from time to time, like Super Mario Bros, but for the most part the game attempts to recreate each of those four games, in that order.
Once I reached the later parts of the game, though, I quickly found my amusement and wonder buried under frustration. About 45 minutes in, Evoland introduces a turn-based battle system, and this is the biggest flaw the developers could have made. The system looks like it’s been ripped right out of Final Fantasy, but it lacks any of the depth that make Square’s systems workable. Your character has only one attack and lots of HP. What this means is that the battles are incredibly shallow and incredibly easy—there is nothing to engage the player. If these turn based battles were rare, I could probably have forgiven Evoland, but they’re annoyingly, horribly common.
A few minutes later, you reach the one and only town in Evoland, which signifies the transition into the Final Fantasy VII section of the game. It’s during this section that the game’s narrative shortcomings bubble to the surface. The “story” in Evoland is little more than the Cliff’s Notes of Final Fantasy VII. There’s even a young, innocent girl you spend a few hours with, who’s only purpose is to be killed by the Bad Guy. The best (read: worst) part? Her name is “Kaeris.” Those of you who can rhyme should be palming your faces right about now. The story in Evoland isn’t bad—to be bad it has to exist.
Evoland is clearly a game with a goal: to appeal to fans of early 90s Nintendo RPGs. I can relate to that—I love those games, too. But Evoland goes too far. There is nothing of substance underneath the throwbacks and references. That’s really the shame of it all, because the best parts of the game come when the developers unshackle themselves from recreating older games. The highlight of the game is a series of puzzles mixing time travel and perspective-changing mechanics. It was fun! It was original! But it was also extremely short-lived.
The reason you’re reading this review is because you ostensibly want to know whether to buy this game or not. Unfortunately I’m going to have to recommend a pass—at least on paying the full retail price of $10. The real deal-killer here is the runtime, which is best measured on a stopwatch. I understand that Evoland was developed at Ludum Dare, a devloper competition, but asking 10 bucks for 2 hours of gameplay is a bit steep. If you find the game on sale for $2 or $3, it might be worth a go, but the problem is that even at that low price there are better, more ambitious games you can play; games that move the industry into the future instead of slavishly trying to recreate the past.