Evoland 2 Review

Two weeks ago, I revisited Evoland, a somewhat cute yet insubstantial homage to The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy that, despite holding a modicum of charm, ultimately amounted to an underwhelming adventure with an incredible amount of missed potential.  Potential that could very well be pursued through a sequel, but that really is not the case with Evoland 2.  Instead, the game aims to be something different and notably grander than its predecessor, but amounts to a significantly worse and less interesting title.

Evoland 2 Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed) and Mac
Developer/Publisher: Shiro Games

The first way this is achieved is, unsurprisingly, with the story.  Rather than settling on a wafer thin storyline, Evoland 2 aims to be a greater story centered around the mute amnesiac hero Kuro as he and a jaunty crew of temporally displaced companions go on a quest to save the future from a great disaster while also trying to restore time as best as they can.  If that description brings to mind Chrono Trigger, you are not alone, as Evoland 2 takes numerous nods from one of the most beloved RPGs of all time, yet whereas Chrono Trigger had an interesting world whose multiple permutations all held some appeal, a storyline that managed to be fun, simple, and engaging, along with a cast of memorable characters, Evoland 2 has basically nothing.  Or at least nothing worth praising.

Despite trying to make its world seem interesting with an ancient race, a destructive war with humans and the unsurprisingly noble demons, a realm occupied by creature who exist throughout time, and interconnected storylines between eras, the world of Evoland 2 is easy to dismiss as that of a typical JRPG, so bogged down in tropes and trends associated with the genre that it feels unoriginal and derivative without being either comedically or endearingly so.  Characters similarly mirror this sentiment, with the occasionally spunky villager girl, the noble strongman who lost a lot, and the curious researcher who seems to be enjoying the thrills of seeing different eras, unlike everybody else.  Who both accept this and express little interest in their time manipulating abilities beyond how it can help them save their families.

As for the story proper, it truly does feel like a rather trite tale in most cases, beginning with the characters mostly meandering about for the first few hours before gaining some semblance of a goal after they learn about the disasters that need to stop, before ultimately learning that they can maybe sorta save time and change the future if they go on a quest for five macguffins.  A quest that takes begins at the halfway point of the game, which was also when I was able to comprehend the true extent of the story, and figure out how things were going to end.  Thereby making the ensuing seven hours of questing and divergences all the more tedious.

Now, I probably should talk about the gameplay.  Whereas Evoland was centered around, well, the evolution of games from a technical and mechanical perspective, Evoland 2 is not.  Instead, it is a Zelda-esque action adventure game with RPG elements that occasionally changes up the gameplay, often for the worse, and has a gimmick where the past looks like a Genesis game, the present looks like a GBA game, and the future looks like an 3DS game in HD.  These visual changes only slightly affect the actual gameplay mechanically.  When they do it is mostly due to an environmental gimmick of some sort, or based on how the game simply plays a lot better in 3Dwith the two 2D eras feeling oddly sluggish and slow in comparison

As for the Zelda-esque gameplay, it’s a lot like that of the first Evoland, which is to say things mostly consist of maneuvering around enemies and obstacles in order to strike them with a non-impactful sword strike, but with more puzzles.  Except whereas the puzzles in Zelda games consist primarily of comprehensible brainteasers that the game guides the player along, Evoland 2 is more content to lock players in a room and ask them to figure out a mechanic that will never be seen elsewhere.  They feel like time sinks, rarely feature much in the way of originality, and ultimately come across as, well, boring.  

However, that is not the only gameplay style up Evoland 2’s sleeve, as it contains a myriad of side modes or gameplay specific to a single section of the entire game.  These take the form of a variety of genres, with a shoot ‘em up section, a fighting game boss battle, a series of Professor Layton style puzzles, a stealth section, a turn based strategy campaign, a dungeon with active time RPG battles, a beat ‘em up stage, and a notable number of 2D platforming sections just to name a few.  However, I could not help but find all of these to be about as boring as the main gameplay.  They are often either overly simplistic, jarring to play, or just not very well designed.  

I was able to get through the beat ‘em up sections imply by mashing A in order to spin kick a lot.  I only got through the fighting game boss battle due to a glitch that froze Kuro mid-shoryuken and rendered him invincible until time ran out.  While the vertical shooter stage features power ups that give Kuro a limited pool of ammo for their basic weapon, something I have never heard of in a game of that genre.  While these sections offered minor divergences, their level of quality and relative simplicity all made me pine that I was playing a genuinely good game of the represented genre instead of Evoland 2.

I want to be saying something more positive than that, but I truly cannot recall a time where I found the game to be genuinely enjoyable, as whenever it is not indulging in some poorly executed gameplay mode that it will grow tired of in a matter of minutes, the game seemed to be meandering about, taking an irritatingly long amount of time before moving to the next thing of potential interest, and not always clearly conveying what needs to be done in order to progress.  To the point where I would have absolutely lost all interest in continuing the game without a guide to tell me what to do next and ridding me of this problem.

The only other thing I have to say about the gameplay is how in most sections, Kuro can charge up an attack from a party member by holding down the attack button.  The mechanic is underwhelming, and occasionally involved an annoying amount of downtime while using seeing as how it makes use of a cooldown timer.  I do not understand why the attack button needs to be held down to do this, especially considering how certain sections encourage button holding, but I’m guessing it has something to do with balancing the game, which is not saying much as the game is already pretty easy aside from annoying death traps and one vertical platforming section I had to descend down.  I was half tempted to dismiss that area as impossible and my save file to be unusable, but after about an hour or trial and error, I was able to get through it and avoid the blasted instant death spikes.

As I previously mentioned, Evoland 2 makes use of three sets of visual assets, which I believe the developers would consider to allude to the 8-bit, 16-bit, and early 3D eras of video games, though that really is not what they look like.  Instead, I would be far more confident in saying they closer resemble a Genesis game, a GBA title, and an HD 3DS title respectively.  It is an indirect means of conveying evolution, and in the context of the game, means absolutely nothing, as this change has next to no narrative significance.  It’s at a point where the developers may as well have not even bothered changing the assets depending on the era, ditching the core conception of Evoland with it.  

I specifically call them assets as the proper art style remains consistent between all eras, and it is consistently bland as well.  With most settings being a remarkably uninteresting depiction of a traditional fantasy oriented setting without any real signs of ingenuity or uniqueness.  The one exception to this rule being a section that placed Kuro in a distorted world that combines assets of all eras, though it is also awkward to navigate through because of that visual distortion.  

Regardless, none of the designs found elsewhere are particularly striking or memorable, and while the craftsmanship of the sprites and models is not poor by any means, they are not particularly interesting to look at.  With the worst example being the 3D sections, which reminded me of something bought on the Unity Asset store with how plain they looked.  

Despite having so much effort put into the characters and environments however, the game weirdly neglects the user interface and soundtrack.  The HUD, menus, and character portraits are only presented in a style corresponding with the 16-bit era, and this results in it looking awkward in the other two eras accordingly.  While the music does not change according to the era the player is in, something that further clashes with the aesthetics of certain eras.  

As for the references that Evoland was basically built upon, they return in Evoland 2, but nearly all of them have the impact of a dollar store water pistol.  Their presentation is devoid of any sort of pageantry or palpable affection from the creative team, often coming across as forced and above all else, unnecessary.  To give an example, Evoland made a Bahamut reference a gameplay mechanic with story significance, while Evoland 2 has children who look like Ness and Lucas from the Earthbound series running around a village.  

Though, there is an exception to that in the form of a section where Kuro fights off against a boss with glowing yellow spiky hair in order to enter the lab of Dr. Giro.  A lab located in the mountains and contains both an insignia with a red ribbon on it along with person shaped pods with the numbers 16, 17, and 18 engraved on them.  Except such an obtuse Dragon Ball Z reference comes completely out of nowhere, and only goes to further make me question if the developers behind Evoland 2 understood what made Evoland a moderately successful game.

Based on… everything, I am perplexed as to what exactly Shiro Games’ goal was with Evoland 2, as it neither surpasses its predecessor or even seems to understand why people enjoyed the reference filled voyage into the history of video games.  The story is tropey and predictable.  The gameplay is shallow and occasionally frustrating despite being relatively unchallenging.  While the entire aesthetic fails to contribute much of anything to the story or gameplay, and is ultimately executed with less finesse than what came before it.  Evoland 2 is a letdown on almost every level, and considering the ample amounts of potential the game had, that’s just a shame.

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